In semi-rural Pukekohe, 10-year-old Devon Wood-Davidson and Caleb Weck, 9, are busy tending their garden at Patumahoe School. The leeks are high and the large bok choys look fresh and crisp. The children are proud of their gardening efforts.
'I've helped set up some of it," says Devon. "My mum is a food tech teacher and does a lot of gardening."
There's a similar garden at Owairaka School in Mt Albert, where Ammynah Kezo, 10, and Muhsin Abid, 9, are harvesting silverbeet. The inner-city youngsters confess they didn't like vegetables until they started gardening.
"My favourite is radish," Ammynah says. Muhsin likes sorrel.
A growing number of Auckland primary schools have started gardens to teach children where their food come from and entice them to eat their own produce.
Owairaka School principal Diana Tregoweth says some of the pupils hadn't even seen vegetables that didn't come out of packages. "They'd never even seen peas in a pod. Because of the project, one of the girls asked for broadbean seeds for her birthday," she says.
Ron Gordon, Patumahoe School principal, says they started the project because they saw a need. "Most children did not want to eat vegetables," he says.
Since starting the project, the children have changed their tune."We still have a couple of children who just nibble, and whom the parents are worried about."
But they enjoy the whole process of growing their own. "It's interactive. Children get their hands in the dirt and ask: 'Where do I start. What tools do I use?"'
And the gardens have grown the schools' bank accounts too. Both schools won $2500 last year in a competition run by Mother Earth.
They invested their prize money into programmes that will further promote healthy initiatives. Patumahoe School is putting the money towards building a child-friendly kitchen where children can chop, slice, and prepare meals using their vegetables.
Each class has a cooking day where they prepare a special meal, helped by parents.
Owairaka School has bought more garden supplies and tools as well as lunchboxes to encourage healthy eating.
The school has make-and-take sandwich days where children use vegetables harvested from their garden as well as eggs from chickens they raise.
"By having the children learn how to garden, we're giving them skills for life," Ms Tregoweth says, "and a lot of them are already starting to do some growing at home."
The Mother Earth Reward scheme recognises Enviroschools working towards environmental sustainability and the promotion of wholesome, healthy food.
"We just want to make sure people know about the great projects that NZ schools are doing," says Caroline Potter, scheme head.
Enviroschools from early childhood education centres to secondary schools may enter by applying online and sending images of their healthy eating plan. Entries close September 14. Ten finalists will be announced on October 5. The three winning schools, plus a People's Choice winner, will be announced on October 24.
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