I’m not sick of winter yet…

Raising the Estonian flag at City Hall.

Raising the Estonian flag at City Hall.

To start off on a totally non-garden related note, happy 96th Estonian Independence day! We Estonians celebrate two independence days – on February 24th, 1918, Estonia declared its independence; on August 20th 1990, Estonia declared its re-independence. This morning, we raised the Estonian flag in front of Toronto’s City Hall. A beautiful bright sunny morning, with an expected February chill and some good winter winds. In Estonia today, the weather has been very springlike, and I’ve heard lots of reports of some early flowers already blooming.

I’ve been loving this winter! Tons of snow, lots of cold weather- very glad I bought snowpants last winter. While I look out the window right now at the City Hall public library, it’s snowing a bit here in downtown Toronto. I know lots of people are seriously longing for spring already, but I’m still very happy to enjoy winter for a few more weeks. Lots of gardener and farmer friends have been posting about seed orders already for weeks. I know that farmers already have trays and trays of seedlings growing in barns, greenhouses, etc. I, on the other hand, haven’t yet started to delve into spring dreaming and planning. Should probably get on that soon… I did get a few packages of seeds donated for the school gardens from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds in Michigan  – some fun tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, etc. Getting a package of surprise seeds in the mail is pretty exciting! (I knew I was getting the seeds, just didn’t know what they’d be…) Seedy Saturdays and Sundays are coming up, so that’ll surely start getting me inspired, and there are always lots of chances to get seeds at markets too. So I’m not too worried yet. Planning what to grow at the school gardens is a bit of a process too (in a good way), as we get input from parents and community members on what they’d like to have growing in the garden, so I’ll have to wait until those discussions have happened before I can get shopping. But we’ll want to start seedlings soon after March Break. So yeah, I should get on that…

I’ve been keeping busy in the classrooms at Blake all winter. We’ve done many of our standard winter activities – meeting worms, Kindergarten seed-to-plant match, germination experiments, winter scavenger hunts… We had a super snowfall on one of the days we did a grade 1/2 winter garden scavenger hunt, which was really fun!

Perfect day for a winter garden scavenger hunt!

Perfect day for a winter garden scavenger hunt!

I’ve also developed a bunch of new activities this winter. We’ve delved a little deeper into looking at where our food comes from and how it gets to us, than we’ve done before. With the grade 1/2 classes, I did an activity inspired by this one here, mostly using the story called “The Story of Miguel’s Tomatoes” (which I edited somewhat – it was a bit long for the grade 1/2s). We started by looking at a simple garden-to-plate food system. I then read them the tomato story, and we came up with a list of the main points from the story (which I wrote on the board). The story has minimal illustrations, so they had to imagine the pictures in their heads. With the list of main points, the students then created a comic strip with text from the list and with their own drawings. Though it was sometimes hard to keep their focus with a non-illustrated story, the activity overall went really well. I’ll definitely be doing this one again!

With the grade 2/3s, we delved even deeper into the question of where our food comes from, doing various activities over a number of classes. We started with a couple of matching games that I’ve done before, where they match foods with the plants and animals they come from (e.g. ketchup from tomatoes, nacho chips from corn, cheese from milk from cows or other animals, etc.). The students then worked in pairs to brainstorm some of the steps that the food had to go through to get from tomato to ketchup, or from apple to apple juice. During the next class, we took that up and sketched a sample food system, taking us through various steps, from planting seeds, to harvesting, shipping, processing/factories, storage, stores, customers (and a few other steps in between too).  The kids were pretty into this and had lots of good input. Working on it in pairs before doing it as a whole class was key – gave everyone a chance to be engaged, even if they didn’t wanna share with the whole class, and it let them think through their ideas before sharing too. We also spent time looking at the people/jobs involved along the food system, and how money is divided among them. We started with a look at a farmer-t0-customer farmers’ market system. The second chain we looked at was farmer-grocery store-customer. Our longest chain was farmer-transportation-warehouse-transportation-warehouse-transportation-grocery story-customer (or something along those lines…). (There was a story involved too, and kids acting out the parts.) The students then worked in pairs on a worksheet, where they had to divide $100 dollars between the different steps in the system we’d looked at (with the premise that the customer had paid $100 – an easy number to divide – for their groceries), and justify their answers. Definitely interesting! I found that even taking a simplified look made the kids start to understand how complex the food system is. And we didn’t even delve into jobs like brokers, marketing/advertising, processing, packaging…. (We had looked a bit at processing earlier, but for the purposes of this activity, we were just imagining whole fruits and veggies taking the journey). Trying to simplify the food system for grade 2/3 lessons reminded me again how incredibly (ridiculously!) complex the system is!

Another new activity we recently started doing was having the students think of their favourite meals – not necessarily their favourite foods, but favourite meals…. I’ll expand on this one in an upcoming post… Also in upcoming posts – more about the new school garden I’m helping start with two schools that are on the same site. Exciting! I’m getting closer and closer to this school garden educator gig being a full time job!

How are your spring garden plans going? Have you started anything inside yet?

Happy growing!

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