By Hans Wieland
“The lessons to be learned in a ‘garden’ can provide us with a better understanding for what it takes to create a ‘paradise’. It may be the difference between living and surviving.” ~ AG Kawamura
The Taste Council in association with Bord Bia hosted the first Food Summer School in Wicklow last year and the buzz word was education: teach children where food comes from, develop growing and cooking skills from an early age, and a new food culture will emerge where consumers are well educated and becoming a food producer is a well-respected career. To achieve this, the development of organic school gardens is an absolute necessity.
Benefits of gardening
Gardening can provide multifaceted educational benefits for children including life skills, developing an understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from, working co-operatively with others, as well as assisting in academic achievement. Best of all is that gardening activities can be integrated into all areas of the school curriculum, making learning more meaningful. The development of numeracy, literacy, languages, and an understanding of natural science and the importance of biodiversity are all supported by a school garden.
Eat your greens made easy
The word is that children love the gardening sessions and parents see the positive effect it has on the children. In light of recent debate on obesity and the effects of junk food in schools, gardening is one way of getting out of the classroom for some exercise and fresh air. One parent whose children have helped to grow a school garden in Belleek in Co Fermanagh told me, “As a father of four young children, I know how difficult it can be to put something healthy on the table and I have noticed that my children are more inclined to eat what they have grown.”
This anecdotal evidence is backed by numerous studies providing overwhelming evidence that school gardening programmes are influencing healthy diet choices among children and result in a greater understanding of healthy eating. Statistics from Sweden show that children who were taught at least some of the time outdoors were healthier, better adjusted and performed an average of 25% better academically than those taught solely indoors in conventional classrooms.
Putting back the wild in the child
With his book Go Wild at School, published in 1996, teacher and environmentalist Paddy Madden set the foundation to school gardening in Ireland. “Even if you only have a scrap of outdoor space in an inner-city school, there is scope for a wild garden,” he says. Since then Paddy has overseen the return of traditional Irish hedgerows, woodland areas, ponds, vegetable gardens and other wild habitats to school yards.
“The trick is to make gardening fun and do interesting things,” says Ciara Barret, who works as a school gardener with The Organic Centre. Children enjoy seeing the direct relationship between their actions and the final result. “Seed sowing is a great opportunity to combine theory and practical teaching about how plants grow, and they can follow the plant at each stage of germination.”
The Global context
An organic school garden directly links positive local action to global environmental issues. Carbon footprints, fair trade, sustainability, food security and food miles can all be examined through the medium of a school garden.
Hans Wieland of The Organic Centre in Co Leitrim initiated Schools Environmental Education Development (SEED) in 2010. It is a collaboration of the Marino Institute, Blackrock Education Centre in Dublin, and six organic training centres with the aim of a school garden in every school in the country. Ask the centre for brochure. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 071 9854338.