Tasmanian kids are being given new chances to grow with an inspirational garden to kitchen program.
Over 1400 primary-school age children converged on MONA today to celebrate the success of 24 Carrot Gardens,
The initiative is the brainchild of Kirsha Kaechele, MONA curator and wife of MONA founder David Walsh. Kirsha started the project in New Orleans when she found children in the neighbourhood were extraordinarily unaware of the most basic fruits and vegetables.
"It's just amazing how quickly children absorb new information and own it."
"I found that some of them had never seen a fresh carrot. They didn't know what broccoli was, they thought they would die if they ate a leaf," Kirsha says.
Kirsha found the lack of understanding about food and its origins so extreme it encouraged her to start a garden for the children.
"What began as a disaster with children stepping all over the plants and planting plastic pots, evolved very quickly. Within three months we were harvesting herbs and selling them to New Orleans finest restaurants. This created a lot of pride and the children were eating the food, so I just saw how transformative having a garden could be."
When Kirsha moved to Tasmania in 2010, she was surprised to find Australian kids also lacked an understanding of food and its origins.
"In fact a lot of kids had never tasted a cherry, they didn't know what a mandarin was, they didn't eat a lot of vegetables," she explains, adding many communities suffer from not having access to fresh food.
"They occupy food deserts," she says, "so creating gardens in a school where the kids are eating fresh food is critical. In fact, we are expanding out focus to create gardens within the community as well, because it's not only the primary age children who are suffering from this deficit."
Participants enjoy their healthy lunch, a product of the program, at the 24 Carrot Carnival today. IMAGE: Tasmanian Broadcasters/Samantha Dixon
According to Kirsha, the program has evoked great reactions from those involved.
"It's just amazing how quickly children absorb new information and own it. I think people think it would be hard to transform the way children think about food and the way they eat, but it's really not, it's a very fast shift. And I think the teachers are just delighted by that, the principals, everyone is just astounded."
The project runs across different curricula, involving science, maths, and social enterprise, with some schools initiating local businesses.
"I found that some of them had never seen a fresh carrot. They didn't know what broccoli was, they thought they would die if they ate a leaf,"
"The kids grow their own food in the garden, they run projects from the various other disciplines within the school, and they cook it, eat it, sell it sometimes."
Vegetable people, puppets, dancers, and entertainers joined the hordes of kids on MONA's lawns today taking part in creative activities and meeting new friends.
"It's about cross-pollinating the various student populations of schools that are often geographically far apart, they get to know each other and spend this time every year together," says Kirsha.
The kids get to help direct the festival, with MONA's employees bringing the event to fruition. Kirsha says this gives the staff great pride being part of something meaningful.
Kirsha Kaechele imagines the 24 Carrot Gardens project making its way into schools across the state. IMAGE: Tasmanian Broadcasters/Alex Jackson
"I'm very passionate about areas where children have less opportunity, I think it's critical that people who have the capacity intervene and help balance out the opportunity of a wealthy child and one who didn't win the lottery in terms of the neighbourhood they were born into and the options they were presented," she says, noting that David Walsh himself grew up just across the road in public housing.
Walsh's background was one of the reasons the program focused initially in Bridgewater and Gagebrook schools, but the project has grown exponentially. What started as a single Tasmanian school has now stretched to fifteen, only four of which have public funding. The other eleven are sponsored by individuals and businesses.
"There's a lot of generous people in Tasmania," says Kirsha. But, she would like to see the program grow further.
Mentors Kim and Amy from Wynyard asssited with the carnival as part of the Project O leadership program for young women. IMAGE: Tasmanian Broadcasters/Samantha Dixon.
In terms of geographical expansion, Tasmania's north and north-west are on her radar. However, initiating the program in high schools is the next step provided funding can be found.
"We want to make sure that the children who are already in the program who love it can evolve and take the next step, and we can introduce more high-school specific curriculum"
One example Kirsha gave was the introduction of a food truck to every school, so teens can learn valuable business skills.
"We want to see the program in every school, it's such a tiny investment in proportion to the return to the state," says Kirsha. "Economically it may not be immediate, but the return in the children's lives is, you see a change within three months."
"It's essentially about fostering a whole new generation of foodies who can step up and ensure our state remains in our position"
MAIN IMAGE: Participants cook up a storm in The Source at MONA. Picture: Tasmanian Broadcasters/Samantha Dixon.