Growing the gardening program at the Sunshine School

Thanks to a generous donation, we have been able to build the gardening program at the Sunshine School in Port Elizabeth. In addition to building beds and sourcing materials, the donation has allowed us to employ Elvin Lawrence to work in the garden and support in teaching the kids the benefits of vegetable gardening. So far, they have harvested watermelon, carrots and green peppers in addition to the existing bananas, which are mature and have been bearing fruit for some time.

The students love going out in the garden and getting their hands in the soil. There are currently ten students involved in the programme. Two days per week five students go to the garden. This number and frequency will be adjusted as the need arises.

Though Bequia has recently experienced a long, hot dry season, boxes were constructed and laid out in the garden area and seeds planted. Soil was sourced and boxes filled. Students, with teachers, have been transplanting seedlings and preparing beds for transplanting.

The benefits of a school garden are many and varied. Gardening provides a connection between the students and the real world. They learn from experience that food comes from plants in the garden and not just from a supermarket shelf. They learn agricultural skills and concepts which are integrated with several subject areas such as Maths, Science and Language.

They also learn patience, as they must wait for plants to grow and mature before producing fruit, requiring them to focus as they take care of the plants. Cooperation and team work is a must as each student plays a part in the development of the garden. Social skills are developed as students and teachers communicate.

As students develop the knowledge and skills of growing and taking care if a variety of vegetables so too does their confidence. Non-readers or lower functioning students learn through seeing and doing, and hands-on skills. They learn colours, shapes, sizes, smell and tastes. Older students learn math concepts, such as problem solving, measurement, estimating, counting, and data collection. They learn science skills such as how plants grow and what they need to grow: sunlight, water, and food. They learn about using fertilizers and making compost. In home economics classes students are able to follow recipes or develop their own using the produce from the garden.

Students will be able to transfer skills learnt at school to develop their own vegetable gardens at home, which then can be used for self or for sale. Most importantly for them they get to eat healthy, nutritious food that they grew themselves.