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Southland primary schools provided with ‘tunnel houses’ to help educate children about food production

Agricultural banking specialist Rabobank has donated ‘tunnel houses’ to eight primary schools from across the Southland region, as part of an initiative aimed at encouraging children to learn about growing food, sustainability and reducing waste.

With the help of local Rabobank staff, the five-metre long tunnel houses were installed at the schools during March and early April. Primary schools from across the Southland region were asked to submit an application to receive a tunnel house in October last year and the selected schools — Heddon Bush, Takitimu, Balfour, Riverton, Heriot, Mossburn, Waikaka and Lochiel — were told of their success late last year. The selected schools will also receive a composting bin, compost and seedlings.

The idea for the initiative came from Rabobank’s Southland agribusiness manager Michael McHutchon and was submitted by the wider Rabobank Southland team as part of a staff competition linked to the launch of the bank’s Rabo Community Fund – a new fund set up to support rural and regional communities across New Zealand and Australia. The tunnel house initiative was selected as the competition winner in October last year and the Southland team awarded the necessary funding to execute the project.

Heddon Bush School students

Heddon Bush School students with their tunnel house

Rabo Community Fund governing committee member Jody McCullough, who is based in Invercargill, said the local team were thrilled to see the initiative come to fruition.

“Food production is such a significant part of Southland and New Zealand’s economy and we wanted to look at ways we could help schools to increase interest and understanding of this topic,” she said.

“Each of the schools has different ideas on how they will use the tunnel houses, with some looking at growing produce to donate to students and their families and others looking to provide further learning opportunities by selling surplus produce through a school market day.”

Heddon Bush school teacher Sarah Guise said students at the school were rapt when told their school was one of the those that had been selected to receive a new tunnel house.

“As an Enviroschool, we have a strong environmental focus, and, as part of this, a small group of our students are tasked with developing the school’s sustainability vision,” she said.

“When the students developed this vision early last year, a tunnel house was one of the items on their wish list, so the Rabobank opportunity came at a perfect time for us.

“We were quick to register our interest and the kids were absolutely stoked when I passed on the news that our school was one the lucky winners.”

Ms Guise said the students were really excited when the tunnel house was delivered by Rabobank staff in early April and they’d already come up with a number of great ideas for how it could be utilised.

“The school has a piece of QE2 covenant land close by that’s been used over the years to plant natives and we’ll now use the tunnel house for planting out or growing native seedlings for use in riparian plantings,” she said.

“Longer term the students are also keen to grow vegetables in the tunnel house and make these available to students who might have forgotten or need a bit extra for their school lunch.”

Ms McCullough said the bank was now planning events at each of the schools to formally present the tunnel houses.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions limited the interaction with students and school staff while the the tunnel house deliveries were taking place, but with Covid restrictions recently being relaxed, we’re now looking to hold small events at each of the schools,” she said.

“Our staff are really keen to hear more from the students and teachers about their plans for the tunnel houses, and they’re also keen to stay involved with the schools over the months and years ahead to help support ongoing learning about sustainable food production.”

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 120 years’ experience providing customized banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 36 countries, servicing the needs of about 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of close to 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of the country's leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the New Zealand food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 30 offices throughout New Zealand.

Media contacts:

David Johnston
Marketing & Media Relations Manager
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 027 477 8153

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +612 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525