Vegetables at school to prevent obesity in New Zealand

Childhood obesity is one of the world’s biggest public health challenges. It is essentially linked to a poor diet and a lack of physical exercise. The stakes are high: overweight children run the risk of becoming obese adults and are more likely to develop obesity-related diseases early in their lives. Garden To Table provides a local response to these problems.

An epidemic that reinforces inequality

Like most developed countries, New Zealand is faced with a growing childhood obesity crisis. The problem mainly affects children in suburbs, particularly Maori and Pacific Islander children. Their families’ income and education levels can sometimes be an obstacle to maintaining a healthy diet. “Many of these children are no longer familiar with common vegetables and do not even know where their food comes from” noted Anne Barrowclough, who is head of the association.

Plant, harvest, cook, share

In order to teach schoolchildren about the dangers of obesity and the benefits of a healthy diet, the Garden To Table program works with elementary schools to organize weekly cooking and gardening workshops. Through hands-on demonstrations, children learn to grow and cook their own seasonal vegetables. From the first three Auckland schools to partner with the program in 2009, Garden To Table has become a nation-wide network of 35 schools providing more than 200 hours of lessons to nearly 4,000 children every week. Five new partnerships are in the works for late 2015. The Air Liquide Foundation’s grant will be used to bring the program to schools identified as top priorities in the cities of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington: “the Foundation will cover the purchase of seeds, fruit trees, and cooking utensils. The New Zealand Air Liquide staff is working voluntarily with the schools, such as recently the making of and installation of a water tank at Manager Central Primary School”.

Teaching through interactive and fun activities

Garden To Table works to change the way that children see their food. The goal is to get children excited about rolling up their sleeves to grow and cook produce as varied as leeks, turnips, and tomatoes. By stimulating their attention outside the strict framework of the classroom, this time teaches them about teamwork and listening skills. “We wanted to give future generations the chance to develop a healthy relationship with food, to shape their future eating habits, and to show children that the vegetables they’re helping to grow are good for them,” said Anne Barrowclough. By explaining how food moves from the garden to the table, these workshops help children to reconnect with nature. The project organizers hope that the pride they feel in helping grow their own food will remain with them the rest of their lives.


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I strongly believe that the Garden to Table Program is providing New Zealand primary school children with an excellent program. Not only is it providing the students involved with fantastic life skills, it is also extending further than the classroom, with the children taking ideas and a love of fresh food home to their families, so also changing to a small extent the behaviours in the wider community.

Leanne Brimble
HR Coordinator
Air Liquide New Zealand Limited