Two hands ECE garden project supports community caring

Issue: Volume 98, Number 9

Posted: 30 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9uec

Children at an early childhood education centre in Timaru are learning about growing produce and sharing the harvest with their families and the wider community.

The children at BestStart Marchwiel in Timaru have been experiencing hands-on learning while providing fresh produce for members of the community for more than a year now – and they’re on their way to attaining a gold-level Heart Foundation Healthy Heart Award.

The early childhood education centre opened its gardens, called Te Wahi ako Tatou in February 2018 to teach children about growing vegetables and sharing with others.

“We have a vision,” says Natasha Joyce, the centre’s manager. “Our vision states that the centre should be a home away from home and that we have two hands – one to help ourselves and the second to help others.”

The children grow vegetables such as potatoes, corn, pumpkin, silverbeet, lettuce and tomatoes in three large planter boxes. Staff and parents help at working bees at weekends and neighbours and people from the community also lend a hand weeding and planting.

“If people can, they come in and put new plants in when they take vegetables, but they don’t have to because we fundraise to buy the plants,” says Natasha.

Paying it forward

At first, people weren’t coming in to get vegetables and children would take baskets of surplus produce to the centre’s neighbours. But the scheme has now taken off and people will now pop in to pick up a pumpkin or vegetables they may need for dinner.

“It’s a huge learning opportunity and the culture of our centre is to pay it forward to make sure that everybody’s okay, not just us,” says Natasha.

“The children are all from this community, so they know a lot of the people, but I think the massive amount of learning comes from ‘we have enough, we’re not going to waste it, we’re going to redistribute it to other people’, and that’s good,” she says.

“They say ‘we grow food for our whānau and neighbours, so we can look after our community because we are kaitiaki’.”

While resources for the project were initially fundraised by centre staff, the project was largely made possible by the “massive” efforts of parents, local organisations and the Christchurch-based community group Kiwi Daddies, who volunteered time and money and donated materials such as concrete, wood, plants and soil. BestStart Marchwiel continues to fundraise to buy seeds and seedlings.

Food and clothing banks

Caring for the children and the community go hand in hand for the BestStart team, who have identified that nearly 38 per cent of children in their care need additional support. Licensed for 44 children, the centre has a teaching team of 10 and funded an extra teacher aide on top of the existing one-to-eight ratio to support a range of diverse learners.

“We believe we shouldn’t accept less for our children and our families, our staff and our community. Like many communities in New Zealand we have our share of lower socio and diverse learning needs. We want to help close that gap,” says Natasha.

Alongside the community garden initiative, Natasha’s team run a food bank and clothing bank out of the centre.

“Our families are really comfortable coming to us and saying ‘hey we’re really struggling this week, is there any way you can help us out? The food bank is just for our families at the moment. They’ll tell us what they need in the morning and we’ll have it ready for them at home-time. Or we try to help if they’re having a bit of a hard time.

“For example, a few times we’ve made dinner for our parents. It’s hard being a parent and working heaps – you have to pick up the children at the end of the day, get home and then cook dinner. So for parents that are really up against it, we’ve made a meal or two that they can just pop into the freezer. My staff have done that in their own time, delivered it to the family and said ‘dinner’s on us’,” says Natasha.

A place for everyone

The centre is part of an integrated network of support in Marchwiel. The Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society provide regular food parcels and Christians against Poverty distribute leftover food from a bakery.

Natasha says they are considering developing a hub at the centre.

“We have a lot of volunteers that help us here and we want to transform the downstairs area of our centre – it has gardens out the front – into a community hub,” she says.

“We could run some ‘mums and bubs’ classes, or a chat group or ‘come in and have some soup’ so people can be nice and warm in the winter as well. It’s going to be called ‘Marchwiel Hub: A place for everyone’.

“We couldn’t do it without the teachers that we have here. They’re really driven, like-minded people that have the same philosophy and vision of helping others. So we have to really make sure when we’re employing new staff members that they have that belief because that is very important to us.”

“Don’t be scared to go the extra mile”

Seeing the children and community change motivates Natasha and her team to do more.

“Don’t be scared to go the extra mile, because it’s so rewarding, not just for yourself, but to see the children and the community change because of steps that you and your team have taken and that in itself is kind of addictive,” she says.

“You want to do more because you can see the positive change that it has. Yes, it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of time and effort, but the rewards that your children and your community get are unbelievable.

For more information about the Heart Foundation’s Healthy Heart Award programme for ECE services(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:45 am, 30 May 2019

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