News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change, Growing Food and Health

Climate Change, Growing Food and Health

Good news from Minister Nicola Roxon

Some really good news! Minister for Health Nicola Roxon has launched the national Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program in government primary schools. Children will work in a productive garden within their school where they will harvest the food and cook it in a purpose-built teaching kitchen, before sitting down together to taste and enjoy what they have made. Details of the scheme are provided
The intent of the scheme is to tackle childhood obesity by getting children involved and developing healthy habits for life. The fight against the obesity epidemic starts with our children – and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program is an innovative and practical way of getting children involved.
Could it be that the government has greatly underestimated the importance of this innovation?

Growing food locally

This is an important plank in the development of transition towns, a move to community self sufficiency that recognises the future as one of local production of energy, food and employment to reduce carbon footprints. (see article on Transition Towns June 2008) In Australia today we must recognise that ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables travels long distances, even from China. This is costly in green house emissions, and in the use of a finite resource, oil. In terms of nutritional value there are studies which show that the ‘fresh food’ on the shelves is often inferior to the equivalent item in a can because the latter was canned soon after harvesting. Commercial crops are grown using fertiliser and pesticides; both these chemicals consume oil in their production and they support a form of cultivation that is harmful to soil and biodiversity. By contrast all these problems can be avoided with local production that uses rotation of vegetables and on-site composting.

“Dig for Victory”

It is urgent for society to reduce greenhouse emissions now. Local production of food can be developed quickly and so can have an immediate impact on green house emissions. In the UK a program of “Dig for Victory” 1939-45, 1.5 million allotments were brought into use and produced 10 per cent of the country’s 55 million tons of imported food. The benefits far exceeded the commercial gain because of the social and family cohesion brought about by sharing, bartering and cooperation.

Childhood education for food production

The vegetable patch is healthy because it encourages exercise and it promotes healthy food items instead of meat, the production of which has huge green house emissions. In its promotional material Doctors for the Environment Australia asks patients to eat less meat to save green house emission and because meat, particularly as used in fast foods is linked epidemiologically to several important diseases including obesity.

Today, analysis of climate change data as it will affect the regions of the world strongly indicates that food production will fall over most regions in the next few decades. It is not too adventurous to predict that personal skills in growing food will become ore important that the provision of a computer for every child. If this statement brings forth some incredulity read “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer.

So our message to Minister Roxon is “Well done”, but please keep expanding this program in schools, support the development of community allotments and make sure that they are given water allocations to promote sustainable local communities.

A personal message

 From the age of 7-10 I was taught to grow vegetables at a government primary school. I recall the experience as exciting, from the stolen pea pod to digging up potatoes. Children sold the produce house to house and learned commercial skills. To grow all the vegies needed for my family today takes an average of 15 minutes per day and costs $70 per year in seed. It is still good fun!

What you can do

If you have a garden, grow some vegetables, especially if you have children. This sets an example, is educational and healthy. Grow them organically. If you are water restricted put in a rainwater tank to supply them

Buy at farmers markets when you can—this is usually local production and you can ask about the product before you buy it

Buy organically grown vegetables when you can. Again there will be a higher incidence of locally grown product.

Consider reducing your own meat consumption and that of your family.

Use our “Healthy Patients, Healthy Planet, How to be Green and Healthy” pamphlets in your practice. These can be downloaded from

David Shearman