Since 2019, close to 500 students across 70 government schools in Mansa, Punjab, have been consuming organic vegetables as a part of their mid-day meals. Finally, kids are eating their veggies!
All the vegetables that are consumed in the mid-day meals are grown by the students in the backyards of their schools as a part of their curriculum.
In a way to imbibe practical knowledge and lead a healthier life, students from classes 5 to 10 are being taught how to grow vegetables.
Under the project called ‘Edible Gardens’, started by the district’s Horticulture Department under the state government’s ‘Tandrust Punjab Mission’ is part of a change in the syllabus. It is the brainchild of Horticulture Development Officer (HDO), Vipesh Garg, who has served in the horticulture department for over three years. The program is already showing incredible impact.
First, the horticulture department gave training to the school faculty on topics like plantation, mulching, cultivation, nursery establishment, landscaping.
Next, they provided gardening kits that include seeds and green fertilizers to the schools for free.
Additionally, Garg and his team have designed a unique system called ‘biomimicry’ that emulates the process in which food is grown naturally in our ecosystem.
Some schools have also gone the extra yard and prepared compost from crop residues like wheat and paddy straw to grow oyster mushrooms.
Incidentally, Government Senior Secondary School (GSSS) was one of the first schools to experiment with reusing crop residue that is otherwise burnt in fields causing massive air pollution.
Dr. Singh went a step ahead and even built chairs from straws in the garden where he takes open classes on farming.
To incorporate the initiative of ‘Edible Garden’ into the everyday schedule of the children, the schools prepared the time tables in a way that every school allots an hour every week.
They first learn about the week’s farming activity and then have practicals. To ensure every student takes farming seriously, it is treated like every other subject, and students are given marks.
As for the harvest, it depends on the area of the garden and ranges from anything between a kilo to ten kilos. When the produce is high, the schools distribute it among villagers for free.
For instance, the government school in Gorakhnath with a student strength of 120. Thanks to a backyard and enthusiastic learners, the school harvests up to 20 kilos of vegetables like chili, brinjal, bitter gourd, and pumpkin daily.
“The edible garden is a gift that is making students realise the hard work put in by our farmers to give us fresh vegetables. Children are not only learning to grow veggies but also concepts like shared labour, healthy eating, responsible agriculture and what it takes for a sustainable future,” says Shailender Kaur, Director of Horticulture, Punjab.
According to Garg, many children and teachers have started growing vegetables in the backyards of their houses too.
As a result, a trend is being noticed in households where children are happily consuming vegetables that they have grown.
Models like edible gardens teach students eco-centric skills, alter the generally negative perception about farming, and teach them a thing or two about being a ‘farmprenuer’. If they are replicated in all schools across India, it can go a long way in promising a greener and healthier future for everyone.