Why I love February

People assume that, being a gardener, I must not like winter, that I must constantly be waiting for spring. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I love winter. I nearly wrote that winter might be my favourite season, but then I started to think about all of the great things I like about all of the other seasons too. I definitely can’t choose a favourite! I very rarely find myself thinking, in any season, “Wow, I can’t wait for this season to be over”. What I do find is that I love living somewhere with seasonal changes throughout the year. I do need the variety. In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to dig my fingers into the soil. For now, I’m enjoying the weather we have right now. (I also have minor moments of panic of the coming spring, thinking of just how crazy everything gets once the gardens get going and of all of the planning that I still need to do… Winter is the time of year when I have a wee bit more time to breathe and think.)

At the time of year when so many people are feeling done with winter, I find myself loving it the most. Of the winter months, I feel like February is often the most likely to be snowy. And I love snow! In February, the days are also getting noticeably longer. February was so sunny this year, not at all dreary. I find the combination of longer days and snow so energizing! As is often the case, we didn’t really get much in the way of snow until mid to late January. While many people are saying that they can’t wait for the long winter to be over, I feel like winter just started a few weeks ago! With my love of snow, I always feel like winter is just a little too short – until at least the end of March, I keep hoping for one more good snowfall, for one more chance to ski…

So how do I go through the winter with such enthusiasm? One thing is that I definitely dress for it. Being someone who spends a lot of time in dirt, I’m generally not known for my sense of style. :) That probably goes out the window even more in the winter. Nearly every day for the past few months, I’ve worn snowpants whenever I’ve gone outside. I have some nice black snowpants that don’t immediately look like snowpants, so I’m totally fine wearing them when walking around the city. I also wear longjohns – I find Merino ones great, because they’re really warm, but also thin enough to wear under even relatively tight pants. I’ve rarely felt cold while outside this winter, despite the nippy weather we’ve had. And I’m someone who gets cold really easily. I’ve just learned to dress strategically. Ok, I might look a little dorky, but hey, I’m warm. (As the Scandinavians say, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.) And don’t start to think this cold tolerance is because I go from a warm house to a warm car to a warm office; I walk to work and nearly everywhere else I go, so I spend plenty of time outside every day.

My biggest tip for “getting through” the winter is to just get outside and enjoy it! Cross country skiing is probably one of my favourite things ever. I often get really excited before I go skiing, and then am afraid that the reality won’t live up to the expectations. And then I get on my skis, and it’s 100 times better than I’d even imagined. Ahh, lovely… I’ve only gotten out skiing twice this year so far (hopefully a bit more to come…), once right in the city and once at Albion Hills conservation area (beautiful trails – highly recommended). I also love walking in the snow, noticing the changes in texture and sound (squeaky, crunchy, quiet…), I enjoy the quietness of snowy days, the art created by ice and snow… I like looking for animal tracks in the snow, looking for signs of the stories the animals have left behind, looking and listening for winter birds, and exploring how animals adapt to winter. I enjoy skating, and seeing all of the busy skating rinks through the city, and in good winters like this year, even seeing people skate on Grenadier Pond and Lake Ontario. And, frankly, I just like playing in the snow! I’ve just never let go of my childhood love for winter, and I hope I never do.

One of my favourite days this winter was probably a really snowy Saturday a couple of weeks back. I started my day with a walk to Broadview Station where I hopped on the shuttle bus to the Evergreen Brickworks. I did some market shopping, and then went for walk in the quarry out back. So quiet and lovely. I had somewhere to be around noon, but after my walk home from there, I had no desire to stay inside on such a beautiful snowy day. I found a friend willing to brave the elements with me, and we headed down to the Beaches to check out the Winter Station art installments along the beach. Very cool. The Winter Stations themselves were neat, but it was also very cool to see the art that nature had created along the shore of the lake. So glad I spent that day outside!

Though I don’t do a whole lot outside with my school garden, I am lucky to work outside with kids in High Park during the winter holidays and March Break. At the schools, we do occasional winter garden scavenger hunts, but other than that we’re mostly indoors in winter. But in High Park, we still get to hike, play, explore… Working outside in the winter with kids is great, because they get as excited about the snow as I do!

Ok, now I feel I’ve given a little balance to Winter! You were in need of a little loving! :)

Happy growing (and skiing and playing and enjoying)!

Sprouting in Class: the 10 metre diet

Can you get more local than growing food right in the classroom? Ok, we won’t be growing all of our food in a classroom, but it is pretty neat to grow something in class, in the winter, that you can taste two weeks after planting.


The grow-light stand.

We have a great three-tier grow-light stand at Blake school, which we use for starting our seedlings in the spring. But besides those few weeks in April and May, the grow-light stand just sits in the hall. For a couple of years, I’d been meaning to use it at other times of year as well; this winter I finally came up with a lesson plan and got a grade 4/5 teacher on board to try it out. Over a couple of weeks, we grew some shoots and microgreens and then had a chance to taste them.

We started on a Wednesday in early February. We planted peas, sunflowers, clover and radishes. We used a couple of different growing media: coconut coir and seeding soil. I had an old block of coconut coir, which turned out to be somewhat defective – it didn’t really absorb water nor break down – so that was sort of annoying. But the new block of coir I had bought worked its magic! We put it in a bucket and added warm water, and a few minutes later, it was pretty amazing to see how it had expanded to many times its size and absorbed all of the water! I wish I’d taken a picture! So the students worked in groups to fill the seeding trays with coir or with soil, and then plant and water the seeds.

After we’d done the planting, we did a short lesson called “Mapping a Meal”. In this lesson, we list the ingredients in a meal and trace them all back to plants. We looked at a pizza, so listed things like tomato sauce, peppers, pineapple, onions, crust, cheese, pepperoni, etc. Some of the ingredients are just directly plants, but others we traced back to how the energy initially came from plants (e.g. cheese-milk-cow-grass).

Two weeks later, I worked with this class again to taste what we’d grown. What I didn’t think about when planning this lesson initially was that there was a 4-day weekend within that two week stretch. Wee sprouts/shoots/microgreens do not like 4 days without being watered… Many of the plants hadn’t made it through the weekend, but we did manage to revive enough of them to make the tasting lesson worth it. The sunflower shoots had mostly wilted, but everyone got to taste some pea, clover and radish shoots. (The beauty of gardening at school is that even if things don’t grow, it’s still a learning experience.)The pea shoots were definitely the most popular, but some of the students liked the spiciness of the radish shoots.

After everyone had a chance to taste the different shoots (and have seconds and thirds…), we followed up with a Food Miles lesson. We looked at a bunch of pictures of foods from grocery store flyers, and then tried to map (on a world map) where the different foods had come from. We then addressed how the foods get to us from these various faraway places, why we import so much food, some potential challenges with importing food, and how we can tell where our food come from. The teacher also linked it to the trading they’d been learning about in their ancient civilizations unit – I love it when my lessons link with what classes are currently working on! Of course we can’t grow all of the food we need in the classroom or the school garden, but it was pretty cool to grow some right in class and to taste it together!

I will definitely do some sprouting lessons again, using the grow-lights. Some things I learned: coconut coir dries out faster than soil, and it’s important to make sure there are no long weekends during the growing period…

Coming up soon: garden planning and mapping lessons, and other winter fun!

Happy growing!

Baking with local winter produce

Running garden programming in the winter takes some creativity. So does running gardening at schools which don’t yet have gardens. (Both are totally doable – there’s lots to learn about food and plants without the garden actually being there/accessible, but one does definitely have to think a bit outside the garden box.)

One teacher asked if I could do some baking with her class this winter. They had done some baking with the whole class earlier, but she thought that if I could work with them in smaller groups it would be a bit more manageable and the kids could get more hands-on. Some folks have wondered just how this links with my garden programming, but to me the links are clear. For me, an important element of food garden programming is preparing the harvest, and while we don’t yet have food from the garden, we can already start learning some cooking skills. We’re also learning about local food; we’re choosing one local and seasonal primary ingredient per week and finding something to bake with it. (Of course there aren’t really local ingredients growing right now, but we’re using Ontario fruits and veggies which store well and are available throughout the winter.) Learning about local foods can lead into lessons about what we could grow in our school garden this coming season. Cooking and baking can also be linked to a variety of curriculum requirements, like measuring, comparing liquids and solids, noticing changes of state when melting and/or baking… Lots of fun learning going on!


Getting ready to bake carrot muffins.

So far I’ve worked with two small groups of students and we’ve made carrot muffins and maple apple crisp. This week’s plan is a little Valentine’s Day themed treat – beet and chocolate muffins. Not only are our primary ingredients local (carrots, apples, beets, etc.), but we’re trying to use as many local ingredients as possible. We’ve used Ontario sunflower oil and maple syrup, and many other ingredients which could at least theoretically be from Ontario, like flax, wheat and spelt. (There’s an egg allergy in the class, so we’ve been using ground flax and water as an egg substitute. I’m finding that looking up vegan recipes is a good way to find recipes which have been tested with the flax “eggs”. We haven’t stuck to all of the vegan’ness of these recipes – we’ve still used butter and cow’s milk, which are more local than many of the alternatives.)

During and after our baking sessions, the kids also fill in worksheets, focusing both on local ingredients and on the states of matter of the different ingredients. I’ve been typing the ingredient lists as charts, where the students check off whether each ingredient is a solid or a liquid. The teacher also put together a worksheet which asks the students to draw and describe the local fruit or vegetable we used for the recipe. There’s also a chart for them to list the local and imported ingredients from the whole recipe. Next, they describe changes which occurred either before and after mixing, or before and after baking. And last, they draw or write about their favourite part of the activity. I try to have these local vs imported discussions while we’re baking, but we often get distracted by the baking action going on, so it’s nice to have the worksheet which helps us refer back to our ingredients once things are in the oven.

It’s been fun baking with the small groups of grade 2/3s, and hearing how much they enjoyed the results (which we always share with the whole class). So far we’ve used fairly “normal” baking ingredients – carrots and apples – so I’m curious to see what they think of the beet muffins. Also looking for ideas for the next recipe or two, using different produce than what we’ve already used. Parsnips? Squash/pumpkin? Any other ideas/recipes?

Well, back to baking some beet chocolate muffins. (I’ve obviously gotta try out this recipe beforehand. It’s a tough life. ;-) )

Happy growing (and baking and farmers’ marketing and seed ordering…)!

Colour Scavenger Hunts

Have I seriously not written about this activity yet? I was wanting to show this to somebody and was looking for the blog post I was sure I’d written about it, but alas it didn’t exist. Ok, it’s pretty similar to leaf pounding, which I did write about, but still…

The activity in question if the Colour Scavenger Hunt. I mentioned it in my Fall-Winter-Winter-Fall post, but realized I haven’t really explained it. The original inspiration for this idea is from a booklet of lesson plans called Into Nature, which has lots of good, short and relatively easy lessons to help teachers get students outside. The lesson which inspired this one is called Rainbow Chips. As you can tell by my title for the lesson, it’s a scavenger hunt where we look for colours. Each kid (or pair of kids) gets a set of colour chips like these:


Yes, I went and raided the local paint/hardware stores for paint chip cards. Each set of cards ended up being slightly different (though I did ensure I had a range of similar colours in each), but that actually lends itself well to keeping kids occupied who finish quickly – you just get them to trade for another set of colour chips. The names of the paint colours are often quite entertaining and I’ve been surprised at how the kids sometimes get distracted by them (sometimes it narrows the scope of what they’re looking for if the paint colour name is something specific – for example, if it was called grassy green, they’d start to only look at the grass for green and not all of the other green plants). It also surprises me, though, how the kids are able to find colours that adults might not have noticed – the purple edges on some stems or leaves, tiny red buds on branches… I’ve done this activity in all seasons, and they always manage to find at least most of the colours.

I generally do this lesson with Kindergarten classes (though the older kids in Garden Club and EcoCamp have loved it too). I start with a book called Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and a brief discussion about colours in nature. Then we head outside to do the scavenger hunt. Before starting, I lay out a few ground rules, as we will be collecting pieces of the plants from our garden – only pick from healthy plants (which can handle losing a few leaves), don’t pick the fruits that we’ll eat (like tomatoes, peppers…) or the blossoms that will turn into fruits we’ll eat (which sounds sort of complicated, but they mostly get it), and make sure you’re gentle with the plants. I usually have a few baskets around the garden for kids to pick things into.

Then comes the magical part! Using the colour from the plant parts we’ve found for either colouring/drawing or for leaf pounding. But just rubbing the plant parts on paper, you get colour! It’s pretty amazing! That in itself is pretty cool (and fun to see their reactions when I demonstrate), but what else is neat is that the colours often don’t show up the same on paper as they were in the plant, so you never really know what colour you’re going to get. With the Kindergarten classes, I’ve kept with the rainbow theme of the book and we’ve coloured in rainbow colouring sheets with our found objects. With older kids, I often just give them blank paper and let them get creative. They’ve created some pretty neat pictures.


Happy growing (and colouring)!



So what’s a sunchoke anyway?

I wrote about harvesting and cooking with sunchokes a couple of posts ago. But whenever I mention these wondrous little things, I usually get some confused looks. One thing is, they have many names. These great little tubers are called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes (despite having nothing to do with Jerusalem nor with artichokes), sunroots… They are tubers (as are potatoes), but from a plant in the sunflower family. Not hard to believe the sunflower connection when you see them in bloom in the summer and fall.


Sunchoke blossoms


Sunchokes are prolific producers and tend to spread easily in the garden. There have been times over the past few years that I’ve silently (and lovingly) cursed whoever planted them in the tiny Withrow school garden. There’s a small’ish patch of them tucked away between some big rocks by the fence, but we often find them sprouting up all around the garden, taking over any space they can. If you’re ever tempted to plant them, do so in a container or far away from anything else you want to grow. Despite some lingering fears of sunchoke takeovers, I have grown to love them. The plants are beautiful, especially when in bloom. They grow, every year, no matter what. With very little effort, I know there’ll always be something for the kids to dig up, even in those years when other things didn’t do too well. And kids love digging up tubers, like potatoes and sunchokes – it’s like a little treasure hunt. Sunchokes are especially fun because of their wonky shapes.

This fall we had an especially prolific sunchoke harvest at the Withrow school garden. The Garden Club kids harvested about 10 pounds, and I’m absolutely sure there were plenty that stayed in the ground (which means more and more plants next year…). We cooked some during our Garden Club cooking session and I always offer some for kids and teachers to take home, but at the end of the day, my fridge is still pretty full of them. I’m not even sure where to donate them, as they are a relatively unknown vegetable. I have given some away to friends and I keep chipping away at them in my own kitchen, so I promise you they won’t go to waste. If you’re not somewhere near me and my crisper drawer, yet want to try these wonderful veggies, I’m finding that more and more farmers have them at markets. I haven’t really seen them in grocery stores yet (though some natural/health food stores have them).  (Disclaimer: if/when you decide to try sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, please know that they’re nicknamed fartichokes. I don’t think I need to explain that any further.)

With the amounts of sunchokes I’ve been flooded with over the years at Withrow, I’ve looked for some interesting ways to use them. The simplest thing is to give them a good scrub (I don’t usually peel them) and roast them with your other root veggies. I also really like these super simple sauteed sunchokes as done by Jamie Oliver. When they turn out perfectly, they’re crunchy and garlicky on the outside, while the sweet inside melts in your mouth. Mmm… They also make a delicious puree soup. There are lots of raw recipes for them, though I haven’t tried any of those yet. I’ve fermented some in my kimchi-inspired fermentation creations, and they’ve turned out delicious. (I’ve even read that since fermentation starts to break down the veggies before you eat them, fermented Jerusalem artichokes are, well, less likely to be referred to as fartichokes…) (If you’re looking for fermenting recipes/inspiration, check out Sandor Katz’s website and books – I borrowed Wild Fermentation from the library and just got The Art of Fermentation for Christmas. Good information and interesting reading.) But probably the most creative sunchoke recipe I have yet to find is for a Sunroot Spice Cake. I made it with a friend a couple of months ago, and it was definitely worth it. It really keeps the earthy sunchoke flavour, which lends itself really well to this delicious moist cake. Mmmm… might be time to cook up another…

Have you tried sunchokes? Any favourite recipes?

Happy growing (and cooking)!

Happy New Year!

Happy 2015!

There’s a lot to look forward to this year, but I thought I’d do a brief recap of 2014 before jumping fully into the new year.

Where to start? 2014 was a great year! I finally got to fulfill a dream which I’d had for 20 years, of folkdancing with nearly ten thousand other dancers at the Dance Festival (or “Tantsupidu) in Estonia. Wow, what an experience! During that same trip, I was fortunate to get to visit many other friends and relatives, meet some little ones I hadn’t met before, go to a friend’s wedding… Shortly before this trip, I also became an aunt for a second time, to our wonderful little Agnes. In early 2014, I moved to my own apartment (a wee basement bachelor) in an amazing neighbourhood called The Pocket. Such a great community, and I can walk to all of the schools where I work in less than half an hour. Perfect!

But enough about my personal life – let’s move onto my school garden life. Right at the start of the year, I was asked to do a presentation at a teachers’ college environment day. I presented about connecting composting and earthworms with the curriculum. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be called on to do these types of workshops and it was fun to do. Though I was a bit disappointed that none of the teachers’ college students were willing to touch the worms. Sigh. ;-)

The biggest and most exciting change for me professionally this year was starting to work at two more schools, bringing my total up to four! I have one day each week dedicated to each school, and then work from home on Fridays preparing lessons for the upcoming week. I’m at three of the schools year round, while one of them is seasonal (though there, too, I got an extra month of teaching this year). Though I’m not 100% there yet, I’m pretty close to being a full-time School Garden Educator! It’s been a few years in the making, but going from 2 schools to 4 in 2014 was a HUGE step! I’m still working at the High Park Children’s Garden and kitchen as well, mostly during school holidays. Can’t believe I’ve been there for 5 years already!

When I think back to 2014 in terms of garden lessons, the first thing that jumps to mind is “seeds”! I really enjoyed developing some new seed-themed lessons this past year, and encouraging students to get up close and personal with seeds, their shapes and sizes, the patterns on them, how they’re dispersed… And I really enjoyed taking pictures of seeds too. When I bought a new camera a couple of years ago, one of the most important things for me was that it would have a good macro setting (for super close-up photos) – easily over half of my pictures are macro shots, of seeds, vegetables, insects… Fun!

Halloween 2014 - Ms FrizzleI also fully embraced my similarities to Ms Frizzle from the Magic School Bus this Halloween. Though I feel like I just am Ms Frizzle a lot of the time and don’t need to make it a costume, I couldn’t resist really getting into it for Halloween. I’ve got a red pepper skirt made by my aunt, a veggie sweater I bough in Norway, and had a hard time deciding between my numerous fruit/veggie earrings… :) Halloween was on a Friday this year, so I normally would have been at home prepping for the next week, but I couldn’t just get dressed up and sit at home. So Ms Frizzle went for a visit to Blake Street PS, the closest of my four schools. So fun! Highlight was a grade 1/2 student saying “Hey, Ms Frizzle IS real!”

I tried a few new things in the kitchen at home this past year. I made a sunchoke (aka Jerusalem artichoke, aka sunroot…) spice cake with some of the copious amounts of sunchoke harvested from the Withrow school garden. And I’ve also delved into fermenting foods (I’ve so far made sauerkraut and kimchi) and baking sourdough. Still learning, but have had some successes! Yum!


I’ve collected a few good kid-quotes throughout the year. When looking through them, it seems that the most common topics they get really excited about are tasting/eating and earthworms. No surprise, really. Some quotes are cute, some are heartwarming, some are just plain funny. Here are some of the highlights:

“I’m going to make Stone Soup for my birthday!” – grade 1/2 boy

“I wish I could take home some of this leftover Stone Soup for supper!” – grade 1 student

“Mom, I got to taste some dinosaur kale today!” – overheard in the halls

“Elin, I didn’t like those kale chips, I LOVED those kale chips!” – Kindergarten student

Kindie comments about parsley: “It tastes like cookies! It’s delicious! It’s like candy!”

“Ça c’est TROP bon!” (“This is TOO good!”) – grade 1 girl about kale and herb pesto

DSC_0819“Mon ver de terre m’aime! My earthworm LOVES me – it made itself into a heart shape!” – grade 1 student

Worm facts from Kindergarten kids: Worms like the dark, they eat banana peels, and they don’t do ballet.

“I think worms are my second favourite things after crystals.” – grade 2 girl in Garden Club

“So worms are like the opposite of us – they’re always wet and covered in dirt.” – Kindergarten student

“Thank you for teaching us that time goes quickly when you’re in Nature.” – gr 5/6 student


DSC_0570There’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2015. The new schools where I started last winter, Dundas PS and First Nations School of Toronto (two separate schools but on the same site, so will be sharing a garden) still don’t have a garden… Creating a new garden, especially on school property, is a long process. But things are moving forward – the site has long been chosen, the soil has been tested, some containers have been ordered, and I’m looking forward to installing the containers and starting some planting this spring!

Though I’m nearly always working with people of all ages with my job, I do mostly work independently and often feel like I don’t have much in the way of colleagues who do the same work. This year, I hope/plan to connect with some other garden and food educators, especially in Toronto for ideas, troubleshooting tips, inspiration and sharing of all kinds.

I also have a few themes for which I want to find/develop some new lesson plans. I want to involve the kids, especially with the new garden, in choosing what foods get planted in the garden. It will be a relatively small garden shared by two distinct schools, so it will be an interesting challenge, but I look forward to it. I also want to use the growlight stands which each school has to do some winter growing – microgreens, sunflower and pea shoots, etc – and then make some salads with what we’ve grown. It is also the International Year of Soils as declared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, so getting deeper into soil studies is another goal.

I was fortunate this fall to see/hear Vandana Shiva speak at an event in Toronto. She’s a wonderfully inspirational seed sovereignty, environment and agriculture activist. I’ll leave you with some inspiration from her:

“All of us who do this work get a joy in it. And that is why we last.” 


Happy growing!

Cooking up several storms

This fall was a busy one for cooking and taste testing activities! I feel like I had a record number of these lessons at Withrow this fall, and am trying to make sure every class at Blake gets to do some sort of food preparation this fall as well.

I’ve been working with the old hits, like kale chips and scissor salsa, and have made tons of kale and herb pesto all fall as well. (For recipes, see the blog’s recipe tab.) I also did some apple taste testing with a number of classes. (I described this activity back in 2012 – read more here.) We get to taste 4 varieties of Ontario apples and describe them using our five senses. (Yes, even hearing – we listen to how crunchy they are when we bite into them. It’s important to add a bit of silliness into lessons. hah.) Before starting the tasting, I get students to list as many apple varieties as they can. Usually they come up with about a dozen or so (which I was pretty impressed by). Then I have them guess how many apple varieties there are in the world! What do you think? (See the bottom of this post for the answer.) Before we start, I have them brainstorm some different descriptive words they might use for the apples – sweet, tart, sour, soft, crunchy, juicy… They’re pretty good at coming up with lots of ideas, though it does get a bit more challenging in French Immersion classes. We discuss why words like delicious, yucky and yummy aren’t the most useful descriptive words – they’re more opinions than descriptions. And then we start taste testing. It’s pretty neat to see the differences in their palates – some prefer sweet ones, other like the tart apples, some like crunchy, others prefer softer apples… With the younger grades, we’ve mostly just had time to complete the tasting and describing of the four varieties. But with older grades, the students had a chance to create short “TV commercials” for one of the apples they’d tasted. It was pretty entertaining to see what they came up with, especially the ones who created jingles.

I made Stone Soup with three classes this year, both at Blake and at Withrow. We made giant pot fulls of soup with the vegetables the kids brought in, and most of the soup was gone by the end of the lesson… As always, it’s amazing to see giant amounts of healthy food disappear into the kids’ bellies when they’ve made it themselves! Of course the kids were the ones doing the peeling, chopping, cutting (with scissors), breaking things apart with their hands… There’s a good variety of tasks, so that kids with different levels of motor skills can get in on the action. This part is always a bit hard to plan ahead, as I don’t know what veggies kids will bring in. But there’s always a way to make sure everyone is involved. Some kids peel with veggie peelers and chop with large plastic knives (they’re often called “lettuce knives”), some use scissors to cut leeks, celery and onion strips, some help smoosh garlic in the garlic press, some rip apart cauliflower and broccoli with their hands… Often the teachers and I do the initial big cuts to make things manageable for the kids, to ensure carrots and potatoes aren’t rolling around, etc. but mostly it’s the kids doing the food prep with adults managing the big picture.

One really wonderful thing that came out of making Stone Soup this fall (besides all of the wonderful things described above), was a moment of noticing how much the kids have learned through the garden programmes over the years. I was working with a grade 1/2 class at Blake; before we started to cook, I showed them all of the vegetables we’d be putting in our soup. My first question was “What is this?” – I wasn’t surprised they knew pretty much all of the answers here (carrots, potatoes, cauliflower… The only one they didn’t know was leeks.) But then my next question was “What part of the plant are you eating when you’re eating _____?” – they knew these too! They knew carrots are roots, celery is stems, cauliflowers are flowers, etc. Ms Barr, the classroom teacher, was surprised and thrilled! She immediately pointed out that her students in the same grades just a few years ago could not answer these questions as easily – the fact that I’ve been teaching the current grade 1s and 2s since they were in Kindergarten is clearly paying off! Such a great moment for the garden programme!

While the soup was cooking, the students drew some of the ingredients in big soup pots, and wrote and illustrated a brief summary of the Stone Soup story.

For a bit more (including some pictures) about the Blake Stone Soup sessions, check out the latest Blake school newsletter. There’s also a great picture of some garden themed artwork and poetry. Check out pages 8 and 10.

DSC_0847The Withrow Garden Club also got to do some cooking this fall. They do a lot of work in the garden, including planting, weeding, watering, sifting compost, cleaning, harvesting, etc. In earlier years, I’ve cooked up some of the harvest at home and brought it for them to try, but this year, I decided to have a little cooking session with them. It took a bit of doing, as the staff room (ie kitchen) is in use during lunch, but I got permission to pull my garden club kids from class and cook with them before lunch. We roasted potatoes and sunchokes, made some kale and herb pesto, and picked some herbs for tea. The students and I really enjoyed sharing this little meal at the end of a good Garden Club season.

One thing I really try to instill in the kids with all of the different tasting and eating activities is avoiding words like “yuck” and “ewww”. Not only is it not a useful descriptive words, it can be insensitive to others who do enjoy the food and can even discourage other kids from tasting it. When reading a great teaching resource from Shelburne Farms called Cultivating Joy and Wonder, I came across the following phrase: “Don’t yuck my yum!” I think it’s great! As I said, I really try to instill this idea in the kids I work with, so I get really frustrated hearing adults insult food in the same way. I pulled out a homemade smoothie in a Mason jar a few weeks ago, and a grown woman (no, it wasn’t a teacher or anyone at the schools where I work :) ) looked at it and said “Ewww, that looks like a jar of vomit!” It totally caught me off guard and I regret not saying anything to her, but I guess it reinforced the need to teach these simple lessons of politeness. Luckily it didn’t change my opinion of my smoothie, and I think I enjoyed that kale, cranberry and peach smoothie just that much more.

Any fun recipes you make with groups of kids? I’m always looking for new ideas!

So, how many apple varieties did you guess there are? Most sources I’ve read say there are about 7500 in the world! (Though recently I saw somewhere that there are 17 000…)

Happy growing (and cooking)!


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