Southland school completes edible Kai Garden

Small school creates big Kai Garden

Students and teachers at St Teresa’s School in Bluff recently completed a new edible garden as one of ten winners in this year’s Keep New Zealand Beautiful Kai Garden Competition.

The competition gives schools and ECEs from across the country the opportunity to create a small kai or rongoā garden to help their students develop a greater understanding of the natural world and to gain hands-on experience gardening for their school.

The full primary school has a roll of just 10 students, ranging from year 1 to year 7. The existing St Teresa’s vegetable garden, with established fruit trees and a fenced off chicken coop, was looking “a little jaded” according to Rosi Coyle-Smith, coordinator and sole teacher at the Southland school.

Having just studied the concepts of rongoā (traditional Māori medicine), the students gathered ideas individually, then worked together to decide what the final design would be. Two students then drew out the design, which includes new plantings of Kawakawa, Mānuka and Koromiko trees (all of which are used traditionally for medicinal use), as well as an upgrade of the chicken run including installing a water tank and gutter system to collect precious rainwater.

“Having a small roll meant that every student at St Teresa’s had a hand in the design, preparation and making of the revamped veggie garden and chicken coop/run,” says Rosi.

Tuakana teina — a te ao Māori ‘buddy system’ that pairs older and younger students — is important at the school. “Five year olds, with the support of the older students, got stuck into everything from loading the wheelbarrow with barkchips and compost, helping with the construction of the compost bin, to painting their chicken art on the side of the hen house,” says Rosi. “The students also choose the companion plants to grow with their veggies, and the rongoā natives for the nursery.

The students also constructed bee-friendly boxes using repurposed railway sleepers and leftover wood, and added final touches by painting a mural celebrating Matariki on the fence, replacing old artwork and refreshing the space.

Eggs and vegetables that are ready to harvest are shared among the student’s families, while surplus fruit and vegetables are bundled into gift packages which are then donated to the community and neighbouring properties.

Each student takes a role in the garden care, even coming back to the school in the holidays to take turns feeding the chickens and watering the vegetable patches. “After the last two terms work, rain or shine, each student has buy in to keeping the garden tidy and to look after the chickens, knowing it is their legacy,” says Rosi.

More info about our Kai Garden Competition can be found here.

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