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Bankwood School Completes Rongoā Garden Project

Bankwood School in Chartwell Hamilton has recently completed its new rongoā garden as one of ten winners in last year's Keep New Zealand Beautiful Kai Garden Competition.

The competition gives schools and ECEs from across the country the opportunity to create a small kai or rongoā (traditional Māori medicine) garden to help their students develop a greater understanding of the natural world and to gain hands-on experience gardening for their school.

The garden project, titled Marā Rongoā, is an enhancement to the kura's existing vegetable garden.

Teacher Rachael Tangney hopes the development of the garden will help to build on the roles of kaitiaki in the school.

Rachael says the kura has students who are Enviro Agents and lead environmental issues at the school and help to create awareness of their sustainability journey.

"These students will take care of our garden in the initial stages, and then through Tuakana-Teina will teach their peers, younger tamariki and staff about how we can all be kaitiaki for our Marā Rongoā. Our Enviro Agents spend time in the existing gardens weekly and our new special garden will be looked after as part of this weekly routine."

Enhancements to the garden include new garden beds, a koru shaped feature made from repurposed brick and pavers and wooden pallets for friendship e hoa mā seating. Traditional Māori plants such as kawakawa, horopito, makomako, matipou, karamū and mānuka were all included in the new rongoā garden, as well as kumara and strawberries for the students to enjoy.

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"The new rongoā garden will be a valuable addition to our ongoing learning about traditional Maōri medicinal gardens, kai gardens, life cycles and how we can be kaitiaki, looking after Papatuanuku and creating and maintaining our cycle of sustainability in our kura," says Rachael.

"Our new garden has been nurtured by all tamariki - from our five year old new entrant students to our Year 6's. Our tamariki are loving, learning and enjoying the taonga from our special garden that we created from the generous competition reward. We have harvested our traditional Māori potatoes, have grown sweet tomatoes and have learnt about our rongoā plants that can benefit our wellbeing. We are excited moving into 2024 as our new garden is enabling us to strengthen our sustainability process and become a garden to table kura."

About the Kai Garden Competition

The Keep New Zealand Beautiful Kai Garden Competition encourages students to focus on (kai) edible and/or rongoā (traditional Māori medicinal) plants, and to use sustainable or reclaimed materials where possible. The ten winning designs each receive $500 towards building and planting an edible or medicinal garden, with a further $500 on completion to put towards its ongoing care.

The competition has been designed to work in with the New Zealand School Curriculum, but also aims to provide lessons far beyond simply growing a garden such as teaching children about healthy lifestyles, which crops grow best in different environments, seasonal eating, and returning waste to the earth through composting.

Heather Saunderson, CEO of Keep New Zealand Beautiful says, “the Kai Garden Competition is a great opportunity to teach environmental kaitiakitanga, or stewardship, helping make students responsible and proud caretakers of their little patch.”

The Kai Garden Competition is one of many environmental education programmes that makes up Keep New Zealand Beautiful’s strategy. “We’ve become reliant on vegetables trucked in from far-away destinations, and often shipped or even flown in from overseas to satisfy our demands for out-of-season fruits and vegetables, when a small part of the solution is right there in that vacant plot of garden space,” says Ms Saunderson.

“Educating and encouraging our schools and tamariki to get dug in, quite literally, by growing and harvesting their own nutritious food will have flow-on effects that can only benefit them, their communities and even the planet well into the future.”

Ultimately, the Kai Garden Competition also aims to make the process of hands-on learning fun and accessible. “Gardening can be an enjoyable skill that, once acquired, can be a lifelong hobby,” says Ms Saunderson. “Spending time outside, exploring in the soil, watching seeds sprout, and harvesting the bounty can be enjoyable and memorable ways for students to spend their time.”

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