Teaching more than gardening
Nelson schoolkids are delighting in growing and eating their own produce. This week there has been enormous delight at unwrapping the hidden delights inside a broadbean. I kid you not, this green crop was savoured raw as a coveted jewel in several school gardens this week.
Many children in Nelson have school gardens, and six schools are in the Kids Edible Garden Educational Programme (Kegs).
Kegs was set up in Nelson in 2009, and is operated by the Nelson Environment Centre. It aims to give children hands-on experience of growing organic edible gardens and eating the produce.
A Christchurch trust started the Kids Edible Garden programme in 1995, developing a growing guide for teachers. The Nelson Environment Centre, with the generous support of the Marlborough District Council and other sponsors, has developed the original resource kit and now offers kits and training for both teachers and facilitators as part of the free programme.
The Kegs programme follows a seasonal growing guide which includes activities which can also be used in the classroom across the curriculum.
Edible gardens are a great way to get kids interested in the natural world – how things interact, where our food comes from, where our waste goes. When children are involved in growing their own food, they are more likely to take an interest in eating more healthily, and they get the benefits of the physical activity as well.
Children who cultivate food themselves are likely to continue to do so and have skills for life, which they can pass on.
The Kegs programme links to all areas of the curriculum. It provides a real-life context in which children can learn by participating and contributing. They have to read the sowing instructions on seed packets and carefully measure the spacing.
They also get to pose questions: if we plant basil next to the tomatoes, will it really stop them going mouldy (and provide the perfect taste combination)?
Children can try out new ideas: does garlic spray really deter cabbage white butterflies?
Kids in the outdoor classroom need to plan and be organised if they want to have the ingredients ready for their Matariki celebration or favourite pizza topping, and make decisions which develop their thinking skills.
They practice teamwork and experience the consequences of their actions.
Most Kegs schools in Nelson are also Enviroschools, part of a national programme which approximately 75 per cent of New Zealand schools belong to. As the Enviroschool kaupapa, or touchstone, is based on sustainability and empowering pupils, the programmes complement each other well to enrich children's understanding of sustainability.
They learn that there are wider benefits in growing our own veges; we are able to control what is put on them. We are able to harvest and eat them when they are at their best and most healthy for us. We eliminate the need for packaging. We eliminate the need to travel to buy, saving time and money and reducing carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to global warming.
When I ask children where seeds come from, they usually answer, "the shop". When we then go on to find and save seed from veges we have growing in the garden (for free), you can almost see the penny drop.
We eliminate transportation costs, so no "food miles" are associated with our food, and we use nature's systems and do not pollute soil resources.
Nelson offers us so much; wonderful leisure choices, a warm climate in which to grow bountiful produce, and a beautiful backdrop in which we can hunt, fish and gather our own free food.
The Christchurch earthquakes and the damaged gas pipeline in the North Island disrupted food supplies that we take for granted, making the opportunities offered in the top of the south to learn how to grow our own food even more pertinent. Indeed, "resilience" has been a word we have heard a lot this past year, and a life skill the awesome kids in Nelson are learning in abundance.