SUSTAINABLY LOCAL: Somers School Garden

Growing Green Thumbs are dedicated to educating children and their families about the origins of food, the relationship we can form with nature and the joys of giving back to the earth by living sustainably.  Our goal is to inspire and build a sustainable future for our kids and the planet through community connections. In a series of interviews, we aim to draw attention to our environment through our community’s best practices.

 

We caught up with Doug and asked him a few questions about the garden at Somers Primary School. 

Somers is located on the south coast of the Mornington Peninsula looking out at Phillip Island and the Southern Ocean.

We are a School Kitchen Garden focused on engagement. We have a large number of people each doing small amounts of work. We are a community.

We are an organically formed loose collective of parents, kids and teachers at a small school outside Melbourne. We have created a completely decentralised model where each class within the school gets to decide what they will do with their own section of the School Garden. We found a way to welcome all sorts of people into the community even if their fingers are not very green.

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We are not a business. No-one gets paid. We don’t really have a motto but “Growing Up Healthy” is a bit like a slogan for us.

We were inspired by our children. The school had previously had a vibrant garden mostly driven by a few energetic teachers. When the major protagonists left, lost interest or no longer had the time the garden would fall into disrepair. Boom and bust, boom and bust. The majority of the time the brilliant teachers involved simply had less and less time to do things in the garden due the changing nature of their roles as teachers. We didn’t want it to become a little fiefdom with committees and politics.

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Our best practices for living more sustainably are compost organic waste, use less plastics and recycling.

Where to start? Ours is a root and branch approach but each class group does it’s own things.

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We make our own compost and worm farms process waste food. The vast majority of our garden set up is made from recycled materials. We use, re-use, repair and re-purpose anything.

We interact a lot with the science and art programs which brings in a lot of ideas and short term projects, some of which become part of our system.

We apply a lot of principles shared with permaculture and biodynamics but we are unaligned pragmatists, we pretty much had to be.

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Our space was significantly impacted by some new demountable classrooms in the last few years. We have a corner of the school grounds about 100 sq metres. The success of our program means that we are out growing that and we are slowly occupying other under used spaces around us. We have to be imaginative, collaborative, diplomatic and patient. It is going very well. We were well backed by the last principal who retired last year. Our new principal is fantastic.

We have 12 classes in the school now after rapid growth over the last 5 years or so. Each class and the pre/post school care group has one Raised Earth Garden Bed. Each bed is made from recycled materials and built by the less green fingered souls among us.

Each bed is approx 2 metres squared. Each class forms its own plan for the garden and we help them form a team. The team involves the kids, the educational supports staff, the teacher and one or more parent volunteer.

The amount of work for each class can be tiny. The parents come and give 30-60 minutes every week or two. It is not much more time than leading a reading circle.

Around the beds we have shared areas for kids to work in, several fruit trees, compost heaps, a falling down shed or two and more.

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Each class decides what to grow. Most of the time we grow food. We do encourage the kids to grow food producing plants but we do not dictate.

Why do we encourage food growing? We do so because we see an enormous opportunity to connect the school kids and school community with all the processes involved in bringing healthy food to the table and n bringing healthy habits to our lives.

We encourage food growing as a part of a greater project focused upon reinforcing healthy living messages; being outdoors, having hands in the earth, being active, understanding how food is produced, understanding what grows locally, understanding how the food grown in the garden differ from the food available in a supermarket, understanding the work required to make what we survive on, understanding what foods are healthy and why, understanding that food is not something that comes from a factory; it is chaotic, muddy, unpredictable, labour-intensive, diverse and seasonal. By working with nature any of us can grow food.

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What do you do we do with the food we grow? We share it! We have a parallel healthy eating program which uses the produce from the garden. We have a small produce stall outside assembly each Monday which is a combined healthy eating and maths project; three kids assist every week and do all the maths associated with pricing, weighing, working out prices and dealing with the cash takings.

We take from permaculture, bio-dynamics and other systems of food growth. We are almost organic but we don’t claim the label as we take donations of things like pea straw and manure which may or may not be certified organic. Any time we can choose organic substrates we do. We encourage organic processes, we promote moon-planting, we are re-purposing an old structure for a green house and we have plans to introduce chickens.

 

 

The biggest rewards from Somers Primary School Kitchen Garden are that it works like a community garden (& kitchen) based within a school. The biggest reward is the genuine community that has formed around the garden and now extends beyond it. The kids are part of families, the families are part of the community and the community is stronger and more connected due to their combined efforts.

Even though we have a very spread out work load there remains a risk that, after certain hard working personalities leave the school, the momentum could be lost. We have been planning for succession since the project was re-invigorated in the last couple of years. Recruitment has not been a problem but succession might be.

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Share. Share everything. Share the load. Share the benefits. Share the credit. Share the joy. Share the knowledge. Share the fruits of your labour.

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We are involved with our community via  Food is free project, community gardens, seed saving, share waste.Our project is 100% volunteer driven. The aim is to create a self-sustaining community garden within the school. The major projects closely associated with us would be the healthy eating program, the weekly free fruit days, the healthy lunch days once a term, the local Boomerang Bags group and several others.

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If we could leave an inspiring message it would be: “You are already good enough to do what you want to do. Don’t let anyone, yourself included, hold you back. What you don’t yet know you will learn along the journey.”

 

To keep upto date with whats happening at this wonderful space follow:

Instagram: Somers School Garden

Website: Somers School Garden

 

 

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