It’s time to make gardening a sport

I'm pretty happy that one of my articles has been published in The Age - Epicure in the Milk Crate section.  Here it is in full for those who didn't get to read it.  Let me know what you think about the concept of Edible Sports Gardening in the comments below.

I have a barrow to push – and I hope that after reading this, you might too.

As a cafe owner, I know too well that we need more chefs and hospitality professionals in our country. One way we can encourage and inspire each other plus the next generation of food professionals, is by considering gardening a sport!

Edible gardening meets sport. It’s already happening at a bowling club in Sydney that has been transformed from a dusty bowls club into a vibrant one with a sparkling urban garden, neighbourhood eatery and foodie destination.

Let’s apply that same approach to more of our sports clubs. Can you imagine golfing amongst the grapes and fruit trees? Let’s even go a step further and not just plant edible gardens at our sporting fields and parks, why not think of edible gardening itself as a sport?

We already know that gardening’s great for relaxation and reflection. So, let’s also convert the energy, skills and resources we dedicate to chasing a ball over grass or going to the gym, to instead digging the ground and growing food. Rather than Netflix at night, let’s turn our mind to learning to harvest, market, prepare, preserve, pickle and present food.

Combining sport and gardens has the potential to revolutionise our lifestyle. It’ll focus us on our use of water, increase our knowledge of and respect for the land we have and teach is self-sufficiency and ultimately a love for the land. We’ll still get our exercise, but with a healthy dose of sunlight and veggies. Garden as an individual or a team and add some friendly competition and compete – ‘howzat for this zucchini!’

We’re already halfway there. Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens and community gardens thrive in schools, cities and towns across Australia. Expanding these edible gardens to our sporting fields and parks can build pathways for our young people into hospitality and farming as a career or a way of life. It offers a way for all of us to be more active and connect with real food. The love of growing food spans generations and can connect oldies with youngsters, so rethinking gardening might lead to fewer cases of dementia, obesity and diabetes across all ages.

At Belmore Boys High in Sydney, they realised that the kids were not proud of their school. That’s when a teacher and students set about creating gardens that now include an urban food forest, a rooftop garden, a chook house, a native reserve and ponds for the school’s beloved ibis colony. This gardening has more than re-engaged adolescents, it has positively impacted their dietary habits and wellbeing. Adding school lunches that are prepared by students, for students and from food grown by students, creates an unbeatable positive feedback loop. What’s stopping us from doing this at every school?

With edible gardening as a school sport, students can learn teamwork in the veggie patch, and leaderboards can showcase the biggest pumpkin, watermelon or even water use. Count with strawberries and beans, and learn about seasons and the environment outside, rather than just by books.

Could an edible sports garden club be the new Scouts or Guides? Earn your composting badge, then your seedling or grafting badge. Let’s go WOOFing for our next adventure camp. We’ll rename Joeys, Cubs, Scouts or Rovers as Micro Herbs, Seedlings, Urban Farmers and AgriFolk. With technology, edible gardening clubs can have members from across the country and foster friendly competition through social media.

Ditch your yoga retreat and camp on The Farm instead, it’ll be a cracker. Be fed by the local sports garden clubs while you help work their land and learn to pick, preserve, make vinegar from their excess apples, ferment kombucha and water kefir, pickle and press olives. Where do we sign up?

Being around local seasonal produce, eating it, preparing it and preserving it will make us all happier and healthier. It will also grow and develop more cooks and passionate hospitality people. Hospitality gets into your blood. You work with food because of the positive memories it has creates, the feelings and the taste sensations linked to these memories. Tomatoes taste sweeter when you’ve grown them yourself. You can taste love in food you’ve grown and cooked yourself.

Sport is a way of life in Australia, and it’s time to make edible gardening one of those sports we celebrate. So, let’s get gardening at our sports clubs, parks and schools, there’s so much to be gained.