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Primary school gets green fingers

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Paul McAvoy shows their hydroponic system which uses no soil. PHOTO: kaylynne bantom
Paul McAvoy shows their hydroponic system which uses no soil. PHOTO: kaylynne bantom

“Creating a garden space that is interactive and open to the community.” This is the vision that Factreton Primary School principal Paul McAvoy has for the school’s vegetable garden.

McAvoy explains that the garden, which was started a few years ago, is now providing much needed vegetables for the school’s feeding scheme.

He says the idea was also to get learners to live healthier lifestyles.

“Our kids would come to school with a bottle of Coke and chips. There was a lack of nutrition among children’s diets. Now we supply our kitchen with our own produce.”

With the support from the Groote Schuur Rotary Club and other generous donors they set up an aqua-ponics unit.

According to McAvoy, aqua-ponics integrates aquaculture and hydroponics into one production system.

“It relies on the food introduced for fish, that works as the system’s input. After which the water, now ammonia-rich, flows together with un-eaten food and decaying plant matter, from the fish tank into a biofilter. So, there are no unnatural fertilizers on the plants.”

The principal says the idea is also aimed to get the learners involved and teach them about the importance of caring for the environment.

“We have vertical planters and horizontal planters with hydroponics and the water gets pumped up and circulates into the tube. Our learners are all excited and we see them showing a keen interest because we have the hydroponics system placed in the quad where they play. So, it’s all around them.”

McAvoy explains that they grow everything from beetroot, parsley, cauliflower, green onion, chives, broccoli, to cabbage and spinach to name a few.

“We don’t harvest the whole plant; we harvest leaves and those leaves are weighed and then recorded and that is how we keep track.”

He says they hope to make the garden a sustainable project.

The added advantage of aqua-ponics is that they can sell and use their veggies but also sell the fish as they grow.

“The future sees us having a market day at least once a month where people in the community, also with gardens, can come and sell their produce. We want to make a few rands by offering an organic vegetable box, something that people can collect.”

McAvoy explains that although he is personally involved with the garden project, they have two gardeners who get their hands dirty and work tirelessly to make sure they get good crops.

Wilfred Christian has been working at the school for more than five years.

“I work in the garden to feed the children and to teach them to be proud of their garden. We also encourage them to become involved with the garden. I love working in the garden. I sometimes come in on a Saturday to work. I love working until I see the progress of my work.”

Christians explains that he makes the hydroponics systems himself.

“My colleague and I use a 110 m PVC pipe, then we drill holes in the pipes to make holders for net pots without soil, we just use water, no chemicals.”

Kenneth Morley, who is also a gardener at the school, says: “My passion here is to see development. I enjoy working in the garden and creating an environment where children can enjoy themselves, creating a space where they can feel at home. They come and speak to us and then we explain to them. We encourage them to start their gardens at home.”

McAvoy concludes that his dreams for the garden are big.

“Imagine this garden is so big that we have spaces where people around the school can have access to the garden and they come through and work in the garden on their specific plot. That will help to keep the school safe because there will always be people around not only Monday to Friday. I believe that schools should be that hive of interactivity.”

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