April Showers

April is finally upon us and with it (hopefully) some warmer weather. There’s a lot happening on our end! We’re gearing up for School Garden Day, which is now just under two months away, and working through the results of our School Garden survey. A huge thank you to everyone who participated! Your feedback has been truly invaluable.

Speaking of that survey, we’ve drawn our two winners of the contest! Stratford Northwestern are the lucky winners of 30 Mark Cullen Trowels, which will be put to good use by their students, and GreenUP Ecology Park in Peterborough will receive a $100 gift certificate for Urban Harvest. Congratulations!

This is Stratford Northwestern’s second year in promoting an Open School Garden in the north courtyard at the school. In the first year, five plots were designated to growing vegetables and fruit plants for their student-run kitchens. In 2013, eleven plots were converted and they are looking forward to expanding the variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs in this location. 2013 also saw the school given a $2100 grant from the TD Friends of the Environment to expand their irrigation system to increase production.

GreenUP Ecology Park is a unique 5 acre sanctuary nestled between Beavermead Park and Ashburnham Drive in Peterborough, Ontario and has been a leader in environmental education for over 20 years. GreenUP welcomes over 1000 youth from May through October and delivers outdoor education programming, including food systems. Their food garden grows over 50 heirloom and rare species of edible and pollinator plants, which the students plant, maintain, harvest, collect seed from, and eat! This spring they have added new programming focusing on host plants for pollinators, as well as created a Blender Bike, which students can ride and blend up smoothies from fresh herbs and berries – straight from the garden! Visit www.greenup.on.ca to discover more resources and programs they offer.

Another exciting development is the addition of a Research page to our website. So many post secondary students and other institutions are collecting research around school gardens, and this page will act as a place for compiling and sharing that research, allowing future researchers to see what’s already been done, and to build upon it.

Our very own Becky Parker has been kind enough to share her master’s thesis Lessons of the Land: Best Practices and Suggested Experiential Activities for Teaching About Food, Agriculture and the Environment. While quite long, Becky has also created a shorter document of Best Practices that is useful for anyone wanting to incorporate experiential learning into education about food, agriculture, and the environment. The document outlines benefits, challenges, best practice suggestions, activity ideas, and useful resources for three important methods of experiential education: School Gardens, Place Based Inquiry, and Reflective Mediums.

Mélisanne Loiselle-Gascon, a recent graduate of York’s Environmental Studies program, has also offered to share her master’s thesis Nature and Community Experience in Community Gardening. Her work examines the important connection between environmental education and community gardens, and the potential of community gardens to more fully integrate environmental learning in a city setting. This is also a lengthy piece, but she has created a Community Gardening Calendar outlining suggested activities, garden tasks, and learning opportunities throughout the year. Mélisanne is now working at Fresh City Farms and runs the U FEED (Urban Farming Environmental Education Discovery) program, a one-year, hands-on program covering all aspects of urban farm production.

Be sure to take a look at both Becky’s and Mélisanne’s work. They’ve each made valuable contributions to environmental and food education and their short documents are perfect for anyone starting or currently running a school garden. And of course if you, or anyone you know, has garden research they would like to share, please feel free to contact us and we can add it to our website.

We hope you’re diving into Spring with gusto in spite of the persistent cold! It’s already shaping up to be a wonderful, productive season.