by Mrs Tracey Toovey, School Sustainability Coordinator
The Junior School (Year 2 to Year 5) at St Mark’s Anglican Community School in Hillarys has a strong focus on sustainability, with an ongoing commitment to making the 17 United Nation 2030 Sustainable Development Goals a part of everyday life. The sustainability program is designed to help guide St Mark’s students in their understanding that ‘making small changes’ can help ensure our planet's sustainability for future generations. The School sees sustainability as one of its major cross-curricula priorities.
The Junior School’s Community Garden is just of one the initiatives that fall under the sustainability banner. The garden was established in 2015 with great success, with students getting ‘hands on’ in all aspects of planting, garden maintenance and harvesting. In addition, it is giving students the opportunity to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program.
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation initiative
We introduced the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen and Garden Project in 2015, focusing on students in Years 3 and 4. Through the program we have delivered regular kitchen and garden classes, enabling skills-based learning that extends across the entire school curriculum. As participants in the Kitchen Garden Program, the children have spent structured time in a productive veggie garden and home-style kitchen as part of their everyday School experience. There they have learned skills that will last them a lifetime, and discovered just how much fun it is to grow and cook their own seasonal vegetables and fruits.
A growing garden
In 2015, the Junior School organic garden was set on the limestone tiered area to the east of the Junior School Oval. We started with eight beds, planted with a variety of seasonal vegetables/herbs. Since then, we have added additional beds, a fruit orchard, flowering companion plants, a succulent garden, a rambling garden and established a second bedded garden in our Middle School. At present, we are growing three varieties of kale, along with beetroot, Brussel sprouts, white and purple cauliflowers, broccoli, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, varieties of Asian greens, varieties of lettuces, English spinach, silver beet, finger eggplant, thyme, sage, coriander, basil, three varieties of pumpkin, limes, lemons, chillies, passionfruit, blueberries and many more.
Maintenance of the garden is now in the hands of the Community Gardener, Melinda Lewis, and the Sustainability Coordinator, Tracey Toovey. All the Year 2 to 5 children (391 boys and girls) use the sustainable resources set-up around the School (compost, rainwater tank and worm farms) to maintain the gardens over the year.
We have a regular group of 25 students who are part of the ‘Sustainability Squad’, which meets before school on Tuesdays to work in the gardens planting, harvesting, fertilising, weeding and catching pests.
In addition, there is an ongoing Reduce, Reuse and Recycle program that runs across the Junior School. Year 3 students attend weekly gardening classes. Year 4 is involved in the cooking side of the program. The children have become very entrepreneurial in their ventures to sell our produce to parents and staff at our Market Stall on Tuesday afternoons.
Deciding what to plant
Discussions are held with the students on what to plant. Lessons are given on soil maintenance to give the children an understanding of what will grow in our area, what will be our best sellers at the Market Day Stall and what we would like to cook with. We are always experimenting with new varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits. We have found that environmental conditions meant that what worked one year may not necessarily work well the next. We are always trying new things and that is part of the fun!
Children man the after school Market Stall on a Tuesdays to sell our harvested produce to our School community. We are endeavour to reduce our waste to land fill, so we reuse as much of our garden waste in our worm farms or compost bins. Produce is also used as part of the Year 4 cooking program. Garden groups taste test the produce as part of their classes.
Our garden is purely organic. We do not use any pesticides. We use chilli sprays, sticky glue traps, netting and companion planting to combat pests.
Our students are constantly searching for caterpillars and snails. Using recyclable and reusable materials, students have created cabbage moth catchers. The students can be seen regularly in our gardens hunting pests.
Engaged in learning
The St Mark’s Sustainability Program is presented in a rich and authentic context in which to develop many of the skills described in the General Capabilities from the Australian Curriculum. It encompasses the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century. It requires our students be creative, innovative, enterprising, to engage in teamwork, to try new ways of doing things and to consider alternatives, to make informed decisions about their lives and to ultimately become responsible local and global citizens.
The garden program we run at St Mark’s has helped us to engage our students’ curiosity. It provides positive and memorable experiences that will form the basis of positive lifelong habits.
For our School community, watching our students enthusiastically getting their hands dirty and learning how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food is very rewarding.
What do our students think?
Maddison Hedges (Year 5)
I love being a Sustainability Leader as I get to go in the garden every week and help the younger students to harvest, plant and fertilise the garden. It’s great to get in there and to get dirty. Everybody hates the worm farms but I love getting my hands in there. We love bottling Worm Wizz and collecting castings to sell at the Market Stall. My favourite is potato. We got to dig the seed potatoes in, shovel the soil over the top, water them and watch them grow. We are starting to harvest them now.
Hannah Frazer (Year 2)
I love going to Sustainability Squad and being able to get dirty in the garden. I like picking the passionfruit and using the secateurs to cut the vegetables when we harvest. I like looking at all the different vegetables we grow. I also like squishing the snails! My favourite vegetable we grow is kale. I love it when my Mum buys a bag of vegetables at the Market Stall each week.
Mitchell Bierma (Year 4)
I like going to the garden each week to harvest the vegetables. This week we harvested the potatoes and we got to dig right down into the beds to find them. I like turning the compost bins and collecting the leaf litter from the playground. The best part is when we get to use the secateurs. My favourite herb is basil. I love cooking with it making pasta, pesto dips and putting it on pizza. I love picking it in our garden as it smells great!
Parts of this article featured in The West Australian's ED supplement published on Tuesday 28 August.