Melbourne school replaces canteen vending machine with student-run vertical farm - National Tree Day Blog

Melbourne school replaces canteen vending machine with student-run vertical farm


As part of an education program, students in Melbourne are learning how to grow their own edible plants in an urban farm that has replaced the canteen’s vending machine.

The program, run by social enterprise Farmwall, is designed to teach youth about sustainable urban farming as a method of mitigating climate change and improving food security and health. Students at Hume Central Secondary College will care for the plants while learning about biodiversity, nutrition, and wellbeing through hands-on school incursions.

Sustainable farming in the classroom

The indoor vertical farm grows radish ‘microgreens‘ (highly nutritious immature vegetables harvested while young) and also includes a mushroom-growing system. Students plant seedlings in soggy, hemp-filled pots, and nurture them as they flourish into edible greens. Within a few short weeks, students can reap their reward, eating the veggies with their lunch or taking them home to their families.

By turning the experience of growing food into a rewarding endeavour, students become invested in the process, deepening their engagement in the educational aspects of the activity. While caring for the plants, students discover how they are grown in a closed-loop ecosystem that utilises the natural relationship between fish and plants. The installation includes a fish tank which uses aquaponics (a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics) to turn fish waste and nitrifying bacteria into nutrients for the plants.

Debra Kimpton, teacher at Hume Central Secondary College, told Planet Ark the reponse from the students involved in the program has been extremely positive.

“Students are amazed and excited. They love watching the fish and learning about [their] connection to the microgreens. Some take ownership of their microgreens to the next level. They want to plant them to watch the full life cycle,” Debra said.

Educating children about food insecurity

Alongside promoting health and nutritious eating, the urban farm is used to engage students in learning about the relationship between climate change and food insecurity.

Sowmya Ghimire, a Year 9 student participating in the program, told Planet Ark the classes had made them think differently about where food comes from and how growing food is impacted by climate change.

“Learning to take care of and grow food is a very important skill for survival. This experience has provided more perspective around growing and tending to crops until they are fit to eat. The most interesting thing I’ve been able to pick up is how closely related geography and climate change studies are,” Sowmya said.

Additionally, the educational program incorporates some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to give students a deeper understanding of the global impacts of food insecurity and their solutions. Participating students will be able to vote for SDGs they want to support, and Farmwall will help them support charities working in these areas.

Investing in youth for a brighter future

The urban farm and educational program are provided by Farmwall, a social enterprise that aims to scale the impact of growing food in cities through technology and education. Farmwall sells urban farming technology to companies and hospitality venues and reinvests part of its earnings into social outcomes including education about sustainable food production.

CEO and Founder of Farmwall, Geert Hendrix, said they are excited to be working with Hume Central Secondary College to demonstrate the potential for urban farming to contribute to food security and wellbeing.

“We believe this will get students excited about the possibility of careers in sustainable agriculture, as well as improving their mental and physical health on a daily basis,” said Geert.

Hume Central Secondary College is the first school in Australia to receive a Farmwall Aquaponic Unit which will be funded by Farmwall for six months, after which the school will pay a monthly fee to maintain the installation. In the meantime, corporate sponsorship for the college will be explored.

Following this development, Farmwall will be undertaking a similar project at Whittlesea Tech School, with students growing vegetable seedlings to either eat at school or take home and plant in the garden, where they can grow into full-size vegetables.

How to get involved

Farmwall offers numerous programs for schools in Victoria, from short biodiversity and agriSTEM incursions to long-term programs exploring sustainable agriculture. Reach out to Farmwall and let them know how your school would like to participate by emailing hello@farmwall.com.au

Businesses can also get involved by either sponsoring a school program or installing their own urban farm for employees to enjoy.


Rachael Ridley

Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music and patting dogs.