Often when we hear the word sustainability we think ‘caring for the environment’, reduce, reuse, recycle, gardening etc. However, education for sustainability is more than just looking after the environment. It includes three pillars as set out by the United Nations in 1992 – the Social pillar (includes social and cultural apsects), the Environmental pillar and the Economic pillar (includes political ideologies). These three pillars combine together to become sustainability. Education for sustainability is teaching how these three pillars interact and combine to “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, chap 2, para.1).
Gardening provides a model for keeping the pillars of sustainability balanced.
The pillar that is most obvious through gardening is the environmental pillar. Through gardening we are caring for the Earth. We are ensuring that nutrients are entering into our soil, so that healthy plants are produced that can provide food for not only humans, but other living creatures that inhabit our gardens and keep the ecosystem healthy. The very act of composting and worm farming, where we are using garden and food waste to produce nutrients to put back into the soil is caring for the Earth. In short, we become kaitiaki of our garden and the Earth that sustains us.
However, not only is it caring for the earth, but it is also helping us economically. By composting and worm farming we are by-passing the expense of waste collection and keeping waste from ending up in the landfill. Producing our own produce also keeps our costs down at the supermarket as it is cheaper to grow our own fresh produce than to buy it. In addition, by growing our own fresh produce we are no longer supporting food miles – that is the cost of transporting produce to reach the supermarkets. Think reduction in oil consumption, pollution from vehicles… And by growing our own produce we are eating it at its most fresh and nutritious, as we are harvesting and eating within a few hours at the most.
If we then turn our thoughts to the social and cultural pillar, gardening is a pleasurable activity when shared with friends, whether it is working alongside each other or sharing our produce with others. In an ECE centre children are able to work alongside each other and enhance their social skills. Working in the garden is a great place to make friends. From a cultural perspective, gardening gives us the opportunity to be in tune with the seasons and where cultural knowledge can be shared. Following the phases of the moon by understanding maramataka helps us to understand when to garden and when to wait. Gardening teaches us to be kaitiaki of the environment, knowledge of what to grow in different areas, and how to get the best produce.
When we involve children in gardening we are implicitly introducing them to all aspects of sustainability and we are nourishing their well-being by allowing them to experience nature.