In a world where some children can’t name more than five vegetables and think strawberries grow in the fridge, one Dubai school is launching a food revolution of its own in an effort to show, rather than teach, their students where it all comes from.
Victory Heights Primary School may be located within the dusty centre of a developing Sports City, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest (desert) farm, but, inside the grounds, an oasis of green is starting to spread, and it’s the students who are the budding little gardeners responsible for their own carrots and tomatoes.
Principal Sasha Crabb explains: “The Ground to Plate project is a health and wellness awareness initiative aimed at teaching our children how to grow their own food and to consider sustainability and self-sufficiency, and we were excited to welcome KHDA [Knowledge and Human Development Authority] CEO, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, to officially open the project recently.
“This is an exciting addition to our enrichment curriculum and an opportunity for all children, no matter what their academic ability, to feel successful and see their hard work growing – literally!”
Instrumental in rolling out this initiative has been Justine Bain, health and awareness CEO and founder of children’s wellness initiative Sandy Seeds, which is currently building a network of edible school gardens around the UAE, engaging children in healthy eating, food education and entrepreneurialism. “For children growing up here, what they’ll learn from a textbook about gardening is very different once it’s put into action,” Bain tells us.
“They need to understand that extreme weather can go against us in many aspects, but it can also be beneficial – we have sunlight all the time, so there’s no frost on crops for example – and it’s actually quite magical to see that come alive in their minds when they realise that they can garden in the desert.”
Crabb agrees. “We really want the project to have no boundaries, so we are also going to be growing food inside, creating edible walls of lettuce and eventually we will extend the learning to allow the children to turn their food into something they can sell to our canteen providers and the community at our own market day. They can then reinvest back into the project, as well as use it to make soups and healthy dishes they can eat themselves.”
Self-sufficiency is a crucial aspect of the initiative, says Bain. “We hope to teach children to be producers, not just consumers, so that if they can produce their own food, and they can use it around the school, not only are they saving money, but they are learning about sustainability, entrepreneurialism and the life cycle of a plant, in a different way.”
Greenheart Organic Farms managing director Elena Kinane agrees this is an important project. “Organic school gardens are a vital tool for teaching children how to take better care of our planet and to develop great eating habits,” she tells us.
“Once they understand the whole grow cycle, from saving seeds to planting, growing, harvesting and composting, and acquire the necessary skills, they will hopefully understand that it’s possible to grow food without the chemicals used in conventional farming. Children who appreciate the effort it takes to grow food are also less likely to be wasteful. And, as organic, home-grown produce tastes so much better, they’ll learn to love a large variety of delicious vegetables.”
To make an initiative like this a real success, though, the children can’t leave this knowledge behind at the school gates every day, Crabb acknowledges. This is why they are also encouraging parents to get involved by volunteering to come in and help look after the crops, as well as taking home advice on growing vegetables there, too. “This is an integral part of learning for our children both inside and outside school. Homework can be a bit dull, but cooking is great!” Crabb jokes. And, with that, she heads off to the playground to check on the latest batch of seedlings, flanked by her mini band of green-fingered gardening gurus.