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Meet Dr Kate Neale, garden-health researcher

What are the therapeutic benefits of gardening in social housing, preschools, schools, health services and aged care?

Dr Kate Neale from Southern Cross University is keen to find out, starting with KindyGarden, a program aimed at getting 3-5 year olds growing food.


Meet Dr Kate Neale, garden-health researcher


How did KindyGarden come about?

Vegepod, First Years Consulting and I got together because we’re all passionate about children feeling empowered to grow their own food. We knew we didn’t want teachers teaching TO children, we wanted children to grow food because they believed they could! So KindyGarden consists of five lesson plans and seven growing guides.


What are the advantages of using a Vegepod for this kind of program?

Lots of child care centres and preschools have concrete or artificial playgrounds, so Vegepod allows nature in without major structural changes. As well, the canopies provide great organic pest control and keep out possums and rodents, which can be a problem in the cities. And the reservoir means they can be left for up to two weeks without attention - perfect for holiday periods.


The children choose what they grow. How is the harvest used?

The program dovetails into cooking programs and fundraising - often in the form of selling posies of herbs to parents after school - but I feel the program is working best when the kids pick a bean or strawberry and munch it down there and then.


Kate with one of her gardening buddies


The educational benefits seem obvious, but are there other benefits?

Children learn through doing, so filling buckets with soil and water teaches children about weight and mass and other mathematical principles. They also learn how plants grow, what they require (sunlight, water, nutrients) as well as health and nutrition surrounding what they eat. They learn about communicating and working in a team and we know that time spent gardening lowers anxiety, increases concentration, builds a connection to nature, helps develop fine and gross motor skills and for many is a form of relaxation and meditation. These benefits are noted in time spent with nature for children also.


Do teachers report any surprise findings?

They’re often surprised how it starts conversations amongst the children about what’s growing at home, or how it has encouraged families to grow their own food (often led by the children’s enthusiasm). And you also see changes in lunchbox choices - children who have grown produce are more likely to eat it.


The Vegepod set-up

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Author: Robin Powell