We were enthralled by a beautifully simple, yet deeply profound concept that our gardening expert Hans Wieland put forward in our Spring 2020 issue: there should be a garden in every school. Hans passionately expressed what an empowering initiative this would be for children all over the country, helping them to learn more about where their food comes from, whilst cultivating a deeper connection with the Earth. Read his amazing article below!
A Garden in Every School
We need Food Education as a school subject
by Hans Wieland
As we enter a new decade, make resolutions and think about the future, I want you to:
- Imagine a space that demonstrates important examples of native habitats, biodiversity and the balance of nature and the web of life.
- Imagine a space that can teach children how to grow local organic food without using chemicals.
- Imagine an outdoor classroom accommodating Geography, Biology, Maths, Arts, languages and physical activity, connecting with 70% of the curriculum.
- Imagine a space where practical outdoor sessions can promote sensory, experiential and fun learning.
- Imagine a space that can be used for all age groups and all abilities.
- Imagine a space that can connect producing food to climate change.
- Imagine a space that can teach respect, commitment and responsibility.
That space, where all these imaginations can come true, is a School Garden!
As we are all becoming more concerned with the effects of climate change on our daily lives – and also on our future and the future of our children – it has become a necessity to encourage caring about our environment and sustainability, and to integrate this into the education of our children. School gardens can lay the foundation, because they can become a communal space where parents, teachers and pupils can come together to understand and learn from nature.
I see school gardens as connective spaces that allow us to see a bigger picture. There, we can experience the interaction between humans and nature. We can directly experience the effects of climate change: we can feel them and we can measure them. The challenge of growing food from tiny seeds in a school garden can also prepare us to understand the cause of food shortages and hunger in the world, in a way that books and television can’t.
We need to come together for one goal
I have written about the importance of school gardens before – in fact, for the last 20 years. During my time at The Organic Centre, I have overseen the establishment of gardens in many primary and secondary schools, based on the far-reaching concept developed by Paddy Madden in his book “Go Wild at School”, published in 1996, almost 25 years ago!
Much has happened in the meantime. Hundreds of schools around the country now have school gardens, and according to my knowledge, there are at least 15 initiatives promoting food education in one way or another. One of the latest is from “The Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG)”. They would like to see the government “provide better and more consistent food education in schools, highlight the role that better eating plays in everyone’s health, well-being and quality of life and empower citizens to make informed choices.” (IFWG: It’s time to cherish and nourish all children equally, 2019)
2020 is the year when all people behind these initiatives, programmes and manifestos – all these educators, teachers, growers, chefs, parents and pupils – could come together under one simple goal: a garden in every school!
We all can lay the foundation for food education at home
In the meantime, here is what you can do to be part of a ground breaking (in the truest sense of the word) movement to give future generations the understanding, knowledge and skills of growing and producing food in a sustainable and ethical way, as part of a wider climate action plan for a future. We all can lay the foundation for food education at home together with our children. I have three suggestions, from sowing seeds to planting trees.
Project one: Start a garden
Study seed catalogues with your children and discuss the importance of varieties. Choose your project “garden”, this can be pots, a big wooden box, a raised bed, an outside bed in your garden or a corner of your lawn, no space is too small to get started. Make a plan including sowing, planting, harvesting and cooking dates.
Project two: Grow herbs for the kitchen
This project doesn’t require much space, nor time to get started. Three big pots will do, as well as a visit to your local garden centre to pick the plants. I suggest peppermint for tea, oregano or thyme for pizza and rosemary for roast potatoes. Bear in mind that your plants will be at the beginning of their life, so don’t over harvest!
Project three: Plant a fruit tree or fruit bush
Like the previous projects, this can be tailored to the space you have available, from dwarf trees in pots to bigger trees for your garden, or transforming your lawn! There is a huge variety of fruit trees and bushes available: apples and plums, raspberries and currants … and if you have a big conservatory or polytunnel, you can try grapes, apricots or lemons.
Note: to make your projects work, fully engage your children, from deciding what to buy and where to plant, to looking after and harvesting.
Political action is needed
Finally, in order for food education – based on school gardens – to become national policy and a school subject with a curriculum, it needs politicians to vote for it and the Department of Education to implement it, so we all need to shout about it.
Living Classroom: A partnership programme between three organisations (Bord Bia, GIY and SEED) that share a common goal to see a school garden or ‘living classroom’ in every school in Ireland.
SEED is a national network of educational centres with many years experience in environmental education, specialising in all aspects of organic school gardens.