Enviroschools Sustainable Communities through Kai – growth and relevance 10 years on

| By National Team

Rongomātāne associated with garden crops, e.g. kūmara, hue, peace.

The context of kai is an opportunity to weave the 5 Guiding Principles of Enviroschools together with the Enviroschools Theme areas, in particular Living Landscapes. It provides learners/ ākonga ways to strengthen connections with the land that nurtures them and the people that collectively contribute to food supply and security in the community. Kai helps meet physical and social needs, enhances resilience, self-reliance, and hauora/ health.

Learning through kai can help build a shared understanding of sustainability and allows for exploration of a range of attitudes and values and cultural perspectives and intergenerational learning. It has the potential for exploration of resource equity and the regeneration of healthy, sustainable food practices and innovation.

The Enviroschools Handbook captures some of the ideas:

“Our kaupapa is creating a healthy, peaceful, sustainable world through people teaching and learning together. Each of us brings unique perspectives and gifts, and it is by combining them that sustainable communities will be created. Many solutions will come from people working together intergenerationally, combining ancient wisdoms with new understandings. Solutions will also be found by working with nature and allowing nature to teach us…” – p 6 Enviroschools Handbook

Where have we come from and what do we know now?

Many Enviroschools have created vegetable gardens and orchards. There is also enthusiasm for caring for heihei/ chooks and bees and some Enviroschool contribute to community food gardens and pātaka/ sharing shelves. Guided by the Action Learning Cycle, Enviroschools have created shared visions and implemented many projects that have resulted in happier, healthier people and more sustainable practices within their place and community.

“Whenua is the source of abundance, which we can share with others – When we grow our kai, we are learning to be healthy, self-sufficient and resourceful. We can also trade or gift the surplus within our community, fostering relationships through this flow of aroha. We can ensure a supply of fresh kai for kaumātua (elders) and those who cannot grow and harvest their own. Working with others in a food network, we can draw on each other’s strengths to meet more of our community’s kai needs locally.” – Excerpt from Enviroschools Living Landscapes Theme area resource.

The Enviroschools Sustainable Communities through Kai research in 2012 -13, led by Faye Wilson-Hill, looked at how young people could engage in the context of kai with (and in, about and for) the wider community.

The project identified that Sustainable Communities through Kai, includes sharing as a fundamental value that models ways of being. The sharing can be out of an abundance of produce for others who may not have enough and also models respect for not wasting resources. It can be sharing of ideas and skills such as making a garden or preparing food (and recipes) as well as resources such as gardening tools or simply sharing meals together. It also involved having older people visit (or visiting them) to share stories and skills.

The other significant finding was that using the Action Learning Cycle was an important enabler for supporting action in the Enviroschools network. Key tools such as mapping, and a pool of knowledge played a part in building a picture of food in their community.

Out of this also came the understanding of the value of establishing a shared understanding of sustainability as a fore-runner to more specific kai and place-based learning. Teachers used a range of hands-on, experiential, age-appropriate activities to explore what sustainability looks and feels like and then think what a sustainable community might mean.

In order to further understand these findings, you can read the summary of the project here. Sustainable Communities through Kai -Enviroschools – Toimata Foundation

What do we know now?

Learning from a community member about planting seedlings and the need to water even when we had some rain.

Subsequent research (2017 Enviroschools Nationwide Census) was undertaken that gave a snapshot of the engagement by Enviroschools in a wide range of actions for sustainability including 97% in kai/ food production and 92% in kai/ food distribution systems. These results substantiate the wide engagement Enviroschools have with growing kai and sharing it.

Working across a range of curriculum areas supports connections and deepens understandings as well as enabling relationship building with wider whānau and community. Integrated curriculum planning examples are given in the Enviroschools Handbook and available in our team area support facilitators and teachers to engage with this context.

More recently research by Dovetail for Toimata Foundation reported that many respondents took the opportunity to note a wide range of changes, behaviours and projects to minimise impact on the environment that were taking place around their participating schools or ECE centres, as a result of participation in Enviroschools. These changes included the broad categories of conscious consumerism and changes around food production and consumption. Initiatives and activities that explore the production and origins of food were also noted, with examples including kai gardens, which in some instances were contributing to school lunches or being distributed among students, and conversations around food choices and packaging. Enviroschools’ ability to foster a deep, holistic understanding of sustainability was also noted, ensuring that learning about the environment is not a ‘topic’ but a value which is woven through the school or kindergarten kaupapa – ‘a lens through which we see everything we do’.

Other programmes and resources

Healthy kai gardens at Linkwater in Marlborough.

There is a richness of learning and action that comes from engaging with like-minded people and organisations, particularly those who are local. These relationships will help create fairer and healthier food systems in New Zealand – local marae-based groups, the community gardeners, environment centres, farmers’ markets and producers. There are growers’ associations and organisations such as Permaculture Trust, Organic NZ, Tree Croppers Association who are all contributing to a movement towards/ returning to regenerative food systems. There are also community groups and organisations engaged in supporting people in need and advocating food security and equity.


There is an increasing number of resources and people wanting to engage with young people through kai initiatives including Kids Edible Gardens, Garden to Table and Avis Gleeson Fruit Tree Trust.

Enviroschools around the motu are modelling locally relevant ways of growing knowledge around kai. Here are some of the stories from our network.

Enviroschools | Seasonal Rhythms, Growing, Caring and Sharing at An Early Childhood Enviroschool

Goodies in the pātaka kai.

Havelock North Central Kindergarten have an area reserved at their Kindergarten they call ‘OOOOBY’ – Out Of Our Own Backyard. This area is filled with surplus from whānau, the kindergarten garden and the community. Children/ tamariki, friends and family are invited to take and share from it, and you might find a range of produce – apples (from whānau who work in orchards), to seeds, relish, jams (made from seasonal fruit), spinach, celery, seedlings, flowers, and even worm casings/tea from the kindergarten worm farm.



Our Community Map/Hapori Whānui

Enviroschools | Surplus puaka and provocations lead to Lees Street Kindergarten Sharing Shelf This story follows the learning process and building of a sharing shelf at Lees Street Kindergarten where local food surplus can be shared. This inquiry continues to consolidate children’s understanding that they are global citizens, that they can make a difference in looking after our world/sustainability which in turn helps us to look after the people in our world.



Cooking up a storm at Maheno with produce from the gardens.

Enviroschools | Sharing Kai Helps Grow Sustainable Communities in Otago This is a rich collage of stories that celebrate how young people and their communities in Otago are being empowered through the context of growing, preparing and sharing food. Students have seen opportunities for connecting their food production with food equity and access.




Enviroschools | School Garden Grows our Aroha and Community Connections In this story Enviroschools lead teacher, Kathryn Picard, explains about opportunities this holistic approach has provided for her students and how the community have supported this. Students at Te Awamutu Primary School are buzzing with excitement at the work they have been doing in their māra kai.



Many volunteers make light work out of digging the new vegetable gardens at Queenstown Primary School.

Enviroschools | Gardens Feed Students with Knowledge and Kai Queenstown Primary students created a vision, researched and problem solved during this project to relocate their food gardens. The Action Learning Cycle has given the project a well-supported progression of questions and ideas to build on. Because this school garden project has been student driven it has taken a long time, but the learning has been amazing, and they have got buy-in from the whole school.



The whole garden taking form.

Enviroschools | Kai Project Feeds Student Imagination at Waikino  Students at Waikino actively grappled with issues and ideas around growing, cooking and sharing kai. They decided their food garden could be improved so undertook a redesign process.





Enviroschools | Sowing the seeds of a better future

Mahi tahi. Ready for customers.

This is a story Napier Central School showcases the value of collaboration towards student empowerment with active engagement in growing and sharing kai, seeds and entrepreneurial knowledge.





Paeroa students prepare meals under the watchful eye of the judges.

Enviroschools | A mouthful of fresh produce and ideas

In their planning and working with teachers, facilitators looked at ways to encourage student empowerment through the likes of the Enviroschools Living Landscapes learning approach (including finding out about local food sources) wellbeing and leadership, encourage creativity and enterprise, and provide an authentic context for Science, Technology, English and Maths learning. This led to the 2022 Māra Kai Challenge.


Year 13 student Xavier Martin puts his baking skills to the test.

Enviroschools | Waitara Students Embracing Sustainability Through Authentic Contexts At Waitara High School, there is something special going on. From vegetable gardens to chicken runs, fruit and nut trees to freshly baked bread, students are quietly creating sustainability projects with the goal of giving back. Read more about how this secondary school empowers students through authentic contexts.



Enviroschools | Opunake Students Develop Building Skills to Create Chicken Motels to Rehabilitate Ex-battery Hens A group of Sustainability Academy students from Opunaki High School get more than warm fuzzies from a chicken housing project that creates further learning and engagement. Read more about the chain of events that these students undertook to ensure the rehabilitation of their rescued chickens.


Enviroschools | Fertile Grounds of a Secondary School Grow Intergenerational Conversations about Food Production and Action Working together to revamp the horticulture area at Palmerston North Girls’ High School has sparked joy for the school community, taught young people about how it takes a team to make a dream and how hauora has been enhanced through collective action.