Bonbeach Primary is lucky enough to have two very eager volunteers, school mums, Amy Dowling and Jade Kavanagh, who run the school kitchen garden. The pair met in the run down vegetable patch of their children’s school one morning and thought it would be great for the children if they had a functioning kitchen garden.
Amy and Jade decided tending to the garden beds was something they could do between the morning drop off and school pick up. The first thing they did was to get the garden beds ready for planting, which meant a lot of weeding and general tidying up. They then bought a few packets of seeds and started planting.
Peas come from the supermarket freezer…
The first vegetable crop that they grew were peas which they showed a few students when they were ready to pick. The children were asked to pop the pod open and eat the peas fresh from the garden. Some of the student’s replies were that ‘peas came from the supermarket freezer’! This was the moment they realised the school children need to be taught about fresh produce.
They have since built and tend to 16 garden beds, all full of seasonal organic produce and have also incorporated a large outdoor nature play area surrounded with an organic fruit tree orchard. The trees were donated by a local company, and are now cared for by another volunteer school mum.
Friday afternoons are busy helping students at a unofficial gardening club, teaching and sharing with students how to plant seedlings, collecting and emptying compost buckets from classrooms, looking after the worm farm and tending to the new chickens in the coop, which was built with the help of a grant from a local community newspaper.
The chicken coop was a huge addition to the school garden and required the help of many other families to collect materials, build the structure and make it function.
There are now a group of environmental students, who collect the eggs every morning and show the other students how to hold and look after them. Eggs are sold to the families to help with the purchase of special chicken feed.
Amy and Jade’s youngest children attend the attached pre-school and they will soon be helping the ‘kinder kids’ care for the chickens one day a week.
Bringing a sense of community to their school and embracing sustainably and the environment, the pair have also organised events by initiating a one-day sponsorship with Bunnings (hardware stores with gardening departments), so that every child could plant a native tree for ‘National Tree Planting Day’.
A sense of achievement
The students now have a sense of achievement and regularly water their special tree. ‘Nude Food Day’ was another accomplishment they achieved by tallying waste from a school picnic, with environmental team students, taking part in the organisation for the whole school event.
Supported by the schools environmental teacher, Amy and Jade volunteer around 20 hours each a week in the school grounds and at home researching gardening projects, recipes and all things involved with running a voluntary kitchen garden.
Farmers Market raising funds
Amy and Jade also tend the schools Farmers Market with a regular stall selling the ‘worm wee’ (organic liquid garden fertiliser collected from the worm farm) which helps to fund bigger purchases.
The staffroom kitchen and canteen is not adequately equipped to cook with a whole class of students, so a pizza oven was purchased for pizzas and breads to be baked, with freshly picked toppings straight from the vegetable patches. They are now waiting for a teacher to take their class outside to cook.
The school garden is run on donations from local companies providing seeds, seedlings, tools or kitchen ingredients where special allergy free, free food days are held, with the help of students and other mums.
Healthy food for all the students
Jade and Amy believe it is important that every child has access to fresh, healthy food and concentrate their recipes on being available to every child.
"Chocolate Beetroot Muffins & Smoothie Day" was made with the help of other school mums and students. They baked over 300 muffins and made smoothies for every student and teacher.
Gluten, nuts, dairy and eggs were substituted where needed. One student’s mother was brought to tears as the thought of her child being able to take part in the special food day and not being singled out as ‘one of those allergy kids’
Amy has a huge respect for healthy alternative eating and has developed some fabulous recipes that the both will eventually incorporate into to the school canteen with the help of the other school mums, a long term goal they hope to achieve sooner rather than later.
Not yet part of the curriculum
Currently writing a kitchen garden program to introduce to the students and families they hope, that a trial run of their program in term 2, will encourage the school committee to look at the benefits of kids getting outside, growing and then cooking fresh produce to help them make their kitchen garden part of the curriculum.
Often looking for large grants to help fund the program, they fall short and are unable access the larger grants due to their school being small, primary and public. Amy and Jade hope that one day someone will recognise the importance of teaching children about healthy eating, growing it yourself and the joy that comes from playing outdoors in a natural, nurtured environment.
The need to educate the government and community peers, that it is not always about employing another full time teacher, but looking at the resources available within the school and the fact that the students are showing them what they want to be taught.
The kitchen garden is always seen as a major highlight of the school tour for new families. We have been told the school was chosen by families for their child because of the garden. The new families also wonder why it is not part of the curriculum – the simple answer is there isn’t any funding for programs like this.
Gaining community support since 2013, parents and the local community love the garden that has been created and it was part of Melbourne Sustainable Living Festival's "GROW IT LOCAL" 2015 project, where Amy and Jade were honoured as GROWERS OF THE YEAR.
They were recognised by their gardening peer, Costa from Gardening Australia, who made a speech to a large crowd about their important role. Costa highlighted the fact that they volunteer to bring this kind of activity to their school, where funding is always lacking. Local members of Parliament have shared the Bonbeach Primary School's kitchen garden story, together with regular articles in local newspapers, the support is always there, but not financially.
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The need to educate the government and community peers, that it is not always about employing another full time teacher, but looking at the resources available within the school
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