Waitara students embrace sustainable projects

At Waitara High School, there’s something special going on. From vegetable gardens to chicken runs, fruit and nut trees to freshly-baked bread, students are quietly creating sustainability projects with the goal of giving back.

It began in 2018 with a group of six students from the school Enterprise class. Xavier Martin, Livia Phillips, Daynena Loveridge, Kaedyn Wallace, Tahana Hough and Joseph Bazeley started Renegade.co, a social enterprise determined to help its school community.

“We thought of making a garden and orchard to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to the school community,” Xavier explains.

They used old planter boxes to create gardens and got the woodwork class on board to make a few more. To get the orchard up and running, they asked local businesses and individuals to “sponsor a tree”.  About 40 were planted by the students with the help and guidance of the school’s grounds person and gardening expert Helen Wood.

Two years on and the small but productive garden is producing a range of fresh produce - from lettuces to rhubarb and strawberries to spring onions and artichokes.

The produce is used in food classes – the lettuce and herbs were recently used in a sandwich assessment – and is also used in the school café.  Xavier is also learning to bake bread, which he gives back to the school.

Teacher Julie Hill says the school community has a “quiet respect” and appreciation for the gardens and the work the students put into them.

Locals will often walk through and comment positively on the herbs or whatever vegetables are being produced.

Around the school they talk about this type of sustainability project being “paddock to plate” – everything is produced for a reason and nothing is wasted.

While the school was closed during lockdown a neighbour noticed the lettuces going to seed and asked for permission to harvest them which was exactly why the gardens were established – to be a true community resource.

The school’s garden plans have just been given a $300 boost, after the Ministry for the Environment(external link) gave funding to each Enviroschools region to support specific action projects.

The Taranaki Enviroschools(external link) team will also provide a number of hands-on sessions with their facilitators, thanks to funding from the Taranaki Regional Council(external link), New Plymouth District Council(external link) and TSB Community Trust(external link).  

Year 13 student Ashlee Andrews says the funding will help build more planters to expand the gardens.

Her Enterprise business, Chookies.Inc(external link) breeds chickens and sells chicken and quail eggs – the chickens live on the school grounds.

 

 

The funding will buy seeds for the chicken runs, supporting the regenerative agriculture approach Ashlee believes so strongly in.  It will also support the establishment of a new watercress bed, near the school’s stream.

As the last of the Renegade members leave school, a trio of junior students have stepped up to take the project forward.  

Year 10 boys Toi Kemp, Tiaki McClutchie and Krish Kumar – otherwise known as the “garden gurus” - have taken responsibility for maintaining and harvesting the gardens.

Many other students also contribute. Woodwork classes under the guidance of teacher  David Price have not only made planters, but also housing for the chook runs and fencing for the farm while others helped plant the orchard.

One thing has organically led to another. Alongside the vegetable garden, orchard and poultry, came the purchase of a small number of milking sheep by Agriculture teacher Gus Berghan.  The sheep are run on the school farm and are milked by Agriculture students. Xavier uses this milk to make cheese such as halloumi. Students last year also raised four beef calves which will potentially provide meat for the school kitchens in the future.

Year 13 student Xavier Martin baking bread for school mates.

Enviroschools Regional Coordinator Lauree Jones says most Waitara schools and kindergartens are now part of the kaupapa.

“Waitara is an awesome place to live and there’s a strong sense of community and responsiveness to the community’s needs.  Waitara High School is flexible and adjusts its learnings and action projects around what’s important to it at the time.”

The Enviroschools Programme is a long-term, whole-school programme, where schools create their own unique pathway to sustainability. Taranaki Regional Council co-ordinates the programme in Taranaki, working alongside regional partners.

The other recipients of funding and/or additional help were Toko School (connections between orchard and classroom), Ngaere School (outdoor classroom), Tikorangi School (orchard development), Stratford Primary School (tools, gloves, potting mix and plants), Stratford High School (compost, mulch and tools), Ratapiko School (Enviro action – plants and trees), Westown Kindergarten (help planting orchard), Puketapu Kindergarten (garden wall).

Follow Te_Ara_Poutama(external link) for photos of the school's garden projects.