Archive for the ‘curriculum’ Category

It’s an exciting time for school gardens – please join us physically and metaphysically in our celebrations of a new season of growth and beauty! First up, today is May 24 — The First Annual School Garden Day, brought to life by our collaboration with EcoSource and the Ontario Edible Education Network. There’s a survey to fill out to help us all better understand school food gardens and gardeners, (as well as other children & youth food programs).

Next week on Wednesday May 29 is the Fairmount Park Farmers’ Market, adjacent to a school yard where a gardening project is underway. We’ll be selling some pea shoots and talking about how easy to do and nutritious they are, as well as just providing a fun activity for kids. Erin Temple, our newly minted practicum student from Ryerson University’s Masters of Health Science, Nutrition Communications will help make this event memorable.

Coming up Saturday June 1 is Rawlinson Community School’s Urban Farm Fun Fair, and we’re excited to have a table there. We’ve been working with Rawlinson’s amazing kindergarten teachers on our kinder-GARDEN pilot project, and this year the whole school has planned their Fun Fair to celebrate urban agriculture and highlight their school gardens!

On Wednesday June 19, we’ll get together with our eight Kinder-GARDEN pilot project teachers to go over the project and look at the spring season to date. This will form the beginning of a new resource guide, suited to Toronto climate and Ontario curriculum, for school food gardeners working with Kindergarteners. This project is supported by a grant from the Community Environment Fund of Earth Day Canada.

Then, Friday June 21, we’ll be offering a workshop at the Jane-Finch area Frontier College Connecting Communities Conference, where program leaders attend a free day of workshops and networking, gaining a better understanding of summer programs that meet the needs of children and youth. We’re excited to participate in the desire to support literacy – including environmental and food literacy – and detailing how the school garden can be a strong summertime asset to the community.

Meantime, the Urban Roots Youth project is deepening, and the youth involved are gaining confidence and knowledge about food growing, food systems and starting to tell their own stories. Two more summer jobs (in addition to two jobs through TDSB’s Focus on Youth) will be available and will be posted soon on our website. Funding for this program’s co-ordination has been generously provided by Telus Community Board and by the City of Toronto Recreation Grants.


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seed saving of the kakai

What to do before the weather dips below zero degrees and damages the still-green tomatoes dangling from your plants?

What to do when you want to help farmers and gardeners grow beautiful heirloom pumpkins next year?

kakai pumpkin intro

Well let me tell you!

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting volunteers from ING Direct Canada  for the day. And boy, did we need them with a full-day of harvest activities at both Winchester and Sprucecourt!

ing team fantastic!

Tasha, Alycia, Jen and Dwayne were wonderful volunteers and I know the children really appreciated their company.

comparing pumpkin seeds

In the morning we brought these beautiful Kakai Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) that we procured from our pals at Chocosol to a grade 3 & 4 class at Winchester P.S.. Kakai pumpkins are a Japanese or Austrian variety (depending on who you ask) with gorgeous green and orange stripes, easy to carve skin that are perfect for children’s little hands, and hull-less dark green seeds that are coveted for pumpkin oil production and very tasty to eat!

sorting seeds and making pumpkin mush

The students got their hands dirty removing the pulp and sorting the seeds out in order to engage in the age old activity of seed saving. These seeds are going to be dried and given to Chocosol farmers and gardeners so that that they may grow these pumpkins out on a grander scale. Apparently these seeds go quite well with cocoa. Mmmmmmm.

kakai carving

It was fun to also design the carvings.

designing carving


One of the students even found a kakai pumpkin sprout growing inside!
kakai pumpkin seed sprout!

Scar face kakai pumpkin!
scar face pumpkin

At the end of the pumpkin session I got the students to estimate how many more pumpkins we could potentially grow. If you start out with 5 pumpkins, and end up with approximately, oh let’s say, 1500 seeds, how many pumpkin plants will you end up with? And if each plant produced 5 pumpkins each, how many pumpkins will you end up with in total?!!?!? I like to incorporate mathematics when I can. (GO MULTIPLICATION!)

kakai seeds & maths!

In the afternoon, the ING team and I were able to work in the Sprucecourt staff kitchen with a group of grade 1 & 2 ESL students making tomato apple chutney, using green tomatoes from the school’s garden.  We also planted some plum trees of the Prunus domestica variety, a gorgeous dark purple or yellow specimen. So fun! Even when the onions’ fumes made a bunch of us cry, we still toughened up and kept going.

cutting onions and crying about it!

How to use knives 101.

tomato apple chutney making

Prepping the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic!

making chutney

Green tomatoes from the Sprucecourt school garden!
green tomatoes from the sprucecourt garden!

Adding onions and garlic!
adding onions & garlic to pot!

Adding brown sugar!
adding brown sugar!

Mixing some spices in!

Ready to cook down!
ready to cook!

A good day’s work I say and all around good times!
Shout out to: Tasha, Dwayne, Alycia and Jenn from ING Direct Canada; Ivan and Michael from Chocosol; and Lauren, Mable, David, Cassie, and Liz.


The children at Sprucecourt ate the chutney on crackers the next day! Yum!

And we got this lovely e-mail from one of the Sprucecourt teachers that I have to share:

Hey Sunday,

I just wanted to thank you and Xuan-Yen for the “Chutney” workshop with the kids on Wednesday at Sprucecourt.  They had a wonderful time with the experience and we got some great writing (and tasting) opportunities out it.  My students loved it and were talking about it for the next two days.  Xuan-Yen, it was wonderful working with you.  I would love copies of those pictures when you get a chance to put up on our bulletin board.  I took some more of them writing the steps and ingredients out and tasting it.  If you are interested I can send them your way. 

Also, we would be open to any other workshops before the big freeze ends the season.  If not, definitely in the spring.

All the best,

                   David Cunningham

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Oh boy. It’s not quite gardening season (although we do have our onion and stevia seeds planted indoors!) and already we’ve had our hands full with various events, presentations and programs, not to mention grant writing and seed inventory! Eeeeee!

On January 27, I went out to Ajax to present on a panel discussing engagement with newcomer youth.

The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) organized this overarching conference on community engagement and settlement issues. Recommended by a Kitchener-Waterloo public health nurse, I was invited to participate on a panel to discuss our youth programs: issues, challenges, and strategies used to engage people in the community. It was interesting to learn about different programs in the GTA but also ruminate over common challenges together. As it goes, even successful programs struggle with the youth outreach piece (more on that later!). I also was able to participate on a workshop around positive spaces, particularly in the context of LBGTQ people in immigrant and settlement communities…

CASSA Conference on community engagement

Sunday presented at the Growing A Greener Future from Field to Table conference, organized by FoodShare, on school food garden models. She discussed the various GTGK school garden models but also talked about the school gardens in California and the UK. There were some other interesting workshops on aquaponic systems (on a small-scale — not like the commercial-scale that Growing Power has set up!). I was pleased to learn about the Scarborough youth project run by Ziadh Rabbani from Seed to Table. Started last year, it’s always great to see new projects in other locations and see how they incorporate food gardens and cooking into their programs. Yay!

I also attended Meal Exchange‘s Social Mixer at 401 Richmond. The idea of the mixer was to bring people together with different skill sets and experiences, and get them to simulate a speed dating scenario…so we got to spend 5 minutes with a new person and than switch! Fun times.

Seedy Sunday on February 13th at the University of Toronto‘s Hart House was also a huge event. Organized by the Toronto Community Garden Network, it is an annual eco-fair and seed exchange event, with many heritage seed vendors, organizations, delicious food and children’s activities. In fact, it sometimes seems it is the one event where we get to reconnect with fellow community gardeners we scarcely see once growing season is in full bloom. It’s a great place to not only exchange seeds, but also exchange growing tips and learn about some other new variety. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of varieties of plants we have…and needless to say I was an over excited plant nerd  and fleeted about like a bee, and managed to exert all my energy to the extent I needed to go home and have a nap.

As for our Urban Roots greenhouse program. The pea shoots were a hit!

All the participants took some shoots home to eat, after snacking on them in our program. So far we have done germination tests, botanical drawings and plant propagation.

Most participants were skeptical about having to sketch plants. But with the help of Rebecca, a student at Rosedale Heights, people were able to see the benefits of sketching…as it forces you to note the littlest details of plants, which helps you identify varieties (A good thing if you’re lost in the woods or you happen to be walking about in the city, and see a tasty snack like mulberries or Saskatoon berries or wood sorrel). In addition it shows you how plants are very complex biological organisms with different needs and preferences. Plants are awesome!


This week is our second Growing Up Together teacher workshop organized with FoodShare and Toronto Public Health! The focus will be on season extensions and promises to be a bucket (of wormy!) fun. We are currently at full capacity!

Thanks for reading and I hope you didn’t mind the cheesy garden puns strewn about in this blog entry. It can’t be kelp-ed (wah wah wah!).

Are you ready for March (or mulch)? Am I ready for March?!?!?!?!

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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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We are quite pleased to receive a mention from our friends at TDSB‘s EcoSchools  in their April Newsletter issue:

Green Thumbs Growing Kids (GTGK)
EcoSchools Section 3: Questions 3.3, 3.6

This small and incredibly talented group of gardener-educators should be on everybody’s radar! Through extensive long-term engagement with Rose Avenue and Winchester PS, Sunday Harrison and her staff have been planting ‘seeds’ of inspiration and practical skills as students take their knowledge of and passion for the living world with them through life. Check out their newsletter to learn about their spring program (available in English and French) at www.kidsgrowing.ca.

To learn whether there might be opportunities for your school to get GTGK’s help, send an email to info@kidsgrowing.ca.


Go read the rest of the newsletter by clicking here.

Thank you EcoSchools for the props!

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