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Community spirit in Bendigo

Goodstart centres

Learning how to maintain a vegetable garden, look after soil and when to pick vegetables are just a few of the skills the children at Goodstart Early Learning Bendigo are taking on.

Once a week, a group of up to 15 children head to the Salvation Army’s Gravel Hill Community Gardens to tend to their crops, pick their vegetables and learn about the world of gardening.

The plot, which is about 5m long by about 1.5m wide, has been looked after the Bendigo team for four years, and is surrounded by gardens run by other community groups.

Goodstart Early Learning Bendigo centre director Joanne Russell said the garden was initially established by the Salvation Army to provide a space for families, refugees and community groups to nurture and develop their own outdoor area.

“We decided to get involved so that we could teach the children about the benefits of having a garden where you can plant your own fruit and vegetables and learn about the environment,” Ms Russell said.

“We read stories there, look at the environment and have visitors such as grandparents out there to share their knowledge about gardening and suggestions on what to plant and how to care for the fruit and vegetables,” she said.

Most of the funding for the gardens comes from private donations, and while there are private plots, there is a communal area from which anyone can take fresh fruit and vegetables.

“We’re currently growing Brussels sprouts, carrots, peas and cabbages and once we pick them we bring them back to eat at the centre.

“We also offer any left overs to parents and they take them home. Sometimes the parents don’t want them but the children insist and often eat vegetables they wouldn’t normally eat because they’ve grown them themselves.”

The centre chef uses everything else and incorporates it in to the daily menu with dishes including pumpkin soup popping up when stocks are high.

While the program is currently aimed at the kindergarten children, the plan is to extend it to send the toddlers. Playing outdoors gives educators an opportunity to introduce children to nature and teach them about concepts including problem solving, language, science and caring for the environment, Ms Russell said. 

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