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Defining the meaning of gardens

Gardens have been a prominent dimension of schools for more than a century. While the international garden movement has been steadily making its mark across schools for over two decades, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom where gardening is a well-established educational practice, the school garden movement in Australia has been slower to evolve. More recently, however, the pedagogical value of food gardens, or sustainable gardens as they have come to be known in many Australian schools, is gaining significant momentum, and is linking children with the source of their food as well as other food production principles and processes through kitchen garden experiences that involve growing, harvesting and cooking food (Alexander, 2014; Oliver, 2013; Waters, 2008). Throughout the State of Victoria, gardens and garden-based curriculum have become a popular and highly regarded feature of school life, and for many schools form the basis of sustainability education curriculum that involves children, schools and the wider school community working in partnership on a range of sustainability initiatives (Green & Somerville, 2014; Green, 2011).

More than just places where food is grown, gardens provide access to direct and intimate experience of nature (Pollan, 1996) and social connections (Clayton, 2007), as well as serving many philosophical, therapeutic, moral and symbolic purposes (Cooper, 2006). Others have described gardens as places not just for growing a few vegetables or flowers but as 'important gathering places, sanctuaries, cultural and social centers... (as) important to the health of our civic life as are art museums, symphony halls, theatres, and great restaurants' (Ableman, 2005, p. 181). Throughout his decade-long research on the significance of garden spaces for learning, Moore identified the vital role of a 'pedagogy of gardening' that connects children's learning towards aesthetic expression, culture and geography more closely than any other areas of the curriculum (1989, 1995; Moore & Wong, 1997). Other empirical studies point towards the educational, ecological and social impacts of school gardens (Bowker & Tearle, 2007; Graham, Beall, & Lussier, 2005; O'Callaghan, 2005).

The environmental benefits of gardens, including the role of environmental ethics that assist children in reclaiming their place in nature, have been well articulated (Eagles & Demare, 1999; Skelly & Zajicek, 1998; Chawla, 1988). Pivnick (2001) maintains that a garden is a prime location for the cultivation of connections where teachers can create a place of nurturing, acceptance and exploration; a spiritual space that will assist children to 'develop a love for the land and a bond with nature' (p.12). Alongside the teacher's capacity to cultivate children's understanding of the garden, all elements of the garden including the rain, clouds, sun, soil, insects and birds have a part to play in teaching children about the garden place (Blair, 2009; Capra, 2005).

The renewed interest in edible gardens is accompanied by an intensified effort by schools to provide more healthful food and learning opportunities for children (Gibbs, et al., 2013). Explicit correlations between food gardens, nutrition and the current health crisis in the

Western world emerge as an educational imperative within the research literature (Parmer, Salisbury-Glennon, Shannon, & Struempler, 2009; Graham, Feenstra, Evans, & Sidenberg-Cherr, 2004). In response, opportunities for children to garden have been identified as feasible initiatives that improve children's health and physical activity, and bring them into a new relationship with food (Evans, 2006; Pollan, 1996).

More broadly, recent studies emphasise the transformational capacity of school food gardens to effect change at social, environmental and economic levels, a notion which is captured in two key empirical studies. In The Pull of the Earth (2006), Laurie Thorp describes the story of a garden created in the low socioeconomic Jonesville elementary school in the Midwest United States that is heralded as an educational turning point for the school, not only for its ability to bring economically and socially disadvantaged children into contact with fresh and healthy food, but for its ability to engage young children who were otherwise detached and disconnected from school and home life. Themes of working together, sharing a vision and sharing food generated by the gardening initiative brought a new sense of belonging and identity for children and the wider school community. Similar transformations occurred in the South African feeding scheme Feed the child, feed the nation (Janks, 2006) which involved the construction and implementation of a substantial food farm as a way of uniting a poor, black and under-resourced school community. Described as a 'pathway to a new future' by the school's principal, the food farming initiative was the catalyst for addressing the school's critical issues of hunger and poverty through cultural, environmental and economic approaches.

The two studies draw attention to the broader considerations about the ways food gardens can address social justice in educational contexts. The principles underpinning each of the gardening programmes, although different, capture the essence of how garden initiatives and garden pedagogies can fulfil important needs. Unique in their respective contexts, the studies reflect the wider social and cultural capability of school garden projects to unite school communities in unexpected ways. These have been emergent themes throughout my research work across Australian primary schools where I have witnessed similar transformations, particularly in relation to the ways sustainable gardening initiatives have influenced school culture and philosophy, widened the pedagogical scope of teaching and learning, triggered the opening up of alternative opportunities for those children who are often challenged by the conventions of classroom learning and increased activism in relation to preserving local ecologies in school and community settings. I understand these practices as dimensions of cultural, ecological and social sustainability that effectively sustain people and places.

At Kallista School, communication and garden learning occurs in the context of seasonal growing practices, which means summer growing and eating is associated with vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, asparagus, capsicums, corn and beans, and in the winter months when the soil, air temperature and weather are cooler, growing and eating is connected with broad beans, leeks, brassicas and the root crop families of turnips, carrots and beetroot. Throughout the seasons children observe that with the plants come the flowers, the fruit, the harvest, seed collection and propagation. These recurrent cycles and rhythms connect children to everyday garden practices that determine the availability of specific foods. In this work children's learning is enacted through their capacity to grow seasonal food, maintain and manage pests and diseases, collect seed for future crops, recycle food scraps through composting and a multitude of other skills and actions that connect them to their everyday places. Building on this, children harvest garden produce as part of the complementary kitchen lessons discussed later in the chapter.

 
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