Susanna D’Ascenzi Kehoe (parent volunteer) & Alison O’Neil (Volunteer Officer)
Edible Schools Gorey is a whole school project at Gorey ETNS that teaches students about sustainability through a programme of growing for consumption. It involves students, teachers, parents, and community volunteers all working together and learning about the practical skills required to grow food and the theoretical links to sustainability.
Edible School’s beginning was unusual, in that it didn’t really start out as a gardening project, but as a PTA swap initiative, back in 2020. The aim was to bring awareness around waste and other environmental issues caused by fast consumption. The school held two swaps before Covid lockdowns hit and plans for additional events had to be put on hold.
Practical Solution-turned-Social Event
The swap initiative provided a way to solve a practical problem i.e. how to exchange previously-loved items such as children’s clothes, toys, baby items and books that still had lots of life left in them. The events combined a practical solution with a school community social element. Parent volunteers offered free activities like yoga, storytelling, etc. to the visitors; families came for the swap and stayed for the other experiences. Parents chatted and children had a bit of fun.
Each swap event raised a little money by inviting an optional entrance donation. Half the funds raised were donated to local charitable bodies focusing on wildlife or conservation (such as the local Courtown-based seal rescue centre), and the other half went to the PTA to support the usual school activities.
When the school re-opened after the first lockdown, school principal Raymond was approached by a group of parents who came together to propose a new project just launched by the Wexford Environmental Network, called ENViTE – Edible Network Villages and Towns Eire (https://www.wexforden.com/about-envite) The project was welcomed, as it provided a way for parents to engage in school life while remaining socially distant. It also fitted in with the An Taisce Green school theme that the school had already opted to work on: Biodiversity.
Volunteering in the Garden
Gorey ETNS already had a tradition of in-school parent coffee mornings as well as some parental classroom involvement, especially in the younger classes. Many volunteers were happy to help in the school garden and learn a little about growing fruit and vegetables alongside the students and teachers.
The project relies on a dedicated team of volunteers and includes parents and local community members. Teachers are on board too, and they bring elements of the project into the classroom, incorporating gardening and growing and seed saving activities into lessons.
Fridays for Future
The school also supports the Fridays for Future movement, and as a positive move, Friday morning has evolved as the time for the weekly meeting for gardening work. It is an activity that addresses Climate Change and Biodiversity loss, and children learn how to do something practical about these issues. Each week six different classes and their teachers meet with volunteers and work in the vegetable, fruit and flower gardens at the school. Sometimes activities take place indoors because the weather is too wet, but most of the time the children are gardening outdoors.
The students learn about the life cycle of gardening through practical sessions in the garden and the new greenhouse. They have learned how to germinate seeds and plant out the resulting seedlings. They are becoming experts on weeding and tending to young plants, and they have learned how to start up a ‘no-dig’ raised bed using cardboard and compost mulch. And at the other end of the growing year, students have become adept at harvesting fruit and vegetables, and have also been saving seeds to sow the following year.
The project has been largely self-financing, with an end-of-season seed sale helping to raise money for a polytunnel, as well as spreading the good news to families about the project. In buying the seeds that are carefully packaged and labelled by students, families and friends are given the opportunity to put the students’ learning into action by taking those seeds and growing their own at home in pots on their windowsills and/or in their gardens if they have space.
The project has attracted assistance from outside the immediate school community. Students regularly participate in Nature Walks & Talks with a Biodiversity expert and in Nature art workshops with a local artist. There is now a Garden Club offered as an optional after-school activity, in which students cook what they harvest and create garden-related crafts like bird feeders and insect hotels.
The local Men’s Shed built 10 nest boxes that were added to the school building to welcome nesting swifts, and volunteers and staff from Seal Rescue Ireland helped with a recent planting of 182 native trees on a sloped area at the back of the school grounds, an initiative that received local press attention and praise.