A significant number of Australian schools are implementing gardening programs. Grant and Littlejohn (2004, pg.92) describe this as “transforming barren expanses of asphalt and frayed grass into exciting natural spaces for learning, playing and socialising”. The benefits of gardening programs have become increasingly more convincing to schools as teachers seek pedagogical approaches to engage children in experiential learning and work towards tackling societal concerns such as childhood obesity and environmental sustainability (Miller, 2007). The desire to enable children to experience ‘slow’, less technologically focused experiences (Payne, 2003; Payne & Wattchow, 2008) and to address concerns that children are growing up with what Louv (2005) describes as “Nature Deficit Disorder” are additional drivers that have led teachers and communities to embrace school gardens programs.
The focus of the paper is the Multicultural School Gardens program that is being implemented in disadvantaged schools in the Western suburbs of Melbourne that use food gardening and cultural diversity as a focus for implementing a holistic environmental education program. The participating schools have high proportions of migrant and refugee families. Alongside the implementation of the Multicultural School Gardens program a research process has occurred where the children researched their experiences. The children’s research has shown that the Multicultural School Gardens program has acted as a catalyst for cultural tolerance and understanding in highly culturally diverse schools and communities. To this end, this paper explores the accomplishments, challenges and implications in teaching and learning cultural diversity through food gardening programs.