Egg-laying hens, organic vegetables, a greenhouse, aquaponics worm farm and a native beehive are not normally things you would consider to be housed within an inner-city school environment. But for St Laurence’s College, a desire to deliver sustainability education, plus an unproductive piece of land on site, led to what is now known as their Urban Farm.

Laurie’s opened its small farm as an initial experimental aquaponics farm which has now turned into a fully-fledged farm project equipped with egg-laying hens, a worm farm, a native beehive, organic vegetables, a seedling greenhouse, compost tumblers and an expanded aquaponics section with jade perch and ornamental goldfish.

The garden is entirely organic; no artificial fertilisers or pesticides are used and all plants are grown from seedlings which are sourced from various local suppliers.

The plants are protected from birds by netting and caterpillars, and visual grubs are all hand-picked off the plants by students and fed to the chickens.

St Laurence’s College Urban Farm coordinator Nataleen Kilburn said the inclusion of the farm at the College had greatly benefited pupils. “Students are regularly participating in the project on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons after school, developing skills in managing growing environments and raising poultry in a safe and hygienic environment,” she said. “The recently upgraded Australian Curriculum places emphasis on the importance of sustainability, especially when understanding the systems that support and maintain human life. This is great news, as children all around Australia are becoming more knowledgeable every day about agriculture,” Mrs Kilburn said.

The Urban Farm has also been made available as a field trip destination for other schools. St Laurence’s College Principal, Mr Chris Leadbetter, said he commended the staff involved for the initiative. “Innovative curriculum is central to what we do at St Laurence’s College and the issue of sustainability needs to be fully explored by our students,” he said.

Although the produce is not as aesthetically beautiful as store bought vegetables, they are full of flavour. Growing organically has resulted in deliciously intense tomatoes, corn and beans for the students to try themselves. “Our hope is that the farm will continue to teach students the importance of both ‘traditional’ and ‘innovative’ agriculture to reduce an ecological footprint,” Mrs Kilburn said.

Plans are afoot for incorporating solar energy water pumps, a hydroponic vertical garden, an organic vertical garden and growing food in pots to demonstrate how to use limited urban space in a cost-effective way.”

Teachers also hope the project will educate students on the relationship between each element and how everything has a major role in the system. For example, scraps feed the chickens, chickens produce eggs, chickens produce fertiliser, compost feeds the plants and the scraps from the plants feed the chickens.

The school hopes that the project will be an example to other schools – especially those facing the challenges of urban area constraints – encouraging them to begin educational urban farms on their campuses.