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In praise of veggie gardens at school

But first

Our thoughts are with all the communities across Australia who have been affected by the terrible bushfires. We hope you are safe. 

Gardening for kids at school

In this context, it may seem counterintuitive that we are featuring school kitchen gardens this week. But as a site of hope, community, connection and learning, a school garden has much to recommend it. This week, we are looking at some great examples of kitchen gardens in schools from Victoria and the great outcomes these schools and students are experiencing. 

We’re here to help schools. Click here to see how School Stream can support you to engage your parent community, or read on for the benefits of vegetable gardens in schools.

Benefits for children

The unofficial guru of school vegetable gardens in Australia is surely Stephanie Alexander. As of 2018, there were 1630 kitchen gardens across Australia participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation program. But the real number of instructional gardens is undoubtedly much higher, as there are plenty of thriving veggie gardens at schools supported by other organisations or run independently. Either way, there are certainly plenty of benefits and success stories to demonstrate the positive outcomes for children who are involved in veggie gardens at school, both anecdotal and evidence-based. Excitingly, the research shows that the positive changes flowed back to students’ home and the wider community.

Kitchen gardens promote healthy eating

At the start of the program, many of the children would not eat lots of greens and especially the herbs. But now I can lay out six or seven different herbs and they know every one of them and how to cook them. Kids are even cooking dinner for their parents at home.” Giovanna Ghelardini, Kitchen Specialist at Elwood Primary School

Vegetable gardens create a meaningful connection between where food comes from and establishing healthy eating habits. Once children plant a seed and watch it grow, they are invested in tasting it. Healthy eating habits are established at an early age but continue to develop through adolescence and into adulthood, so a kitchen garden is useful in promoting and establishing healthy eating for students of all ages. Gardening, cooking and working co-operatively are real-world skills that will stand today’s students in good stead for their future. Sunshine North is an area of Melbourne with a very diverse community. We’re talking 35 nationalities at the local primary school of 300 students. Sunshine North Primary School is also home to a small but influential vegetable garden that is educating it’s newly arrived students and their families about healthy eating. 

“We can now clearly see that at our school, this program helps both children and their parents to make good choices about their food.” Principal Ken Ryan, Sunshine North Primary School 

Kitchen gardens encourage parents and families to get involved at school

There has been another, surprising, benefit to the veggie garden at Sunshine North Primary School; community involvement. The program has helped parents from non-English speaking backgrounds become involved with the school. With the benefits of parental engagement widely known, this can only be a good thing. Principal Ken Ryan again:

“Parents now come into the school and look after the garden or feed the chickens. The program is the result of a whole community effort. They say food brings people together. What we’ve found is that this program has brought our community together.”

Resources to get kids gardening at school

Kids love getting their hands dirty. With school veggie gardens facilitating rich and rewarding educational experiences, why doesn’t every school at Australia have one operating? There are certainly some perceived barriers to access, namely lack of time, lack of experience with gardening and lack of training. But in Australia, we are lucky to have plenty of resources available to support schools who want to set up their own gardens. The Sustainable Schools NSW website has listed the grant and funding opportunities available for schools Australia-wide. An online search will also yield loads of curriculum-aligned support resources available as well. But perhaps the greatest resource available to schools when setting up a school garden is their parent community. As Sunshine North Primary School’s experience shows, a garden can bring a community together.