Nutrition gardens have been popular across public schools in Assam for years now. Students are allotted a space within the school compound where they are taught to organically cultivate herbs and vegetables. Some of these varieties such as vedai lata (stink vine), mani muni (Asian pennywort), and dhekia haak (fiddlehead fern) are on the verge of extinction in the state. These vegetables are then added to the midday meal that the school provides.
Anushka Sampriti Bora, who studies in the eighth standard at a public school in Assam’s Golaghat district, says, “Since we shifted to eating home-grown vegetables instead of the market-bought ones, our health has improved. I fall ill less often now. Seeing me, more people in the village have started embracing the practice of kitchen gardening.”
Apart from improving the students’ nutrition intake, the gardens have also encouraged community members to become a part of the school’s environment. This has happened in multiple ways. In 2011, when Farm2food, a nonprofit working on agri-entrepreneurship, started the nutrition garden programme, one of their challenges was sourcing the seeds for the crops. However, this problem was quickly resolved by the eager students who said they would go from house to house in their village to collect seeds. The children would return with good-quality seeds because of the affection the community members had for them. Another factor that helped was that these people often knew other children studying in the same school, making the seed donation a personal investment.
The community members could see the school garden grow in front of their eyes, which helped them form a more tangible attachment with the project as well as the school. Deep Jyoti Sonu Brahma, co-founder and executive director of Farm2food, says, “When students would not be around, the elders from the community would keep a watch on the garden.” Parents who earlier found parent–teacher meetings intimidating were now holding the school accountable. With a sense of ownership they could ask, “We gave a certain number of seeds; what happened to them? We saw you are growing many vegetables in your garden; are you feeding our children the same in their midday meals?”
As schools shut down temporarily due to COVID-19, many of the parents engaged themselves in setting up kitchen gardens at home for their children. They not only provided labour to their children’s enterprise but also taught them indigenous farming methods.
Bora says, “Earlier we used to go to the market and buy earthworms for vermicompost. But now we know that you can find the worms under the banana trees in the village. This also saves us money.”
As told to IDR.
Anushka Sampriti Bora is a school student in the Golaghat district of Assam and Deep Jyoti Sonu Brahma is the co-founder and executive director of Farm2food.
Know more: Learn how a krishi mitra encourages farmers to take up organic farming in Odisha.