Butterworth Urban Garden Schools (BUGS)

Butterworth Art Walk. Photo: Think City


In an effort to cultivate a culture of urban gardening, Think City launches an urban garden programme in schools.

A key feature of a green city is the urban garden. Urban gardens, especially if they are also edible, are an exemplary way of making cities greener because they increase the amount of vegetation and contribute to the food security of local communities. Food miles are reduced drastically and chemicals used on the plants can be controlled.

Community urban gardens can also be particularly effective in fostering closer ties within the community and building a stronger connection with nature and the appreciation for it. The Butterworth Urban Garden Schools (BUGS) project was set up to cultivate all the benefits of urban gardening as part of the Butterworth greening programme.



Think City was keen on amplifying greening efforts in Butterworth in 2016 but had neither the capacity nor experience to do so. A partnership with the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) proved to be the best way forward as they were keen on expanding their organic farming programme to schools in the mainland. With that, the BUGS programme was launched to expose school children to the benefits and pleasures of urban gardening.

While Think City researched the schools and managed the relationships, CAP conducted the workshops, supervised the gardening processes, and monitored the overall health of the gardens.


Think City contributed RM20,000 towards groundwork, gardening equipment, soil preparation and other materials. Photo: Mustafa Ahmad/The Star via Think City


Initially, reactions from the schools were mixed. While many saw the potential of developing an urban garden co-curriculum, there was concern regarding the funding of the programme. And so, Think City Butterworth allocated RM20,000 towards the groundwork, gardening equipment, soil preparation and other necessary materials.

Urban gardens were set up in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Convent Butterworth, SMK St. Mark, SMK Taman Indrawasih and SMK Mak Mandin. Workshops by CAP took place during co-curricular hours, training the students in the different techniques of preparing the soil, planting and how to handle gardening tools. For many students, it had been their first time holding a rake!

Seeds and materials for planting were supplied by CAP, while students were introduced to over 20 types of vegetables and herbs such as cat’s whiskers, basil, king of bitters, eggplant, turmeric and many more.

The size of the gardens varied according to the amount of space provided by the school. For instance, SMK Convent Butterworth had little land available, thus a small section of a wall was devoted to vertical gardening to complement the natural garden bed.


Harvests and Buyers

Both students and teachers were excited upon seeing the results of their labour, particularly during the harvest period, as they hadn’t anticipated that there would be ready buyers for their produce. Teaching staff and canteen operators were eager customers, buying the vegetables and herbs from the students.

“The reactions from students, teachers and even parents were most encouraging,” said Daniel Lee, Think City Programme Executive and project owner of BUGS.

“When we first started this programme, we noticed there was a clear disconnect between people and their natural environment. By being outdoors and learning how to plant produce that the students themselves would eventually eat, we hoped that students would be more conscious of the relationships and cycles between human beings and nature.”

Students also learned the dangers of using chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and how these substances were detrimental to both human wellbeing and the planet’s health. They were made aware of food security issues and how this could be addressed by growing produce.


“When we first started this programme… there was a clear disconnect between people and their natural environment.” – Daniel Lee, Think City Programme Executive and project owner of BUGS.


The project also generated interest in the local media. Form Five student A. Nithiasri, 17, told The Star that she had grown to be very interested after attending a gardening workshop under the guidance of CAP.

“I love plants very much as they allow me to be close to nature,” she said. She also said she had persuaded her mother to begin their own urban garden at home.

Meanwhile, Form One student Tan Zhi Ni, 13, said being involved in the school’s urban garden had brought her closer to nature.

“My mother told me to learn more so that I can start an urban garden at our house,” she added.


Think City Programme Director, Murali Ram tours the garden at SMK Convent Butterworth on a follow-up visit. Photo: Mustafa Ahmad/The Star via Think City


“We hope that the programme will continue to sustainably run in all participating schools, and that the garden will become embedded in the DNA of the school. This will ensure that the programme will keep running long after Think City Butterworth’s work is done. We also hope that more schools will adopt similar programmes which we hope are inspired by our ideas,” said Daniel.