Growing tomorrow's gardeners with OKE

01 Feb, 2022

Kings are an official foundation partner of Oke – a home grown charity that funds and builds productive school gardens to give Kiwi kids the opportunity to learn life and social skills in an “outdoor classroom”.

Founded in 2016 by Paul Dickson, Oke has just celebrated the completion of their 27th school garden in South Auckland – building the raised beds, setting up composting and irrigation systems, and providing all the tools and plants for the school – a package worth over $25,000, that Oke funds 100% so there is no cost to the school. Paul says Oke organically grew from just a single fundraising event. “We were running a local fundraiser and looking for a project to fund. Papatoetoe West Primary School approached me and said they wanted to put in the Garden to Table programme, but they needed a garden,” explains Paul. “I pulled together a working bee and procured all the materials and we built it in just one day. The principal suggested that lots of schools needed the same kind of support as they don’t tend to have those skills in-house.”

More than a garden

“I envisaged a garden as a tool to teach children about food, but it turned into a classroom. I thought it was just going to be a one-off – it just grew organically from doing that first one. As we’ve done more, we’ve realised that these spaces can be used for so much more than just producing food,” he says. “It quickly changed from being about growing food to being an outdoor classroom, a place for teachers to take their tamariki to learn about science, maths or any other area of the curriculum,” says Paul. “Not all children thrive in the regular classroom. In a school garden, you don’t have to be the smartest or the sportiest – you can just be you. Any kid can grow things and have the same outcomes and learn along the way. “Kids with learning difficulties or short attention spans learn much better in a hands-on, natural environment. Unfortunately, most of the schools in these urban areas are more of a concrete jungle, and our gardens have provided a much-needed outdoor education space for teaching and learning” he says.

A digital tool for little hands

To help schools get the most out their Oke garden, last year, the charity developed an app, which is designed to make learning how to grow veggies fun and easy. “The app contains a digital garden, which helps you grow three different vegetables a season and there’s also a STEM element. Kids can see their digital veggies grow in real time, and journal and track their real life garden along the way. When the app is used together with planting a real seed, kids can see what’s happening underground during germination, and then get weekly tips to ensure their little seedling thrives.

Plus, Kings have provided Oke with 52 weekend gardening activities that the whole family can enjoy together. Together with the other foundation partners – Dole & 5+ A Day, Kings are incredibly proud to support Oke and we can’t wait to see what next year has in store for this amazing charity.

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