THERE’S A GROWING worldwide concern on food security, and on young people being detached from how their food is grown.
The British School Manila’s (BSM) voluntary gardening program tackles both. The program, which is divided into three age groups, was initiated by Year 3 (the British equivalent of grade 2) Leader Emma Swinnerton a few years ago as a project to connect primary students with global citizenship topics. “I got in touch with Fostering Education and Environmental Development (FEED) and struck a partnership and we decided how we could incorporate a biointensive garden here at BMS,” she says. “They did a (training) day with the children and teachers (on) how we can maintain (the garden)-how to plan, when to crop, and when to harvest. They helped us set up the garden and they’ve kept in touch with us along the way.”
The school is located in the middle of bustling Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, but their lack of space didn’t stop them. The primary and high school gardens snake around the side of the school, covering both slopes and flat surfaces. The nursery kids have access to planting, too – their herb and vegetable garden is incorporated into their playground.
“The projects that we want to do are authentic hands-on projects that the children get involved with, and it’s got a purpose to it. We were very supportive, and now she’s being pushed to do more and more,” says Glenn Hardy, Head of Primary School.
The garden focuses on growing native plants as much as possible, tying it to the school’s service learning projects. “We went with native Philippine seeds—things that were local and native here. We consulted our experts on that as well because I really wasn’t a gardening expert before this,” Swinnerton says.
There’s an herb garden and some papaya and mango trees. Along the slopes, there are kamote and eggplant. To the sides, there are trailing plants and malunggay. There are also leafy greens planted in blue plastic drums. A scarecrow stands guard over seed beds where the school had a bird problem a few months before. Depending on the season, they’ve also planted and harvested spinach, kale, chili, and calamansi. They also practice dry composting.
THE PRIMARY SCHOOL GARDENING EXPERIENCE
The primary school kids share gardens with the high schoolers, whose idea it was to include their younger schoolmates. “The year 12s said, ‘we want to expand the garden and we want to involve year 3,” Swinnerton explains. “Year 3 has been helping with the maintenance.”
The kids help with basic maintenance-weeding, planting, and watering. “We have a team of maybe 10 students and usually the gardeners will come along as well to make sure we’re not pulling out the plants,” Swinnerton says. “We also have a little gardening ASA—After School Club—so some of the children not in Year 3 volunteer to come and do similar things.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. “(The kids) loved it,” Swinnerton says. “The group we had last year loved getting their hands dirty. This year’s current group really like it as well. We’ve introduced voluntary gardening sessions (and) normally we’ve got lots of children choosing to come in and help. We’ve got a little rota system going now.”
That said, being city kids, not all of them were enthusiastic about getting their hands dirty from the get go. “Some kids, not too keen on mud to start with,” Swinnerton says. “Every child has had a go out there and once we start to see things growing, like last week we had lots of eggplant. Once they can actually see what’s the result of all that, that makes them really excited. That kind of enthusiasm makes them want to get involved more. Through word of mouth, that kind of spread. I think the kids have really embraced it.”
The harvested vegetables go to the school’s Service Learning Partner, an organization called Missionaries of the Poor, also recommended by FEED, which hosts a feeding program. Some of it also goes to the school’s gardeners and staff, who tend to the garden when school is out. The kids are aware that the harvests go to their Service Partner, and the school tries to show them how other people benefit from the harvests, for example via video footage.
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