Linda Taylor is the Executive Officer of Garden to Table.
I started out in the hospitality industry for ten years. I married a chef, and when we started having children, I moved into financial services until the Global Financial Crisis hit. Then we hit the road and did four months backpacking around Europe with a 10-year old and 8-year old, which was fantastic.
When I came back to New Zealand, I really wanted to do something that was more meaningful than selling mortgages. I decided to see what was on offer in the not-for-profit world. It was something I’d always been interested in: we’d volunteered as a family and were involved in our local community, and we were foster parents.
I joined the management team of Lifeline and worked there for six years, quite an intense experience. I had a naive idea that I’d have a good work-life balance, but it turned out to be the hardest job I’d ever had, working the longest hours I’d ever worked.
They were amazing people, and to discover the passion people have for the work they do was inspiring. It really opened my eyes to some of the systemic issues we face in NZ and internationally, around mental health and suicide prevention. However, working in this space is challenging on you personally; we’d also had my youngest daughter join us, we adopted her through the Home for Life programme, permanent fostering.
I then moved into the Executive Officer job at Garden to Table: teaching kids to grow and cook fresh vegies ticked all my boxes. There’s so much to do; when you start looking at the obesity crisis, food insecurity, the importance of nutrition to our children and the long term impacts that good nutrition can have. It became clear to me there was a lot we could do to make a long-term impact on the health and welfare of the next generation.
What’s different about Garden to Table is that we teach the hands-on skills that children need to put other nutrition education into action. Teaching children about the importance of good nutrition, how to read labels, what are good foods and sometime foods, are just not enough if children don’t have the skills that they need to be able to grow, choose and prepare good food. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t have the skills, you’re not going to make sustainable, long-term change.
How do we integrate food education into a crowded school curriculum with teachers that are overwhelmed? How do we work with the ministries of Health and Education to appreciate and resource food education for children? Part of the challenge is we’re not an immediate impact organisation, so we’re hard to fund. It’s the same for all elements of public health; everything takes time. But we have to invest in organisations looking to make systemic changes.
We’ve got over 13000 children each year taking part in Garden to Table. Every week they are growing, preparing and eating food they’ve prepared themselves. We link that back into the curriculum, by providing resources teachers need to integrate real-world learning examples. By the end of the year, kids have done at least 30 hours of growing, cooking and eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Kids take that home; they work with parents to cook at home and share food with their families.
The public health/ not-for-profit space is constantly resource-constrained and you’re working towards long-term change. If you’re going to work in this space, you need to be passionate and committed to what you’re trying to achieve. On the flip side, you have to learn when to step away and look after your own wellbeing, it can become all-consuming, there’s just so much work to do. You’ve got to be able to manage boundaries and support your team to do so.
One of the most fantastic things is to see kids in the garden, smiles on their faces, or eating things they wouldn’t usually, because they’ve grown and cooked it themselves. That sense of pride, achievement and self-worth that comes from growing and nurturing a plant is tremendous. If they love working in the garden, if they love cooking, they will do more of it, because they want to do it. We’re setting them up for a life of good nutrition.