Cara Ferguson has a passion for education and teaching young children how to grow their own food.
She’s been working as a registered early learning kaiako at E Tipu E Rea Early Learning Centre in Christchurch for 18 months.
As part of her ongoing teaching enquiry, she asked "How do we create an environment for tamariki and whānau that supports wellbeing through food prep and healthy eating?”
Then came the fun part – putting this into practice. Cara started with conversations with whānau about healthy eating and chatted with tamariki at the kai table about lunchboxes and healthy kai.
Fruit platters made from fruit tamariki brought from home or picked from E Tipu E Rea’s fruit trees enabled tamariki to try different fruits.
The next step was building a māra kai (garden).
“I had total support from the team and centre leader which made it really easy.”
Using old wood already at the centre, her partner and son constructed a raised bed which the tamariki helped fill with soil and plants.
“The tamariki are learning how to grow and prepare kai, and are taking responsibility for the environment. It’s giving them an awareness and enthusiasm for healthy eating and a really deep connection with the wider community.”
Cara says it’s rewarding and they’re even sending home-grown kai home with whānau.
“I love it when the tamariki sit down at the kai table and say 'I’m going to eat my growing kai first.'”
A real turning point was when the centre was gifted a kūmara plant. This captured the interests of the Maori whānau and drew in a lot of dads.
“I was really inspired by Sparklers’ videos showing how to grow kūmara. We harvested two weeks ago, before the first frost – it was unbelievably exciting. All the tamariki got in there with their hands as Aaron showed them on the video.”
The kids helped wash and cut the kūmara, which they cooked, mashed and ate for lunch.
Tamariki are also encouraged to bring in their favourite recipes and help cook these up.
Cara says they’ve also set up a worm garden.
“It’s building tamariki confidence and caring for Papatūānuku."
“It can feel overwhelming at first, but the rewards are so worth it. Wellbeing, healthy food and growing your own food, it doesn’t get any better.”