Conscious Food Systems and the NHE Wood School in Bali

by Erika Worster

Wood School Bali was established in the village of Pejeng, Bali in 2013, by Founder and Director Arul Selven. The school has grown organically to span Nursery through Grade 10 over the past years, with 65 children enrolled from internationally diverse backgrounds. Currently 12 teachers and many local villagers are employed by the school and its ongoing projects in various capacities. Wood School Bali works with the Master Unit in Northern Bali to support an onsite educational program serving underprivileged children in the most rural areas of the island. The goals of Wood School Bali are to bring to life the teachings of Shrii P.R. Sarkar, and thereby create as large a positive impact as possible, with the individual children and beyond to our local and international community. This is achieved through multiple programs, including an ongoing onsite dog shelter for example, as well as our conscious food and gardening program we will now share more about.

There are so many aspects and elements to be considered when approaching the development and sustainability of running a gardening and sentient vegan food program at an NHE school. To design a system which runs consciously in alignment with NHE values at its core is both multifaceted and nuanced, from the school garden and lunch table to the impact on the local community and ecosystem. At the heart of it all, the goal is to inspire the students (and teachers and parents by extension) to truly and meaningfully appreciate the hard work of the farmers and growers, and the environmental impact of their own individual and collective choices. We feel it is important to follow a sentient vegan food program and to remain in line with PCAP (Prevention of Cruelty to Plants and Animals), as it is not possible for us to find guaranteed ethically sourced dairy products in this industrialized place and time.

Ideally, this experiential process starts with the school gardens. Through growing their own organic vegetables per class, the students learn firsthand how labor intensive and complicated the food growing process really is. By keeping the gardens organic, free from pesticides and chemicals, they also see the real-life results of contending with natural elements such as bugs and animals. Through this, they are able to better understand the prices farmers must set for organic produce and how much hard work is put into each leaf, fruit or vegetable. The students also learn, through trial and error, which plants they can reliably plant based on season and garden conditions. They learn to measure sunlight and analyze the health of soil, and how to enhance and work with what is possible. Students are also able to understand more deeply, through their hands-on experience, the impact food growing has on their own small immediate micro-ecosystem. They see how the bugs and bees thrive in their natural and supported habitats, the butterflies flying and grasshoppers jumping, and view their interactions as something natural, to be supported and appreciated. They are able to understand the roles of all natural elements, beyond our own human role on earth, which inspires a sense of awe in the heart of each child.

As it remains a work in progress, year after year growing little by little, the school gardens are supplemented by trips to the local village markets. There, we are able to buy locally and support our village farmers. It is not always possible for these local farmers to grow “organically” on a large and successful scale, so we must be willing to compromise. This means soaking all fruits and vegetables accordingly as well as selecting those less impacted by the use of pesticides. It means eating and serving what is local and in season and purchasing at a fair price, supporting the local community. This also means, when preparing school snacks and lunch, swapping local fruit and vegetable ingredients such as cassava and taro for other imported options. By shopping locally and seasonally, and using our own successfully harvested fruits and vegetables as often as possible, the students are able to consider and experience a positive impact on their macro-ecosystem. This is through reducing waste/packaging as well as the carbon footprint of importing foods unnecessarily, thus embracing moving closer to a
zero-waste lifestyle in support of the earth and larger scale environments. After all the hard work, as the weeks go by, the students are able to understand why people are prone in general to taking the easier option, which is to just buy packaged food from the supermarkets. However, they are left at least with a better understanding and inspiration for alternatives.

There are many ways to approach growing food. One of the school’s most successful methods to date is the use of hydroponics. We have been able to achieve great success in growing a variety of leafy greens to harvest for the school and the school community. This method has the additional benefit of showcasing the attainability of this specific system in relation to space and circumstance. As our human population continues to grow, and space becomes limited as well as increasingly costly, hydroponics provides a very practical solution. It also engages the children’s rationality and logic as they design and understand the way the structure is engineered for efficiency. The children are able to help build liquid alternative nutrients to add to the water flowing through the hydroponics systems. They work with both organic materials and minerals to create a supportive balance.

As we grow a variety of vegetables which are not commonly grown or known by the local village community, we are able to introduce them as an alternative to what is more commonly planted, grown and consumed, thereby diversifying the local edible crops available. Though they may not eat these new varieties, they have the ability to sell them, and perhaps in the future they will add these new nutritious plants to their everyday diets. This naturally enriches the local ecosystem. An extension of the school gardening/food growing program was also seen during the pandemic, when though the school was nearly empty the staff (largely from the surrounding village and dependent upon the school for their jobs), were given an adjacent plot of land on which to grow and ultimately barter their own vegetables.

Everything mentioned above starts and finishes with composting, a key stage in the cycle of food. Our students study and come to understand, through hands-on engagement, many types of composting. From Black Soldier Flies to Vermicomposting, they are able to witness through firsthand experience, working in harmony with nature to expedite the naturally occurring cycles of life found in nature. They can see how we as humans are able to give back to the earth, all the remains from which we take, such as peels and fallen leaves. Through personal and group experiences of their own universal interconnectedness, they are left with an imprint of awe. To see how insects, the earth, air, water, animals and humans all collectively create the perfect balance when working in harmony.

For more information about the Wood School, please visit their website here: