Member school wins the 2023 Public Education award

Monday, November 27, 2023

Ungarra Primary School is located in Barngarla Country on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. With 30 students, the school acts as a vital service point for the surrounding farming community. There are no other services in town apart from the local post office!

A core commitment at Ungarra is its dedicated Kitchen Garden Program, which has been running since 2010. The school community is extremely proud and supportive of the program, and they now have one more reason to celebrate it. They’ve just won the 2023 Public Education Award from the South Australian Department of Education for ‘Cultivating excellence and equity'.  An incredible achievement from a small but mighty team!

So how did Ungarra Primary School come to embrace and embody the Kitchen Garden Program, and why has the program resonated so deeply with students, families and the community? We spoke to their kitchen specialist, Lisa Fitzgerald, and garden specialist, Sue Liddicoat, to learn about their whole-school approach. 

Getting started with pleasurable food education

A decade ago, leadership staff at Ungarra Primary School were looking for a point of difference from other schools in the area. At the time, their enrolment numbers were very low, and it looked like they might have to close. The Principal at the time, Mark Vincent, applied for a grant for the Kitchen Garden Program and, after two attempts, received the funds to expand on their vision.

The school had two passionate staff members interested in the kitchen and garden and the beginnings of a space to grow, harvest, prepare and share. With hard work and perseverance, they got stuck into the program and ran three terms of learning activities from their small playroom, using toddler chairs and tables and the most basic of equipment.  

“The children began to learn the fundamentals of cooking; experiencing new skills like preserving, pickling and jam making as well as preparing delicious weekly meals with their seasonal produce,” explains Lisa.
As the running of the program grew stronger, additional funding was secured to build a sizeable kitchen space, which was set up and in operation before the end of their first year. 
Hands-on learning and stimulating experiences

Over the years, Ungarra has empowered its students through purposeful experiences extending beyond the classroom to provide them with deeper learning opportunities.

Their Kitchen Garden Program allows learners each week to harvest, produce and cook meals, instilling a hands-on, sustainable approach to food education and responsibility through their individual mini-farming plots. Students see the value of this teaching approach, recognising that it gives them a whole new perspective on education. 

One example is the school’s Enterprise Group, where students from Years 3 to 6 collaboratively create fundraising opportunities for their Kitchen Garden Program that develop essential communication, planning, finance and marketing skills. In 2019, They held ‘An Evening on the Lawn’, where students teamed up with Eyre Peninsula’s top chefs to create food for over 250 people, raising $5,000 towards their program.

Linking to the curriculum

Through regular discussions with teachers and staff, the program is incorporated into focus areas of the curriculum, whether this be with fractions and maths in the kitchen, procedural writing and comprehension, international foods linked to cultural studies, or a student-led enterprise catering for visiting community groups.

“The garden encompasses a myriad of opportunities for science and technology in particular,” says Lisa. “Students are continually using technology in interesting ways in the Kitchen Garden Program such as inventing tools like their ‘Spaceinators’ which assist in evenly seeding our crops. They also use special equipment to monitor water and pH levels, daily, in our new Food Ladder hot house.”
Supporting wellbeing and community

Ungarra’s Kitchen Garden Program has significantly affected school culture, providing wellbeing benefits to students, families and neighbouring communities.

“A lot of these kids have never been in the garden before, and they've gone home and created their own gardens, which is fantastic,” says Sue. “We’ve run the program for 13 years and have watched the percentage of our families having gardens at home rise from 20% to almost 100%.” 

Students are sharing their knowledge across the community, cooking at home with family members, and confidently interacting with various people of all ages through tours of their kitchen garden. 

“The wellbeing benefits this program offers are profound,” says Lisa. “They’re particularly pertinent for students who may not see themselves as overly capable in a standard classroom setting.” 

Congratulations to Ungarra Primary School for invigorating their school with the vision of the Foundation! They’ve adapted their program throughout the years to impact their incredible community of students and families, led by their long-standing, committed teaching staff and leadership staff.

If you are a school or early childhood service keen to 'start small and dream big', like Ungarra Primary School, then come along to our next Information Session. You'll learn all the basics on getting a Kitchen Garden program started to benefit the children and young people in your care.


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