Archive for the ‘building projects’ Category

We are very pleased to announce that the funding received by us on behalf of gardens at Sprucecourt PS and Rose Ave. PS was well spent this year. Over 800 people were directly served by this grant, in meaningful ways that promote urban agriculture, healthy eating, and learning about our environment.

Rose Ave. PS

At Rose Ave. PS, a new garden bed was built that is now in process of becoming a Hugelkultur bed. A Huge Wha-a-a-t? you ask? Hugelkultur uses wood, massive amounts, in a garden bed. What happens is that the wood fibers break down into cellulose, a porous mass that holds enormous amounts of water, and releases it to plant roots as they need it, watering from below. Water conservation methods like this are going to be more and more important as climate change causes unpredictability in supply of rainwater and even municipal water systems. In the first photo below, a Grade 6 team is filling the bed with topsoil, following a layer of fresh manure on top of the logs. In the next photo you can see the logs, and the lovely decorating done with kindergarteners, with the help of the Branksome Hall Service Learning team.

Sprucecourt PS

At Sprucecourt PS, a whole Grade 7 class is engaged with the school composting project, learning all about the science and art of well-planned rot. They’ve even taken responsibility for training the younger students! And thanks to teachers David Cunningham and Liz Bristoll, students are blogging about their experiences in the garden and weaving literacy and numeracy projects into their food focus. Students also mapped and drew the garden, to support all of the classes to use the garden with a map and calendar of activities.

Throughout the summer, Green Thumbs held weekly drop-ins at both schools that nourished whole families with garden produce and recipe-sharing, and ran day camp programs in the gardens. Over four hundred people joined in the summer garden drop ins and daytime programs in the two schools. In September and October, 400 students between Kindergarten and Grade 7 visited their school gardens at Rose Ave. PS and Sprucecourt PS, and carried out harvesting, fall planting, composting and building activities. The garden programs were supervised by Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ Garden Educator Extraordinaire Kryslyn Mohan, with the able support of many volunteers. Ten secondary school youth came for a four-day service learning project and worked with teachers and students in the gardens, supervised by Green Thumbs.

Thanks to Whole Kids Foundation for this enabling grant!

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On Aug. 18, seven participants in the Urban Agriculture Summit, hailing from as far away as Oregon, attended a Green Thumbs Growing Kids garden build. We used Compressed Earth Blocks, made by Henry Weirsma of Fifth Wind Farms. Here’s the location – it’s like a small town of 20,000 people, in 10 city blocks full of highrises. The site will be shaded by a building to the south for 3 hours  in midday – actually could end up helping to conserve water.


Henry showed up with about 100 Earth Blocks. His farm is a little over an hour away in Cobourg Ontario. He makes the blocks from his local clay, and adds 5-8% cement. The blocks are 1/10 of the carbon footprint of a cement block. They contain far less cement and are air-dried rather than kiln-dried. While they won’t last as long as cement blocks, they are comparable to wood for longevity, and using them thus leaves more trees alive and breathing. By growing more food and composting food waste close to home, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Further reductions are obtained by organic practices that do not use fossil fuels for fertilizer. Each bed this size will reduce GHGe by between 1.13 and 1.38T.

Here’s the crew making sure the bed will be 1m away from the fence for kid safety, levelling the ground for the first course.


And the Earth Blocks look sharp, too. After the bed is built, we will coat the blocks with a low-VOC sealer and then let kids paint on the exterior. Raised beds warm up faster in spring and cool down slower in fall, adding length to the growing season. The thermal mass of the blocks moderates temperatures and protects the plants from extremes. You can add a plastic row cover under which Bloomsdale spinach will grow all winter.


Henry (left) and Brad, a workshop participant.

The first course takes the longest.


After the first course is laid all nice and square and levelled up with sand, the work goes pretty fast. We used a low-VOC adhesive between courses and between block sides. Four courses are planned. The build takes a little less than 4 hours, including introductions and lots of chatting.


Here’s Marie laying in the last block.


Here’s the finished bed. The dimensions are about 4′ x 9′, which is not too wide for little people to reach into the middle. The length is not so long that kids are tempted to jump onto the bed to get to the other side. It will happen, for sure – but less of the time. A few little chunks of Earth Block came off during the build – but each block is 4″ deep and 7″ wide so it doesn’t matter too much. Extra blocks are piled inside the bed, hoping they don’t wander too far before we get another delivery and build the next bed with students!


Finally, here’s the group, with me on the left – not pictured are Joe (taking the shot) and Anita (staff – cleaning up!) I barely broke a sweat with all the help. It was a great day, and Rose Ave. PS kids are going to be excited to continue building this new garden area. For all the photos, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/46538862@N03/


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earth block building

Students building an earth block garden bed

Want to know how to build a garden bed with children on a school ground? Come join our Urban Agriculture Summit workshop, Saturday August 18 from 1-5 pm. This is a hands-on workshop you’ll leave with new skills and curriculum links for doing your own build. The Earth Blocks are an environmentally friendly material, and the raised beds help to extend the growing season as well as reduce compaction and allow children to garden more easily.

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Happy Monday all!  Meghan the intern here! We’ve had a really exciting weekend at Green Thumbs Growing Kids! Have you heard of Edelman Canada’s “The Little Give” corporate social responsibility initiative? Well, we hadn’t – until we were lucky enough to be chosen to participate in this event that benefits child-centred non-profit organizations! A team of Edelman employees is assigned to each organization chosen and the teams compete against each other to come up with a novel plan of action that addresses the respective needs of each charity (scope out their perspective at http://thelittlegivetoronto.tumblr.com/).
So, what did our brilliant “Team Skipping Rope” come up with? Check out the photos (with our own in-house supermodel Xuan Yen) – we’ve received an incredible upgrade from our old Rubbermaid storage bin at the Winchester School Garden! As if that wasn’t enough, our Edelman team also got us a membership and discount for AutoShare (so we can cruise around St James Town and Cabbagetown in environmentally-friendly style), consultations for fundraising, media, and volunteering, and a huge 2500$ donation!

Most heart-warming was not the donations themselves but the time and effort that our team dedicated to us. On Friday afternoon, our garden was filled with Edelman staff weeding, mulching paths, watering garden beds, and putting together our spectacular new garden shed. With smiles on their faces, our new friends worked in the garden until 10 pm. Maybe “The Little Give” isn’t so ‘little’ after all!

P.S. Fun fact – this shed was a model in the Home Depot Dream Home catalogue! Celebrity abounds at GTGK…

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November school gardening in Toronto

The school food gardens in east downtown Toronto have been blessed with an exceptionally long and warm autumn, making for a lot of harvested greens, fruits and vegetables like mouse melons, tomatoes, ground-cherries, sunberries, peppers, lemon cucumbers, lettuce, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, okra, coriander, Chinese chives, Tulsi and Genovese basil, dill, bok choy, thyme, and many other varieties by the children.

One of the students new favourite revamped workshops is Nutrition All-Stars. This workshop incorporates harvesting, a fun and competitive nutrition knowledge “game show” challenge, and a food prep component. Children got to make their own homemade salad dressings with herbs from the garden in wide-mouthed mason jars and than taste their creations with greens such as kale from the garden. Each group got to name their salad dressings too. My favourite so far is Magnifique Saladinia Cocktail, which came about because the group members working on the lemon juice, honey, garlic, parsley and chive based dressing could not decide on one name. So combine all three! Amazing!


speciale and magnifique saladinia cocktail Carrots

In terms of building, children and youth have taken advantage of this lovely weather to build more garden beds with Henry’s earthblock bricks from Fifth Wind Farm at three locations.

The Grade 7 students from Ms. P’s class constructed another new earth block bed at Winchester P.S., bringing the total number of food beds over 14 at their school, three constructed out of the sustainable sun-dried local material!

building the earthblock bed

At l’école Gabrielle-Roy the grade 5’s built a new bed too, with some adjustment. Students had to stagger the bottom layer, leaving gaps in between blocks, because we were not able to cut a hole in the concrete in order to allow drainage. This week, we had a giant garden overhaul, where the students ranging from kindergarten to grade 6 worked together to add compost and mulch the beds, and secure and water the seedlings (using the spiffy rainwater collector system the hired youth build over the summer) under the cover of the hoop house. They named the hoop house “Petit Allan Gardens”.

Also, children from the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club in Regent Park helped build an awesome retaining wall at Riverdale Farm in our after-school program.

Other activities still ongoing: composting (Composters of the Month, Build a Worm Bin Compost Challenge), garden club, seed saving, garlic planting, garden prepping for next spring, and season extension (i.e. growing greens under cover!).

Faire un noeud pour "Petit Allan Gardens" Ajoutant de la paille dans le potager de l'ecole

Our garden season extension methods include constructing hoops houses over some of the earthblocks so that we can continue to grow greens all winter long AND get a head start next year!

Green Thumbs was also able to participate at the Eat-In Ontario event in October with various organizations and individuals. 700 GTA students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12 participated in various curriculum linked garden, food and environmental workshops in front of Queen’s Park.

Also notable was the first Growing Up Together workshop for educators, a collaborative between Green Thumbs Growing Kids, FoodShare, Toronto Public Health and TDSB EcoSchools. Our first session entitled Tasting the Seasons included workshops on planning a food garden on schoolgrounds, a lesson in food miles, incorporating herbs from the garden into pesto making, green smoothies, food safety in the classroom, garlic planting and etc. Thanks to all the teachers, students and educators that made it!

tasting the season workshop tasting the season workshop

Other significant workshops: garden clean up at Allan Gardens with the women from the Centre Francophone de Toronto, and a workshop with 20+ youth from UforChange.

All in all a lot of experiential programs encouraging healthy eating, physical activity and local food consumption!

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Building earth block bed

Building earth block bed

Lots of heavy lifting at GTGK last month! We’ve successfully built one garden earth brick bed at Winchester P.S., two at Rose Ave. P.S. and one at Gabrielle-Roy.  The same students (grades 4, 5, and 7) that got to go to Fifth Wind Construction and see how earth block bricks are made in May were responsible for building them at each of their respectable schools. These building blocks are made out of earth – “structurally sound, and environmentally-friendly”. They look fantastic and not to brag or anything (totally am) but my arms are a bit more buff (I call them dumplings)!

We’ll be building more of these earth block beds with the youth that we hired for the summer with Youth Voices Research Group. July and August are looking to be excellent months and we’re really, really excited to work with the 8 youth hired. They’ll not only be constructing garden beds and building a rainwater harvesting system, but also be assisting in our garden programs, designing new activities, cooking, helping out at community events,  helping with a balcony project, exploring community food security concepts and many other exciting projects. On the YVRG side of things, the youth will be researching and documenting food and health issues in St. James Town through various social media networking means, interviews and other creative outlets like photography. So exciting!

Summer programs will also include visits from community groups and day camps in the school gardens, community drop-in nights, a partnership with Upwards Art for garden art projects, and collaborations with UforChange and other local organizations. Yay summer!


potato planter care

Hilling up potatoes on the last day of school

Recent media coverage for Green Thumbs Growing Kids and school food gardens news:

  • The Bulletin, the local newspaper, also wrote a feature on Green Thumbs in June. Read it here.
  • Lorraine Johnson, whose book City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing just came out, was interviewed on CIUT‘s Take 5. She talked about the importance of children being involved in gardening and food growing, how important it is for them to touch the soil with their bare hands, and how growing food can be easily linked to the Ontario curriculum (i.e. natural sciences, ecology, math, physical education, etc.). It’s always a good thing when other people advocate for children’s gardening!

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