Winchester Public School is our longest-running school food garden. Started in 2001, it’s an unusually large school garden and for this reason has become a destination for many visiting school groups, workshops and presentations as well as a food-producing garden feeding the 400 kindergarten to Grade 8 students.
Students plant and harvest both formally as part of class time with specific curriculum objectives, and informally through the Garden Club, which operates one day per week throughout the school year during lunch recess. Vegetables and fruits go into the hot lunch program at the school and the food waste goes back into the outdoor compost bins.
Summer programs in the school garden are also offered to local camps and day cares, and families through evening garden drop-ins. Youth are hired and trained to garden, design and implement programs. This keeps the garden maintained and the produce flowing to local families in need throughout summer.
Rose Avenue Public School is located in the St. James Town community of high-rise apartment buildings. The school serves a student population of over 700 students from kindergarten through Grade 6. More than 85% of the students have English as their second language, representing about 50 language groups. Most of the families of this school recently arrived from other countries – many from Sri Lanka, and an increasing number from Eastern European, Asian and African countries. The school is one of the TDSB EcoSchools, and as such has been developing an environmentally sustainable set of practices, into which gardening and composting fit quite well.
Garden development began in earnest in Spring 2007, with a design for a children’s garden in the part-sun location at the northwest corner of the property. Food production was expanded in 2010 with the building of three earthblock beds by students and youth in the sunnier east side of the school. Composting is another initiative at Rose Ave.
The Sprucecourt Public School Peace Garden was an initiative begun in 2009 by Lead2Peace, a youth organization in Regent Park. In 2010, Green Thumbs Growing Kids got involved to help build up the food gardening part of their curriculum, and we work in partnership with students, teachers, lunchroom staff and Lead2Peace. With funding from Community Service Partnerships at the City of Toronto, we helped to expand food production by maintaining the existing peace garden and also installed four new raised beds, a compost program and container gardening. Running a summer drop-in program and workshops for students in spring and fall, plus gardening training for Lead2Peace and their partners at Meal Exchange, has been fun and engaging for all of us.
The school population averages around 300 students, from kindergarten to Grade Six, many of whom are second and third language learners. The largest language groups other than English are Bengali, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Vietnamese, and Somali according to the Toronto District School Board.
Since 2006, Green Thumbs Growing Kids has been running a school-day program at Allan Gardens Children’s Conservatory, a City of Toronto, Parks, Forestry and Recreation site, in early spring. From mid-March till the end of May, students from local schools plant seeds and make cuttings in the greenhouse to get an early start on long-season crops. The seedlings are later brought to their school gardens to be transplanted. Each hands-on greenhouse program is linked to the Ontario curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 8, covering interrelated subjects such as vermicomposting, needs of plants, soil types, ecosystems, biodiversity, water, recycling, seeds and plant propagation.
Following the hands-on activities in the Children’s greenhouse, students are taken on a tour of the main greenhouses which are open to the public 365 days per year free of charge.