‘Garden detention’ sparks learners’ interest in food gardening

Johan Hus Primary school caretaker Georgie Botha (left) and principal Desiree Mey (right), with the school learners tending to the garden.

Johan Hus Primary school caretaker Georgie Botha (left) and principal Desiree Mey (right), with the school learners tending to the garden.

At the foot of the scenic Tsitsikamma Mountains in the Eastern Cape, learners at Johan Hus Primary School intentionally misbehave to work in their school garden. An attempt by teachers to discipline their pupils with garden work during after-school detention has instead sparked their interest to grow their own food.

A food garden that started at the school, in Humansdorp, a decade ago has grown to contribute much to the school feeding scheme. But the most surprising contribution has been to the greening of learners’ schooldays.

The school principal, Desiree Mey, says, “more and more learners were deliberately stepping out of line just to get their hands dirty.” Although the garden is maintained by the school’s caretaker Georgie Botha, all their learners now help run sections of the garden.

Learners at Johan Hus Primary working at their school garden.

Mey explains that the garden that was started by their caretaker 10 years ago is not big, but it makes a huge difference in the school’s feeding scheme. “The produce we get from the garden is used in the kitchen. We’re not able to sell yet, but we’re working towards it,” she adds.

Earlier this year one of South Africa’s biggest retailers, Shoprite, decided to get on board. Mey says the supermarket group contacted the local education department to ask if their school needed any garden tools.

Georgie Botha, caretaker at Johan Hus Primary, started their school garden 10 years ago.

“We were so pleased with the offer and Shoprite has since been a part of Oom Georgie’s ever-growing initiative. They pitched up with a truck and brought our children bread and soup and they also donated gardening implements, plants and seedlings,” Mey adds.

The school also received proper water infrastructure which includes a borehole, a pump, piping and a 5 000-litre water tank. Food and Trees for Africa, an organisation that supports and contributes towards Shoprite’s hunger fight campaign, #ActForChange, donated compost, vegetable seedlings and provided Botha with permaculture training.

Another purpose behind the garden is to get people to become self-sufficient, as most people in their community depend on government social grants. “We start with the kids. We teach them the responsibility of taking care of themselves and the garden is the perfect place to start.”

The school garden has inspired head girl Kimberley Valentine to start her own garden at home.

The school has started using the garden as a space to learn. The students’ natural sciences lessons are focused on how the land should be utilised, while in their life skills classes they have to convert the information into a drama piece and showcase it in an artistic manner.

With approximately 200 learners at Johan Hus Primary, all the grades at the school are actively involved in the garden and host “garden days”. Each class is allocated a part of the garden for which they have to take responsibility. According to Mey they are judged on “who works the fastest and most beautiful”.

Their head girl, 13-year-old Kimberly Valentine, says gardening can teach communities about nature. Valentine and her mother have also started gardening with carrots, cabbage, beetroot and green pepper at home. “The garden has encouraged me to become a scientist one day. I want to learn more about the things in the world and the stuff that we use in our daily lives.”