Community Food Garden
In the Fall of 2017, Rockway Public School began our Garden Project. With the help of community members and organizations such as Lowe’s, we dug what is now our 10 x 25 community vegetable garden. In the Spring of 2018 a number of classes took responsibility for planting a variety of vegetables for our school. Throughout the summer teacher and parent volunteers helped to maintain and nurture the vegetables. In the Spring of 2018 we started our Garden Club with approximately 35 students from grades 1 to 6. The garden club meets weekly to tend to the needs of the garden and to plan and brainstorm ideas for the gardens future. As well, many whole classes are still participating in the harvesting, maintenance and replanting of our garden.
The Rockway Public School Garden Project’s vision is to get children outside to engage in learning through hands on, real life experiences with the natural world. In a community that is extremely diverse across cultures (many of our students and families being new Canadians) and low socio-economic status we hope to bring children and families together to build a greater sense of community, belonging and lasting relationships with each other and the earth. Our garden project gives students and families an inclusive meeting place to share experiences and knowledge while creating new experiences that will stay with them for a lifetime. Our garden also gives our in-risk students an extracurricular outlet, that they would not otherwise have, to help them along their developmental trajectory and inspire them to continue finding positive activities to participate in as opposed to heading out onto the streets.
Our garden project will address the social issues of responsibility, interrelationships, mental health and anxiety. It will also address the environmental issues such as sustainability. Our garden project will help teach our students about their social and environmental responsibility to care for one another and tend to our earth by planting and nurturing our very own vegetables. It will help nurture their own self-confidence as they begin appreciate and enjoy the food they have grown themselves while they learn about where their food comes from through their engagement with a real life food system. Growing their own food from seed also teaches students about patience and how kindness and caring for others can nurture life. Students will learn the values of cooperation and teamwork as they have to work together to accomplish a goal. Being outside, in the natural environment also helps children develop a love and appreciation for nature while reducing the stress and anxiety of daily life. When they are exposed to nature they begin to desire to protect it, nurture it and respect its beauty and want to be around it more.
In a community with lower socioeconomic status and many residence new to Canada, the daily life stressors can be quite high. It can be difficult for our families to build relationships within the community. It can also be difficult to provide nutritious foods for their families. Fresh and nutritious food can be difficult to source as the closest grocery store is 2.2 km away, which is an issue of accessibility if families do not have a car. Giving these students and families a purpose and outlet to actually see their value and ability to make change is an invaluable life lesson that our garden project will share with our students and their families.
The Garden Project will seek to empower kids and members of the community by teaching them how food grows and providing them with the tools to plant and maintain fresh food sources. This includes teaching what seeds can grow in our climatic region, and what climatic conditions are needed to maintain healthy and sustainable growth. Teaching the community when is appropriate to harvest the crops will empower them to access food on a self-serve basis. We hope to also spark interest in the sciences by teaching our community about the interconnectedness of plants, species, ecosystems and climate. Social responsibility will be addressed as students learn the importance of caring for ourselves and our land. Students will appreciate the food they eat, as they have grown it themselves. They will also develop of a deeper understanding of the importance of healthy food and empathy for those who do not have the same resources available to them.
By providing a local food source we will attempt to tackle the carbon footprint associated with the transportation of food over long distances. Our garden is in a reasonable walking distance to most of the communities housing. The food grown in the garden will be free of any pesticides or herbicides, and therefore will seek to have low to no impacts on the surrounding environment. Future iterations of the project may include a composting process, that will use the food waste produced on site, to provide the soil with much needed nutrients to grow healthier and more robust crops, while reducing waste from entering landfills.
The diversity of Rockway Public School should be used as an asset to enhance the garden project. It will bring the community together, and combine a diversity of knowledge to make this a successful application. It will also give our community’s newcomers an idea of how food is grown in Canada, and the types of vegetables that are readily available to them. It can also provide new relationships, and new skills to help ground them in their new country.
This project will be giving our students in FDK, and grades 1-6 the opportunity to make rich outdoor connections with the natural world by having the opportunity to plant seeds, observe vegetables and fruit growing, and harvesting vegetables/fruit (many of whom don’t have the advantage of gardening or connecting and exploring nature).
Youth leadership is highlighted in this project through our Garden Club. Thirty five students from grades one to six are responsible for overseeing the needs of the garden and educating the rest of school as well as the community (in terms of how to plant vegetables in order for them to grow successfully, the jobs that need to be accomplished to ensure the garden is healthy, etc.). The skills they learn through this club will encourage them to develop into leaders that make an impact in their community, leaders that care for the Earth and will make a difference.
Reflection & Celebration
This is the second year of our project, so we are continuously in progress.
1. Garden club / student engagement: we have a dedicated group of 12 students in grades 2-4 who have thoroughly immersed in learning about gardening. They commit an entire nutrition break (40 mins), once a week to help with planning, researching, weeding, planting, maintaining etc.
2. Harvest edible veggies!
3. Hands on, inquiry based and cross curricular learning.
1. Man power: Willing and able teachers and adult volunteers to maintain and upkeep the garden throughout the school year AND the summer.
2. Community vandalism and damaged plants.
3. ANIMALS: Squirrels, rabbits and birds.
By fundraising every year, letting students take ownership and be the voice to promote our garden, and by recruiting more adult volunteers we can easily sustain our garden. It is small in size and we have a lot in place already that will make each year a little easier. In the fall we collect seeds from our vegetables (e.g., peppers, tomatoes, cucumber) to replant in the spring. We also are receiving a 3 bin composter from a neighboring high school that will help cut costs of replenishing the soil each each.
To share and celebrate our successes as they happen, we currently use our school’s twitter account and teacher twitter accounts (e.g., harvesting tomatoes to make salsa in class). We would like to share our successes in a paperless fashion, however not all of our families have access to computers and the internet. We would like our Garden Club members to collaborate on making a seasonal newsletter that could be sent home to families each season to stay updated on what is happening in our garden and the benefits our school is receiving from having our garden.
Inside our school we also set up a display with photos and captions of our gardens successes. When families visit the school for various occasions they are able to see the progress and success of our garden even in the ‘off’ season.