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Cambridge schools eco challenge goes global for food growth

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Ying-Xuan Lai, from Taipei, Taiwan
Ying-Xuan Lai, from Taipei, Taiwan

The second Eco Challenge, organised by Cambridge Schools Eco Council in conjunction with the United Nations’ Voices of Future Generations initiative, included entries from Africa, Taiwan and Canada, all demonstrating how to grow your own food.

The challenge was to plant a mini herb or vegetable garden to inspire young people to make sustainable plant-based meals at home. Participants were asked to design their garden on paper first, and then bring it to life in their backyards with parental supervision.

The judges for this challenge were Professor Beverley Glover, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Cllr Lucy Nethsingha.

Prof Glover, director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden , said: “The Eco Challenge entries were all of very high standard and it was a real joy to see so many young people engaging with their environment and the ways in which food production can influence it.”

Chiara Rohlfs, programme officer at the UNESCO Voices of Future Generations children’s initiative, said: “We were delighted to see so many different and ingenious ideas from all over the world, including Africa, Asia and North America. The challenge really strengthened my belief that the young generation will have the energy to take action towards a more sustainable future.”

Professor Beverley Glover, director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden, was one of the judges. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Beverley Glover, director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden, was one of the judges. Picture: Keith Heppell

The platinum winners

Ying-Xuan Lai, pictured above, from Taipei, Taiwan, created the ‘Cookie Box Garden – the vegetables assembly’.

She said: “There are many densely populated cities in the world, including Taipei. Urban Heat Island effect causes warm temperatures in cities, which increases demand for water and energy, and contributes to air pollution. My idea is: 1. Square Foot Gardening. Leafy and solanaceous vegetables and herbs are planted in recycled cookie boxes;

“2. Collect rainwater in recycled milk bottles and food waste for bio-compost;

“3. Any flat surface on a city balcony can be used, to reduce the urban heat on the pavement;

“4. Creation of microenvironment for insects, providing habitats for flora and fauna.

“I planted root vegetables such as sweet potato, potato, and taro, along with bean sprouts, sweet potato, Chinese cabbage, and spinach.”

Nico Cordonier Gehring (King’s College School), and Jona Cordonier Gehring (Winchester College) created the Eco-Dragon Herb & Veggie Garden.

Nico Cordonier Gehring, from Cambridge, is one of three platinum winners in the second Eco Challenge
Nico Cordonier Gehring, from Cambridge, is one of three platinum winners in the second Eco Challenge

“Our organic Eco-Dragon Herb & Veggie Garden is planted in two small wooden planters on the patio very close to our kitchen door, and grown in fresh soil from our eco-challenge eco-composter projects,” they said. “We researched, designed, germinated and then planted and grew cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, radishes and peppers, and also coriander, basil, rosemary, lemongrass and mint.

“As our family eats these plants in summer meals, we saved waste, energy for transport and carbon emissions, and also avoided chemical pesticides and fertilisers. It is much healthier and more sustainable to grow our own veggies and herbs, so for this eco-challenge, we set out to do so!”

Wezi Emmanuel Chilubanama, from Lusaka, Zambia, grew coriander in an aloe vera eco-fence for his project.

Wezi Emmanuel Chilubanama, from Lusaka, Zambia
Wezi Emmanuel Chilubanama, from Lusaka, Zambia

Wezi said: “During this challenging Covid-19 global pandemic, my family is not moving around much.

“Spices, herbs and vegetables have become expensive and are found in crowded markets, so I decided to help my family supplement our vegetable garden.

“I planted coriander because it is a source of fibre, iron, and vitamins C and K which help build immunity.

“We have three big dogs that play around my garden, so I had to stop them from trampling over my seedlings.

“Thankfully, my mum gave me aloe vera to create an eco-fence.

“My aloe vera fence will also purify the oxygen.

“I will make sure it is well watered, so it protects the coriander from trespassers.”

The gold winners

gold winner Sydnee Nisyok 2nd Eco Challenge (42219976)
gold winner Sydnee Nisyok 2nd Eco Challenge (42219976)

Sydnee Nisyok, from British Columbia, Canada, said: “Growing my own garden contributes to sustainable food systems because I live in a smaller community, and the closest store that sells vegetables is 100km away. Now we will drive less to get these foods and use less packaging.

“I planted potatoes, tomatoes, kale, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, oregano, rosemary and sage because they are easiest to grow where I live, and these are foods my family eats. I didn’t get to plant peppermint and cucumbers because I couldn’t find the seeds. We have portable greenhouses to keep the plants warm since the weather has been cool and wet. We already practise sustainable living.”

Paloma, from St John’s School
Paloma, from St John’s School

Paloma, of St John’s College School, created a mini vegetable garden.

She said: “I live in a townhouse with no garden, so we grow most plants in pots. Because our terrace is too windy, we put the plants in the south-facing windows of our house. Unfortunately we got lots of aphids, so we collected some ladybirds and put them on the plants. The ladybirds ate the aphids, then we set them free again. This proved very effective. The tomato plants need lots of watering, and the chilli plants prefer to get very dry before they’re next watered. It’s nice to see the plants as we go up and down the stairs, and notice their gradual growth.”

Carla, Freya and Ladislaya Kotter, 2nd Eco Challenge (42219951)
Carla, Freya and Ladislaya Kotter, 2nd Eco Challenge (42219951)

Carla (Stephen Perse Foundation), Freya (King’s College School) and Ladislaya Kotter (King’s College School) created a family vegetable garden.

They said: “We planted a variety of vegetables and herbs to use in lots of our meals. We planted corn because it’s versatile and we eat it often. The next row has cherry tomatoes for our salads, and beef tomatoes because we use them in dishes like pasta sauce.

“We have cucumbers and salad vegetables as we eat salad every lunch as a starter. On the side we have herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil, chives, sage and peppermint, to season our dishes with a little more flavour. We planted the tall plants in the back.”

The silver and bronze winners

Silver winners included:

Christina-Angelina Kassongo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose ‘Garden of the Three Sisters’ has proved an inspirational start to a sustainable food system which will include “fruit trees and vegetable of all kinds”.

. (42219948)
. (42219948)

 Mia Robb, of Hills Road, with ‘Mia’s Cavolo Nero Kale Veg Bed’, pictured below right with kale growing in a disused part of the family allotment.

Silver winner Mia Robb
Silver winner Mia Robb

Samaya and Ella Hone, of Chesterton Community College, for their vegetable garden which includes plant cucurbits, brassicas, potatoes, beans, garlic, and tomatoes.

Bronze winners were:

Junayd Islam , of Hills Road, with ‘Junayd’s Veggie Garden’ which includes an apple tree planted with beetroots

Aarifah Islam, of Parkside School, with ‘Aarifah’s Veggie Garden’, with herbs and tomatoes.

Sarah Sanders, editorial officer, at UNESCO Voices of Future Generations Children’s Initiative, who has developed the project with the Cambridge Schools Eco Council and the Cambridge Independent, said: “Congratulations to all the participants and thank you very much to everyone who helped make the second Eco-Challenge a great success!

“It was amazing to see so many great entries and I hope that all the beautiful gardens will continue to bloom after the new school year starts again.”

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