7 April 2024

Top marks for showy displays by productive Illawarra high school students

| Jen White
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Produce display at Royal Easter Show

Lake Illawarra High School’s winning entry in the Royal Easter Show display competition. Photo: Lake Illawarra High School.

When it comes to food choices at the Royal Easter Show most kids head for hot chips and dagwood dogs, but it was all about fruit and vegetables for students from two Illawarra high schools.

Lake Illawarra High School won first place in the show’s Schools Districts Exhibits Display Competition, while Oak Flats High came second in the School Produce Competition.

While the bulk of the students prepared the displays of produce grown in their school gardens, two others were busy taking part in the Young Judges Competition.

The competition is an opportunity for people aged 15 to 25 years to try their hand as judges for horticulture and animal categories.

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Oak Flats Year Nine student Isaac Duffy and Lake Illawarra’s Jaiden Burke, from Year 11, both qualified for the competition after their results at the Robertson Show.

Held in conjunction with Ag Shows NSW, the Royal Easter Show hosted the state finals for the sheep, cattle, grain and fruit competitions.

The produce displays were the result of months of hard work by students and teachers.

Oak Flats High School students began planting and preparing for the competition in late 2023.

They moved mulch, manure, compost, and soil, planted and weeded gardens, pulled tape off cardboard to sheet mulch, collected snails and other pests from the garden beds, drew artwork and then harvested the produce.

Box of vegetables.

Just some of the contents of Oak Flats High School’s produce box, which won second place. Photo: Oak Flats High School.

Teenager with ribbon awards.

Isaac Duffy with the awards he received from the Robertson Show. Photo: Oak Flats High School.

The school has a number of different gardens, producing several heirloom pumpkin and squash varieties, glass gem corn, chokos, cherry tomatoes and herbs.

The school’s new Indigenous garden offered native finger limes, Warrigal greens and cinnamon myrtle, while the first food ladder greenhouse crop, planted by a Year Seven class, included kale and cress.

Recycled pallets were used to create the garden box and signs for each of the gardens were created with a laser cutter.

“It was this fabulous team effort that enabled us to achieve second place ahead of some agricultural schools in the competition,” the school told parents.

“It exemplifies the passion and dedication of our students and staff, and we couldn’t be prouder of all their hard work and achievements.”

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Isaac was also called on to help select the best vegetables for the entry.

He’s been involved in the school’s gardens since starting high school and is thinking about a career in some form of agriculture.

At just 15, he’s keen to also continue taking part in the Young Judges Competition.

At the Royal Easter Show he judged the stone fruit, tomato and onion categories, checking entries from gardens across the state for size, colour, any bruising or blemishes and overall quality.

“You examine it top to bottom, feel it to check the softness or hardness of it, and the colour,” he said.

Although he doesn’t have much of a garden at home, Isaac does enjoy growing chillies and making chilli salt from scratch.

He reckons if you want to try growing vegetables at home, start with tomatoes – but don’t forget fertiliser for the best results.

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