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School gardens coming to fruition

By Russ Grayson - posted Thursday, 29 November 2007

In recent weeks we've been bombarded with political promises on the “big” issues like the economy and defence. But what about the “little” promises?

Let's look at one example to see how the rush by the two major parties to outdo each other can lead to decisions that that are not only hasty but could be dead wrong.

A micro industry is born

Federal funding for gardens in schools is not the stuff on which that elections are won. Those who are aware would probably classify it as one of those “motherhood” things, the benefits of which are so obvious that no one would oppose it. Thus Labor's promise of $12.8 million over four years for a national roll out of school food gardens has attracted little comment other than from those already involved in implementing such projects, some of whom fear being sidelined if Labor's promise comes to fruition.


But why gardens in schools? What do they offer to the education of our young? Why are they something that Labor sought to buy votes with?

The answer to the last question is that what happens in schools is political, especially at election time. To answer the two other questions, however, we have to realise that gardens growing food in schools, and their use in educational curricula, has become something of a micro-industry.

If you go to Adelaide's Black Forest Primary you can walk through the garden resplendent with hanging fruit, pass under trellises of climbing grape varieties to the outdoor classroom. This is the crux of the place for it is here that the school has brought a range of curricula subjects into the garden. They've been doing it now for 25 years.

Early days

After New Zealander, Robina McCurdy, led a three-day workshop at Black Forest primary in 1997, the idea of educational gardens in schools took off. Within a couple years, food gardens had started to appear in schools across the country.

Robina's workshop, however, was not the first example of the educational use of the gardens in schools. It can be traced back, in this country, to retired Brisbane school teacher Carolyn Nuttall who popularised the practice in her 1991 book, A Children's Food Forest.

Even before then there were school vegetable gardens, but it was Carolyn and Robina who popularised the practice and set it on course to becoming, eventually, a micro-industry.


By 2005 the idea was further mainstreamed when noted chef and cookbook author, Stephanie Alexander, joined forces with community-based organisation, Cultivating Community, to develop the innovative Collingwood College garden in Melbourne.

The garden is an unexpected find in the city: set among high rise public housing towers in down-market inner urban Collingwood, the garden educates students in growing, harvesting, preparing, cooking and eating what they grow in shared, classroom meals. For a nation beset by childhood obesity, controversies over the advertising of junk food on children's television and poor nutritional health, the program offers clear benefits. It is, however, a garden of a different type to that at Black Forest school with its outdoor classroom.

Labor's threat

It is this difference that could be quashed if Labor goes ahead with its promise to exclusively propagate the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation model. Labor's focus on a single model of school garden program no doubt pleases the foundation, however it does not please others already involved in the use of school food gardens in education. They make use of different models adapted to their local circumstances.

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About the Author

Russ Grayson has a background in journalism and in aid work in the South Pacific. He has been editor of an environmental industry journal, a freelance writer and photographer for magazines and a writer and editor of training manuals for field staff involved in aid and development work with villagers in the Solomon Islands.

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