School garden a class act
Children are given the chance to explore issues of sustainability, seasonality and food sovereignty, writes FIONNUALA FALLON
LIKE EVERY OTHER gardener who attended the Grow It Yourself (GIY) Gathering in Waterford earlier this month, I came away deeply impressed by the extraordinary hum of energy, optimism and enthusiasm that surrounded the event. Inspirational talks came from a clutch of remarkable social innovators including Roger Doiron, the American activist who lead the charge for the establishment of the White House kitchen garden, Pete Russell, the New-Zealand based businessman and founder of Out Of Our Own Back Yard (Ooooby), and Prof Paul Clarke, the author, environmental campaigner and dynamic founder of school/community-based sustainability projects such as Incredible Edible and Pop-Up-Farm.
Other speakers included some of the brightest young lights of the British gardening world – Alys Fowler, her fellow Guardian writer Lia Leendertz, self-sufficiency guru Simon Dawson, and Mark Diacono of Otter Farm – as well as our own Irish-based garden experts including the inimitable Joy Larkcom, Joyce Russell, Hans Wieland, Kitty Scully and Trevor Sargent.
But if there was one overriding theme that emerged most strongly from what was a remarkable weekend of remarkable talks, it was the joys, pleasures and the enormous importance of school gardens.
Darina Allen spoke eloquently of how such gardens foster fundamental life skills while nurturing good health and a lifelong love of home-grown food, while Alys Fowler talked of how the same gardens can be used as a positive tool to combat the rising tide of obesity (20 per cent of Irish children are already classified as obese or overweight). One GIYer mentioned the recent RHS study in the UK that included a survey of 1,300 teachers and 10 schools and which concluded that actively-used school gardens increased pupils’ confidence, resilience and self-esteem and also led to improved levels of literacy, oracy and numeracy. Others, and in particular Prof Paul Clarke, pointed out the key role that school gardens have to play as centres of ecoliteracy and as a means of exploring issues of sustainability, seasonality and food sovereignty, where “learning” comes from “doing” rather than by rote. But as to the extent to which the importance of school gardens is formally recognised and instilled at a curricular level in Irish schools . . . well, that was the question on everyone’s lips.
It’s a theme dear to the heart of Paddy Madden, the hugely respected, award-winning environmentalist and educator with 31 years’ experience as a primary teacher, during which time he designed and developed the country’s first wildlife/organic school garden at Scoil Treasa Naofa in Dublin. Since 2003, he has worked as a lecturer at the Marino Institute of Education, training future primary teachers. He’s also the author of many books and papers on school gardens, including the recently revised Go Wild At School, an informative manual on how to create an educational school garden.