Adapting the Kitchen Garden Program for Secondary Years

Friday, December 10, 2021

The skills young people learn in secondary school prepare them for the world at large and help shape the adults they become. It’s important to offer them a well-rounded education with access to a variety of hands-on learning initiatives to keep students engaged, build their confidence, and nurture individual talents.

Just like their students, every secondary years school is unique, with its own set of needs and priorities. That’s why the Kitchen Garden Program for Secondary Years is designed to be flexible and adaptable. It can be used to teach students about food technology, sustainability, or as a space to connect with disengaged students and foster a sense of wellbeing.

The program is also a great way to develop alternate career pathways and enhance student’s future employment prospects, providing them with real-world training in multiple areas including hospitality, horticulture, technology, and design. The possibilities are as vast as they are varied.

Read on to hear how innovative secondary schools around the nation are adapting the program to meet the needs and aims of their students.

Career pathways and soft skills

Students in the kitchen at Loganlea

Loganlea State High School in Queensland has incorporated the Kitchen Garden Program into their alternate career pathways training. It plays a pivotal role in preparing students for a career in hospitality and tourism and forms a core part of their culinary excellence training program.

I thought about what this program could do for me and my future, and it’s impacted what I want to work as. I’ve thought about becoming a chef. – Loganlea State High School student

The students at Loganlea are responsible for setting up their garden from scratch, researching what seedlings grow in the region, and putting together the garden beds themselves.

According to the school’s Hospitality Subject Coordinator, Erin Pender, “There's amazing benefits for having this program in a secondary space. It’s great not just for the hospitality students, but also for the design and technology departments. If students are put in charge of a particular garden bed, that’s their job. It teaches them responsibility, resilience, and determination to get the best possible harvest they can.”

Multi-disciplinary subjects and vocational training

Mini greenhouses created by Year 10 students at Hallam Senior Secondary College

At Hallam Senior Secondary College in Victoria, the kitchen garden is utilised and cared for by students across multiple disciplines and subjects. For example, the Year 12 VET Automotive students use it to hone their machinery skills, sharpening the edges of the garden club’s secateurs and keeping their long-handled shears and pruning saws in tip-top shape.

And they’re not the only vocational department gaining practical experience in the garden. According to the school’s Kitchen Garden Specialist, Emma Morgan, “We are really looking forward to seeing how integrating the Kitchen Garden at Year 10 might lead students to explore VET Horticulture in Years 11 and 12, and the many ways that that course could work in with our other VETs including Building and Construction and Plumbing – how good would a hydroponic garden be?”

Elective subjects

Gardening is offered as an elective subject to Year 9 students at Kolbe Catholic College in Greenlake, Victoria, where it has become a particularly popular offering. Students meet with specialist educator Angela Mercuri for a double subject once a fortnight.

“During this time we weed our garden beds, plant seedlings, nurture them, complete group tasks like making scarecrows and at the end of term, we cook a meal with whatever we have been able to grow,” Angela explains.

On rainy days the class completes activities from the Shared Table such as propagating plants, researching worm farms, creating botanical drawings, and making paper planting pots. Before COVID the class would also head out on a field trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, to take part in its sustainability program.

Angela also makes sure to weave careers training into the subject, setting an assignment for students where they are required to research different types of jobs available in the gardening industry. “They get on the job forums and research arborists, botanists, landscape architects, and horticulturists. Then they are asked to choose one and research the salary for that job, how they would get work in the industry, what kind of TAFE or university degree is required, how much that training would cost, and how to apply.”

Kitchen Garden Program in Food Technology

The kitchen garden in bloom at Caloundra State High School

All Year 7 students at Caloundra State High School on the Sunshine Coast get the chance to experience 6-7 weeks in the Kitchen Garden Program, as part of the school’s Food Technology subject. They gain experience both growing and cooking food, as well as time spent sharing meals with their classmates.

The garden, which is also used by the school’s Inclusive Learning unit, has a high rotation of leafy greens, grown from seeds collected by the students themselves.

The school’s specialist educator and garden manager, Jack Varney, lets students get creative about construction in the space, giving them minimal instructions. “The students often ask me how to do something, but I’ll say I don’t know, and leave it to them.” For example, he brings in bamboo stakes from home and gets them to work out how to build a trellis.

Student engagement and retention

At Heywood & District Secondary College in Victoria the Kitchen Garden Program forms a key part of the school’s Hands On Learning program, which aims to prevent students leaving school early. It does this by creating a diverse range of opportunities for young people to discover their talents and experience success at school – even if that means going outside of the regular curriculum.

According to specialist teacher, Gregg Housden, “We’ve been using the Hands On Learning students to do the bulk of the work in getting our kitchen garden up. We’re also working with one of the wind technology companies in the area to develop a community garden.”

One of the biggest achievements of the program was when one of the students leapfrogged to a position as a horticultural assistant with the local Portland Council, where he is currently completing a school-based apprenticeship in their botanical gardens.

“We got him out in the garden, and he decided that was the path he wanted to take,” explains Gregg. “This kid has found something that he can do that is hands on, that gives him pleasure. And the role of the garden, and the experience of hands-on learning, has made him employable when he leaves us – and that’s what it’s all about.”

Heywood’s Technology and Hands On Learning Teacher, Elly Colley, reports that the role is going well, and has let us know the student is in the process of applying for an apprenticeship with the Council. “For someone of few words he loves to talk about his work in the garden. A number of skills he learnt with us working on setting up our kitchen garden have been a big part of his confidence working at the council.”


Interested in setting up a Kitchen Garden Program in your own Secondary Years school? Join one of our free online information sessions or visit our membership page for more info. You can also call our Support Team for a chat on 13000 SAKGF (13000 72543).

To learn how the Kitchen Garden Program can be adapted to fit the unique needs of your school, book a one-on-one catch-up with the Foundation’s Secondary Years Project Officer, Vivienne Holman.

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