Primary school permaculture in Malta

Introduction

It is amazing to see how permaculture is gaining momentum in many places around the world. It is not a marginal subculture anymore as it used to be even some years ago. By now it is a strong and legitimate movement that makes an awful lot of sense. Social, environmental and economic rationale proved that permaculture is one of THE answers to many environmental and social challenges and crises humanity is facing in the present times. Joining the movement St Joan Antide Primary School in Malta initiated an Erasmus+ project called: School Permaculture Garden. It is a two-year-old project with partnering schools from Macedonia, Croatia, Iceland.

The international context

School gardens are getting more and more popular. Educators and policymakers, especially in primary and secondary education, are incorporating Garden Based Learning (GBL) and permaculture into the curricula. “Revisiting garden-based learning in basic education” is a detailed historical overview issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Institute of Educational Planning. It also shows some best practices as examples.

Revisiting garden-based learning in basic education

This document is not a recipe or blueprint for creating a GBL programme. Such an objective is far outside the purposes or scope of this work. Rather, it is the wish of the authors that this manuscript will provide some ideas for creatively and productively linking garden-related work to learning and education. In addition, it is our aim that the document will energize practitioners and policy-makers to do more, to take action, and to support local and national efforts to make GBL a reality.

GBL can be defined simply as an instructional strategy that utilizes a garden as a teaching tool. The pedagogy is based on experiential education, which is applied in the living laboratory of the garden. This simple definition, however, is misleading in that it does not take into account some of the powerful elements of the garden experience. It overlooks the relationship of these experiences to educational reform and to the transformation of contemporary basic education from a sedentary, sterile experience to one that is more engaging of the whole child. It also misses the elements of the garden experience that contribute to ecological literacy and sustainable development. Hopefully we have captured some of these subtler aspects of the practice in the discussion that follows.
Read more: http://www.fao.org/3/a-aj462e.pdf

Recently permaculture is becoming part of the school curricula in many schools in Australia. In this study, Kathleen Gannon (Carlingford West Public School, Australia) explains the benefits of school gardens:

A food centered curriculum: How permaculture taught through school kitchen gardening can lead to more sustainable schools and communities and a more sustainable future

Why establish a school kitchen garden? There is a complexity of reasons behind the establishment of Kitchen Gardens within school, including:

  • developing awareness for the environment,
  • engaging students in their learning,
  • fostering community participation,
  • increasing self- esteem,
  • improving diet,
  • increasing physical activity.

Benefits for Students
By using the garden as a classroom, students:

  • achieve increased self esteem through a sense of involvement and achievement
  • gain knowledge and understanding of the environment and the challenges facing the planet
  • develop respect for the environment
  • interact in an authentic learning environment across all subject areas
  • learn new skills and knowledge catering to all learning styles
  • gain insight into new and interesting vocational pathways
  • participate in physical activity
  • foster cooperation through teamwork
  • develop leadership skills
  • gain resilience
  • experience a reduced risk of depression and obesity
  • achieve a heightened understanding of where their food comes from
  • form an holistic and healthy relationship with food
  • increase their interest in nutrition and organic eating
  • learn about food preparation
  • develop practical cooking skills utilising ingredients they have produced
  • learn about sharing space, food, knowledge and ideas

Benefits for Teachers
Teachers involved in school gardens gain many benefits. They can:

  • observe students in a different learning environment
  • use the garden for a wealth of teaching and learning opportunities
  • gaining another teaching space /an outdoor classroom
  • use the garden can be as a passive/active space for a range of subject areas, such as art, mathematics and reading
  • integrate gardening and cooking activities across a range of Key Learning Areas
  • program for a large range of student outcomes
  • provide for group work and co-operative learning activities
  • encourage parent and community involvement/support/partnership in lessons
  • gain a healthy and aesthetic teaching space.

Benefits for the School and the Community
The school and wider community can benefit from the establishment of a school kitchen garden through:

  • increased parent and community participation
  • increased self- esteem through decision- making and leadership roles
  • partnerships that are established and built with local community and groups
  • improved school retention rates
  • increased pride in their school
  • decreased vandalism
  • increased community and parent participation in the life of the school
  • developing awareness of the environment
  • engagement with students in their learning
  • fostering community participation
  • increasing self esteem
  • improved diet
  • increased physical activity
  • assisting the school to meet their sustainability targets
  • improving the school’s profile in the community.

Permaculture program at St Joan Antide Primary School, Malta

In late 2018, Ms Marion Cutajar /Head of School/ came up with the idea to develop the “School Permaculture Project“. The aims by instinct were pretty much in line with international trends. Thankfully, the project got granted and in 2019 the work began.

Major milestones so far

St Joan Antide Primary School is part of the Ecoshool Network so the school, its teachers and staff have been involved in environmental education for many years. In addition, our intention in the project is to work together with local permaculture-related projects, initiatives and the local community as well.

During the School Permaculture Garden project, the first mobility took place between 6-10th December 2019 in Malta. We had a few days of training sessions, site visits, brainstorming sessions and methodological development together with teachers from Croatia, Iceland and Macedonia. We worked together with Dar Frate Jacoba, Marsascala and the Veg Box, Manikata. See pictures below.

Since then we have started planting at the school, pupils, teachers and a few parents from the community together.

Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the project

At the beginning of this year, humanity was hit by the coronavirus. Schools and communities had to close, and we all had to go into lockdown. The pandemic forced human societies to look at “key work” from a different angle. Those people and systems, providing food and care suddenly became VERY important and appreciated. Besides all the sad circumstances, teachings of coronavirus can be very well integrated into the project.

Unfortunately, the pandemic forced us to reschedule some of the planned activities as well. However, pupils could continue to follow and observe the lives of their planted plants via online tools.

Countries now are starting to open up again. During the last few weeks and months, we heard a lot about key workers, nurses, farmers, delivery people and how important their contribution to the society is. People started their own edible gardens/roofs/balconies all over Europe and elsewhere. We got the chance to really start to appreciate our food, and the people and systems providing it for us. Now that we can soon carry on with real-life activities of the project, we can and will start incorporating all these teachings into our activities.

We hope — and actually, we are sure — that the ethics of permaculture are now even more widely understood and appreciated:

Earth care, People care, Fair Share

Teaching permaculture to our children already at primary school is now even more obvious and in this project, we carry on doing just that.

the Flower of Permaculture

 

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