Clearwater Schools: two starts, one outcome

Our garden adventures at our elementary and highschool in Clearwater already had a long history before we embarked on our Farm to School program. Six years ago at Raft River Elementary, our PAC initiated a project where each classroom started 6 packs of tomatoes and peppers from seed.  This was the true beginning of a bright gardening future at Raft as both teachers and students were excited by their success in using their windowsills as greenhouses. Our partner school, Clearwater Secondary, started their gardening extravaganza with pallet box gardens with the Grade 11 Biology class.  Unfortunately, a hot summer and a lack of maintenance meant these  small gardens wilted away.

A major milestone for both schools came when Sharon Neufeld, a local gardener and owner of Forest House Wellness Center, donated a piece of her property to Raft River Elementary school.  Unfortunately Raft did not have much for funds but CSS had some money allocated for a garden project from United Way and TA DA:  a partnership was created between the two schools.


Garden Full Bloom

We knew early on that this off-site garden would be a temporary measure and started to think about how we could build on-site gardens and integrate that more into the daily life and meals of the school. Our Farm to School BC program comes from these roots, and though the funding has been directed towards an on-site garden at the high school, both schools continue to work in close partnership.

We are a parent-led project, with one of us in a key staff role as the Healthy Living Coordinator for the District of Clearwater and another as a local farmer.  As our children grow and transition schools so are we.  Probably our biggest challenge is that we don’t have the ongoing, direct contact with students. We’re trusting that as our gardens develop at each school more teachers and classes will find ways to participate.

The Farm to School grant helped move us along towards our vision of an on-site garden at the highschool.  Here are some of our high..and low lights from our adventures:

First year, fabulous soil, great veggies, but WOW super weeds and few volunteers with a teacher strike to boot.  We persevered with a few volunteers who had a grand vision in their mind. Next year was a leap ahead.  Both schools were engaged, the Farm to School BC grant was visited as a great option for funding.  The gardening group and community partners met.

The Foods class at the high school got on board and started preparing food from the harvest. One highlight was the zucchini salsa. Did we mention the fact that we probably had the biggest crop of zucchini EVER in Clearwater? Even the food bank didn’t want any at the end of the summer!  We made a vegetable casserole with the class as well that fed the entire highschool body, as well as dignitaries at the Christmas lunch hosted by the CSS PAC. The kids were very proud to be  eating veggies they had grown. Purple potatoes rock!

CSS foods class making mashed potatoes to serve at the CSS PAC Christmas turkey lunch.
CSS foods class making mashed potatoes to serve at the CSS PAC Christmas turkey lunch.

Raft River ventured into their first cooking class with the Grade 7’s and created a “soup for every child” in the elementary school with the help of PAC and retired teachers – a true harvest celebration.  In this year, we fed over 500 mouths!! Whoop! Whoop!!!

This past year we’ve been working towards on-site school gardens at both schools.  Mr. Buck and his shop class are keen to help in any way.  So, they got a job… a big job…. to build vegetable boxes for both schools.  4 boxes for Raft, and 12 boxes for CSS. In addition to our Farm to School grant, we’ve received 2 other grants, one from the Interior Community Foundation and Wells Gray Community Forests.  We are going to have a show stopper garden at the high school!!!

The Foods class at CSS starts seedlings for their salsa garden at the school and then planted them down at Sharon’s garden for the final year.  This year, we had the most amazing involvement from Sherry Loring at the CSS cafeteria, who prepared the veggies, froze extra, fed the students at CSS and also shared scrumptious muffins for the Raft River breakfast program sponsored by the PAC.  It has been a gratifying year, one with excitement and some angst (knowing what work lies ahead), but we know we are a strong group ready for all the challenges that lay ahead (well … maybe).

So, where are we now?  Scrambling 🙂

Boxes are in at Raft River (thanks to the CSS shop class and  MacLennan’s Farms (did I mention the super amazing local beef fundraiser we did with MacLennan’s to augment the Fresh to you Fundraiser? )  Irrigation supplies are ordered, fence is ordered, SD#73 Maintenance Team has been 6 stars for us in every way!  Seedlings have been again started by the foods class, seeds ordered, strawberry plants potted ready for transplanting into their new home.

The Garden Shed funded by North Thompson Community Foundation and greenhouse donated by Yellowhead Community Services at Sharon’s garden have been relocated to the CSS garden, soil has been delivered ( a huge thank you to Borrow Enterprises for donating and delivering!), manure is being donated from MacLennan Farm’s and we’ve got student muscles to move the materials.

We’ve also been inspired by Logan Lake’s great microgreens idea and are busy constructing a light system. This project will be run by our special needs students who are A+ gardeners.   Now all we need is that amazing bike-powered smoothie maker.

What are we the most proud of?  The support from everyone in the community, the schools, and the amazing collaboration between both Raft River and CSS.  We all live in this community and we are proud to call it home.