Green grants

grow nurturing communities

Since 2016 the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch has been offering environment grants for sustainability projects in schools, preschools and long day care centres. Three of those grants have been won by early education providers. The successful applicants talk about their projects here.

Cultivating a sustainable community

Phillipa Maher
Valla Community Preschool, Valla Beach

Our preschool is situated within a very small and dynamic beach community and has some well developing links and partnerships. We have always had a small vegetable garden and kept a compost and worm farm for preschool use, but this year that expanded a bit when the café across the road started to sell our excess produce and we were able to collect their ground coffee for our gardens and composting.

When the opportunity to apply for an IEU Environment Grant arose, we decided to go for it because we had a strategic plan to expand on ways we can contribute to sustainability practice in our community. We also wanted to further develop our partnerships with community.

So this project was born!

It is still in early stages, but we have started to transform an unused parcel of land adjacent to the preschool by turning it into productive land for community composting, preschool food gardens and a chicken run.

Our composting and worm farm systems have been expanded and are now a site for the preschool, our local café and community to drop off and process food and green waste. In time, the composting and worm farm site will become an income stream as we intend to sell worm juice and compost to our local community.

Our expansion of the kitchen gardens has opened up more regular opportunities for garden to table experiences within preschool, and we also now sell produce (and soon eggs too) to the café, which they use in their menu, or sell via the grocery section of their store. The children also sell produce to preschool families which provides an opportunity for them to learn about money, budgeting and customer service.

The project has connected us so well with our community already and we are only in the beginning stages. The unused parcel of land is now becoming a thriving garden space and we have interested community members who have started to contribute. A couple of the new garden beds were built by community members and families. For the children it is a wonderful project with so many opportunities to connect with community and gain new knowledge and skills about sustainability and the environment.

Our project has a number of environmental, economic and social benefits – from the reduction of landfill through organic waste diversion; to the education of children, parents and community members in sustainable living practices, kitchen garden principles and sustainable food systems; to creating community engagement and cohesion opportunities. We believe that cultivating an identity for being responsible community citizens should be central to our program, and this project offers just that!

Our Garden

Claudia Quintanilla
Goodstart Early Learning, Goulburn

Our Garden was the name given to our project by one of our preschoolers in 2016 when I discussed our grant application with the class. The children were excited, they imagined a huge watermelon patch that covered the whole area and lots of flowers, with a few pineapples thrown in. If there was any doubt that we would apply, it just melted away with their enthusiasm.

Our plan was simple. We had an unused area that we wanted to turn into a garden. My vision was for a shared space that all educators, children and families could be part of. We wanted garden beds for all our rooms, from nursery to preschool, as well as ways to compost and reduce our waste. Winning the grant and being able to set up the garden space, chicken run, worm farms and composting was an amazing opportunity. We would not have been able to complete the whole transformation without it.

That was over a year ago now and our garden is established. Unfortunately, there are no watermelons: we did try but they don’t grow in our region. We have however, harvested a variety of vegetables and herbs over the year and created a home for our chickens, who provide us with eggs to use in our kitchen. We have had successes and some hiccups. Our chickens like our vegetables just as much as we do. So it has been a balancing act trying to let them roam in the garden and also protecting our produce.

The benefits for our centre have been far reaching. Initially it was about the set up of the area. We educators, along with the children, incubated and hatched our own chickens. We experimented with germinating seeds in different ways. We explored composting and ways of reusing our kitchen waste. Our garden provided us with a focal point for exploring sustainability and what that could look like in our service. It was exciting and I had such a sense of satisfaction watching it all come together. I was able to work with some dedicated educators and families in establishing the area and observing how our children respond to this ever changing learning environment.

We believe that cultivating an identity for being responsible community citizens should be central to our program.

In 2017 I was no longer in the preschool room, instead, I became the ECT in the nursery room. How was I going to continue my involvement in the garden? How was I going to garden with one year olds? I shouldn’t have worried. They shared my love for the space. They helped me plant, water, mulch and harvest. While some of the older children and educators were unsettled by the chickens, our nursery children were fearless and our chickens now have a great respect for them. The children enjoyed checking for eggs in the nesting box and would carry them so carefully to our kitchen.

The chickens and the role they play in our garden has been the source of many conversations with the children. One of our chickens became broody so we provided her with fertilised eggs to sit on. She did not prove to be a very good foster mum and the role was handed over to our toddler children and their teachers who hand reared the chicks – much to the delight of all our children, who would take their families in at the end of the day to show them the growing chicks.

It started with Our Garden but now the challenge we face as a service is how we continue to explore and embed a widening range of sustainable practices. As with many centres we have our restrictions but I am determined not to let these become blocks to our progress. We have sustainability on our agenda and try to share this with all our educators, children and families.

The 2017 preschoolers and their teachers tried to solve the dilemma of what to do with our waste paper. We have a lot of it and we do not have a recycling service. They came up with a creative solution and they created paper bricks. They researched how to do this before creating paper pulp and moulding it using old tin cans. These bricks not only became part of their construction area but they heightened the children’s awareness of the waste they produced and what could be done with it.

I am returning to the preschool room this year and I’m excited about sharing my passion for our garden with a new class. I had been wondering what we could focus on this year and what else we could do with this area? Then I attended the IEU Environment Conference and came away with so many ideas of how we could continue to develop and extend our garden. I was so inspired. Recycled scarecrows, worm towers, herb spirals and an insect hotel are just the start. There are so many learning opportunities waiting for us this year in this space. As a learning community we have created a wonderful space but we are nowhere near finished. I don’t believe Our Garden will ever be complete. I want it to be an ever changing space that truly reflects the interests of the children and educators that make up our community.

I want it to be an ever changing space that truly reflects the interests of the children and educators that make up our community.

Getting back on track

Lynette Funnell
Lismore Preschool

Lismore Preschool was one of the early childhood centres directly impacted by the flood event in March 2017. While the damage and resulting mess (both inside and outside) appeared overwhelming, an incredible amount of hard work and commitment from staff, families and the community saw us able to re-open our doors in early May.

However, while most of the inside of the preschool was dealt with relatively swiftly (minor works continue), the outside of our service was left sadly lacking. We had always been very proud of our outdoor spaces, our interesting garden areas, mud pit, ‘rocky creek’, logs and bogs – as well as our rich connection with the beautiful community garden that sits directly beside our service and is an integral component of our learning and teaching with children.

All of these spaces had been left decimated by the flood waters and the resultant thick layers of contaminated mud, dead plants and waste that was left behind when the water receded. While we had ensured the cleaning, removal and replacement of core resources such as sandpit content and softfall before re-opening, we very much now wanted to prioritise the genuine nurturing of our outdoor environment, something that would give both the children and staff the opportunity to once again engage in some much needed and valued nature ‘wellness’ time.

Around this time, we received notification of the upcoming IEU Environment Grant. With nothing to lose (literally) and potentially a lot to gain, we put forward a proposal for the grant and were delighted to receive notification of our success in August 2017. In the long term, the grant has been able to form an important part of a larger and very necessary ‘master plan’ for re-development and revitalisation of our outdoor spaces.

However, in the immediate term it has provided funding to replace and refill several raised garden beds, allow for the re-establishment and maintenance of our lost native beehive, re-plant several decimated garden spaces, repair our valuable solar hot water system and replace damaged water saving hardware on children’s outdoor handwashing sinks.

Further funds have been allocated towards the cleaning, testing and plumbing of the rainwater tank attached to the sandpit play space. While work continues, you only need to glance around our yard now to see how our garden spaces are thriving, and recognise how appreciated they are. Children are back to picking vegetables, flowers and herbs, investigating insect activity and noticing the seasonal changes that are occurring naturally – all of these experiences highly enjoyable ones that enrich both children’s and adult’s days.

Lismore Preschool is very grateful to all the emotional and physical community support, including that from the IEU Environment Grant which has helped us to re-build our beautiful service and make our place once again one that is very special for both children and adults.

Keep an eye out in Newsmonth and TRT, and on the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Facebook page and website for details of how to enter this year’s competition. The grants are sponsored by Teachers Mutual Bank. Sorry, NSW and ACT members only.