Wonders of growing their own food

CONNECTING children with the wonders of growing their own food is a goal that has to be commended.
Whether it’s a little window box with a single tomato plant or a regimented furrow of potato plants thriving in the back garden, the plan is to let kids understand that their food does not come out of plastic bags and containers from the local supermarket.
And it’s with this goal in mind that the students and teachers at St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Skibbereen have embraced the wonders of producing fruit and vegetables from a patch of waste ground at the back of their school.
‘We were looking at ways of using the small piece of land we had at the back of the school. Now, with only about one-third of an acre, we knew that we didn’t have much room, but it turns out that we have all the space we need,’ principal Alan Foley told The Southern Star.
In this limited area, the idea was formed to create a space for the children that would provide both recreation, education and the joy of being outdoors. ‘We have three classes for children with autism, so we initially planned to build a sensory garden,’ Alan continued. ‘However, this idea soon grew into a unique experience for all the children attending the school.’
While the sensory garden was the seed that got the garden growing so to speak, the St Patrick’s Boys garden has since blossomed with 10 raised beds, a Geodome and a Zen garden. There is also a wild trail leading to a willow dome and tunnel, an amphitheatre for outdoor classes, an insect hotel, a sheltered woodland area and of course the all-important sensory garden.
‘The raised beds and the Geodome are very popular with both the children and the teachers alike. Both have produced an abundance of vegetables, and we had an incredible crop of tomatoes last year,’ Alan said. ‘The raised beds have given many of the children the drive to grow their own vegetables at home. This year we are all looking forward to getting stuck into the planting, as soon as the weather gets a bit better that is.’
However, even the Irish weather can’t put a damper on the boys of St Patrick’s as they can still get outside and learn about growing their own food thanks to the Geodome.
‘We have classes inside the Geodome where the children learn about looking after the soil, the importance or insects and other wildlife which are vital to the health of the garden. The bright and warm Geodome is also a great way to get a break from the routine of the classroom,’ Alan said.
Armed with the skills that come with learning how to grow their own food and how to care for their garden, the boys at St Patrick’s National School have gone out into their community to encourage others to get involved.
‘By educating the children of our town in growing and horticulture, we are giving them life skills which they can carry through life and use to plant and grow at home,’ Alan said. ‘In an area of limited employment opportunities, our pupils could potentially explore careers in the food industry in later life which would enable them to live in and contribute to their local community in West Cork.’
As for the future of the St Patrick’s National School Garden, plans are in place for an apple orchard with the children and teachers focused on making their garden as much a part of their community as they can.
‘We want to share our garden with the local community and beyond. We have been accepted on to the West Cork Garden Trail for 2017 and hope to attract visitors, both local and beyond to come and see our garden and to, perhaps get some inspiration from what we have achieved here in Skibbereen,’ Alan Foley concluded.

Two pupils of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School, Skibbereen, being interviewed through Irish about the school’s garden project for the recent TG4 ‘Duchas’ programme which carried a feature on the Get-Involved competition.
The St Patrick’s NS school garden project also featured on ‘Nationwide’ on RTÉ One recently. Photo shows teacher Brian Granaghan being filmed for the programme with pupils in the geodome.