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The school garden charity growing a tonne of produce per year

An Auckland charity which provides vegetable gardens in schools has now built more than 40 – with over a tonne of produce being grown each year by eager kids.



Oke Charity has given more than 24,000 kids the opportunity to learn gardening, life and social skills since it started in 2015.


It does this by creating the ‘outdoor classrooms’ at schools, which consist of planter beds, a tunnel house and shed, composting solutions, student and teacher tools, and a steady supply of seeds and seedlings.


“Everything you do in a class can be done in the garden – maths and working out how many rows of carrots, writing an account of what we did, learning the science of pollination – it’s all there in the garden,” said Oke ‘schoolmate’ Helen Porter.

Helen Porter

Helen Porter


Once the gardens have been built, she visits regularly and supports the staff and students in running and maintaining it.


She said from day one there was strong interest in the programme, with awareness spreading quickly among schools – mostly by word of mouth.


“The schools tend to talk to one another – once one school gets a garden, they like to share the good news,” Helen laughs.


“I think Oke’s special because we not only give the school everything they need, but we also really stay with them on the journey.”


Helen said, as well as giving students new skills, the gardens also provide a great place for them to de-stress and reconnect with nature, if things are tough.


“It’s calming - the smell of the soil makes you feel better,” she said.


“I’ve seen times when kids have been sent to the garden as a punishment because they’ve been misbehaving, their shoulders are up, but they get into the garden and start digging and you can see their shoulders drop.


“It’s almost meditative.”


As more and more schools have requested a garden, Oke has had to find more funding for materials and staff.

A group of students in the garden at Onehunga Primary School.

A group of students in the garden at Onehunga Primary School.


Schools are asked to find $1000 towards the garden, and then Oke secures the remaining funds to build and support them.


“To bring a garden into a school and to have the ongoing support that’s needed to keep the momentum going, we’re looking at about $20,000 – so that’s what we need to find when we get an approach from a school,” Helen said.


“We have to find funding from charitable trusts, grants, corporate partnerships and sponsorship donations – we get no public funding.”


The ANZ New Zealand Staff Foundation recently donated $9,000, which Helen said would help to keep the programme running across 15 South Auckland schools.


“That will help us get another Schoolmate, like me – a part-timer – which will mean more visits, more engagement with the kids and more support for the schools as their gardens grow,” she said.


Onehunga Primary School Principal Viki Holley said getting a garden set up at her school has created a much bigger space for the kids to grow.



"Our school has always had a strong culture of planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and sharing food - in the past it was in extremely limited spaces - these gardens mean we can go back to something which is part of who we are as a school."


- Onehunga Primary School Principal Viki Holley



In terms of participation in the garden, Viki said students were carefully selected from those who either showed an interest in gardening, or who they thought would benefit from the experience.


“We have seen pride, increased confidence, excitement and increased knowledge and understanding in these ākonga (learners),” Viki said.


“There are now so many other ākonga now wanting to get involved - the initial group have become the experts - it’s a great example of tuakana-teina (sibling guidance), which we nurture in our school.


“Schools often cannot afford to set this up, as budgets are extremely tight - this would have taken us years to set up … if we ever could.


“I can’t say enough how grateful we are - the ākonga have already taken veges home to cook and share with whānau.”


One of the students enjoying the programme said that “in the garden, I feel it’s peaceful, it’s calm, you can be quiet if you’re having any stress, or times when it’s rough you can just come here and relax”.


Looking forward, Helen said she hopes the programme can continue to expand, and continue to make a big difference for hundreds, if not thousands of kids.


“I would hope that what we do in the schools instils in children a love of nature and gardening, and caring for the environment,” she said.


“The kids, they’re our future, so if we invest in them and get them on the right track, we’re moving in the right direction, and we’re in good hands.”


Those interested in the programme, or looking to assist, can visit oke.org.nz.


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