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SHS Garden Journal Blog

Heart of a School Garden: Friendship, Food & Community Wellbeing

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We are often asked, ‘What’s the best thing about your job?’ For us top on the list is the diversity of people we meet and how these acquaintances or relationships enrich our opportunity for learning and zest for teaching. Whether it’s a conversation with a young child, student, a teacher or community member each interaction provides an insight to our work purpose

Asiye & Zorka Riverwood Community Garden

                                              Asiye & Zorka - Riverwood Community Garden 2015

We wanted to share with you the story of Zorka and Asiye, who are the best of friends. Together they radiate the heart and soul of Riverwood Public School garden. They support the garden to grow and flourish through their hard work, presence and commitment to creating a safe environment for the children to learn and belong. They no longer have children at the school, but they tend the garden each week out of authentic interest and wellbeing. For them the garden provides a sense of belonging to their community and heartfelt connection to their homeland. While they have been in Australia for around 40 years their cultural backgrounds of Macedonian and Turkish along with the 17 different cultures represented at the school embeds a deep character. 

What do you love most about coming to the garden? 

Zorka - My daughter was grown up, and I got lonely. I think I can sit here watch TV all day and get to be a bigger person than I am! This is my hobby. Being in the school garden reminds me of when my daughter was at school, and it is important the children know where food comes from. My daughter used to ask questions like ‘Does a watermelon grow on a tree?’ and I think the kids might be the same. It’s very important that they know where the food comes from, not just the shops. Watching the lifecycle of plants growing from seeds, to the table, makes my heart bigger. When I see the plants, I am jumping for joy! 

Asiye - This is my community. I like to watch the changes of the vegetables growing. I like to be busy. 

What changes have you seen over the time you have been here? 

This garden was empty, dry land before the garden. Hard work has made the difference to what is here today. 

What are your hopes for the garden? 

Zorka - For the future, the soil is still dry, it needs to be better, and that the garden is still looking as beautiful. 

What do you gain from the garden? 

It is joyful to see the plants growing, to see the students coming and eating, sharing the food; they pick it themselves and eat it here in the garden. 

Zorka and Asiye are the garden guardians, earth stewards and food producers. These two ladies have enriched our learning in the 3 years we have known them through our shared interest in growing food and nurturing a sense of place. Learning for us is about respect and creating opportunities for people to grow together. Creating communities of practice is essential to this social learning relationship. Learning evolves through shared stories, regular interaction, conversation, and openness where everyone feels valued for their contribution. Both ladies work in collaboration with the students to create a haven and special outdoor learning space representing the heart of the school. 

Zorka and Asiye delight in the knowledge that they are making a difference to their community, they do this to instil a community sense of pride. Harvest days in the school garden are a special community occasion; on these days Zorka and Asiye can be found in the garden hours beforehand preparing for the afternoon. During a big day of work they will stop for lunch by setting up their outdoor table and chairs with a simple spread of food where they both share a meal, conversation, laughter and stories with each other. They love this and it reminds them of how food was shared and celebrated in their respective home villages.

Volunteering their time to the school garden is only part of their commitment to community. They also volunteer to keep the streets of their community clean through the Community Clean Street Program an initiative organised by the Riverwood Community Centre, where citizens meet to pick up litter in their neighbourhood to improve their area. Zorka and Asiye are members of the Riverwood Community Garden a beautiful multicultural garden, abundant and thriving with 55 plots. You can sense the strong community connection in Riverwood where everyone works as a team to support cohesion and pride. Whether we are working towards a healthy environment, sustainability, food security or community health and wellbeing it is visible that difference is achievable at this grassroots level. 

Permaculture Principle 8: Integrate rather that segregate
Our goal for a strong community is to work as a team supporting each other to grow. Learning is collaborative based on a commitment to our purpose. Decisions are thoughtful and reflect the ethics of Permaculture: earth care, people care and fair share. We embrace the diversity of this community and love to hear stories of how food is the centre of cultural celebrations. Growing food brings us together, it unites across cultures as a common staple while valued as a highly prized gift when grown and shared amongst community. While the garden can bring us an abundance of healthy food, the garden offers community a sense of harmony and an authentic relationship with the earth and people around us. Identify your own community champions, nurture these relationships and delight in the pleasure of watching your garden grow together. Successful relationships in the school garden will help plants grow stronger and the produce taste better! 

For more information about Permaculture ethics and principles visit:

Author: Michelle Carrick 
Seed Harvest Spoon Co-Founder & Program Director 
Copyright 2015: Seed Harvest Spoon Education Foundation Ltd.

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