The end of the school year is upon us. I squeezed in three visits in the last few weeks, two to schools in New South Wales, Bunghwahl and Forster ,and one in Victoria at Dunkeld. All were memorable and it was a great way to finish the year. The enthusiasm of the students is a great energiser and over and over the staff at each school told me how much the program contributes to the life of the school and the differences it has made in so many ways.
We were welcomed to Forster (the largest of our schools in New South Wales with over 700 students) with a smoking ceremony, and a performance by the choir before a tour of both the extensive garden and the just-completed kitchen. A delicious morning tea had been prepared by the students and I tucked into hummus, various vegetable dips with grilled flatbreads, zucchini fritters with mint yoghurt and the most refreshing Lemongrassade. One of the enthusiastic supporters of the kitchen garden, parent Amanda , surprised us by delivering a huge basket of local produce to our accommodation. Freshly-harvested oysters, freshly-caught snapper, salad greens, herbs, a lovely local cheese, some chocolates and a vase of home-grown roses. And special teas and cereals for breakfast. So special. We sat on our balcony enjoying our banquet and listened to the soothing sound of the ocean slapping on the sand.
The next morning we visited tiny Bunghwahl as a complete contrast with just 42 students. Once again we were warmly welcomed and we admired the very pretty garden where Nikki Dixon is both the kitchen and the garden specialist. She proudly led the tour of both the garden and the kitchen and told us a very funny story of how one morning the students found a possum sitting on freshly-laid eggs, and being very reluctant to allow anyone to collect the eggs. She has a wonderful photo to remember that incident. We watched an extraordinary display of the entire school population as they ‘Jumped rope for Heart health’ from the tiniest prep student to some very tall sixth graders. And again we had a lovely lunch of stuffed eggs (from the chickens), leek tarts, home-made yoghurt, beetroot salad and a leafy salad .
Both New South Wales schools included semi-tropical crops in their garden such as bananas and pineapples and lemongrass and chilli bushes.
I went to say Happy Holidays to our Kitchen Specialist extraordinaire Desley Insall at Collingwood College and her Wednesday team of volunteers, most of whom have been coming every week for nearly nine years. I couldn’t stay for long but I left with a gift of honeycomb from suburban Surrey Hills, brought in by Jill, one of the star volunteers, whose husband tends hives in their garden. How delicious it was, the honey flooded my mouth with sweetness and perfume. I had forgotten what freshly-harvested honey tasted like. This was an important reminder.
And then I launched the program at another small school, at Dunkeld with towering and imposing Mt.Sturgeon in the background. The project has been embraced by the whole community, many of whom have signed on to a watering roster to care for the garden over the long school holidays. Irrigation will be installed in the new year. The children have all adopted a tree in the extensive orchard and accept the responsibility for caring for this tree. Lunch included a rosemary and potato pizza, a lovely salad with roasted pumpkin, green leaves, seeds and cauliflower, some parsnip crisps and a raspberry muffin. On each table was a big bowl of locally-gathered blackberries – donated by someone in the community, as well as bunches of country flowers that were absolutely beautiful.
I returned to Melbourne, ready for some downtime myself but feeling happy , knowing that our schools are forging ahead and that all that the Foundation does is truly appreciated.