Students get their hands dirty for greater good

Friday June 12, 2015 Written by Published in Education
Two Nukutere College students enjoy learning about organic gardening with Brian Tairea (right) from the Ministry of Agriculture. Two Nukutere College students enjoy learning about organic gardening with Brian Tairea (right) from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Secondary school students are learning to grow their own vegetables in an effort to reduce obesity levels in the Cook Islands.

New Zealand ecologist Steve Wratten, who is helping with the project, says just 15 per cent of the fruit and vegetables needed for a healthy diet is grown locally.

He also says expensive imported produce is mostly shunned in favour of cheaper processed food.

To help combat this Wratten has been showing students on Rarotonga how to grow healthier food in an interesting sustainable way.

"We'd like this initiative in the schools to be enjoyed. It's quite exciting if you encourage bees or ladybirds into the crop, it's much more exciting than just digging and planting,” he says.

With the Ministry of Education and some key farmers supporting the project, Wratten is hoping the initiative will transfer from the schools to the families.

The first vegetables will be planted in school gardens next term.

The project is New Zealand Aid-funded and run by Auckland University's Liggins Institute which aims to teach children how to grow vegetables without the need for expensive chemicals and fertilisers.

Wratten told Radio New Zealand that they have also started looking at teaching children about nature’s services.

“We actually went to the school grounds and dug up earthworms, which those kids had never seen actually, and these were endemic Cook Islands earthworms,” he said

Wratten said they then worked out what the economic value of an earthworm. 

Then they went on to try to encourage growing food, mainly vegetables, in the school grounds in the hope that the kids could take back seedlings and plant them around their house. 

They also met some local growers, including organic ones, and they were really keen to try to boost fresh food production..

“At the moment 15 per cent of the fruits and vegetables that people need in their diet is provided locally, and the remaining 85 per cent come in on aeroplanes and are a ridiculously expensive,” Wratten told Radio New Zealand.

He said it was worth remembering that two billion people in the world grow their own food and trade it within the family and with their neighbours.

“So we should remember that growing your own healthy food is not a fad and not for mad gardeners,” he said.

The key thing Wratten is waiting for is the third curriculum, where the teaching in the classroom is going to start with this project. 

Wratten and his team recently sent a large number of binocular microscopes to the Cook Islands and some are going to Tonga as well. 

They also sent some kits for measuring the quality of soil, as the understanding of the soil is the foundation of starting to grow food. 

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