Profile: Rachel Clare – Garden Specialist at Henderson North School
How long have you been involved in Garden to Table? I'm the Garden Specialist at Henderson North School in Waitakere. Our school began our Garden to Table journey last year. Before we moved to Henderson, my oldest son, Billy, was a student at Owairaka District School in Mt Albert. A legendary Garden to Table school, I was so inspired by the way Garden to Table is an integral part of the school's identity and how it enriches their curriculum. They have gardens all over the school that reflect the diverse cultural identities of the students. They even sell kawakawa ointment made from plants in their rongoa garden! After we shifted to Henderson, I raved about the programme to our deputy principal at Henderson North, and the next year we joined the programme. As a plantaholic and garden writer, I put up my hand to be the garden specialist.
Why is Garden to Table important to you? Knowing how to grow and cook your own food is empowering! Eating a salad made from lettuces and radishes and spring onions you've sown from seed gives you a wonderful sense of agency over your own life. We should all have the opportunity to learn these essential life skills, particularly as we begin to shift toward more community-based food-growing models as part of our response to climate change. Growing food can be really expensive and too often people judge others for not growing their own fruit and veg or cooking their meals from scratch. But in order to know how to be able to grow food and cook on a budget, you need to have some mentoring and hands-on experience, and Garden to Table is an excellent place to start. Beyond that, I'm really focused on the sense of well-being that gardening and cooking bring to us. Studies have shown that particular bacteria in soil boosts mental health, so we should all get our hands in the dirt!
What benefits/impact do you see in the GTT Programme? School life becomes richer and more varied. There is a real sense of joy about the programme. Students love getting out of the classroom and the hands-on tactile experiences of pulling out weeds or whisking up a bowl of eggs. For me, one of the highlights so far, which really epitomises what Garden to Table is about, was when the students harvested potatoes they'd grown in buckets. "It's like digging for buried treasure!" shouted one of the boys. His excitement and engagement made the learning seem incidental, yet at the same time the class was gaining important life skills by learning through doing.
Creating new gardens around our school has also given the students a sense that they are kaitiaki of the school - this is their place and they are responsible for caring for it. This influences the culture of the rest of the school - students from classes who aren't even in the programme will approach me at lunchtime wanting to help in the gardens.
Garden to Table has also provided our school with the opportunity to develop stronger intergenerational connections within our community as our volunteers come from our local retirement village. They enjoy sharing their lifetime of gardening and cooking skills and our students enjoy the opportunity to develop relationships with older members of our community. It's a reciprocal relationship where everyone benefits and feels a greater sense of purpose and belonging.
Finally, coming together at the end of the session to eat kai grown, harvested and prepared by the students is a real celebration. There's always a happy buzz as they eat and chat with a shared sense of pride and belonging. It's pretty nourishing stuff!