Masterchef winner Gary MacLean promotes healthy eating at Muirhouse community garden

Cooking with gas: Scotlands national chef Gary MacLean and Julia Pennycuik of Muirhead community garden. Picture: ContributedCooking with gas: Scotlands national chef Gary MacLean and Julia Pennycuik of Muirhead community garden. Picture: Contributed
Cooking with gas: Scotlands national chef Gary MacLean and Julia Pennycuik of Muirhead community garden. Picture: Contributed
A community garden in one of the most economically-challenged parts of the Capital is showing families how to go sustainable, fresh and local with their food.

On the back of the alarming statistics released last year that 1/10 people in Scotland experience food poverty, Masterchef winner and Scotland’s national chef, Gary MacLean, joined rural affairs minister, Mairi Gougeon, in the Muirhouse garden yesterday to celebrate the project which educates kids and local families on how to access cheap fresh food.

The garden was set up and supported by government grants as well as through other funding channels. They welcome children from local schools as well as families who face economic hardship to take part in local growing and to learn more about nutritional diets.

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The event saw Julia Pennycuik join Mr MacLean in sourcing ingredients from around the community garden and producing a vegetarian risotto for attendees.

Ms Pennycuik, said: “I was a single parent, on a zero hour contract, relying on food banks to survive and it is no way to live. The nutritional value of processed food can be extremely low and this has a negative impact on mental as well as physical health.

“At the community garden we try to get kids in from the local area so that they have an escape from perhaps troubling environments. Our programme helps kids and families to become informed on how to cook and sustain a nutritional diet through growing and sourcing your food locally. It is amazing to see the reaction of the kids when they get involved.”

Ms Pennycuik had previously spent four years at a garden in Penicuik gaining experience before taking a paid role as a community/youth worker at NE Arts. She is now responsible for teaching kids about biodiversity and how to cook, as well as grow, the vegetables in the garden. We were told that this will equip children with the tools they need in later life.

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Another aim of the multiple projects that run out of the garden is to encourage users to go out into the world as green ambassadors and to offer an alternative to the processed food handed out at food banks or purchased in low income households.

Mr MacLean, spoke of the importance in regaining the community connection with food, he said: “When I first started cooking you could not get fresh veg even in kitchens. Now you can get everything in super markets. We have lost that connection with seasonal foods and what it means to source produce locally. Projects like this are about people and not just food. It is about understanding where food comes from and what eating should be.”

The volunteers at the centre were one of the recipients of Scottish Government funding via the Community Growing Fund, receiving £3,000 which will assist in the creation of outdoor cooking spaces, and the delivery of classes on crop management and harvesting.

Ms Gougeon, said: “It is shocking in this day and age that we have people so reliant on food banks. This project is all about local fresh food that is cheap to access. It is imperative to get access to local quality food in areas like Muirhouse. It is amazing to see the work that they have done in the community."

She added: “The government is currently working on a food nation programme that will be announced shortly.”