Seven rows of vegetables for your own daycare restaurant
Since 2020, the Vierländer NaturKita in Hamburg has been participating in the AckerRacker educational program, which was launched by Acker e.V.. In collaboration with their teachers, the children successfully plant around 20 different types of vegetables. How did this project start, what kind of support is needed, and how has the integration of AckerRacker changed the day-to-day life of the teachers and children?
"GUCK MAL!" shouts a child at the Vierländer NaturKita in Hamburg, proudly presenting his freshly harvested tomatoes. He then goes straight to the children's restaurant. There, the child hands over his harvest from the field to the cook: "We harvested this! Look how much it is!"
A healthy and sustainable diet is a priority at Vierländer NaturKita. Every day, daycare center chef Sven Lübke whips up healthy lunches from fresh foods in the children's restaurant. Unlike many other daycare centers, where lunch is often delivered by external catering companies, here "even the potatoes are peeled by hand," emphasizes Kerstin Nauhardt, the daycare center's pedagogical director.
After everything has been prepared, Sven Lübke presents the children with the difference between the harvest and the finished dish. This helps them better understand how the vegetables they grow become the finished meal on their plate. It's an educational approach that Nauhardt says parents also highly appreciate.
Vegetables from the field children prefer to try
Despite the generous size of the field and the resulting harvest, this alone is not enough to be completely self-sufficient. Zucchini are an exception: "They grow like sand by the sea here," smiles the kindergarten director. Franziska Timmann, one of nine Acker educators, looks back on the first Acker year: "We had giant zucchini. Some of them were carried by two children," she says. So it's no wonder that "zucchini from our own field" is often on the menu in the children's restaurant. All in all, however, the range is very varied, emphasizes manager Kerstin Nauhardt.
The chef enjoys offering the children a varied and child-friendly diet. At the same time, there is an additional focus on seasonality and regionality. The NaturKita pays attention to transparent communication about which foods come from the field and which are sourced externally.
"The children are much more likely to try vegetables if they know they come from the field," says Sarah de Oliveira, who also works as a field educator with the children. This is particularly true for vegetables that are still unknown to the children or that they rarely eat, such as chard.
Even the little ones join in the work
Since the start of AckerRacker in spring 2020, the field has long been firmly integrated into the daily routine of the Vierländer NaturKita, and every child regularly takes part in tending the field. As Acker educator Franziska Timmann explains, there are a total of five groups of children at this Hamburg-based daycare center.
Every day, a different group visits the field. Every three months, the schedule is moved back by one day. This means, for example, that the Monday group becomes the Tuesday group and the Tuesday group becomes the Wednesday group. "Otherwise, the Monday group would be busy harvesting and the Friday group would always come up empty," the educator said. "But that was also a process until we found that."
Unlike the first AckerJahr, the zero- to three-year-old daycare children now also help out. "The younger ones are there and just experience the whole thing. It doesn't matter if they pluck off a green tomato. They're allowed to do that," reports director Nauhardt. She knows: In the field, the focus is on the experience. "On the field, the children experience directly how long it takes for the tomato to really ripen. They practice patience and perseverance and learn that they have to keep their eye on the ball when they're working in order for something to grow."
Of slugs and earthworms
In 2020, the Vierländer NaturKita started with an arable land that was significantly larger than that of other AckerKitas. An impressive 15 vegetable rows were cultivated at that time. As a result, the first harvest was correspondingly large: "We were able to harvest so much that some of us didn't even know where to put it," recalls field educator Franziska Timmann. "That was a great feeling!"
At the same time, the size of the field also meant a considerable amount of work. The weeds in particular, especially horsetail, kept the children and educators on their toes, reports Sarah de Oliveira. "It was everywhere! And it was huge!" the educator reports. However, countless weed contests with the children did not help to put a stop to the weed. The college therefore unanimously decided to reduce the size of the field from 15 rows to 7. Kerstin Nauhardt, head of the daycare center, finds this learning process very valuable, which is always about recognizing problems and finding new solutions: "It's great when you realize that we can't do it this way - but we can do it differently."
Kerstin Nauhardt and the AckerErzieher:innen enjoy working in the fields despite the amount of work involved. Educator Sarah de Oliveira especially appreciates the diversity of the field work: whether it's harvesting, digging around, or even looking for "different insects that are crawling around."
Especially the insects and other field animals would also find the children incredibly exciting. One girl recently covered her entire hand with slugs and proudly exclaimed, "Look how many I found! Look how many I found!" the field educator shakes her head with a laugh. "And the children tied the earthworms around their fingers as rings. There's just something new to discover in the field every day."
Every daycare center can farm
The fact that all nine educators at the Vierländer NaturKita are actively working in the field is extremely remarkable. "I feel it is a great strength in our house that everyone is very open to everything," Kerstin Nauhardt emphasizes. "There is a willingness among the staff to embrace the unknown and contribute their best." Working together on Acker has brought the college even closer together as a team.
The pedagogical head of the kindergarten is also grateful for the support of Acker e. V.: "When I imagine that we would have had to prepare everything on our own, it would have come to nothing."
Despite the frequent shortage of time in the daycare center and the multitude of other tasks that have to be managed, she thinks that the AckerRacker's detailed instructions and accompanying materials make it "feasible and manageable" for all daycare centers. And AckerRacker educator Sarah de Oliveira is also confident:
"If the interest is there and people have a desire to get out in the field, we would definitely recommend AckerRacker!"
Profile Vierländer NaturKita
- Location: Hamburg
- State: Hamburg
- Number of daycare children: 120 Number
- AckerKinder: 80 Number
- Educators / staff members: 9 Number
- Acker educators: 9
- AckerKita since: 2020
- Size of the field: 60 m2
Further information on the AckerRacker program
AckerRacker is a year-round, hands-on educational program by Acker e.V. for daycare centers. Together with their teachers, the children grow around 20 different types and varieties of vegetables on the daycare center's own field and experience with all their senses how crunchy vegetables grow from small seeds and plants.
They playfully explore nature, gain a basic understanding of natural interrelationships - and discover how delicious "homemade" vegetables taste fresh from the field.
More daycare centers that are already participating in the AckerRacker program can be found in the current Acker e.V. impact report https://www.acker.co/ackerracker/Wirkung.
Detailed info about the program can be found here: https://www.acker.co/ackerracker/Programminformationen
This article and more information on the topic of "green careers" can be found on the website and in the magazine Stadt.Land.Wissen of our cooperation partner Forum Moderne Landwirtschaft at www.moderne-landwirtschaft.de.