Sunday, 22 November 2015

Growing to Give


Thank you so much everyone for all of your support throughout this 2015 growing season! We are immensely proud of the many outstanding successes we’ve had experienced this year, both large and small.  It has been a fantastic season and truly a momentous leap forward for the Thistletown Schoolyard Garden Program.  We would like to express our many thanks to all of our supporters, for we could never have achieved so much without your tremendous efforts.
The Thistletown Collegiate schoolyard garden program is CLOSED for the 2015 season.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at Stay tuned for more news and updates in Spring 2016!
If you haven’t had a chance yet, but would like to get involved, make volunteering next season your goal! All are welcome to visit and/or help out in the garden.  Volunteering with PACT Grow to Learn provides a great opportunity to be part of a team of dedicated and passionate people. Youth are encouraged to earn community service hours by helping out in the garden. Support a great cause, have fun, meet new people, and gain new skills and knowledge! The Thistletown Collegiate schoolyard garden program operates for drop-in volunteering every weekday. No prior experience needed!  Contact the Project Coordinator of the PACT Grow to Learn Schoolyard Garden Program, at We’d love to hear from you!
For the latest news and to see what’s growing in the Thistletown garden, be sure to check out our Grow to Learn blog and Facebook page.  See below for some highlights of the 2015 season.
As a result of the expansion at the Thistletown Collegiate Schoolyard Garden this season, we were able to increase harvest yields and had the great pleasure several times each week to donate a wide range of organic, local food to neighbours in need with the help of several grassroots organizations committed to social justice and food security in our community.
With more growing space and increased harvest yields this season, we were also able to implement a weekly vegetable stand onsite at the TCI Schoolyard Garden to allow our school community and local neighbours even greater access to the freshest and healthiest produce.  As always, our produce was grown without any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, using only natural gardening techniques such as composting, companion planting, and crop rotation.  
We invited everyone to come out and enjoy shopping for organic fruits and vegetables at our garden market stall from 12 noon until 4 p.m. every Friday, with fantastic success thanks to our many supporters.  We are looking forward to another great season of onsite garden markets for 2016!
Our market stand supplied a range of widely familiar products such as lettuce salad mixes, red and green cabbage, beets, carrots, tomatoes, radishes and peas, as well as some less common items like salad turnips, collard greens, garden sorrel, and an incredibly diverse suite of culinary herbs.  We were also able to provide unique feature vegetables to ignite the imagination of those creatively inspired in the culinary arts, such as purple string beans, purple peppers, parsnips, and kohlrabi. 
All proceeds from the garden market stall helped support the maintenance and growth of the garden, and ensure that we can continue to provide fresh and healthful produce to those in need and opportunities for youth to get active and involved in growing and community building.  A big thanks to all of our supporters who have helped make the garden market stall so successful this season, and a special thank you goes out to award winning TCI instructor Keith Hoare and his culinary arts students for their much-appreciated support!
We were happy to share our market stand with the Thistletown High School Chefs as part of their fundraising campaign to support their March Break 2017 culinary edu-travel trip to Italy.  The Thistletown High School Chefs marketed incredibly flavourful jams, which were produced using some of the excellent harvests of rhubarb and raspberries from the schoolyard garden, as well as other prepared foods including the Chefs’ famous salsas. 
Cabbage harvests at Thistletown CI schoolyard garden were superbly plentiful this season, and in addition to providing cabbages through food banks and garden market, we turned some of our cabbages into delicious sauerkraut by teaming up with the Lakeshore CI schoolyard garden. 
The garden expansion also encouraged more consistent and extensive support from students, teachers, staff, neighbours, and local grassroots organizations.
Curriculum-linked workshops, work bees, and educational tours were provided throughout the season this year to a wide variety of classes and student groups and clubs including: the Eco Club, special education programs, ESL and Adult ESL, Fine Arts, Culinary Arts, Biology, Nutrition, Physical Education, Mathematics, and Physics.
In addition, students in Fine Arts courses undertook many special projects, such as the creation of permanent educational signs and garden market promotional signs.
The TCI schoolyard garden project also participated in a post-doctoral research project initiated by Dr. Levkoe on the alternative food movement, supported Eco Schools in the production of a short promotional video filmed in part at the schoolyard garden, collaborated with faculty at the Humber College School of Construction Technology in the original design and build of a bicycle trailer for future use in transporting vegetables to local food banks.
Community volunteers and partner organizations also played a great role in the successes of this year.  The Rexdale Alliance Church provided a rich partnership throughout the summer, and offered support on workday activities such as fruit tree planting. Youth participants in after-school and summer programs from the Griffen Centre, the Boys and Girls Club, and Braeburn Neighbourhood Place provided great help out on various workdays this season.  The Rexdale Community Health Network helped support and promote our programming at the Rexdale Foodie Festival, as did the Rexdale Community Garden Network and the Etobicoke Master Gardeners at their Jour Vert summer event. 
In addition to the amazing help provided by both community and student volunteers, 6 high school students supported by the Focus on Youth Toronto (FOYT) program administered by the Toronto District School Board provided immense support for the production of some fantastic fruits and vegetables, and incredible progress on the recently expanded garden space at TCI throughout this season.  The 4 full-time and 2 part-time student participants worked with passion and determination to ensure the fresh fruits and vegetables produced in the garden were both plentiful and of the highest quality.  We have also been lucky to host FOYT student participants from our other schoolyard gardens at Lakeshore CI, West Humber CI, and Elmbank Junior and Middle – thanks so much for all of your assistance everyone! 
Through employment in the schoolyard garden program, FOYT students had the opportunity to develop job and life skills, grow into more informed and responsible community members, and become active and engaged in community-based actions to address food insecurity and patterns of environmental degradation. It has been a great pleasure to offer local youth the chance to access such a meaningful summer employment experience, and, as described below by one of our FOYT students, a work environment that supports a ‘calm and happy feeling’.
The feeling anyone would get even at night time when looking at the sky and the garden is a very calming, happy feeling, like there is constant new growth and that things flourish.

There are many things that anyone could learn from being in or participating in our garden. I learned a few things so far, most of them not about gardening but about responsibility and efficiency. In our garden everyone has their own patch that has to be looked after and maintained. We will help each other at times but we have to make sure that no tasks fall behind. We also get better at prioritizing but since we do not know everything about everything in the garden we rely on the knowledgeable Ben to help guide us and give us a better clue of anything gardening related. The sun position at any point of the day, the kind of crop that goes after another is harvested, that there are specific days of the week that are better for harvesting, planting, maintenance, or other things. I also now have a better idea of all the people, businesses, and products that are involved in just a simple thing such as gardening.

Gardening is important because it is by some considered an art because it requires patience, care and effort. Also it is nice to see plants grow because of something that you did, get exercise, and be in outside air.

Many people find themselves thinking about their lives while gardening because it is very calming. In our garden it is the same thing except you are gardening with people that you would not normally work with at home and what time to start and what time to end at is more a set time than at home. Also what we do with the greens that we harvest is different at the garden from what everyone does with their greens at their house. But gardening is very important because even the most basic humans were foraging for food to have one of the most basic necessities, which was to eat.

Gardening teaches people life skills of the land.

– Helene, Focus on Youth Toronto student employee and Thistletown Collegiate Institute student.

Thank you to Boadway Farms in Mount Albert for a very generous straw donation this season.  With more straw bales available, we have been able to setup more compost bins and improve our onsite production of compost using waste organic materials from the garden, kitchen waste from the Thistletown culinary arts program, and organic yard waste donated by community neighbours.
We would also like to extend a special thank you to Spade and Feather for generous donations of organic manure, which was added into our hot compost piles, and their special Manure Tea product – an incredible elixir and nutrient boost for garden vegetables.
Heritage Tree Care made generous donations of tree stumps and wood chips this season.  Thank you!  Those donations made possible the construction of our new raised-bed five senses garden, outdoor classroom, Hugel Kultur beds, and pollinator and rain garden beds.
We thank Richter’s Herbs for donating a variety of beautiful plants.  With their support, we were able to create an herb spiral in the outdoor classroom with a variety of culinary and medicinal herbs such as tricolour sage and Echinacea.
Thanks go out to Orchard People for supplying the Thistletown Schoolyard Garden with an Eastern Blue Bird nest box.  The nest box, previously used in a long-range research project on Eastern Blue Birds, was installed this season to welcome native bird species as part of a broader integrated pest management strategy.

The TCI garden was also the recipient of a variety of generous donations by various other local community members.  A very special thank you goes out to Sophie Brown for her unbelievable support and contributions to the success of the schoolyard garden, (a list too long to detail, but…) including a generous donation of humming bird feeders.  We look forward to the opportunity to inspire students with an appreciation of these beautiful creatures. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  We cannot thank you enough.

Check out the exciting new projects we have planned for 2016!!!

1) establishment/improvement of a hedgerow of native flower species to support native beneficial insects and improve aesthetics or curb appeal along the perimeter of the garden

2) create a permanent herb garden

3) expand on site capacity for compost system to improve local waste diversion

4) establish more permanent flower beds to improve aesthetic appeal

5) improve infrastructure for garden tours, including more interpretive signage

6) encourage use of garden as event space for creative arts such as musical performances or visual art showings, and catered fundraising events via collaborations with Thistletown CI culinary arts program

7)   offer 'market dollars' redeemable at weekly on site market in exchange for community volunteer contributions

8) improve growing outcomes by expanding use of caterpillar tunnels/row cover equipment 

9) improve facilities for harvest processing by collaborating with Humber College Construction Tech program to design/build outdoor kitchen furniture for  washing, drying and storing, and packing for deliveries 

10) build interest in advanced horticulture practice; develop a competition for best vegetable (e.g. best pumpkin)