While in Hamilton, New Zealand, I met with Clark McPhillipp, Associate Principal at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. Five years ago, four students and one teacher got together to do a sustainable garden project.
They contacted the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and took a field trip to the Sustainable Backyard garden for ideas and inspiration. They did some serious research and analysis on paper and worked with Cheryl, the Coordinator of the Trust, on the design and plans, which included worm farms made from old bathtubs, well-built raised beds, and chooks. The students were involved in an authentic learning experience and leadership capacity from the very beginning.
Now that the garden has been in operation for a sustained period, the systems are pretty well in place, and the garden has become part of the school’s identity. The school scraps get fed to the worms and the extra worm pee is sold at Parish. The chooks are used in sexuality education. Students learn about companion planting by putting plants together with their ‘friends’.
“We do inquiry-based learning in all things here at the school,” says Clark of how the garden links in with curriculum, “and the garden is a fantastic way to bring the curriculum to life in a real way.” He also explains the garden is a much more effective way to address learning outcomes than the traditional, more removed and abstract curriculum content.
The garden beds are extremely well-built and, Clark concedes, are made out of pressure treated lumber. He knows that is not the typical permaculture way, but opted for a durable solution that would last a long time using readily accessible materials. To protect against the leaching of the potential for toxins into the soil, they lined the beds with an impenetrable membrane before filling with soil and compost and planting.
The following year students put together the garden shed.
“This wasn’t done by adults. This was done by kids with some adults overseeing,” says Clark.
The garden has been featured on garden tours and the students host regular visitors. Today involvement has grown to 30 kids and 3 teachers and is still growing strong in its 5th year.