An organic vegetable garden at a Dubai school is not only popular with children, but is also helping teachers get the environmental message across.
The brainchild of the Dubai International Academy's six-year-old Eco-Club, the vegetable garden is a huge hit among high-school students and kindergarten children.
Produce including tomatoes, aubergines and peppers is used by the school cooking club, Jennifer Hager, a DIA teacher and Eco-Club coordinator, told Gulf News. The meals are eaten by everyone, from teachers to students and other staff.
The student-led Eco-Club focuses on putting across how simple, everyday activities can make a big difference in contributing to sustainability. Teachers Sharon Mackenzie, Tanveer Fatima and Hager provide guidance.
Some of the achievements of the club, which has 80 student members, include the setting up of a hydroponic herb and vegetable garden, an outdoor organic garden, a recycling programme, composting facilities and a partnership with a similar project in a school in the Netherlands.
The club began in 2008 when students started recycling paper, aluminium cans and plastic bottles as an after-school activity. Six years on, students are engaged in a number of projects that help raise environmental awareness through meaningful, hands-on activities.
"The Eco-Club has been a huge success," Hager said, adding that students of all ages participate in an array of projects geared towards individuals of all levels. "Awareness of the environment was always the priority, but there was so much student interest that we have now developed many more initiatives which tie in with the theme ‘waste water and energy conservation'.
"Living in the UAE, a desert, instilling awareness of water conservation methods and sustainable agriculture felt like a good idea, which led to setting up of a hydroponics system last year."
The school has also received a grant from HSBC for sustainable agriculture, which it plans to use to expand the hydroponics system to teach students how easy it is to construct a small system for personal use.
Hydroponics teaches students about sustainable agriculture, seed germination, herb cultivation and aquatic chemistry.
A dictionary definition of hydroponics is the cultivation of plants in a nutrient-rich solution, rather than in soil, and under controlled conditions of light, temperature and humidity. It is also called aquaculture.
"Last week first graders visited the plant lab and they absolutely loved it," Hager said.
The school's vegetable garden grows fresh produce and waste is composted and re-used as fertiliser.
As well as environmental chemistry initiatives, DIA was the first school in Dubai to partner with the Philippine Community Fund, collecting recycled material that is sent overseas and made into bags and jewellery.
The school has also participated in fundraising activities such as bake sales and clean-up days.