When we ask people their recollections of Milford Lodge, even from before we offered a full kitchen, they almost always include the enticing smell of baking wafting through the front entrance upon arrival.
As children attending Milford Lodge in those first few decades, we collected the eggs from the chook pen, which then went into those daily enticements better known as morning tea.
There are always many more recollections from the children and families who once attended, however for some reason those wonderful and welcoming aromas seem to have their own special safe place within the memory bank and manage to come wafting back at the mention of their time at Milford Lodge.
There are memories surrounding food that are no longer acceptable now like these children licking the bowl after helping make a cake including eggs from our own chickens. Where do we even begin to list the health and safety issues surrounding that! I recall bobbing for apples against my best friend on another occasion. And I am certain that when it came to lunch time, we all shared from our lunch boxes with our friends.
Fast forward to today and we have had a full kitchen for the past decade, complete with chefs who are extremely passionate about providing good, wholesome food for our children.
But is it all about employing someone to plate food up for children?
Not it is not. It is about so much more than that.
The chefs have a pivotal role in making food a massive part of our daily program, from the garden to the plate.
Our chefs are not only interested in the food that they are serving to the children, they are genuinely concerned of the health and wellbeing of every child in our care. They ensure children are given the opportunity to work in small groups, helping prepare food, take leftovers to our pets, and even go to the trouble to find odd jobs for the child that just wants to have some quality time with them - like peeling stickers off apples! (No joke!)
Our chefs have conversations with our children, and take a genuine interest in their learning.
They are also extremely patient, and happy to answer the 100 questions that can emerge from a four year old within minutes.
I was part of a conversation of families discussing Early Childhood services recently. The conversation began due to one parent's impending 'return to work' from Maternity Leave. After the general discussion on the service itself, days and the transitions from home to care the conversation moved to the 'perks'. The service was open for those extended long hours that most services are now. The service was currently discussing the implementation of a courtesy bus. The service 'does food'. It was at this point that the other family chipped in "you're on a good wicket when they do the food."
The general consensus seemed to be that the more the service could convenience the family the better that would be.
I absolutely understand the pressure of today on a parent. I am a parent too. We both work, many weekends thrown in the mix. We both have other commitments which take time away from 'family'.
I am in no way judging these families, who happen to be friends of mine, or belittling them in their decision making surrounding care. They are great parents and have happy, healthy children.
I am questioning the sales gimmicks that we now see rampant in the Early Childhood Industry. Many people within the industry detest that word - industry. But the truth of the matter it is an industry, and many services look and feel more like a factory than a home for children. And where sales gimmicks are involved, that screams industry.
There are many Early Childhood services who 'do food' by having a truck come around with pre-prepared and portioned meals that can feed every child at a low, low $2.50 each. They even get up to 2 hot meals a week. There are so many things I find alarming in Early Childhood, and these 'Food Truck' businesses would be right up there. You can't 'do food'.
Food is so much more than that.
In the first five years of life, a child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in their life. The early experiences a child has – the things they experience, see, hear, touch, smell and taste – stimulate their brain, creating millions of connections.
Why would we remove an entire experience and one in which is arguably one of the most important, by providing meals from a truck, which apparently meet some tick of approval from some department regarding their 'nutritional value'.
Food deserves so much more than that.
Our friends over at Urban Food Street have re-created an entire community, and it is all from food.
The Urban Food Street neighbourhood is thriving - kids play in the street, families actually know each other, the elderly are cared for, and yes, they gather over food. People have always gathered over food.
But why have they transformed their nature strips?
They are not a business. It is not for monetary purposes.
Duncan & Caroline, and all of the people who live in and around Urban Food Street are passionate about making a positive change for our future. At every quarterly family walk, Duncan is very specific about how important it is for the children to be immersed in this from a young age.
To understand where real food comes from.
To understand where real community comes from.
To understand about really caring for the land and each other.
No gimmicks required.
The results of the passion and hard work from this community speak for themselves.
So, we don't "do food" at Milford Lodge.
If doing food only costs $2.50 per child, then we have gone over the budget at least 10 times over! (...and some?)
Children who attend Milford Lodge are actively involved in planting, weeding, watering, growing, harvesting, chopping, plucking, slicing, squeezing, mixing, pouring, measuring, tasting, licking, smelling, sharing, serving, carrying, counting, setting.... and yes, gathering... over food, glorious food!