OVER THE past few weeks, Margaret Tattersfield, a biology teacher at Perth High, has been indulging her passion for gardening while her colleagues remain in the classroom. She hasn't retired early, nor is she bunking off - she has simply been preparing the school's new commercially viable market garden.
More than half an acre of school grounds has been dug over by Mrs Tattersfield, an "inspirational gardener", and some of the pupils, to prepare it for vegetable and plant production. Greenhouses will be on site by autumn, paid for by the Economic Development Unit in Perth and Kinross.
But the school is not going it alone since it has many rural industries on its doorstep.
"We've been talking to producers and farmers who are willing to get involved with the school," says Fiona Keatings, depute head at Perth High.
"Robbie Wilson of Gowrie Growers, a leading producer of vegetables in the area, has been giving us advice on topsoil and other aspects of growing vegetables, as has Jim Fairlie, a farmer from Bridge of Earn."
She is convinced that it is a good use of spare land belonging to the school, but, at the moment, plans for the garden remain modest.
"We have to be realistic as it is early days," says Mrs Keatings. "So our current focus for pupils is to prepare the ingredients for a gala dinner in September being organised by our hospitality students. We are linking up with Murrayhill hotel and will invite all the local businesses that have been supporting us over the years."
But Perth High is known for its ambitious thinking and has started looking at how the resource can be embedded into other areas of the curriculum. "We are at the toe-in-the-water stage at the moment, finding our feet," says Mrs Keatings. "But, ultimately, our long-term plan is to incorporate our market garden into our Skills for Work agenda."
From the beginning of the new timetable this month, instead of sitting in the class discussing the production of vegetables and plants, pupils studying Interme-diate 1 biotechnology will be in the garden doing it. Some S3 pupils have been helping build raised beds. Pupils from the XL class, those taking the alternative curriculum, will also be working on the garden, developing skills that they will be able to take with them into the work place, such as planning, production and promotion.
The school's eco group, led by Jean Pedgrift, the PE teacher, has been helping Mrs Tattersfield with the landscaping.
The existence of the garden is having an impact on other areas within the school. It has spilled over into hospitality, giving students the potential of free produce for their gala dinner. And that has led to an opportunity for Mahri Dinning, principal teacher of home economics, to do a week's work placement at Murrayhill to give her insight into how big-scale catering is done.
"The pupils will have to consider every aspect of producing a large gala meal," says Mrs Keatings. "And more. For example, everything must be sourced locally and we will be using the opportunity to discuss food miles."
Beyond the curriculum, the market garden has also brought the school into contact with the Slow Food movement, which is gradually gaining ground in Scotland. Perth is aiming to become the first town in Scotland to gain the Chitta Slow Food accreditation, part of which needs an educational element that allows young people to learn where food comes from. The school has stepped up to fulfil that part of the criteria.
There is potential for further involvement. Business studies and enterprise pupils could soon be participating, selling on the vegetables and plants.
But for now, the school, Mrs Keatings and Mrs Tattersfield are happy to focus on the first crop.