Last week, while spring flurries flew around us, we built a new school food garden. Dundas Public School and First Nations School of Toronto now have a shared school garden!
The process has been in the works for over a year, but last week the physical garden build finally happened! I work at Dundas and First Nations on Tuesdays and Thursdays (through a project with the South Riverdale Community Health Centre) so those were the days that we built the garden. On Monday, I headed over there after a day of teaching at another school, and in the pouring rain, a co-worker, a teacher and I plotted out where we’d put the garden beds with some little flags, so that we could get right to digging the next morning.
As I walked into the school on Tuesday morning, I could sense the excitement! The smiles I saw on both staff and students were clear – they were just as excited as I was to see this garden come into being!
The ground where the garden got built looks pretty flat, but is actually deceptively slanted, and I wanted to make sure the garden containers were pretty level (’cause I knew it would bother me in the future if they were askew…). On Tuesday morning, grade 7/8 and grade 5 students came out to level the ground. We didn’t need to dig a ton, but we did a bit of digging with trowels and shovels, and used a nice big level to check our work. Though it didn’t seem like that much, the work was important and well done! Thanks!
Now, the garden space was ready for the containers.
Soon, our garden container delivery arrived from FoodShare. We had ordered 6 cedar containers to be built at FoodShare, which were partially donated and partially paid for by the schools. It was super exciting to finally see them! We pulled them out of the truck, then rolled them into place. At this point, a few high school students from SEED Alternative school came to help out as well. Wow, was I ever thankful for their help! They did all of the fiddly work of putting the garden containers in place – making sure they were all level, that they were all the same distance from each other, etc. I feel good about how all of the beds got placed. These students were so responsible and enthusiastic! So great!
And the best photo from the garden building, day one:
We’d rejigged the day a bit, because it was threatening to rain. We thought that getting a giant soil delivery on a rainy would not be the best idea… So on Tuesday afternoon, I ended up doing an in-class seed starting lesson with some grade 3/4s. I’m so glad everyone was flexible with our rescheduling.
Thursday was the day to fill the garden beds! Our day started with some unexpected delays – our soil delivery came a bit later than we’d hoped, and then didn’t include the right landscape fabric, so we had to send someone out shopping. But one thing I’ve definitely gotten better and better at through working with kids is going with the flow and making up lessons on the fly. I had two classes (gr 3/4 and gr 1/2) come out to the garden hoping to move gravel and soil, but the delivery hadn’t yet arrived. I was glad anyway that they got to see part of the garden building process, but why not also turn this into a math lesson? A grade 2/3 teacher had mentioned that she’d taken her class out on the Wednesday to do some measurement and estimation activities. With the classes that were out there on Thursday morning, we had them guess the size of the gardens using the sizes of their hands and feet, estimate capacity using the buckets we were using to carry soil, etc. The grade 3/4 teacher said she was about to start teaching area and volume, so it’s great that she’s got a real life example to refer back to with them.
By the time AM recess was over, we were ready for classes. We had quickly stapled the landscape fabric into place, with help from some SEED Alternative students who had come to help out again. And then the younger grades started arriving, ready to use their muscles to carry soil! Shoveling, bucket carrying, bucket emptying, soil smoothing… Lots of work got done!
We got so much work done in the first hour and a half in the morning, that I was starting to feel like we had to ration our work for the afternoon, to make sure there was something for all of the afternoon classes to do. It ended up working quite perfectly. I carried over a few bucket loads myself at the end of the day to finish things up, but most of the work was done by students throughout the day. Good work everyone!
Grand reveal [drumroll please!] this is what it looked like at the end of the day:
The following day, a teacher worked with some parents and students to install a couple of steel containers that the school already had, which were waiting to be put into the garden. They drilled drainage holes, put them in place, and then added some gravel and soil. Awesome!
On Friday afternoon, I happened to drive by the garden with my parents and pointed it out to them. I was reminded of driving by that space with my mom a few years ago, as I was just getting started as a School Garden Educator. We discussed how it looked like a great space to start a school garden. As fate would have it, I got to be a part of building this garden and the food garden programme. Very proud to be part of this project!
The buzz the garden has already created is clear! I had many brief chats with parents I was meeting for the first time but who had heard and read about the garden from their kids and in the school newsletter. Kids were telling me how excited they were to start planting and how much fun they had helping to build the garden! The garden still has room and dreams for development, but for now, this is our new school garden for Dundas St PS and First Nations School of Toronto. We started planting our first seeds this week too, but more on that later…