More than 700 children across the region have become little gardeners over the past months while taking part in a nationwide project that encourages kindergarten kids to grow their own sunflowers.
Last week, Daltons Sunflowers in Kindergartens Project announced the winners of this year's competition with two Northland kindergartens winning prizes.
First-time participants Ruawai Kindergarten grew the tallest sunflower in the region, with their plant measuring 294cm.
They also took out the win for the widest sunflower head with a diameter of 35cm.
"We have grown sunflowers here before, but they have always flowered when we are on holiday," teacher Chanelle McLaughlin said.
"This time, due to sowing the seeds in August, we now have the opportunity to experience the joy and surprise of beautiful sunflowers in December.
"We have been on an incredible learning journey together, sharing in the hard mahi, and we are grateful for this amazing experience. It has involved a lot of learning and been inclusive of our tamariki, whanau and kaiako. He waka eke noa – we are all in this together."
The key goals of the biennial project are to create a fun and exciting environment for pre-school children to learn valuable gardening knowhow and to develop a love of gardening by growing their own sunflower.
Whangārei's Mairtown Kindergarten took out the Overall Best Photo category with their picture of little grower Theodora (Teddy) Claris measuring the kindergarten's tallest sunflower.
Hanna Bramley, teacher at Mairtown Kindergarten, said there was a huge build-up to the project which made the children very excited.
"The whole point of this is to teach them how to grow. Everyone had a go because there were enough sunflower seeds for everyone, so each child got involved. We did a lot of artwork around the sunflowers, too, which was just amazing."
The sunflowers were the start of an entirely new adventure for the children who have since become master gardeners having dug out their own vegetable garden and set up a greenhouse.
"We're growing peas, radishes, celery, spinach, kale, parsley, tomatoes, courgettes and corn – the kids love the veges. The kale looks like birds have stripped them, but it's the children," Bramley said.
The children not only can munch their vegetables in the garden but also take some home which creates a great connection between kindergarten and their home life, Bramley said.
Their neighbour helped out with the greenhouse because it was challenging to install. As thanks, the children decorated pots with sunflowers and presented it to the neighbour.
For the new year, the kindergarten has planned to expand their gardening venture and plant six fruit trees.
They also applied for a grant to help set up a pātaka kai community food pantry to share their fresh produce with others.