(and if they aren't, they should be)
by Sunday Harrison, Executive Director
2021 and the continuing pandemic brought gardening into focus for many people. Seed suppliers were sold out early, and garden centres had trouble keeping up with demand. I was fortunate to be able to speak on a fantastic panel on Food Literacy hosted by Speaker’s Corner with Brian Stewart via Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, an education nonprofit, and to speak with Steven and Emma Biggs on their Food Life Garden Show radio/podcast about School Gardens. Reflecting on the year, here’s a list of five good reasons there should be a garden in every school.
Joy. Connecting to the land, our Mother the Earth, promotes our mental health. With COVID and Climate top of mind, gardening is not only the most popular activity getting us outdoors and connecting to nature, it helps us chill out and enjoy life, without (hopefully) burning a single fossil fuel or using any artificial chemicals. It gets us off the screens and away from computers, helping to rejuvenate all of our senses. Even in winter, outdoor time is essential for our mental well-being. Slowing down and resting with the land gives us time to reflect and be grateful for all that we have.
Safety. COVID-19 has ramped up outdoor learning. Schools now value their outdoor spaces so much more, and have invested, where possible, in new amenities to increase the educational value of these spaces. The Toronto District School Board released this Learning Outdoors resource earlier in the year. We’ve had the most ever student engagement and teacher sign-ups for the short time we were offering garden programming in fall 2021, and even our online garden-based program offerings were snapped up even as everyone grew tired of online learning.
Cooling. Climate change education requires hands-on, solutions-based actions. The research on climate education for young children all points to connecting with nature as the first step in becoming active for the planet. Plants and soils are key to carbon sequestration, and local food production will become increasingly important in the future. A new TDSB Youth Climate Action Guide encourages school/community gardens as one Action among many, while the school board also provides additional resources for environmental education here and specifically discusses school food gardens here.
Food. December 16, 2021 was a historic moment for school food advocates in Canada as the commitment "to develop a National School Food Policy and work towards a national school nutritious meal program" appeared in mandate letters to both Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould. The Coalition for Healthy School Food has been campaigning to #NourishKidsNow since 2015, with now over 180 non-profit member organizations, including Green Thumbs. We know that a healthy school food culture will stimulate school garden development as a natural adjunct to healthy eating!
More food. Bill 216, the Food Literacy for Students Act, was introduced in the Ontario Legislature in 2020, but went on hiatus when the Legislature was prorogued. It’s now back on the agenda, moved forward as a Private Members Bill by MPP Daryl Kramp, Kingston-Frontenac, with the backing of the Kingston Food Policy Council and many organizations, including Green Thumbs, across the province. This bill, if passed, would mandate a credit in Food Literacy in order to graduate secondary school, and would have curriculum implications from Grade 1-12. This bill has multi-party support, and emanates from Ontario farm country, traditionally a Conservative bastion. It’s pretty amazing for this lefty non-profit leader to be cheering on a Conservative MPP’s bill, but that’s just how food unites us all, I guess.
So what’s next? Our Imagine a Garden in Every School campaign promoted School Garden Day for a number of years, held on the third Friday in May, as a means to build a network, share information and resources across the province. I’d like to revisit this campaign in 2022 and find other school gardeners and partner organizations for an Ontario-wide restart of School Garden Day, but more importantly, I would love to hear what you think. Where should Green Thumbs put our energies in 2022? And can you help?