Last week, updates and plans were gathered from all the school garden champions and administrators of the K-8 schools in the Gulf Islands. Gulf Islands Secondary School (GISS) also has an incredible culinary and food-growing program (more info here and here). It was time for the annual report to the Board of Trustees to celebrate all the garden-based learning happening around School District #64.
This is the third year we've collectively shared, and we’ve come a long way! Since 2018, school gardens champions have connected across islands and schools, with gatherings on four islands so far, offered two District-wide professional development workshops for teachers (the next will be in April 2021), and maintained the www.schoolgarden.ca website.
For me, the best parts of this year's Board presentation were re-connecting across schools around their incredible programs and collaborating with my energized and insightful 2021 co-presenter, Kris Krug. K.K. is the Galiano Greenhouse & Garden Coordinator and runs their school garden program. He brought his bottle-fed lamb and instantly won over the crowd.
When you see and hear about all that’s gone on especially during the pandemic, you’ll realize how resilient, creative, and necessary these programs are. Not only do they contribute towards future food security in the face of Climate Change, but they get kids and teachers outside where they are generally happier and healthier and where Covid transmission is less likely, and these projects sustain and expand community during a period of isolation and loneliness for many. Hooray for all this good work!
Here are some highlights from the nine schools that reported:
PENDER ISLANDS SCHOOL - from Arthur Kikuchi, parent Garden Coordinator & Farmer
Since the Pandemic and school closure began and in the spring of 2020, planting at the Pender School Garden has been done by my daughter (Nanako-G 2) and my son Kota (G 6). Some leafy vegetables harvested from the garden were donated to the local Food Bank.
Before the summer break, the school was partially opened and I was able to invite a couple of students to help us transplant Squashes. I also brought my chicks and Guinea Pigs to school and three teachers and their students enjoyed a one-day garden/chick club on a sunny day of June, 2020.
During the summer break, SGI Volunteer Resource Centre asked me to hold "Youth Garden Meet-ups" for middle-high school students. I organized four garden-related workshops in cooperation with the coordinator of the Resource Centre. A couple of high school students showed up and worked on seed saving while fixing the garden fence (July-August, 2020).
In the fall (September-November 2020), when I came to pick my kids up, I continued to work on the seed saving while holding the chick club with enthusiastic chick lovers. The students also picked and ate some vegetables growing in the garden. (That's what I wanted to see most.)
Recently, I'm preparing the garden bed using the natural compost (maple leaf) and some organic matters from the forest for spring planting.
Margot Landahl, Pender Vice Principal says “Arthur works tirelessly to tend this garden and always takes time to draw students in after school with chick visits that have led to permanent housing for some chickens. His efforts are greatly appreciated here.”
MAYNE ISLAND SCHOOL – from Selena Flood, School Gardens Parent Volunteer
Last summer, the garden produced over 150lbs of food that was distributed to school families and the Mayne Island Food Bank, including 60lbs of plums and about a dozen MASSIVE spaghetti squash. The biggest one weighed in at 6lbs 10oz! There were also tomatoes, beans, kale, peas, onions, rhubarb, zucchini and more.
Selena has shared advice with teacher Megan Cameron about which crops the kids can grow and enjoy before the end of the school year, and she hopes to get up there for some spring maintenance once we get past this cold spell.
From Amy Dearden, Principal: This year a focus for us is on student led engagement in the garden. Some of our older students in the 4-8 homeroom are very keen and have begun a Garden Club and become garden ambassadors. They have shown interest in managing the garden during planting season and early harvest season.
FERNWOOD ELEMENTARY – from Andy McPhee, Grades 4-5 Nature Class Teacher
Our 2021 season is definitely in full swing! We have 5-10 students who regularly attend our garden club on Monday and Wednesdays each week. We have been adding donated goat manure to all the beds to replenish them as much as possible. We planted our garlic in January and expect to see it coming up in early March.
Our greenhouse germination room is packed right now with spinach, arugula, Asian greens, all germinated. Celery, broccoli, lavender, chives, thyme, and some early flowers are all seeded and close to germination. We have a detailed planting schedule that the kids use to know what they need to plant, when to plant it, and how to plant it.
In addition, students have been making bed markers and labels to help spruce up our garden a bit more. We have also been learning more about mason bees and took apart a mason bee hive this week to learn how to clean and store the cocoons.
In the coming months, seedling sales will be ramped up and will become our major garden fundraiser. We are hoping to have a few other garden items for sale this year which will continue to help with our fundraising plans. The students will continue to be heavily involved in the garden as they learn how to plant, grow, sell and maintain the garden.
With the money we saved from last year's seedling sales and the money raised from the vegetable bag fundraiser in the fall, we will finish plumbing in the water tank and irrigation system this spring. It will be a great opportunity for students to learn how to set up an irrigation system and learn about the importance of water catchment. We also hope to upgrade the soil in the beds, rebuild a broken bed, and add 2 beds to the greenhouse for year-round growing.
GALIANO COMMUNITY SCHOOL – from Kris Krug, School Garden Coordinator
Since the beginning of the school year we’ve started a new school garden volunteer program and have 8 regular volunteers who come help with the garden each Thursday. We plan to expand to Tuesday and Thursday and grow the team.
Brenda Lepine, Principal, says: The school garden at GCS is a special place and a haven for some of our students. In the fall, Kris Krug had a garden orientation and (a COVID safety approved) vegetable tasting with all classes.
On Thursdays, Kris was in the garden for recesses so students could drop in to help or just have a conversation with him.
In the winter, Kris worked with the Grade 5-8 class introducing gardening folks from around the world through Zoom.
With Spring around the corner, we look forward to seeing Kris back in the garden on Thursdays. Teachers hope to work alongside him in the garden to plant seeds and prep beds. It is such a complementary way to teach many science concepts.
SATURNA SCHOOL – from Martin Anevich, Teacher
Students have two raised beds in the Community Garden adjacent to the school. Barb Ropars managed these with the ELF program kids, but now Martin plans to work with students from this spring onwards to grow veggies and learn using this space.
Martin hopes to work closely with the Stonehouses, who live across the street, who help run the community garden.
PHOENIX SCHOOL – from Elizabeth FitzZaland, Parent Garden Volunteer This year, there's been renewed energy and interest in the school garden from parents and staff. Parent volunteers created a plan for rejuvenating the garden and establishing “lower maintenance” plants and infrastructure to lessen volunteer requirements and recurring replacement costs. They held work days to demolish rotten beds, remove blackberries, level site and sheet mulch, with donated machine time and mulching materials.
Jamie Ferguson, another parent volunteer, researched, ordered and planted perennial fruit and berry plants. We also solicited donations from local businesses to purchase three 8’ long steel troughs for permanent raised planting beds for annuals.
For Spring 2021, we plan to install the steel beds and watering system and plant perennial shrubs and flowering plants, along with annual vegetables (for late spring and fall harvests). We'll use funds raised from the Veggie Baskets for this, and we also plan to submit grant applications for student seating and other outdoor learning infrastructure.
SALT SPRING ELEMENTARY – from Robin Jenkinson, Parent Volunteer & Garden Contractor
We’ve been lucky to have funding for garden activities from Islands Health, so students have enjoyed weekly activities in September-October, and again now January-June. Teachers Katharine Byers and Gail Bryn-Jones also continue to engage their classes directly in the gardens, with paper towel composting, a mud kitchen, and more.
Last spring, during the Covid months at home, we sent around videos and delivered materials to driveways for students to plant burlap sacks of potatoes, wildflower pollinator pots, sunflowers, and three-sisters gardens. Several families also hauled all sorts of manure and straw bales to the garden to replenish the soil. With Charlie Gosset's help, we removed a rotting retaining wall from fifteen years ago at the direction of facilities. We’re still seeking creative solutions for that area. Then, in June we got really busy harvesting, eating, and replanting the gardens for the summertime!
This past fall featured the fruits of our labour on the three-sisters gardening – squash, beans, corn, plus sister sunflower. The farmstand was in full effect plus all sorts of garden play and learning.
This winter, we’ve moved indoors for some tower gardening, microgreens, and chick hatching, along with outdoors veggie prayer flags, munching kale and herbs, of course, and enjoying the new dome event tent.
We’ve recently launched a pollinator unit focused on Mason Bees, then pollinator gardens and tree-planting, and also a composting unit focused on fixing up the three-bins that compost all the classroom waste paper-towels and other garden refuse and developing a system.
Every class is also hatching chicks this year, with help from the SSI Poultry Club, and we’re getting ready to start seedlings and move outdoors for springtime.
This year, we raised funds for the garden with SeedMoney.com, with the Veggie Baskets fundraiser, and for Seedy Saturday weekend, students have prepared origami seed packets to sell at a neighbourhood farmstand to make money for garden materials.
Work-parties at spring break will fix up the beds for spring growth, and we’re building a new mini-farmstand. The ELF Program will have a new sandbox once we find a willing cob builder to help us plaster the new hyper-adobe, coil-pot-like structure.
FULFORD ELEMENTARY – from Marie Mullen, Principal and Kaz Lundgren, Grades 3-4 Teacher
There hasn't been a lot of activity in the garden over the past few months, but the big projects that have happened are getting the water catchment system set up and tidying up the garden and shed. Things will get rolling in the garden now as we getting nearer to spring.
Teacher, Kaz Lundgren does most of the garden work with her classes and Ara does some with her K class. Normally Kaz does nature learning with all of the classes but things are different this year because of COVID. She only works with her own class and the Grade 3-4 class this year because we had to limit the number of adults interacting with each cohort.
The parents involved in the garden so far this year are Natalie, Mana, Eric mainly. Glen is still somewhat involved even though his daughter is at Phoenix this year. The main project will be planting veggies and flowers in the garden. Hopefully there will be veggies for a harvest lunch next year.
Kaz will be taking the grade 2/3 and grade 3/4 classes to garden this year. Unfortunately, she will not be working with the other classes as she has in the past. The idea is to plant crops that we can use for a garden harvest. Thanks for the fabulous veggie basket fundraiser! We had a lot fun being involved.
SALTSPRING MIDDLE SCHOOL – from Peri Lavender, Teacher
We don't have a lot to report as our progress has been slow and steady. We have managed to fill the Agriculture in the Classroom bins from their Harvest Bin project with the 2 yards of garden soil that Forsyth Farms so generously donated.
Immediate plans for the harvest bins is to plant them with fava beans as a cover crop. This will help to improve the nutrient profile of the bins in preparation for planting out our starts once the weather warms. We are grateful for the provision of additional supplies such as garden gloves and a large wheelbarrow.
In the meantime, we have several classes that are gearing up to plant starts in their rooms. Teachers of these classes are getting ready to collaborate on what each class will be starting so that we don't have an overabundance of any one crop. To facilitate growth of starts in the classroom, we will be using the money raised through the vegetable fundraiser Robin hosted in the fall to purchase trays, starter medium and grow lights for some of the darker classrooms.
DISTRICT-WIDE SUPPORT – from Robin Jenkinson, grant-funded School Gardens Facilitator
We held a small gathering in November in Jane Squier’s greenhouse with representatives from SIMS, SSE, and Phoenix and community partners (SSI Seeds, Canadian Organic Growers, Island Health). The schoolgarden.ca website has begun to be updated, and Veggie Basket fundraisers have been held to raise funds for school gardens at all K-8 Salt Spring schools.
With another grant and a deep discount from Mouats Hardware, gift boxes of trowels, gloves, and seeds were packed and delivered to all K-8 gardens in the District. This year, Robin will be offering grant-writing support to other school gardens programs, organizing a Pro-D event for sd64 teachers, and facilitating another sharing circle for all school gardens champions later this springtime. She will apply for more funding to cover ongoing District-wide support for school gardens and garden champions for 2021-22.
For the second week of February, I participated as one of two Canadian representatives on the the 2021 SGSO Leadership Institute on the group focused around sustaining school gardens programs. They’d collected nearly 100 school garden-related job descriptions, conducted a survey of 50 umbrella organisations, and we were able to interview five groups across the US to learn about their staffing models.
So, what can I share? There are many schools out there with garden programs, with community volunteers to teams of full time certificated garden educators leading the efforts. In BC, some offer them as NGO/Community Partners like Artists in the Classroom or a District contracts the NGO to offer activities. Some use a certified teacher to provide weekly lessons as a substitute during teachers’ prep times, some hire youth interns, and others hire coordinators at the District level, like Powell River and Sooke School Districts.
In terms of staffing, we learned that the most sustainable programs:
- Provide garden educators but require teachers to participate along with their classes;
- Receive dedicated school district, government or tax-based financial support.
- Include well-facilitated youth involvement as high school interns, paid positions, or university programs.
- Keep staff longer by offering good pay, benefits, professional development, camaraderie, and opportunities for advancement.
- Have leaders who have been at it for a long time. If you stay with the same group for at least 10 years, your program will usually be successful at that point!
Things You Can Do:
- Support the school gardens on your island and the communities that are rising up around them.
- Look for opportunities to celebrate and elevate the staff and volunteers who make these programs happen.
- Help identify funding sources that would allow us to further the program and continue being a lighthouse for school gardening across Canada and around the world.
Time flies! (photo above of Buddy Pyper at the Salt Spring Elementary Hillside Garden, ages 2, 3, and 6). So, see you next year folks!