My first experience of teaching was in the garden I developed with another mum in my sons National School in County Louth. Our 3 boys were all in our local National School and I thought it might be a nice idea to start a school garden. The principal was very supportive and I naively decided to get all the classes in school to start growing something, not realising what a task I was taking on. That idea turned into an 8 year long growing project. The school ended up with a vegetable garden, a herb garden, a sensory garden and a huge living willow sculpture based on the head of the Brown Bull of Cooley! Every class in the school over those 8 years got to grow something, either in their classrooms or in the garden outside. It was a wonderful success. The children loved it, especially getting outside to sow seeds, plant and harvest their crops every year. I realised that as well as the actual gardening part, I loved the teaching part. That was the start of my venture into teaching children and then adults how to grow their own food.
TY Modules for Secondary School
I have coordinated TY modules in secondary schools in Dundalk for a number of years and also worked with Gaelscoil Dhún Dealgan National School on their school garden. In St. Vincents Secondary School, the Grow Your Own module was run as part of Home Economics for 4-5 weeks in the Spring and Autumn terms and all the crops grown were used in Home Economics class.
In Dundalk Grammar School, the module ran every week throughout the school year and the crops were sold in school. I also developed an enterprise element as part of the module where the students ran a mini company producing plants, seeds and food products for sale at the various School Trade Fairs over the year.
In St. Mary’s College, the new Horticulture Module for TY started in autumn 2021 and takes place twice a week, using the large school polytunnels and raised beds. The sowing and growing of our crops is a central part of what we do in school, but the module includes many topics that are of huge importance in the world we live in today, such as ; where our food comes from and how it is grown, the organic system, how modern agricultural impacts the environment, seed saving and seed sovereignty, biodiversity loss and enhancement, soil health and erosion.
Encouraging the students to try different food crops that we grow in school is also an integral part of the module, especially in our current fast food culture, where the idea of eating something you have grown from scratch is a novel idea for many of us.