Kitchen Garden Foundation’s new CEO has lived fresh produce and sustainability!

Meet Cathy Wilkinson, Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation’s new CEO.

From the family apple orchard to setting up a farm produce delivery box system and living in the Arctic Circle (yes, the Arctic), as well as professional positions with Monash Sustainable Development Institute and leading major environment, water and planning reforms for government, Cathy has lived fresh produce and sustainability. She made time to let us know a little bit about herself.

You’ve had a lot of different experiences – tell us about just a couple of them and what you have learnt along the way.

I started my career as a town planner and was very fortunate to lead the development of a metropolitan strategy for Melbourne called Melbourne 2030: planning for sustainable growth, which initiated much needed improvements to public transport, protection of green wedges and expanded open space networks. We need to keep finding more sustainable ways of living together that look after people and our shared environment. I learnt that while change takes time, it is possible for community and a huge diversity of stakeholders to come together to make big change happen.

At the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, I helped lead the first ever Arctic Resilience Assessment for the Arctic Council which brought community, Indigenous leaders, scientists, government and many other stakeholders together to identify priorities for protecting Arctic peoples, their ways of life and the surrounding ecosystems. I learnt so much from the Indigenous leaders about indigenous ways of knowing, thinking and doing and also realised how much I still have to learn!

My previous role was as a Professor of Practice at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute helping lead the Fire to Flourish program focused on strengthening community disaster resilience. Our family orchard was completely destroyed by the devastating 2019/20 bushfires along the east coast of Australia. Working with communities across Australia to support community-led recovery and resilience reminded me just how important connection through community is to support healing and regeneration.

You’ve also been involved in lots of lovely community initiatives – tell us about one of those.

We lived in Sweden for many years, in a town called Luleå right up on the Arctic Circle. I got involved in a community farm called Ekoringen on the Luleå River and helped them set up a weekly farm produce delivery box system. Our two children were really young at the time and we had so much fun helping grow, harvest, prepare and share produce. If it is possible to grow, share and learn together in the Arctic where there is permanent winter with really deep snow and the rivers and sea freeze over and the sun doesn’t come up for three months, it is possible anywhere!

What made you interested in the position of Foundation CEO? 

I’ve been passionate about all things garden to table, sustainable food systems and planetary health my whole life. I love gardening and cooking. Spending our children’s early and primary years in Sweden and experiencing such a child-centred culture, connected to nature and the outdoors was inspiring. When I became aware of this role, I couldn’t believe a position existed that so perfectly matched my personal passions and professional experience. It still feels like the most wonderful dream!

What’s something you are most looking forward to in your role as CEO at the Kitchen Garden Foundation?

I get immense joy from creating opportunities for connection and conviviality by bringing garden to table. Connecting humans to one another, connecting humans to nature – one garden, one meal, one conversation, one opportunity at a time – is a critical movement for change. Our health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of the planet depends on it.

It is just thrilling to be able to work alongside Stephanie Alexander, as well as our Patron, Board and the wonderfully passionate team to deliver pleasurable food education supporting children and young people across Australia.

Who or what nurtured your love of fresh produce?

I’ve always loved veggie gardening and have created and tended a plot in every home I’ve lived in from a very young age. My parents had an orchard in Batlow NSW for 20 years and I loved being part of the seasonal cycles of fruit production as well as preparing produce and making jams etc. for sale through the shop on the property. They grew apples, stone fruit and some chestnuts. It was very special sharing orchard life with our children when they were younger.

What was your first cookbook?

In 1994 I bought New Food – from the new basics to the new classics by Jill Dupleix. Back then, it described ‘new food’ as ‘food you can cook and eat with joy’, which still sounds like a solid premise to me. It was my husband who introduced me to Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion a few years later. It has been our go-to food and cooking guru ever since! It’s guided us to cure olives foraged locally, make lemon cordial from our Meyer lemon tree, and quince paste from a friend’s orchard and much more.

What’s your favourite cookbook?

There are soooo many. I love Hetty McKinnon’s series Community, Neighbourhood and Family which are packed to the brim with easy, healthy and yummy salads and meals. I love to grow as many veggies as I can in our kitchen garden and can always find something to create across these cookbooks.

What is your goal for the direction of the Foundation and the work they do?

Our dream is to see every school and early childhood service in Australia delivering pleasurable food education. My goal is to establish long term partnerships committed to making this a reality so that many generations of young people can live healthier, happier lives.