We set out on our Farm to School journey with two goals. The first was to create a school garden and the second was to continue to support our school’s morning snack program. The process has been both rewarding and challenging at the same time.
The idea of a school garden had been swirling around in the minds of our staff over the last few years. It was an idea that would come up at staff meetings, but became never more than a discussion. However this idea became reality last year when a community member came to our staff to introduce the possibilities offered by the Farm to School program. As in many school districts, funds are limited and good ideas cannot always come to fruition. We had talked to our principal at the time and were able to get the go ahead on setting aside an area for a garden, but that was as far as we got. In reviewing the mission of the Farm to School program, we felt our garden project fit exactly with what the Farm to School grant was meant for.
We were elated when we found out that our application had been selected. The funds provided by the grant provided us with the start-up resources to get our garden up and growing. In the first spring of our garden we created raised beds with the help of school staff, students, and community volunteers. With a short growing period, we accepted donations of salad green starters from a local nursery and each class planted their beds. In a short period of a month and half students enjoyed 2 or 3 salad harvests. We were all very proud of our initial success.
Coming into our new school year, we wanted to continue to explore with our children the possibilities of our garden and grow a culture of local food production. This involved ordering seed (rather than starters), using local manure and compost from our composters, expanding our food production to include fruit and berries, and planning our garden with a common goal of a harvest soup.
We began this growing season with creating a common goal of growing vegetables that could be combined to make a soup. Individual classes chose vegetables for their garden beds that would add up to the ingredients needed for a school soup. We thought it would be a nice way to come together and celebrate and share the accomplishments of each classes’ vegetable bed.
Classes have sowed seeds both indoors and directly outdoors this year. Our garden beds look great already. One of the challenges of growing a garden at a school is that our growing season is dictated by the school calendar and limits what can be grown. We are working to extend our growing season by building a green house and installing a rainwater drip system. As well, we are looking at what we can grow during the fall and winter. Each step is a learning process and we look to local expertise to guide us through our journey.
Our second goal of bolstering our school’s morning snack program with local food has been more of a challenge than we originally thought. Much of the vegetables and fruits provided to our kids through this program are supplied through a local food box program. They work to provide as much local and organic food as possible. But again, we have come up against the problem of accessing local produce during the winter months.
We were committed to the idea of providing local food to our students and didn’t want to give up on this goal. A solution came by way of our grade 1/2 class trying to figure out what to do with their abundance of kale. They started to dry it as kale chips to enjoy as a snack. The idea of drying kale led to the idea of dehydrating fruits and vegetables when they are abundant and sharing with the kids in the months where local fruits and veggies are more difficult to access. We have purchased a dehydrator and peelers for fruit to dry and preserve; and very excited to begin drying. Our next step is to connect with local fruit growers to supply us with fruit, particularly apples.
We have a very committed staff who have all jumped on board in some capacity to help out with our school garden and morning snack program. Our school and its community association had already adopted many of the principles of sustainability, providing local food, and forming relationships with our greater community. The Farm to School program has provided a new energy to carry our programs and projects forward.