Call to parents - let's grow, Epuni

Nutrition lesson: Cooking up pumpkin soup and flat bread for a shared lunch for pupils last week were, from left, Community Unity Project instigator Julia Milne and parents Nadine Opa and Sifiti Malaki.
Nutrition lesson: Cooking up pumpkin soup and flat bread for a shared lunch for pupils last week were, from left, Community Unity Project instigator Julia Milne and parents Nadine Opa and Sifiti Malaki.

Epuni School is digging up an old soccer field to establish an urban farm.

Julia Milne says the planned 'enviro hub' will teach the wider community about growing things and sustainable living.

The ambitious aim is that the one acre of gardens will provide fruit and vegetables for the school's 110 pupils and their families within 12 months.

For 18 months Ms Milne spearheaded a community gardening network in Taita. At Barnardos' Great Start House, the energetic solo mum of three children worked with local residents to establish community vege gardens, a seed bank, planting of sunflowers on the suburb's roadside verges and chicken runs to provide fresh eggs. NZ Gardener magazine named her Wellington's Gardener of the Year in 2011.

Ms Milne says the Epuni School initiative is a continuation of the same themes, 'but on a much bigger scale.

'The core belief is that by sharing, and by using materials that are surplus or usually thrown away, we can create community learning, work experience and food.'

She calls it the Community Unity Project and in Epuni School, its principal Bunnie Willing and the school board, she has found enthusiastic partners.

Ms Willing says the school is already a long way down the sustainability path, with pupils actively engaged in growing vegetables and fruit in a large garden masterminded by Karnabie Weitzel. There are composting and recycling bins; a weta hotel, a nursery where pupils grow native seedlings; a 'Natural Playscape' area designed by pupils, which includes a maze inspired by a Maori legend and drinking fountains.

Last year the school community and sponsors pulled together to create a koru path linking the school and local kindergarten.

The principal dismisses any suggestion this kind of thing is not the role of schools. Ms Willing says it fits the technology and learning and inquiry units, and is a fantastic learning experience for the children as they study what plants need to germinate and grow, the cycles of nature and weather.

Extension into an urban farm - and in particular a deliberate outreach to involve parents - is strongly supported by the board of trustees and the Ministry of Education, she says.

Local McDonald's franchisee Scott Horton, who recently backed a fruit trees in schools planting campaign (see page 16) has promised further help, and the city council, through environmental officer Sandy Beath-Croft, is another supporter.

Eighteen fruit trees, including feijoas, plums, peaches and apples, planted last month are the start of the school's orchard. Ms Milne says a 'field of berries' will be next - raspberries, blackberries and black currants.

Local parents Conrad (an enthusiastic gardener) and Wendy (a cheesemaker) Adams are also pitching in, and are willing to share skills with others.

Mr Adams has a particular interest in soil health and visits the school every Wednesday. The kids are already starting to call him 'Captain Compost'.

Last Tuesday, Ms Milne was running her second weekly "cooking on a budget" class. She and two mothers made delicious pumpkin and herb soup, and baked simple flat bread, which two classes enthusiastically tucked into for a shared lunch.

Parents have also shown support for a sewing class, if some sewing machines can be found.

Ms Milne brings her goat Molly down on the three days a week she visits the school. In future she may also bring laying hens and milking goats.

The principal says the livestock aspect of the urban farm is one they're taking 'very, very slowly and carefully', to make sure all safety, health and other aspects are covered.

Classes for parents on subjects such as beekeeping, knitting, worm farming, yoga and budgeting are planned.

Last month Ms Milne talked to pupils about the Johnny Appleseed project, and the children are now saving the seeds from apples they eat for planting in the school garden.

Ms Milne and Ms Willing are confident the Community Unity Project will flourish more quickly if parents show a willingness to come down to the school and get involved.

Research shows that when spaces are created for a community to come together to produce food, learn new skills and lead more sustainable lives, 'there are wide reaching benefits for all involved,' Ms Milne says.

Just incorporating vegetables and herbs in cooking classes and shared meals at the school is a platform to teach the youngsters about nutrition.


People - parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents getting involved. You don't have to have a child at the school. Weekend working bees are planned, and people willing to share specific skills - knitting, landscaping, budgeting - should contact the school.

Garden tools, a shed, wheelbarrows, any kitchen equipment people no longer need, sewing machines, fabrics.

Hutt News