With myself as Permaculture Leader and my colleague, Jess, as Conservationist and Art Therapist, St Jo’s has continuous learning about the environment and the natural world running through its veins. Students here are lucky enough to have hands on experience of permaculture and conservation projects, large and small, throughout the kitchen garden, wetland area, creek area, and other spaces in the school grounds. All classes have permaculture and environmental science taught through the kitchen garden program, which runs weekly on a Tuesday. The program is carefully planned with teachers to link with inquiry topics and other areas of the curriculum, to meet the cross-curricular requirements of sustainability.
St Joseph’s has a progressive way of caring for students who need a little extra support through therapy programs, including horticulture and art. This enables individual and small groups of students to work through the week on all sorts of outdoor, gardening and creative projects, so the school is constantly evolving and improving the school environment not only for the students and school community, but also for the wildlife we share the space with.
Care for the environment is also led by students through student groups such as the Sustainability Team, the Wetland Warriors and the I Sea I Care group. All students are also invited to join the weekly kitchen gardening club.
The kitchen garden is run using permaculture principles. There is a strong focus on building soil through green manures, worm farming, composting and mulching. Water is conserved through wicking beds, mulching and rain water harvesting. Integrated pest management is practiced through companion planting, with nasturtians, chickweed, borage, buckwheat, and marigolds running wild through the garden beds, and by letting the chooks free range through the beds for short periods. Recycling back into the system is a big focus, with all food waste either being composted, worm farmed or fed to the chooks. Waste paper is shredded and used for chook bedding, and the droppings and dirty bedding from the chooks is composted, adding a great nitrogen source. Seeds are saved from season to season and all sorts of receptacles are used as planters, to encourage resourcefulness and creativity in the garden.
St Joseph’s is lucky enough to have its own café, run by Matt the chef, who works across all grades teaching them how to cook and about food science, and also with the grade 6s to run a fortnightly community café. The focus is always about designing menus that are seasonal with either local produce, or produce sourced from the kitchen garden. This wonderful program allows pupils to really make the connections about where food comes from and to learn how to cook from scratch through the seasons.
The school has been specially designed to capture the water that falls on the oval and divert it to a wetland area. This incredible initiative has created a brand new ecosystem, which supports a wide variety of pond life, including frogs and toadlets. Jess is currently working hard with the students to design and plant up the wetland and new creek area with indigenous and native bush tucker, which not only provides great habitat for local wildlife, but can also be used to broaden pupils understanding of food by introducing other possibilities to their palates.
There are many other practices carried out on a day to day basis to encourage a lighter ecological footprint, such as recycling, biodegradable packaging from the canteen, signage to remind pupils about turning off appliances and taps, soft plastic reduction projects, a produce stall, walk to school and nude food days. There is always room to expand and improve on the vision of environmental excellence, but, as you can see, students at St Jo’s leave their primary years with a great understanding of how their actions affect the broader environment and how they can best contribute to the planet through sustainable practices and choices.
Lucy Kyriacou, Permaculture Leader