Plating up, Mackintosh style

For the Mackintosh family, exposure is the key to developing critical thinking in children. Through themes of sustainability, animal welfare and nutrition, Duncan and Tina Mackintosh of North  Canterbury farm, White Rock Mains, are changing the way children think about where their meat comes from.

FamilyWhen Duncan Mackintosh first started at North Loburn Primary School he was the fourth generation of Mackintosh's to attend. As the years have progressed and urban blocks developed around the area, the ratio of urban to rural children enrolled at the small school has changed and with it, local farm knowledge has decreased.

 

Now a father of two girls, Duncan is conscious that agricultural material is not available through the school curriculum. With Casey and PJ currently attending the school, Duncan and Tina decided to get involved. North Loburn school had already obtained Green-Gold status as an 'Enviroschool' through a programme designed to encourage innovation and sustainability.

They welcomed the couple's initiative to teach the students how their food ends up on their plates. Community engagement is very important to Duncan and Tina. "We've all got stories we can share and tell the wider community about the great work farming is doing throughout the whole country," Duncan says.

 

foodLast year, the school adopted 'Garden to Table', a nationwide education programme fronted by chef Al Brown. The charity aims to "change the way Kiwi kids think about food". It costs North Loburn $16,000 to be involved, so the school covers half the cost through their Ministry of Education budget and fundraise the rest. Duncan and Tina wanted to supplement the established programme by offering children the opportunity to learn where their meat has come from, as well as their fruit and vegetables.

The older children in years 6 (mostly 10–2 year olds) study the entire life cycle of the animals. The Mackintosh's provide the meat, with support from Silver Fern Farms and are looking at fencing off an area near the school for sheep so that students can monitor the full 'Paddock to Plate' journey.

"The kids are just loving it," says Tina. "We aren't here to convert people, we just want to provide all of the information and grow awareness so that kids can think critically about what they're eating." Food is not the only aspect of Tina and Duncan's work with the school; they have allowed 91 hectares of native bush on White Rock Mains to regenerate naturally, creating a QEII covenant. The covenant is supported by Environment Canterbury (ECAN) and is managed by the children, with a pest trapping programme in place to protect the native wildlife. "We had a Ballance Field Day on our farm and the kids came up and did a presentation on trapping," Tina says. "They stayed for the whole day and many of the children didn't realise how science-based farming is."

 

EnviroschoolBallance recognised Tina and Duncan for their excellent operation this year by awarding them the Regional Ballance Farm Environmental Award. The Mackintosh's encourage farmers to ask for help if they are not meeting the environment standards now being put in place. "It is paramount that farmers –as a collective –have zero tolerance of any farming practice that puts the transparency and integrity of the sector at risk," stresses Tina.

Similarly, Tina and Duncan challenge those in the urban community to accept invitations to see what is happening on farm and go there with an open mind. "Engage in individual critical thinking and if you're still not sure, ask."Their work is genuine and focused on the children, with plans to continue the programme after their daughters have left for high school. "It's not just about our kids, it's about all kids connecting with the environment and making informed choices," Tina notes.

With 130 children currently on the roll at North Loburn and both Tina andDuncan on the Board of Trustees, the agricultural education will continue with more developments to come.

"This is still a relatively new venture so we can continue building on what we've done so far. We are encouraging as much learning as possible –for us, instilling a respect for dietary diversity is a priority."