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.

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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!

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