Not surprisingly, the time of year when I have the most to write about is when I have the least time to write. Even less surprising for a gardener is that this time of year is spring. My springs have been getting increasingly busy over the past few years, but that’s overall a good thing – it means I have more work, which is great.
This spring, I’ve started teaching at two new schools, Dundas Street Public School and First Nations School of Toronto. These two schools share a building and will therefore also share a food garden. The garden, however, is still very much in the planning stages and does not yet exist. My job, then, is to get the students and teachers excited about the coming garden. I’ve pretty much been doing similar programming to what I do at my other schools, just modified so that it doesn’t require a garden. I’ve done lots of my activities about plant parts we eat, where our food comes from, plant life cycles, some seasonal scavenger hunts, as well as some different activities to get to know the site where the garden will be. With some classes, we’ve planted some different veggie (and some flower) seeds, which they’ve now got growing in their classrooms.
The progression of my school garden jobs has worked out really well over the years. My first school, Withrow, already had a well established food garden when I started, so my job was (and still is) to run the programming with classes and to plan and maintain the garden. With Blake, my second school, the garden planning was done and they were ready to dig when I came in. During my first year, I worked to dig and establish the garden, while also running programming. Now, I continue to run programming and take care of the garden. With Dundas and First Nations, I’ve gotten involved in the project about a year earlier in the process than at Blake. I’m working with a Community Health Centre, and of course both schools and parents, to establish the garden. So far we’ve gone through the site selection process. The next big step is garden design, for which we’re running an event/workshop next week, and inviting parents, students, teachers, and community members. It’s been a really great learning progression over the past five years; after having gotten comfortable with school garden programming and planning over the past few years at Withrow and Blake, it’s good to have a new challenge and new things to learn about how to get a school garden going from scratch.
At First Nations School, I’ve also helped them get started on an indoor garden project, which they’re starting with a partnership at FoodShare. We started a vermicompost tower with the grade 7/8s a few weeks ago, and on the same day, planted a whole bunch of seeds which are now growing on their growlight stand in their classroom. The grade 7/8s are also setting up some indoor growing tents on each floor, where the students from all grades will be helping to grow some different greens and herbs that they’ll be using to make some healthy snacks. With some First Nations School students, I’ll also be visiting the FoodShare School Grown rooftop garden at Eastdale Collegiate, a high school which is just down the street. Excited!
Besides my work at these two new schools, I’ll also be back at Essex and Hawthorne II schools, where I did some programming in the fall. I’ll be doing four days of garden programming there as well, meaning that this week (and a few others this spring), I’ll be working at 5 different schools! I’m super excited that I’ve stuck with this and that being a School Garden Educator has pretty much become a full time job (at least during gardening season). Another change in my life in the past few months – besides this job becoming nearly full time – is that I moved to within walking distance of most of my schools! All of the schools (except for Essex-Hawthorne) are within less than a half hour walk. So so lovely to start and end my days with a walk to and from work!
It’s going to be a crazy next few weeks, but I’ve managed to get myself pretty organized over the past few weeks (my seeds are organized, and I have different coloured folders for each school, which seems silly but is actually proving very helpful). Despite the craziness, the job is so rewarding that it more than makes up for it. Like when a Kindergarten boy exclaims “I love raw kale!” during a five senses scavenger hunt, or a grade 2 boy asks “When the mint is bigger, can I take some home and make lemonade and sell it?” They’re so fun and creative and honest, I love it!
More on the Blake and Withrow gardens, and the effects of this past winter, coming soon…