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2021 in review

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

by Sunday Harrison, Executive Director

Child playing with hula hoop in the Winchester garden
Winchester students enjoying garden time

As we wind up our 23rd season, Green Thumbs continues to be a valued garden program partner for our school communities. Keeping the office/finance work under control is Tsering Tashi, who joined us in March and goes by Tashi. Through the growing season, we’ve increased our climate-related educational programming, and deepened our Indigenous content, facilitated by our Indigenous Program Co-ordinator, Cara McArthur, taking over from Micah Miller. Heading into 2022, we’ll be helping set up a new garden at Stilecroft P.S., where our Program Manager, Ohemaa Boateng, is an active parent. Ohemaa and Cara have been running an after-school program for Black and Indigenous girls called Local Explorers, in partnership with Segen Mehreteab at Project Canoe. We welcome a new staff member, Rebecca Davis, our Urban Agriculture Specialist, to help keep the gardens growing, supported by ECO Canada, filling the position that Athi Selvadurai held.

Winchester student planting oak seedlings in Tree Nursery
Winchester student planting oak seedlings in Tree Nursery

Yes, it’s been a nutty year with school closures, but we’ve had amazing supports. City of Toronto staff at Allan Gardens Children’s Conservatory helped raise our school garden seedlings since we couldn’t access the space. Eric Davies and his team helped us plant acorns he sourced from Mother Oaks in the GTA, and the oak seedlings that we grew right in the Regent Park Greenhouse were planted out in the Community Garden and at our partner schools. A neighbour of the Winchester PS garden, who wishes to remain anonymous but goes by John, helped us so much by building a fence for the tree nursery there, and fixing the garden shed when it sprang a hole in the roof and then got broken into and damaged. Neighbours John and Heather also help with collecting food waste for our school compost, since the school lunch program turned to pre-packaged foods due to COVID.

Collards growing on Daniels Spectrum Green Roof
Collards growing on Daniels Spectrum Green Roof

We have great friends in the community, some running small businesses that we support, and some helping us with fundraising. In 2021 we were happy to participate in Crooked Farmz Compost Tea CSA, to increase the fertility of our Green Roof. Shameeza Gafoor, a former Urban Roots Youth participant now running Planning Places donated proceeds from her line of merchandise that supports Nature in the City. Grade 12 students at Toronto French School chose us as their recipient of proceeds from their Sustainable Fashion show. Daniel et Daniel ran a New Roots Dinner fundraiser with a dinner delivery, even as their own business struggled to recover from COVID. As always, we purchased the bulk of our seeds from Urban Harvest, led by the resilient and passionate gardener and seed-saver Colette Murphy. We look forward also to sowing the lovely seed combo that Corina Ottnad has put together, called Native Bee Art Seeds. The Daniels Spectrum Green Roof cultivation project was supported through a grant which allowed us to hire consultants Raised Roots to conduct a feasibility study. They did a remarkable job and set us up nicely to consider the social enterprise potential of this amazing resource. Regent Park Mothers of Peace helped get produce to families in need.

Screen with students holding their tree seedlings, and Farmer Ohemaa
Ohemaa leading a class whose trees have sprouted!

Then there’s our funders who help us serve the community. Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, our pivot to online programming was relatively seamless. We purchased some new tech and software to help us keep the online programs engaging, which was well-evaluated by former board leader and consultant Hélène St. Jacques. This grant also paid for the aforementioned Green Roof to Rooftop Garden Feasibility Study.

Variety of produce on market table
Market table

The Natural Science and Engineering Council’s PromoScience program funded the lion’s share of our school garden programming, both in-person and virtual, and we are so grateful for this support. The City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry Grants and Tree Canada helped fund our Urban Trees from Seed program. Six Canada Summer Jobs-funded youth staff, looked after the gardens and brought produce to market, where we were welcomed at no charge as a local nonprofit partner.

Long table full of cups and soil kits for student program
Placement student Trisha Barretto prepares Pea Shoot kits for online program

Placement students are a core part of our organization, and as colleges and universities went virtual, Ohemaa managed to keep students engaged and learning by doing. Here’s a blog post by the ten Humber Nursing students, reflecting on their placement. We also had 4 students from the Early Childhood Studies program at X University, 2 students from George Brown College’s Child and Youth Care program, 1 student from GBC’s Community Worker Program, and 2 students from York University's Sociology studies.

In the wider world of school food, we participated on the Steering Committee and in the inaugural webinars for the Edible Education Community of Practice, launched by Farm to Cafeteria Canada. It’s always great to meet others who help manage school gardens or contribute in any way to a rich culture around food and education.

Last but not least, our amazing board team ran fundraisers and supported the organization in myriad ways; I cannot thank them enough. Pierre Valcarcel completed a re-do of our website as part of his board contribution – many, many thanks for that. All of the board members are so supportive of the organization and bring thoughtful and varied perspectives to the table. They are really good at governance with heart - with fantastic leadership from the executive committee: Kary Atkinson, Sarah Dobec and Lily Yee. We couldn't do it without you!

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