School gardens and the canteen

School gardens are a great opportunity to connect students with the process of growing food. Going one step further and linking the canteen to the school garden means students can see and taste the ‘fruits’ of their labours.

Of course, there are lots of benefits to the canteen also. Reduced costs and improved quality – the produce doesn’t get any fresher than just picked – and you might win some new customers when students see the food they’ve grown on the menu.

Ideally, produce grown at school would be used to encourage students to eat more fruit and vegetables. This could be via items for sale in the school canteen, with free tastings for students or by providing it to parents for free or at a small cost. But how does this work in practice? Read on for ideas, stories and lots of helpful information.

Case study: Wyoming Public School

School garden WyomingWhen you listen to canteen manager Annette Sharp talk about the way her canteen works with the school garden at Wyoming, you can’t help but get excited.

The school garden consists of a least six beds growing produce at any one time. When Healthy Kids spoke with Annette, the garden was full of corn, beetroot, strawberries and carrots. One of the most exciting things for Annette is when there is a glut of produce and canteen volunteers get creative.

Although a dedicated teacher runs the garden program with a group of students, the canteen staff and canteen volunteers also like to get out and do their bit when they can.

Free cucumber WyomingThe garden produce is provided to the canteen to at no charge. The canteen then uses the produce in items for sale but also provides it as free tastings when they can. Wyoming doesn’t sell excess produce to parents, because they prefer to use excess produce in free tastings for the students. Having said that, some parents do help themselves when the opportunity arises.

Annette says the whole school community has been very supportive of the canteen and garden link. In fact, parents often provide her with recipes that incorporate the garden produce. And she has recently spoken with the teacher who runs the garden program about what things might be grown into the future.

So how does Annette feel about working so closely with the school garden? “I love it!”

Case study: Coogee Public School

A school garden was developed by parents at Coogee Public School in 2009, with dedicated areas for growing canteen produce established a couple of years later.

Canteen manager Alison Kyling tries to use any produce grown in the school garden. The main crops include lettuce (used daily), beetroot (cooked and pickled), beans (pureed into pizza and pasta sauces), rhubarb (used in muffins) and, of course, herbs.Garden boxes at Coogee

A new addition, the orchard, is producing fruit such as strawberries, passionfruit and rockmelon for use in fruit salads. The school aims to have a full cycle from food scraps to food production by using worm farms and compost bins to recycle food scraps into garden fertiliser.

Coogee is lucky enough to have a parent who is an experienced horticulturist and is supported by a great team of parents to manage the food gardens. Teachers will also often join up with parents to use the gardens for class activities. Alison says that the students love harvesting the produce, bringing it to the canteen and finding out what it will be used for.

The parents and canteen work in partnership to fund the gardens. The P&C provide funds for mulch, the canteen provides funds for seedlings, and then the canteen gets to use the produce to sell onto to students.Troughs Coogee

Excess produce will sometimes be sold to parents via Flexischools or via a stall at pick up time. The funds then go back into the gardens.

Alison’s final word on why Coogee’s school garden works so well? “I think we have some pretty amazing parents.”

How do they do it?

If your school already has a kitchen garden:

  • Take a look at what is currently grown, and think about ways you might be able to use it in the canteen.
  • Write a list of other fresh produce that is most often used in the canteen.
  • Meet with the staff member/s in charge of the garden and discuss how you would like to involve the canteen, including in what ways you can help such as weeding, harvesting, planting, maintenance etc.
  • Get the school community involved.

If your school doesn’t have a kitchen garden:

  • Make a list of produce that is most often used in the canteen.
  • Ask students to suggest menu items that could be made with the school garden produce they grow.
  • Speak with the parent body and/or principal about your idea for linking the canteen to a school garden and why, but be prepared and list your reasoning, the produce you would like to grow and the likely benefits to the school.
  • Ask for volunteers for a planning and maintenance team – scout out parent experts in your school community or ask your local council for assistance (you may also be eligible for funding).

The legalities

According to the NSW Food Authority and ACT Health Protection Service, there are generally no extra precautions that need to be taken when selling your school garden produce via the canteen.

Your school canteen should already be registered as a food business with your local food authority (in the ACT) or your local council (in NSW).

If the produce is to be sold ‘ready to eat’ (e.g. in a salad), then following standard food safety procedures will suffice. If the produce is to be sold to parents for them to prepare at home, simply remove any excess dirt before selling.

If you have specific questions relating to selling your school produce, contact the relevant food authority for your state or territory:

  • ACT Health Protection Service (Public Health Officer): 02 6205 1700
  • NSW Food Authority: 1300 552 406

Need funds or support?

If your school is looking to start up a school garden or rejuvenate an existing one, you may be eligible to apply for a grant or resource support. Contact the following organisations for more information:

  • Teachers Environment Fund, provided by Teachers Mutual Bank.
  • Junior Landcare Grants, provided by Landcare Australia. Subscribe to their enewsletter to be notified of funding opportunities.
  • Eco-Schools grants (NSW schools only), provided by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
  • ACT schools can access expertise in planning and developing school gardens through the Actsmart Schools program.
  • And don’t forget your local council, which may also offer support through other grants or resources.

For more information and ideas on setting up a school garden, see our kitchen garden page. Here you’ll find the free KidsGrowKidsCook resources which include recipes, instructions for setting up a school garden and promotional material. You can also join the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program.