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Growing local

The Community School Garden at Beachmere State School was originally set up in partnership with Beachmere Area Network Group and 2016 is its second year of its operation as a shared project.

Over the past 18 months the program has consolidated as the garden has adopted an approach which is more engaging of the children's input.

Students not only tender the plants and water the garden, but we are developing more activities growing vegetables from seed.

We grow and harvest a variety of different produce -- depending on the season --from herbs like parsley, basil, mint and dill; to lettuces, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, cabbages, beans, carrots, spring onions, kale, peas, loofahs and sunflowers. We keep a lavender hedge, run a worm farm and share our activities with a hive of stingless native bees.

Harvested produce is currently taken by the children or supplied to the school tuckshop.

While a small group of students maintain the garden most school days, on Thursdays approximately 200 children, from all levels, attend the patch for garden based activities.

It can be full on.

We are fortunate in having  a trained horticulturalist  from the local community on hand to guide our activities.As well,  volunteers ensure garden upkeep during term and school break.

While we originally began supplying a couple of local eateries with fresh produce we now plant with student engagement in mind. Exciting plants are popular like huge sunflowers and loofahs. Scents and colours always draw focus. But most of all it is the thrilling growth of vegetation that excites the children the most.

To plant a seed or seedling and each week  monitor its progress, undermines the supermarket presumption that food comes prepackaged or lives on shelving.

We know that as the children's' interactions with the plants rise and they take food samples or potted plants home with them, diets are changing as the 'greens' on offer seem to have their own histories that the children discover through their gardening time..

In the past we have had cookup events run by a trained chef (one of Jamie Oliver's in fact)  with garden produce  and ,occasionally, the tuck shop offers a garden centred menu.

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Comment by Dave Riley on September 19, 2017 at 18:53

A year or so back the kids at the primary school where I run the garden started calling me 'Dirty Dave' --after the childrens' book "Dirty Dave The Bushranger."
After all I did work in the dirt...and there was a full on reading program one could not disparage by denying the association.
Unfortunately around town references to ' dirty Dave' by the under 12s was sure to be misconstrued.
Kids come up and hug me in the street for crissake!
I was worried.
So when we created a sunflower maze this year at the patch, I was keenly renamed AMAZING DAVE after our 'amazing' sunflower 'maze'.
And it has stuck.
When out and about I am greeted by youngsters as 'Amazing Dave'.
Aside from the question of whether I can fulfill the attributes of my adjective on a day to day basis, the moniker makes me feel like a wrestler or a super hero.
In the shops. In the street. 'G'day amazing Dave" and (parent) "So you're Amazing Dave?"
At the end of term last week I had to endure a noisy chorus of 'Good morning Amazing Dave!"
I can assure you this business has not gone to my head as I remain as unassuming as of yore.
In one of my past lives I was a Punch and Judy professor by the name of Professor Ratbaggy. That's the way of the P&J puppetry game -- self anointed professorships.
But looking back, I can assure you that being hailed as 'Amazing Dave' is a lot better than being fingured as 'Hey, Ratbag!"

Comment by Dave Riley on July 20, 2016 at 6:04

The supplementary advantage of 'school gardening' is that I get to work two gardens so I am able to compare produce, approach and plant growth. 

We've just done a big harvest of toms but you should see our cabbages, broccoli and silver beets! On Thursday I'm playing cook out and showing the children how to make a green salad. They'll forage and I combine. 

Comment by Rob Collings on July 19, 2016 at 21:50

Nice work and outlook there Dave.

Comment by Dave Riley on July 19, 2016 at 8:15

However, I believe that projects like this at schools  would be extremely difficult without community input and volunteerism. 

That was certainly the experience until we arrived last year.The project was unsustainable without that continuity.

The next challenge was teacher allocation and curriculum space and rationale. Our great advantage for the impetus was P&C driven and I came in as part of a partnership hookup. Having an experienced horticulturalist in our volunteer mix was a real bonus and certainly gave me confidence.

Teacher flux can be a problem but we've found that teachers who cannot garden can be moulded into ones who can -- and besides, teacher aids are usually better gardeners.

In effect what you need is space and water -- no surprises there -- and soil in our case. Working with the groundsman is very useful in way of mulches and those sort of inputs.Currently, in a change from last year, our children don't even use gardening tools and they plant using spoons! 

As for a template -- I have no idea. We are learning and developing as we go. We are not running to a scenario the Alexander initiative.

If the Education Dept sponsored a network of school gardens and encouraged inter school dialogue  and exchanges these exercises would really take off. Nonetheless, I think what we are doing is developing a culture of 'gardening'  that offer various knock on effects.

Much as I'd like to talk about biology and mathematics ( some classes measure growth rates for instance)_ we aren't really at that level of rationale.  Generally we are opportunistic in way of learning options -- and, as I suggest, a lot of that is behavior.

Given the groundswell of support this project gets from the local community -- I think school gardens -- 'community'  school gardens -- offer a keener  food change dynamic than standalone community gardens -- even though gardening at school can be exclusive (what with volunteer protocols and the limited access).  

The volunteer thing also transcends the problem of relying on single teacher's enthusiasm and deals with the complication that your local P&C so often is made up of young mums and dads with work and childcare responsibilities.

In my experience retirees love working with children.

We've had different folk through such as local migrants who are isolated in the community or are challenged by English con versation. Folk doing Phds looking for an outlet from the studies. 

We ran an art connection and mosaiced paving stones. 

We could do a lot more but my business isn't telling the school what to do, of course.

Also we've stayed away from the Permie model and definitely rely on annuals rather than perennial food foresting. Children relate to the faster growth of annuals and the quick returns. And they love the exotic produce even if they don't eat it. 

I hung a banana on a trellis among beans one week and we had a great time of it deciding if we grew it all not.

We've had smell days -- basil to spring onions to mint. Built scare crows.Many options.

Comment by Dianne Caswell on July 19, 2016 at 5:36

Sounds like you have the finger on the pulse Dave. Susan I have plenty of seeds here that I can give you and I am sure others could spare a few so you could start a bit of a Seed Bank, if you are interested and don't mind to much at this stage what we give you.

Comment by Dave Riley on July 18, 2016 at 23:16

I get seedlings from the Caboolture Mkts and get re-imbursed by the P&C. 15 seedlings for $2. So a day's session of full on planting maybe costs $10-15

We buy in seed raising mix and snaffle seeds...and find it is best raising them in the small plastic pots rather than trays. But we do have a shade tunnel. 

 And we now go for the bigger seeds  -- beans rather than carrots;zucchini rather than parsley-- as the kids can handle them better. We seldom plant direct sow -- except for beans -- but even there I think there is more identification with individual plants if they are pot sown first.

Other than is pretty cheap day to day. 

In effect, though, we do our own shopping -- we volunteers -- and are reimbursed. We can raise money through produce distribution variously -- we also have had a raffle going offering meal vouchers from the cafes we supplied with produce. 

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on July 18, 2016 at 23:09

It's the attitudes of the adults which has stuck with me from my childhood. Children can see insincerity in words and actions.

That you're keen Dave and Susan will shine through to the pupils and that's what they'll take home with them.

Comment by Susan on July 18, 2016 at 22:24

I'm loving your school garden Dave - Looks far more productive than mine.  Not the kids fault - I haven't got my hands on the purse strings so anything needed has to go through a second party who invariably gets the wrong thing.  All the seeds are coming from my stock and I even take in excess seedlings for them to plant as we don't always have the best luck with seeds germinating in the garden beds. 

Comment by Dianne Caswell on July 18, 2016 at 7:23

Wonderful achievement, I am sure the pride of the Patch shines through with the smile on the faces of the children when they say "I grew this myself". Here's hoping they take this experience into their adult lives. The lessons learned are note only Growing and Learning about Plants, but many others that will stays with them forever.

Comment by Lissa on July 18, 2016 at 5:15

That's wonderful Dave. Trying to do the same thing here in my backyard with my own kids and grandchild....but they aren't here often enough to feel that connection I fear.

Hopefully we are now rearing a generation of kids who will have a good connection with food and it's source. Good things to come from that.

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