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Toronto District School Board Food and Grounds Tour Review

Meghan the intern here again, bursting at the seams to talk to you about one of my latest adventures!  As a student whose academic background is based in Nutrition and Dietetics, I have experienced a steep learning curve when it comes to topics like urban agriculture and environmental sustainability.  Being introduced to these ways of thinking has actually been one of the things that I have valued most about my practicum; every day, I’m learning how to see issues through multiple lenses.  My most recent experience as a participant at the Toronto District School Board Food & Grounds Tour was an excellent opportunity for me to use my newly acquired knowledge and relate it back to my own area of expertise.  Since I am particularly fascinated by the role that schools play in child nutrition and health, this tour was a very effective way for me to see how theory is put into practice.

My experience at Green Thumbs and my interest in nutrition meant that I was particularly excited to see the food-producing gardens on the tour.  Bendale Business & Technical Institute was an incredible example of how a food system can be an integral part of student education.  In a matter of 4 or 5 years, Bendale has established productive gardens that teach more than just agriculture. The students sharpen their business skills by setting up a market with the produce they grow, which has been extremely well-received within the surrounding community.  Bendale’s culinary classes also benefit from the gardens as they are beneficiaries of the fruits and vegetables grown in these gardens, thereby giving “local foods” a whole new meaning!  Having grown up in an era where cooking and gardening were overlooked as essential skills to teach in the classroom, it is encouraging to see that their value is being recognised and successfully being reintroduced into the student curriculum.

Check out all the tomato plants growing at Bendale!

One of the most interesting things that I learned about on the tour is that some schools have been able to establish a nature study area on the grounds of their schools.  Our tour guide, Bruce Day (the TDSB Grounds Team Leader), spoke about how these nature areas negate the need to “ship the students out of the city” for field trips.  These areas allow students to get a first-hand look at the animals and plants that they talk about in school and in doing so, illustrate how connected we are to our environment.  Showing the children that there is wildlife in their very own urban backyards diminishes the idea that we are separate from nature and advocates environmental consciousness.   In my (humble) opinion, this parallels quite nicely with the idea of school food gardens.  Instead of outsourcing produce for school cafeterias, could we not grow this fare in school gardens?  While it would, of course, take more commitment and lots of manpower, the food given to students would be fresher, more nutritious, cheaper for both the school and the students, and – what’s most important – tastier!

Our last stop on the tour was especially exciting because Green Thumbs got to show off our garden at Winchester Public School!  We took the group on the same tasting tour that we show to all of our students and were met with similar cries of enthusiasm and curiosity.  This is what I have privately come to term as the “Green Thumbs Effect”!

Last stop: Sunday waxes poetic about GTGK’s work in the Winchester School Garden

I walked away from this tour feeling optimistic and inspired (and that’s something that doesn’t always happen given the current health status of both our population and our ecosystems!).  Seeing the passion that other members of the tour group had for improving awareness of sustainable, healthful environments at the school level made me believe in our ability for change, and reminded me of a quotation I’ve been hearing a lot lately…

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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