Garden programme grows organically

Issue: Volume 100, Number 10

Posted: 12 August 2021
Reference #: 1HAP1g

A vision to build a garden to teach children at a South Auckland school about food has grown into Oke, a not-for-profit organisation that has built gardens in 18 schools in the past five years.

In 2017, the Vodafone Warriors turned up to help build the garden at Weymouth Primary School.

In 2017, the Vodafone Warriors turned up to help build the garden at Weymouth Primary School.

Paul Dickson left the corporate world in 2015 and decided to use his project management experience to found charitable organisation Oke, which helps schools in South Auckland to build gardens.

“We were running a local fundraiser and looking for a project to fund. Papatoetoe West Primary School approached me and said they wanted to put in the Garden to Table programme, but they needed a garden,” explains Paul.

“I pulled together a working bee and procured all the materials and we built it in just one day. The principal suggested that lots of schools needed the same kind of support as they don’t tend to have those skills in-house.

“I envisaged a garden as a tool to teach children about food, but it turned into a classroom. I thought it was just going to be a one-off – it just grew organically from doing that first one. As we’ve done more, we’ve realised that these spaces can be used for more than just producing food,” he says.

Keeping it sustainable

In 2019, the Vodafone Warriors  were back to check on progress at the school: Warrior Isaac Luke and Paul Dickson make sure Peter has been behaving himself in the vegetable patch.

In 2019, the Vodafone Warriors were back to check on progress at the school: Warrior Isaac Luke and Paul Dickson make sure Peter has been behaving himself in the vegetable patch.

In the beginning, fundraising was done on a school-by-school basis, but it soon became clear that the charity had to become more sustainable long-term to meet demand.

Paul says each garden costs between $10,000 and $15,000 in materials and volunteer hours can total about 180 hours. Foundation partners – Dole, 5+ A Day and Kings Plant Barn – all ensure that Oke has the funds to continue to build school gardens.

“I get good deals and source funding from our partners, trusts, grants and corporates. Some companies also provide volunteers to build the garden. That’s a great help because you have the funding and the labour to help build it and the corporates say it’s rewarding for them.

“We don’t have any labour workforce, so each garden is built through a working bee. We work with a school to plan that. We’ve started having the working bees on a Saturday, so we can give parents and teachers an opportunity to be a greater part of that. Having them involved in building the garden, means they have bought into it from Day 1 and you just have the community on side right from the beginning,” he explains.

With funding and volunteers in place, each school garden takes one day to build. The charity provides schools with raised beds, a tunnel house, composting solutions, child-sized tools, irrigation, and other essential resources.

 “We build anywhere between nine and 12 raised beds – they are two by one metre. We put in a tunnel house or greenhouse and a toolshed with all the tools. We have learned what’s needed to make it really sustainable,” says Paul.

Growing successful learning

Oke leaves it up to each school to develop its own programme, incorporated within their curriculum.

“It quickly changed from being about growing food to being an outdoor classroom, a place for teachers to take their tamariki to learn about science or maths or any other area of the curriculum,” says Paul.

Principal Saane Faaofo Oldehaver.

Principal Saane Faaofo Oldehaver.

Weymouth Primary School’s garden project, for example, has provided opportunities for integration across different areas of the curriculum, supporting the school’s focus on science and ecological sustainability, as well as its work around Matariki.

“We celebrate this across the whole school and children use this as a time to harvest and cook the food from the garden as one of our activities,” explains principal Saane Faaofo Oldehaver.

Last year, the charity developed an app which is designed to sit alongside Oke’s mahi.

“The app contains a digital garden, which helps you grow three different vegetables a season and there’s also a STEM element. Schools said they could use some sort of tool to help them along the way, so we developed this app which has been pretty well received,” says Paul.

Paul believes a school garden is a great leveller for tamariki and school communities.

“Not all children thrive in the regular classroom. In a school garden, you don’t have to be the smartest or the sportiest – you can just be you. Any kid can grow things and have the same outcomes and learn along the way.

“Kids with learning difficulties or short attention spans learn much better in a hands-on, natural environment. Unfortunately, most of the schools in these urban areas are more of a concrete jungle, and our gardens have provided a much-needed outdoor education space for teaching and learning,” he says.

 See link) for more information.

Growing eco warriors

Education Gazette talked to Saane Faaofo Oldehaver, principal of Weymouth Primary School, and full-time garden manager, Sarah Price, about their school garden project, which engages tamariki in the natural environment, as well as developing activities aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum.

How did your school garden project begin?

It all started when we partnered up with Oke charity in 2016. We already had a beautiful space, we just needed a kickstart and they gave us the funding we needed to embark on creating an environmentally sustainable area for our school and community.

Tamariki enjoy the sensory garden at the school.

Tamariki enjoy the sensory garden at the school.

We were blessed to have the Vodafone Warriors come in alongside Oke and make our compost bins and build our garden shed to house the seedlings.

We have slowly been building up the area. We began by constructing a huge mural created by Charles and Janine Williams, local artists who specialise in large-scale murals. We ran a competition for our students to create a piece of art that encompasses our teams – Moana, Te Awa, Papa, Maunga and Rangi – and the winning piece was added to their mural.

What is the kaupapa of the Nature Classroom?

Our Nature Classroom includes he māra kai (garden), he ngahere (forest), ngā whare o ngā kararehe (animal pens), worm farm and compost bins. It is the centre for our waste stream organisation. This is the domain of ngā Ātua – Papatūānuku, Tāne-Mahuta and Rongo-mā-Tāne. It is connected also to Ranginui, Tawhirimatea, Tama Nui Te Ra, Tangaroa and Tūmatauenga.

Before entering, we recognise that we are moving into a space different from the playground or the classroom, or hall, and just like with the other areas of the kura, ākonga show respect and follow rules that apply to this area of the kura.

We have a karakia and himene that classes do before they enter the gardens as this space is a special place. This is the kaupapa we have started under the guidance of one of our kaiako, Whaea Willi-Anne Rowe.

There are also other spaces for activities, quiet time and discovery related to the garden or any learning opportunity. These activities are created by Sarah and the eco warriors. All students can apply for leadership roles and Sarah nominates the students who will be eco warriors. They have many roles: sorting the food and feeding the animals, working with students, and teaching them during the breaks, attending to the pātaka, cleaning the animal enclosures, and sustaining the garden beds, to name a few.

How have you grown your school garden project?

In 2018 we decided to hire one of our parents, Sarah Price, full-time to help us achieve our vision of teaching ākonga about environmental sustainability. We now have garden beds in which classes can plant seeds and seedlings, and then they can harvest and cook the produce.  

We have fruit trees and an outdoor space for teachers to teach in. We recently planted an orchard of fruit trees as we ultimately want to have unlimited fruit for our children. We have also created portable kitchens on wheels that teachers can use in their classes to do cooking with the vegetables they harvest. 

We have two pigs that eat our scraps, so we send less to the landfill. We have chickens that lay eggs for the children to use for cooking. We have worm farms, composting, and we also have two water tanks so we can catch the rainwater and use it in the garden space.  

This has been a work in progress over the past few years and I believe it only works because we are blessed to have Sarah who works full-time in the gardens. She’s responsible for our Eco Warriors who work in the garden every day.  

The Eco Warriors prepare activities and work with ākonga who come to the space in the breaks. We also have bird feeders and have so many different species of birds all the time: tui, fantails, blackbirds, finches and sparrows. 

How is the garden project integrated into your school programme?

We are working towards all classes spending a day a term in the garden and using the space as their classroom for the day. We are trialling it this year with classes that are keen. We are aiming to embed our kaupapa across our practices.  

  • At Weymouth Primary we aim to directly engage our tamariki in the natural environment to gain life-long skills, knowledge and understanding of their place within, responsibility for, and reciprocity of Te Taiao – the natural world. 
  • We provide opportunities for our tamariki to work together to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food.  
  • We foster a Māori world view of respect for he māra kai (garden), he ngahere (forest), kararehe (animals), he aitanga pepeke (insect world) me ngā Ātua (Gods).  
  • We are also teaching about waste and developing waste streams. Food scraps are sorted by our Eco Warriors for our pigs and chickens. Recyclables are washed and cleaned, paper goes to the paper bins, then what is left is for landfill. We have reduced our footprint to landfill. 

What projects do Sarah and her team have underway? 

Recently Sarah and the Eco Warriors have been involved in building a sensory garden and we now also have an allocated garden bed which is used to hide toys. We call this the ‘digging garden’ – as our five-year-olds told us they like to dig – so we created the space for them.  

Most recently Sarah and the team built a ‘pataka’ which we put at the front of our school. The Eco Warriors are responsible for ensuring it is kept clean and tidy and they harvest the vegetables and add them to the pataka for our community. It was made from some old doors and recycled materials. One of our teachers, Cheyenne Pritchard and her class painted it for us.  

Sarah also takes our Eco Warriors for trips to get some new ideas. They attend the ‘Eye of Nature’ event every year at the Botanical Gardens. 

How can schools connect tamariki to the outdoors and why is this important?  

By creating opportunities: if we create the opportunities then our children can participate and succeed and feel success. That is our ultimate aim. Some children learn in different ways so it is our job as schools to offer these opportunities. 

Who knows, we may have children who will aspire to be a vet or a gardener; or to be able to cook a meal on a budget for their families. Sarah has lots of children that go to the gardens during the breaks which is wonderful to see.   

How does a garden programme like this benefit the community? 

It creates opportunity – our gardens are for our community and in Weymouth our school sits in the heart of the community. We are working towards developing stronger links with our community. Currently our community supports us by helping out and volunteering their time, and in the holidays and weekends by feeding our animals.  


Some good kai keeps people at the working bee happy at Favona School.

Some good kai keeps people at the working bee happy at Favona School.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:17 AM, 12 August 2021

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