By Mitchell Clarke
An alternative learning outcome which has allowed Year 11 VCAL students from Pakenham Secondary College to grow their own produce, make gardening materials and construct garden beds has been labelled a “huge success”.
The community school farm received almost $200,000 in funding from the State Government as part of the ‘Pick My Project’ initiative.
Bass MP Jordan Crugnale joined Cardinia Shire councillors Collin Ross and Carol Ryan for a tour of the school to see the work students had been doing.
“It was an absolute joy to walk around the school led by the students involved in the various projects and programs,” Ms Crugnale said.
“From murals, plantings, pizza ovens, harvested foods, furniture making and fruit trees planted – it’s inspiring and where education and life skills are at one.
“The students involved should be really proud of their achievements and team work.”
And it’s clear just how proud these students were, with tour guides Austeen, Jennifer and Jake more than happy to showcase their work.
Pakenham Secondary College teacher and program co-ordinator Allison Barrie applied for the grants to try and get students engaged in horticulture, agriculture and construction.
“They are really passionate about this, they actually want to share it with other students and staff,” Ms Barrie said.
With shocking statistics representing increased levels of obesity and diabetes in the Cardinia shire, the school aims to encourage healthy eating by fostering an interest and creating awareness about food production in the area.
“This is a food bowl region and kids just have this total disconnect that food just comes from supermarket. They don’t understand where and how it’s being grown,” Ms Barrie said.
“We need to try and get kids into that sector so as a school we’re trying to do our bit.”
But the benefits of the program extend far greater than just healthy eating, it’s allowed cross year level interaction and engagement in general.
“We’ve had a number of really disengaged, naughty kids come and join us and they’re just different students altogether because they’re learning from their peers rather than a teacher,” Ms Barrie explained.
“They’re out of the classroom, they’re doing something, they’re eating snow peas straight off a bush and they’re like ‘this is awesome’.”
The school partnered with Sustain: The Australian Food Network to unroll the project, and Sustain’s executive director Dr Nick Rose said the students had worked “very hard” throughout the year.
“They have achieved an enormous amount, with over 100 square metres of garden beds created and over 2000 seedlings planted and a doubling of the fruit orchard to more than 100 edible species,” Dr Rose said.
“The groundwork has been laid for a fabulous healthy food future at Pakenham Secondary College, in which students will increase their own levels of food literacy, and able to access pathways to further education and careers in horticulture, agriculture and food systems-related work.”
The Pick My Project is a $30 million community grants initiative which empowers locals to pitch ideas that make their community an even better place to live. So far, 237 successful project ideas across the state have been awarded funding.