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The silverbeet and potato torte

As part of the kitchen garden programme at Kallista, children participate in a one-hour kitchen session supervised by their teacher Rosalie, where they are working in small teams at working stations with a bench, stove and sink to prepare a silverbeet and potato torte. The recipe has two parts: first the pastry dough has to be made out of flour, water and olive oil and then rolled flat. The pie filling of silverbeet, potatoes, onion, parsley and mozzarella is chopped and cooked and then placed on top of the first layer of pastry before being covered with the second layer. The final task involves rolling the bottom outer edge of the pastry up and over the top outer edge, which is then pinched together to make a good seal. It is then baked in the oven until the pastry is crispy and golden brown. At the same time, the children are mixing lettuce and rocket leaves with orange and yellow petals plucked from the calendula flowers to make a little salad.

While some groups finish off their cooking, others lay tablecloths, cutlery and glasses of water on the tables. Little bowls of the salad and small vases of freshly picked flowers are also placed on the tables. Wafting smells of roasted vegetables fill the room as the tortes are removed from the ovens. The pies are cut into pizza like wedges, placed on plates and delivered to each of the tables. Once seated the groups give thanks for the food and students are encouraged to taste and enjoy the two different dishes. On my table, I watch as children pick up their knives and forks and cut into the torte. For many of the students the taste of the vegetable torte is unknown: one girl is unsure and puts the tiniest piece of pie in her mouth and starts to chew before wincing. Meanwhile, the boys at the table are eating much faster and before long one of them asks whether or not there are any 'seconds'.

The meals for the Kallista children are a happy and celebratory occasion that honours the efforts of everyone who has contributed to the eating and growing experience. Meals of this kind create new opportunities for children to engage with one another and eat food in ways different to the home experience, mostly because there are no parents, children sit with other children, and children are doing the cooking, which is so often the domain of adults. For some of the children the experience of sitting around a table like this to eat a meal is familiar; for others it is foreign. Throughout my years of spending time observing kitchen garden pedagogies I have had the privilege of sharing food and conversation with many children, teachers and community volunteers around tables such as the ones at Kallista. These experiences have taught me that some children eat dinner in their bedrooms, one child eats most of his meals at a pub with his dad because they don't really know how to cook, one child eats dinner with his siblings before their parents arrive home from work later in the evening and another cooks a meal once a week for her family.

As an outsider I recognise the meals as an important social activity that unites children with one another and with the other adults with whom they work. Alice Waters, who developed the philosophy behind the shared kitchen meals, describes them as the antithesis of the kinds of meals consumed by many children in post-industrial societies that are often cooked by strangers, consumed in haste and often alone or in front of the television. The meals work not only on a material level as sustenance but also on a symbolic level as something that can come to stand for thoughts, feelings and relationships (Waters, 2005, 2008; Levenstein, 2003). Further, the meal interactions are informed by a grow/eat/share philosophy that challenges adult 'gate-keeping' practices that tend to control children's food and eating habits, as well as the flow of food into the household (Kerton & Sinclair, 2010). These issues are identified throughout wider children/food discourses, which highlight adults as the key determinants for how children are brought into relationship with food and the greater food channels (Punch, McIntosh, & Emond, 2010, p. 227).

According to Jennie, many of the children are inspired to pursue the high level of inspiration and enjoyment to be gained from the combination of kitchen garden learning. Through this type of learning they have become accomplished cooks and gardeners who are keen to expand their culinary horizons.

If you give them that learning where they can get into a garden and a kitchen, and confidently do it and know what they're doing, they go home and do it. We've got vegie gardens going on left, right and centre within the school community now. Kids want to cook. We've got parents who now know what to put in the compost bin. The kids are going home and they're taking that message, and saying we can do this, we've got the confidence to go and do it, we don't need mum and dad to get there, this is what we're doing.

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