article – volunteering in schools

“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”

We were invited to write an article for School Days Magazine Australia

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Bonbeach Primary has two very eager volunteers in their school garden. A pair of school mums, Amy Dowling & Jade Kavanagh met in the run down vegetable patch of their children’s school one morning and thought it would be so great for the kids if they had a functioning kitchen garden.

They decided it was something they could do after morning drop off and tend to the garden beds before school pick up. First thing 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.

The first vegetable crop that they grew were ‘peas’ and showed a few students asking them to pop the pod open and eat fresh from the garden. Some of the student’s replies were that ‘peas came from the supermarket freezer’! This was the moment they realized the school children needed 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 voluntary school mum.

Friday afternoons are busy helping students at a non-official gardening club, teaching and sharing with students how to plant seedlings, collect and empty compost buckets from classrooms, look after the worm farm and tend to the new chickens in the coop which was built with the help of a grant from a local community paper.

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 is now a group of environmental students, who collect the eggs every morning, show the other students how to hold them and look after them. Eggs being sold to the families to help with the purchase of special chicken feed. Amy and Jades youngest children attend the attached pre-school, 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, so that every child could plant a native tree for ‘National Tree Planting Day’. 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, the pair volunteer around 20hrs each a week in the school grounds and at home researching gardening projects, recipes and all things involved with running a voluntary kitchen garden the pair also tend the schools Farmers Market with a regular stall selling the ‘worm wee’ (organic liquid garden fertilizer 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 cooked, with freshly picked toppings straight from the vegetable patches – they are now waiting for a teacher to bring their class out 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.

They say 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 mums and students. They cooked over 300 muffins and made smoothies for every student and teacher. Gluten, Nuts, Dairy and eggs were substituted where needed. One students 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 pair will eventually incorporate into to the school canteen with the help of others mums, this is a long term goal they hope to achieve sooner rather than later.

Currently writing a kitchen garden programme to introduce to the students and families they again, hope, that a trial run of their programme in term 2, will encourage the school committee to look at the benefits of kids getting outside, growing and then cooking fresh produce and help them make their kitchen garden part of the curriculum.

Often looking for large grants to help fund the programme, they fall short and are unable access the larger grants due to their school being small, primary and public. Hoping 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 to the school and the fact that the students are showing them what they want to be taught.

With school tours starting and ending the garden, it is always seen as a major highlight of the school for new families, and have been told the school was chosen for their child because of the garden, but they too wonder why it is not part of the curriculum – no funding.

Gaining community support since 2013, parents and the local community love the garden that has been created and was part of Melbourne Sustainable Living Festival’s “GROW IT LOCAL’ 2015 project where Amy and Jade were honoured as ‘GROWERS OF THE YEAR’ and recognised by their gardening peer, Costa from Gardening Australia. He made a speech to a large crowd about their important role and the fact that they volunteer to bring this kind of activity to their school and where funding is always at a loss. Local members of parliament have shared their story, along with regular write up in local papers; the support is always there, but not financially.

A Green Thumbs web page is available from the main school webpage that allows parents, teachers and the supporting community to see what is happening in the Bonbeach Primary School kitchen garden, with regular updates and photographs from the pair showing what the students achieve in the garden & kitchen. A special page is allocated to the Green Thumbs sponsors and supporters, for the garden would not exist without them.


So they keep on growing, keep on teaching to kids that come into the garden at lunch times and hope that one day soon their work will pay off and it will become a part of their schools curriculum.
Read the article  here

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