Creating Abundance in School Gardens

Leonie Shanahan next to a wall of snow peas in a school garden

Over the last few months we’ve been filming every few weeks with Leonie Shanahan the evolution of a school garden located in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Turning a drab bit of school grass into a permaculture paradise is all in a day’s work for Leonie because every Friday she turns up at this Pacific Paradise school to teach kids about growing their own food.

Today the boys were scrambling around under the floor of the timber school rooms hunting for weeds. Its amazing to see what looks like a dull chore – pulling up weeds to be used in a compost heap demonstration being so eagerly assisted by the kids.

“This school is great.” says Leonie, “the kids are easy to work with, but some of the other schools I visit can be more difficult.”

We take a stroll through the garden, through numerous herb spiral gardens bulging with vegetables and are amazed at the transformation. Leonie seems nonplussed. She tells us the vegetables are now used in the school canteen. She takes us for a walk through a wall of snow peas, and radishes are as big as beetroot. Prime healthy cabbages unblemished by bugs look in top showroom condition.She spots a ripe strawberry hidden by lettuce and grins, “I can’t believe the kids haven’t eaten it yet!”

Teaching permaculture in schools has been embraced by a rising number of schools on the Sunshine Coast who have seen the success that this program brings to kids. Leonie has now employed an assistant to help share her workload and teach her program at other schools.

School garden make-over. Before and after photos in just a few months.

Today the students are building a compost pile in one of the bins and it could turn into mayhem with so many children involved but Leonie keeps them busy with activities. One boy is shreding palm fronds. Another student has his hands deep in horse poop. Two other students are decorating a scarecrow from recycled clothing Leonie has picked up for the occasion at an opportunity shop.

The secret must be in keeping the kids busy.

Leonie gets the kids to throw in the sticks and palm fronds at the bottom of the bin.
“You want lots of air at the bottom!” she tells them.
Other kids bring a bag of green clippings and throw all this into the bin. Another group bring a bunch of old green leaves and weeds that the boys have found under the classrooms.

“This will be your Nitrogen – your fuel for the compost!” she tells them. We’re not sure if the kids are listening to her at this moment. We have the cameras rolling on her and are trying to catch as much of the atmosphere as possible because we’re filming this segment for a DVD on School Gardens.

Chinese Cabbage or Pak Choi being harvest by student

“Can you just repeat that line?” I ask Leonie to explain the mineral mix she’s adding. Leonie pauses and tries to defuse one of the boy’s humorous antics. He has dressed himself in a fairy dress costume that was meant to go on the scare-crow! The kids are in hysterics. Okay its not quite going to plan but that’s how it is. Slightly dis-organized chaos. But somehow through it all the vegetables are growing fine. The kids respect their garden and seem to be having a lot of fun in the process.

Like a lasagne of ingredients, the compost pile gets piled up layer on layer until Leonie tells the boys to bring out the rotten milk. Old milk that has curdled is poured over the heap and its smell wafts in the breeze. We move the camera back slightly away from the heap and away from the smell. The kids delight in the fun.

Its all part of the learning process and how nature’s bounty is recycled back to good soil.

Visit Leonie Shanahan’s website: Edible School Gardens