This day was a long time coming. Over a year ago, we secured grant funds, then met with the District Pro-D Committee for their input and go-ahead on garden-based learning workshops for teachers. Everything just fell into place over the intervening time to arrange this awesome group experience.
Two women really made the day special for me: Vanessa Sparrow and Stacy Freidman. Both have deep expertise in school garden facilitation and made the journey to Salt Spring from Powell River and Vancouver, respectively, to connect and share with us.
Vanessa Sparrow is the Food Literacy Program Coordinator for Powell River School District, and Stacy Freidman is the Program Manager for the Intergenerational Landed Learning Project at UBC.
For the morning workshop, our group (five teachers plus visitors and Toby and I) gathered our chairs into a "Learning Circle" and made rounds introducing ourselves, sharing school gardens challenges and imagining solutions, reviewed the www.schoolgarden.ca website and draft Gulf Islands School Gardens Activity Guide, and ended with a group hug and a deeper sense of mutual respect and support. Vanessa shared a month-by-month schoolyear garden activity list for Powell River schools. To close, we each picked a seed packet from a box and spoke about what we'd gained from the morning or what that plant signified for us.
Challenges expressed by teachers during the day were: time to prepare; District/principal support; need for more volunteers; maintenance and coordination; balancing play and garden learning outside; need for simple activities that meet curriculum; ways to involve mentally-challenged students. "The only thing worse than not having a garden is having a neglected one." Solutions proferred: a paid garden coordinator; maintenance assistance; top-level recognition of the benefits of garden time for students; toys and a bed just for digging in the garden; and getting consultation time for garden preparation. Collectively, many of these teachers had lots of gardening experience to share. "I just love watching students light up when we get outside." Another remarked, "Our garden and harvest lunches have truly created community in our school."
After a phenomenal lunch at the GISS Cafeteria (some of which was sourced from their school garden), we returned to Saltspring Middle School for the afternoon workshop. We enjoyed a seed-sorting activity, then seven teachers plus our crew learned more from Stacy about the UBC Inter-generational Landed Learning Project and its many programs. Download the text and links from Stacy's presentation here.
Stacy also shared a guided plant growth activity and a simple way to express gratitude for garden harvests before eating:
Thanks for the Sunshine
Thanks for the blossoms Thanks for the roots Thanks for the leaves and stems And thanks for the fruit!
The day ended out in the Salt Spring Elementary Hillside Garden, where Stacy led us through a simple seed viability activity using tomato seeds, a paper towel, and some water. Tomato seeds need some warmth (21-27 degrees C) to germinate in 5-10 days, so we placed our baggies in pockets. Here's the seed viability form that teachers could use with students for this exercise.
All the teachers who participated asked to be linked via email to keep in touch about school garden activities and opportunities in the District. Galiano, Fulford, Fernwood, Salt Spring Elementary, Saltspring Middle School, and GISS were all represented.
And guess what? We've already begun fundraising for next years garden-based learning workshops at SD64 Pro-D Day 2020!