Head for the vegetable patch: growth spurt for gardening
Sowing, planting, weeding, hoeing and harvesting: the GemüseAckerdemie («Vegetable Academy») educational programme has kicked off this year's gardening season. As a visit to a Zurich school garden reveals, there is growing appreciation of nature and healthy eating – turning some children into real veggie enthusiasts.
What's growing there?
Time for the gardening lesson at the Schule Im Gut school: Year 1 and 2 kids are kneeling in the vegetable patch digging the soil. A big, fat earthworm suddenly wriggles out of the loosened earth, prompting squeals of delight from the children. A girl picks it up and carefully sets it down somewhere else in the bed. Now that the children have started taking care of the garden and growing their own vegetables, a reaction that would previously have been «Eek! A worm...» has turned into genuine fascination for these creatures that help keep the soil healthy. «The earthworm helps vegetables to grow here,» explains its rescuer.
The kids are visibly delighted to see just how much life there is in a handful of soil and what is capable of growing in it. In the vegetable beds in the school garden, they are cultivating up to 60 different varieties of their own vegetables, with the help of the teaching staff and a few enthusiastic parents. Throughout the natural cycle of sowing and planting to harvesting and enjoying the fruits of their labour, they are supported by GemüseAckerdemie's one-year educational programme.
For a generation that knows what it's eating
Today, many children have few points of contact with nature and the natural process of growing food – and that means it is increasingly rare for them to understand where our food comes from. This is the starting point for the GemüseAckerdemie initiative. It offers an educational programme for schools, kindergartens and daycare centres that helps children experience the process of cultivating plants. Through hands-on experience in the garden, which is then followed up in lessons, the aim is to raise their awareness of food growing, biodiversity, sustainable consumption and nutrition.
«We want to make kids enthusiastic about nature, gardening and vegetables. They need the space to explore and discover the garden led by their own interest,» explains Simone Nägeli, gardening expert and Co-Director of GemüseAckerdemie.
Digging for impact
The Migros Pioneer Fund has been supporting GemüseAckerdemie since 2018. «The experience of working the soil raises your awareness of nature and makes you appreciate food more. That encourages people to be healthy, responsible consumers,» comments Project Leader Johanna Muther. With the support of the Pioneer Fund, it aims to roll out its activities across all of Switzerland.
This spring marked the start of the fourth gardening season at 30 teaching locations throughout German-speaking Switzerland. Around 1,000 children and young people are taking part, including now at daycare centres. But GemüseAckerdemie's vision is much more ambitious: in three years' time it wants to see about 100 schools, kindergartens and daycare centres all over Switzerland join in with the digging. And by 2030 every child in Switzerland should acquire one year's experience as a gardening «Ackerdemic» at some point during their time in daycare or at kindergarten or school.
Waiting for the seedlings to grow
Back to the children at Schule Im Gut: the gardening lesson is over, the tomato, cucumber and corn seedlings have been planted out, and the trowels and wellies have been cleaned. What did the children enjoy most today? «I liked doing the planting. I can't wait till the first tomatoes are ready,» says one boy. For one girl, insect-spotting was definitely the highlight: «We found centipedes, fire bugs and even a little newt today!»
Can GemüseAckerdemie come to my school, too?
GemüseAckerdemie is gradually building up its network of teaching locations in Switzerland – and is especially on the lookout for schools in the French-speaking part of the country. It wants to hear from any teaching staff, parents or children who are interested in getting involved. Find out more.
Do you fancy joining children in discovering two-legged carrots and fat earthworms? Then apply to become an AckerMentor volunteer, to support the teaching staff who run the weekly gardening lessons.