Sunday, 31 May 2015

Garden Power

 Why We Need Gardens In Schools  

Our John Polanyi Collegiate Institute Garden is entering its 4th growing season! Over these last four years we have had thousands of students, volunteers, and community members who have worked, shaped, and inspired the garden to be what it is today. We have had to overcome so much; crop failure, droughts, flooding, hail, funding shortages, the list goes on. Every year there are new challenges and surprises that we have dealt with and come out the other side stronger and stronger. We have been able to continually produce more and more food each year for volunteers and local food banks; last year saw the scales tipping over 15,000 pounds of fresh produce. This year a very late season frost and an exceptionally dry spring almost wiped out all of our annual vegetables. Instead of dwelling on and crying over all our frost killed plants we want to focus on what an amazing space the garden has become and what a powerful teaching tool it is for the students of our community!  
    The first few years of the garden alot of work needed to be done to make the garden a thriving and functional growing space, lots of compost needed flipping, alot of woodchips needed to be moved, a lot of weeds needed to be picked and turned. Classes got to spend alot of time learning gardening, urban farming, hard work, and how to work effectively and efficiently in teams. These tools and lessons were really important to create lasting bonds in the classroom.
    The space has grown! Now we can offer very specific educational experiences for the classroom. Our pollinator gardens are extensive enough that students can learn about native plants, the life of a pollinator, solidarity bees, the importance of creating safe spaces for ourselves and the living insect worlds around us, they can see the habitats, they can touch watch pollinators, they can talk about their food experiences, and most importantly our able to shed any negative stereotypes about bees and "stinging insects".

       Our Community Compost program allows students to have a hands on lesson learning about, community projects, the importance of managing waste properly, they can smell, feel, and talk about the important work of billions of micro bacteria. They can help sift finished compost to put right into the beds. They can dig up wood-chips around the compost piles and experience intricate networks of the mushroom mycelium and learn about the first respondents in the world of decomposition. It allows discussions on death and food waste. They get to learn about worms, compost tea, and the world of the micro!

Our large areas of Permaculutre fruit guilds start discussions on food politics, biodiversity, and the importance of sharing food and community food projects. The gardens cob oven starts discussion on alternative building practices, recycling, and re purposing everyday objects and "trash" into beautiful functional art. Every corner, every plant, and every woodchip has a story to be told and an experience to be shared. The garden has become canvases for artists in the community, inspiration for photography classes, an outdoor space to practice for music classes, a kitchen to learn french cuisine, a space for food and nutrition classes to make kale chips, gym classes can learn about alternative workout routines outside a gym, English classes will share creation myths around a bonfire, science classes will dive into the world of the micro, and the macro. Math classes will design equations to determine poundage and seed needs for our growing beds. There are endless educational opportunities in the garden and to see teachers taking advantage of all the power that a schoolyard garden has to offer them in the classroom is beautiful and rewarding!

I asked a local first Grade teacher Christine to write a bit about her experience as a teacher in the garden. The class has been coming to the garden since our first season. Almost a whole generation of the elementary school has learned through the garden.

     It's Friday...Polanyi Garden day! Those five words are magic for my Grade One students, They LOVE going to Polanyi Garden...and so do I.
This garden offers a rich and varied learning experience for the students. They plant, water, weed, and harvest vegetables. All five senses are used as they touch, smell, and examine minutely, the plants they see. They stop to listen to the humming of the bees and to the vital, factual information that Adam imparts, as he describes the properties, uses, and growing life of the plants in the garden. He has their rapt attention!
And of course, they taste. They taste the vegetables and the edible weeds. Clover is their favorite!
Then the students return to school, enriched by all the incredible experiences that this teaching garden provides, and document it all in their Polanyi Garden Journal.
Their stories are amazing. they not only write about the obvious experiences, but they mention the bee that sat on their arm and didn't sting or the worms that crawled on their hands and tickled them or the Monarch butterfly they saw, even though most Monarchs are disappearing. They were amazed at the steam that rose out of the composting wood chip pile and loved warming their hands in the warm wood chips. The kale that turned silver when placed in water was magic. And on the memories flow!
And not to be forgotten are Adam and Bella, the "garden bosses", as the students call them. The respect, patience, kindness, and care they show to the students are unparalleled. They are a vital part of the Polanyi Garden magic!

The students make amazing and unexpected connections to other life experiences. At Forest Valley Outdoor Education centre they wowed the instructors with their knowledge of trees, plants, insect habitats, and soil characteristics.
For me, the impact of having a teaching garden to visit weekly with my students, is rich beyond words. It totally compliments all areas of the Grade One curriculum and that of Character Education as well. Working in the garden brings out their sharing, caring, and cooperative personalities. They thrive on being involved as a team, in this wonderful outdoor project.

 The power of our garden does not necessarily lie in how large, or how much produce we grow; it lies in all the students who have had a chance to learn, play, and grow within it. The longevity of a garden doesn't depend upon how much food it produces or how much funding it can get, it depends upon the youth of tomorrow coming back every year learning growing and sharing. It depends upon teachers pushing their curriculum and challenging the idea of a classroom!


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