Fresh vegetables, colourful flowers: UAE schools bloom into farms

Several schools also have a dedicated forest schoolteacher with lessons being taught ‘in the wild’

by

Nandini Sircar

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Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 8:42 AM

Last updated: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 6:26 PM

Many schoolyards in the UAE are blooming into farms, coming alive with the fragrance of freshly grown herbs and the colours of nourishing vegetables.

In-house farmers in schools are now teaching pupils sustainable food production, imparting knowledge about farming techniques that help harness local agriculture.

Several schools also have a dedicated forest schoolteacher with lessons being taught ‘in the wild’. Speaking to Khaleej Times, headteachers said that some students might be future leaders of a thriving eco-conscious world.

Nav Iqbal, Principal/CEO, GEMS Metropole School – Motor City, said, “Students work with the school’s resident farmer who looks after the fruit trees, vegetables, and animals. The children work with him to run all aspects of the farm. They plant seeds and learn to protect the seeds at the early stage so that birds don’t eat them. They help to transfer the seedlings into the farm areas, and then visit the farm frequently to help nurture the growth of the plants.”

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“This has helped to build patience and a deeper understanding of natural processes in our children, as they can see the entire life cycle with their own eyes rather than merely read about it in lessons,” added Iqbal.

The school organises two farmers’ markets each year, in winter and spring. These feature over 60 stalls, promoting and selling sustainable goods, with produce from the school farm sold by the student farm shop volunteers.

The farm shop is run as a business, where the revenues are banked with the school finance department and used for purchasing future stocks and seeds.

He said, “Primary students have one lesson per week ‘in the wild’, learning about the outdoors, plant life, irrigation, soil consistency, and more. These lessons are then linked to science-based learning and the wider eco-goals of the school.”

Principals highlight these lessons allow students to understand where their food comes from and the effort it entails.

Additionally, educationists explain the hands-on learning opportunities created by the farm complement many aspects of the science curriculum.

One-of-its-kind

Meanwhile, a school in Sharjah recently launched a one-of-its-kind forest school and farm, promoting sustainability, well-being, and environmental stewardship.

Janet Foley, Executive Vice Principal, GEMS Wesgreen International School – Sharjah said, “The development of the farm and forest school project is designed to enhance the curriculum and take learning beyond the classroom.

“Having a farm on-site improves well-being, attendance, self-esteem, and confidence among students. Caring for the animals and the environment develops empathy, compassion, and skills for life,” added Foley.

The students decide what they want to grow, how to market their produce, and how much to sell it for.

All proceeds are then put back into the farm with the students having a voice in what the profits are spent on.

Foley added, “We are yet to have our first harvest, but our plan has always been to ensure that any surplus produce does not go to waste. Sustainability is our priority and while some of the produce will be used for feeding the animals, students will be responsible for arranging a farmers’ market once a week, promoting the event, and deciding prices.”

Hydroponics Greenhouse

The Aspen Heights British School hydroponics greenhouse has been a focal point for hands-on learning opportunities for all students since 2018.

Emma Shanahan, Principal, Aspen Heights British School said, “Our students produce healthy, organic, and sustainably sourced produce for our whole community. Our students have been monitoring the progress of the crops carefully, noting when the water table is running low, and identifying which seedlings need careful attention.”

Often their diligence is well rewarded, as they regularly harvest juicy Lollo rosso, fresh lettuce, and Lamb's lettuce.

“Some produce is used to feed our school tortoises, the rest are shared with families who make voluntary charity donations to Red Crescent,” added Shanahan.

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