Growing their own

The dominance of quick and easy packaged food is fading, with children at Queenstown schools and pre-schools learning to grow their own food and reduce their packaging through the Enviroschools programme.

Queenstown Montessori head teacher Alex Hoffman said the programme was closely linked to the Montessori principles of respecting the environment and people.

She remembered when she attended kindergarten there was a teacher who "had a love for mother nature". Now Ms Hoffman hoped to pass that love on to today's children.

"To give this little spark to children and they carry on with it ... they might remember one day that they had a teacher in kindergarten who loved nature."

The number of lunch wrappers was monitored and Ms Hoffman said the children - the new generation - had been informing their parents about reducing and reusing.

Plastic, paper, apple cores and tin were "planted", then dug up eight weeks' later so the children could see the importance of recycling.

The programme, which runs nationally, is facilitated locally by Simon Williams from Wanaka Wastebusters, who liaised with Queenstown schools on behalf of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Ms Hoffman said Queenstown Montessori was at the bronze Enviroschools level and planned to obtain its silver in a month.

"For silver, the only thing we needed was a closer link to the community."

The children had helped plant a community vegetable garden in front of the pre-school and there were plans to collect rubbish from the Queenstown Gardens.

Across the road at Queenstown Primary School, the Enviroschools programme has been running for six years, meaning the majority of children at the school have been exposed to environmental education.

Teacher Nicky Gray said because of the programme, pupils were "much more aware" of where food came from and of the packaging around lunches.

"We talk a lot about healthy lunches, but the things that aren't packaged are actually a lot healthier."

The main project at present was the vegetable garden, which the pupils "loved" working on.

Pupils also nurtured kowhai trees for Project Gold, a Department of Conservation initiative which aimed to restore kowhai habitats.

Maori cultural values were a part of the programme, and an environmental hui between schools in the region was held to look at what others were doing and to share their experiences.

Queenstown Primary School was also planning to lift its level to a silver soon and Ms Gray said the step was to make the programme more pupil driven.

"We thought once a month we would get the worm farm monitors to meet and discuss what's working and what's not working, and then we would get the gardeners to meet.

"Getting the kids to take control."