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A local school supporting the future of the vegetable industry BY KAREN RAYBOULD OPERATIONS MANAGER, VEGETABLESWA
VegetablesWA were first introduced to Mundaring Christian College in 2019, when we were invited to present to Years 10, 11 and 12 for their career’s day. An unusual request, as horticulture is not considered to be one of the top career pathway choices for our young people!
vegetablesWA were again invited by Mundaring Christian College Principal Rod McNeill and Horticulture Teacher Elizabeth (Liz) Johns to visit the gardens their students had built and maintained over the past two years. vegetablesWA Operations Manager Karen Raybould and Marketing Officer Ben Hamilton visited the school to interview the faculty and students about their market garden and were thrilled at the students' knowledge about the horticulture industry and farming.
Rod McNeill said the college strives to have an inspirational approach to motivating its students.
The college is aiming to provide alternate and diverse career options, as not all students are suited to a strict curriculum, and the school is in a good region to provide career pathways to both metropolitan and rural careers.
“Going to university is not the only ticket to the good life,” Rod said. “The idea of choosing your career path when you are in Year 10 — it’s more about choosing your pathway. What we want to do is to be able to provide the sort of opportunities that kids can have that suit them; we are offering diversity. Education can be harsh for some kids; Horticulture is one of those pathways that can often be positively reinforcing for kids involved. We are just at a fledgling stage now; in schools you create, you plant the seed in a child, which creates them having a hunger in Year 11 and 12, and we have had some really good results!
“ When we first started giving career advice from our new site, we had a view of the city in one direction and in the other direction you have rural country. So, we thought: let’s look at vocational careers in both directions. ”
Liz Johns is the Science Technician and Horticulture Teacher for the college and the main driver of embedding the horticulture career pathway into the college's curriculum. Liz said that working in the garden is fantastic and provides a rewarding educational experience for students.
“Working with soil is a good thing,” she said. “Planting seeds (and) harvesting is a fantastic thing for kids to do; it increases endorphins and is a great de-stressor. It is shown to have huge benefits for students that might not fit into this group, but they have found their niche in the garden.”
As well as running the Cert III in Horticulture vocational qualification, Liz also runs the Garden Club, River Rangers, and Bush Rangers in the primary and secondary college campuses. Liz has been proactive and creative in the horticulture space for the college, by building the current gardens from scratch after the new secondary school was built in 2016. As Liz showed us around the campus site, she noted that most of the produce they grow is used in the kitchens of the school (if she can get to it before the kangaroos!).
vegetablesWA Operations Manager Karen Raybould met with and interviewed 3 Year 11 horticulture students — Megan O, Catherine T, and Ezekiel F — about their classes in the horticulture program.
Megan had been involved with the Garden Club since year 7, and said she enjoyed growing the food to eat. “I enjoy working in the gardens and growing food we then eat,” she said.
Catherine came from a background in horticulture and was keeping it in the family.
Ezekiel had joined the program following in the footsteps of his sister, who, having enrolled in Mundaring Christian College, found a way of connecting through horticulture. She was now working in Margaret River. Ezekiel enjoyed the same connection with the soil and was looking at working within the industry once he left school.
Ezekiel said that he maintains the gardens daily, even if it’s in his own time! “I come here every day and even on weekends to look after the gardens,” he said.
Offering diverse career pathways to students.LIZ Johns, Catherine T, Megan O, Ezekiel F and Rod McNeill.The students showed us around the garden; pointing out the crops that they were growing in the area, which included: beetroot, capsicums, chillies, zucchini spring onions and lettuces.
They also showed us around the new potting area that had just been completed and were excited that they could now work undercover from the rain and heat. Liz stated they are always looking at areas on their site to develop, and most of the work to date has been done by the kids.
For Rod and Liz, these are the success stories for the program, with more students joining the program each year. So, what can industry do to support institutions such as Mundaring Christian College to continue to deliver horticulture educational opportunities and guide our young people into this industry?
Liz said she has spent some time networking with farmers around the region and made note of how savvy farmers can be. She added she would like to connect with farmers to provide her students with some real-life work experience on farms or in market gardens.
Promoting the pathway today needs for the ensures the labour the future of industry. “I have had a bit to do with farmers,” she said. “Good farmers are really smart people, and they are a network — talking to one another and developing their ways of working in horticulture. We need to provide students with real-life work experience on farms in WA.”
We want to link with people in the industry, providing opportunities of work experience or having champions of the industry to promote the pathway in schools. Promoting the pathway today ensures the labour needs for the future of the industry.