Teachers conference on organic school gardens at The Organic Centre on Saturday 19th May 2018

by Hans Wieland

 The concept is not new: “Teach children where food comes from and develop growing and cooking skills from an early age on and a new food culture will emerge!”

On the other hand what seems to be common sense is still stagnating in the political sphere: There is no political and financial support for establishing school gardens as living outdoor classrooms from any political party or the Department of Education for that matter. 

All we have is hundreds of initiatives, hundreds of teachers, parents and students who garden as part of their school life. Some initiatives are organised and supported by organisations, some others struggle.

Our annual teachers conference organised jointly by SEED and The Organic Centre is one of our ways to chip away at it and support anybody who wants to develop and use school gardens as part of the curriculum.

Our theme 2018: 
From Rock to Pot – Down to Earth basics on soil and cooking

Food Education is the buzz word at present and we strongly believe a school garden is the foundation of any food education. From soil and seed to grow and eat! Our annual conference for teachers and parents will inform about the latest news in school gardening and demonstrate the close links between gardening and the curriculum. Here is the provisional programme for the day:

Presentations:                                                                                                                             -Paddy Madden’s research on resources for teachers.
Cooking in schools made easy with Ciara Barrett. (SESE)
Understanding rocks and soil and their importance for growing (SESE, Geography) by Paddy  Madden

The 7 best herbs to grow in schools and their uses with Hans Wieland (SESE, Physical Education)
Composting and soil fertility, easy and manageable options in schools with Ingrid Foley (SESE, science)

A great day to learn and network in the fabulous surroundings of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim

The aim of the conference is to inform teachers about the benefits of school gardens and enable them to link all curriculum strands to the living classroom. School gardens are a huge educational resource for schools and are proving to be an important part of teaching an integrated range of subjects in an enjoyable and fulfilling way.

Benefits of gardening for children

Gardening can provide multi-faceted educational benefits for children including life skills, developing an understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from, working cooperatively with others as well as assisting in academic achievement. Best of all is that gardening activities can be integrated into all areas of the school curriculum, making learning more meaningful. The development of numeracy, literacy, languages and an understanding of natural science and the importance of biodiversity are all supported by a school garden.


In fact one of the reasons why organic gardens in schools have become more and more popular in recent years is it makes teaching interesting and fun. It gives children a different learning environment and allows teaching in a practical and inexpensive way.

Eat your greens made easy

The word is that participating children love the gardening sessions, while parents see the positive effect it has on the children. In light of recent debate on obesity in children and the effects of junk food in schools, gardening is one way of getting out of the classroom for some exercise and fresh air.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by numerous researches and studies providing overwhelming evidence that school gardening programmes are influencing healthy diet choices amongst children and result in a greater understanding of healthy eating. Statistics from Sweden show that children who were taught at least some of the time outdoors were healthier, better adjusted and performed an average of 25 per cent better academically than those taught solely indoors in conventional classrooms

 Putting back the wild in the child

With his book “Go wild at school”, published in 1996, teacher and environmentalist Paddy Madden had set the foundation to school gardening in Ireland: “Even if you only have a scrap of outdoor space in an inner city school, there is scope for a wild garden.” Since then Paddy has overseen the return of traditional Irish hedgerows, woodland areas, ponds, vegetable gardens and other wild habitats to school yards.

“The trick is to make gardening fun and do interesting things”, says Ciara Barrett, who works as a school gardener with The Organic Centre. Children enjoy seeing the direct relationship between their actions and the final result. “Seed sowing is a great opportunity to combine theory and practical teaching about how plants grow. When they sow a bean and it germinates in ten days, then they follow the plant at each stage,” Ciara continues.

The Global context

An organic school garden directly links positive local action with global environmental issues. Carbon footprints, Fair Trade, sustainability, food security and food miles can all be examined through the medium school garden.

“The lessons to be learned in a ‘garden’ can provide us with a better understanding for what it takes to create a ‘paradise’. It may be the difference between living and surviving.” (A.G.Kawamura)

Growing together schools by The Organic Centre is a small booklet on organic gardening in schools with a monthly ‘to do’ calendar and seasonal recipes, tried and tested in schools with children, teachers and parents.

The Year Round School Garden is a publication by Kerry Earth Education and The Irish Seed Savers to assist teachers in making the connection between a   school garden and the curriculum.  

 Available from

Also: Organic Gardening for Primary Schools (DVD) available from Bord Bia,





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The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, Ireland.

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