James Bay OSC Garden Project
Our vision is to create garden beds for our school and community. Our goal was to teach children about the importance of food security, and where food in the grocery store comes from. We live in an urban area, on Southern Vancouver Island. During the pandemic, it was made apparent to many folks how our little city needs to take action to create more security within our food systems so we rely less on food being transported onto the island. Our hope was to give children and families the tools to start their own little gardens be it in containers, on their balconies, or even on the boulevards of our streets.
I run an Out of School Care program in an urban community in Victoria, BC. We applied to do this project because we work with some very vulnerable families who lack food security. Many of our families live in dense neighbourhoods with access to little or no land. Gardening here is an incredible privilege. Also, being on an Island, we say supply chain issues in Victoria throughout the pandemic which included empty grocery stores. Many of the families who seek out services rely on cheap food to feed their children, which is not always fresh. We were inspired to take on this issue to give back to our community, and to give children the knowledge of knowing where food comes from.
Science is showing that Canada is experiencing climate change incredibly fast. In fact, I recently saw a local UBC botanist give a talk on climate change, and he has predicted that the Southern Gulf Island will have a similar climate to Southern California. The threat of climate change has made myself, and my staff, evaluate what type of information we would like to pass onto the children in our care, and how to create a garden was at the forefront of our conversations.
Due to weather, our project got off to a slow start. Another goal of ours that was not met was finding reclaimed wood. We found this difficult, but lucky for us a staff member was able to get us a discount at their other place of employment and we were able to secure wood and sheeting at a very low cost.
The first steps of our project was building the garden beds and to start seeds. A local gardener who works at our city’s ‘Compost Education Centre’, came to our centre to do a seed starting workshop with the children. They were able to plant peas, sunflowers, and many other plants. The gardener came with an educational lens, and we were very grateful that this experience came at no cost. Then we built our garden beds. We encouraged the children, with help of course, to take on this project themselves. Many of them had never built anything before, and seeing them safely use the handsaw, drill, and other tools was incredibly heartwarming. You could see the confidence being instilled in them by learning how to use tools you might not be inclined to give to children. We were able to successfully make two beds which we put on wheels for easy mobility and transport. Since we are attached to a Community School, we did run into a slight issue of where the beds could live. However, after careful consideration, we received approval that as long as they were on wheels, the beds could safely live outside in our program’s “backyard”.
Next, we painted the beds. This was a very fun and collaborative experience. If you’ve ever worked with children, you know that it can be challenging to get them to agree on any one thing. However, this piece of the project turned into an all hands on deck situation, and we collectively painted and gave a colourful life to our garden beds.
I raise quail here in Victoria, and when it came time to fill the beds, we taught the children about lasagna layering. We used cardboard that we had been collecting, with copious amounts of quail bedding, and then soil. This part of the project was, in my opinion, the most satisfying and the most important. Teaching children about healthy soil, and why soil is so important to our future was a personal goal of mine.
Lastly, we were able to secure flats of over 12 different plants from a city wide program called ‘Get Growing Victoria’. The city of Victoria runs this program to encourage folks to start a victory garden of sorts, and we were eligible for free plants when they heard about our project. They donated so many plants to us we not only had enough for our beds, but we were able to give out many of them for free to staff members of the school, as well as families who attend our program. Folks were incredibly grateful for these plants, and our hope was that the children and families could continue to find ways to creatively start a garden be it containers, balconies, boulevards, etc.
The project has been so successful in our community that we were just approved to add more beds to space, as well as being gifted one of the school’s beds that is filled with weeds. We hope to continue to add to our community garden with a pollinator garden, a local Indigenous and native plant garden, as well as a herb and medicine garden.
Reflection & Celebration
We have successfully completed two garden beds, and plan to keep going. The biggest celebration of this project is that we were able to involve children of all ages in every step of the way; from cutting, drilling, and building the beds, to decorating, and to filling and planning. Every child was incredibly enthusiastic about this project, and we are very excited to continue it.