Students at Bellarine Secondary College spent the last weekend of their spring holiday at school – building a farm.
At Bellarine Secondary College, a disused soccer field – previously the ‘out-of-bounds area’ – was given new life when it hosted a ‘24-hour Build a Farm in a Day’ festival last year. The vision was for the new permaculture ‘no-dig’ market garden to offer affordable veggie boxes to the school community, supply the canteen, and sell any remaining produce.
The pilot project was the brainchild of environmental educators James McLennan and Ben Shaw. The pair approached the school in early 2022 and, as Bellarine Secondary teacher Dave Mitri explains, things progressed at “breakneck speed” after the principal, Wayne Johansen, got behind it. “It was like, ‘Hey, we’ve just been offered this project where we can build a farm at the school’, and the next thing I knew it was happening,” Dave says.
Wayne admits he was thrilled when Ben and James made a presentation to the school council. In addition to the curriculum benefits, wellbeing staff were excited about the garden’s potential to offer emotional support to students.
“Farm My School is adding significantly to the diversity of learning at the college, enhancing student engagement and wellbeing, and strengthening our connection with our school community and the Bellarine Peninsula,” Wayne says.
“It offers a hands-on learning experience to actively engage students in a practical way, deepening their awareness of how they can make a very real difference to how we live.”
“If schools have the space, it provides a really rich opportunity for students to have a say about how they want something in their school to look.”
Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia officially launched the 24-hour festival, with Damon Gameau’s Regen Studios (the team behind the enviro-film, 2040) capturing footage. The festival included coffee vans, local food vendors, music performances, and workshops on building your own ‘no-dig’ garden at home.
The farm was built with extensive community support, including volunteer labour and donations of everything from meals to compost. Established in October, the school saw the first veggie seedlings sprouting as kids arrived back for Term 1. Dave says a new Farm My School elective for Year 10 students will give them important agricultural skills to help maintain the crops. The farm will also be used in traditional curriculum areas from geography and maths to VCAL subjects such as hospitality.
“In my teaching over the years, I’ve seen a lot of kids leave school early for jobs in carpentry and landscaping, not realising that these skills (in maths and other subjects) can be applied.”
A key part of the project has been giving students a voice. Planning days included the Bellarine Secondary College student leadership team, where kids threw unexpected ideas into the mix.
“One student spoke about the need for students who are neurodiverse to have a space in the school to help with their regulation – I would never have thought of that,” admits Dave.
“When we first signed up, I don’t think we realised how much the students would be involved. It’s been a good opportunity for us to talk about student voice and agency.”
In addition to educational benefits, he hopes the farm might “lead to a bigger conversation about healthy eating policies at the school.”
While it’s too soon to gauge the success of the program, Dave is excited by the impact it’s already had on students and says he’d recommend it to other schools. “If schools have the space, it provides a really rich opportunity for students to have a say about how they want something in their school to look.”
Wayne says it was an unmissable opportunity. “We absolutely feel responsible for our community, but we often feel concerned about what we can and can’t do. With Farm My School, we did no more than realise the opportunity placed in front of us. All we had to do was say, ‘Yes, please!’”
Schools or kindergartens interested in Farm My School can contact Ben and James at farmmyschool.com.