Archive for the ‘food’ Category


Five-year-olds don’t always want to eat their vegetables. But when they’ve spent time exploring a schoolyard garden and picking their own, eating vegetables is suddenly exciting. Call it a “Salad Celebration,” and orders for a “double-double black magic kale” start rolling in.


More than 160 children and parents a week enjoyed summer activities hosted by Green Thumbs this year at Winchester and Lord Dufferin Public Schools. Celebrating local food in our downtown eastside community meant trying new textures and flavours as part of learning how to identify edible plants and understand what makes them healthy for us. “I am a carrot,” said one 6-year-old, when told that he is what he eats. “I can always find this type of root in my fridge!”

Ecosystem learning


Healthy food grows best in a healthy ecosystem, where biodiversity can thrive. Investigating worms and insects and how they build their homes in the Green Thumbs gardens was another popular summer activity. “I am certain that we are growing little green thumbs and a healthy community that appreciates the local environment,” said Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. “I believe we are raising the next generation to solve environmental problems.”


“I hope we can do the same program again next year,” one teacher wrote following a day in the garden. But one  child said it best: “I would like to stay with Green Thumbs forever!”

Green Thumbs is deeply grateful to our 2014-2015 Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. As a Master of Science in Botany and Zoology with 10+ years of experience working with students of all ages and learning styles, Ms. Prots brought a respectful and empathetic teaching style and broad-based knowledge of environmental issues relating to soil, plants, animals, and insects to our garden and greenhouse programs. Experienced in both curriculum design and delivery for large and small groups, she is particularly gifted in using garden-and-art-based learning to open windows for students with special needs, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Ivanna Prots is off on new adventures, and we wish her the very best!

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In June, our co-op students Prushodhj Niranjan and Pantha Azmee finished up at GTGK. They were superstars! And we will miss them.

Prushodhj and Pantha, both students in the Environmental Specialist High Skills Majors program at (school name), diligently took on a variety of tasks: leading workshops and teaching young children about vermicomposting, rebalancing and managing multiple composting sites; setting up and taking a leadership role in children’s and youth garden programs; garden maintenance—building beds, repairing a composter, planting, watering and caring for seedlings, and conditioning strawbales for an experimental garden bed. They really did it all, which is what they liked best about the co-op placement. (They said besides themselves only one other student in their class liked their coop placement and felt like they were getting something out of it–they looked at me and said happily, “we do something different all the time.”)

When Prushodhj and Pantha first came to GTGK, the school compost bins were suffering a lack of attention – we left our partner schools alone with the task and learned that they were not ready for that. The composts were all, to varying degrees, suffering from lack of turning, lack of proper browns, excesses of plastic and well, they stank, which a well-managed pile should not. Without complaint, Proshudhj and Pantha took on the compost project. They did independent research to find out the science of compost and then visited FoodShare for some instruction in mid-scale systems with Master Composter Mike Nevin. Back at Green Thumbs, they built up some muscles shoveling out the mass from the bins, and expertly shifted the balance to make healthy nutrient-rich humus by adding a combination of leaves, mulch, woodchips and wood shavings at three different sites. Then they turned the compost weekly. Now, all three sites are heating up and smelling earthy–they had become alchemists, turning food waste into gardener’s gold. Through it all, they learned not only about composting, but how to succeed in solving problems, and how to work with other youth and children, sharing their passion for the environment.

Huge gratitude to them, and all the best in whatever they pursue!

– Leslie


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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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Do you feel that?

It’s the cool fall breeze rustling your hair.

Do you hear that?

That’s the sound of children’s voices gleefully picking vegetables from their school garden carrying over: eating beans, tomatoes, sorrel, chives and what have you straight out of the garden.

school vegetable bounty

Last week at Winchester, Gabrielle Roy and Sprucecourt children picked a large bounty of vegetables that went into the schools’ lunch and morning snack programs, as well the fresh and immediate consumption! Tomatoes for everyone! Globular and pear shaped, small and big, stripey, red, orange, yellow, peachy toned tomatoes.

We also transplanted lettuce seedlings with one class, which the teacher turned into a procedural writing activity for grade 3 students in the classroom (uh oh, Jan Wong, literacy in the garden? What?).

Other highlights:

Girl’s hair gets tangled in sorrel plant while picking tomatoes. Said student called me over wanting me to see. The perils of gardening. “Dangerous”. We were equally amused.
hair gets tangled in sorrel plant seeds when picking tomatoes in the garden.

Joyce at Sprucecourt is a very keen student nutrition co-ordinator and was pleased to accept the garden bounty. Apparently she made potato salad and incorporated the mint (the potatoes at that particular garden are not quite ready for harvesting). She is open to using vegetables she’s never tried before and is looking to make something with the amaranth (aka callaloo, red spinach, lal shaag!), a popular green in many cuisines, the world over!

fresh veg in sprucecourt school kitchen.

Transplanting lettuce babies at Sprucecourt.
transplanting lettuce.

I also caught some “keen” (read sneaky) students picking beans after school.

And all this time I thought it was squirrels!

bean climb picking.

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Happy 10th anniversary Winchester School Garden!

We are proud and elated to announce that it is the 10th year anniversary of Winchester P.S. Community Garden! Come celebrate with us on Saturday, September 24th from 1pm to 4 pm.

Details  (and more to follow!) listed on the poster.

GTGK 10th year Garden Party!

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how much does that squash weigh?
Food is something that is important to our well being as a necessity of life but is often not paid attention to.  I was born and raised in the city of Toronto and grew up thinking I knew everything about food and where it came from.  Little did I know that people around me and myself barely scraped the tip of the iceberg.

Growing up as a kid I had to be cautious around food due to my sensitivities and allergies.  It didn’t help that my mom would make sure I didn’t eat foods I haven’t eaten before which can be a potential allergen.  As I hit my teenage years I started to explore other foods with the support of my sister who motivated me to try new foods and to not limit myself.  With the benefits of exploring new foods there was consequences that came with it and it ended up in me lying in a stretcher while paramedics hoisted me up into their ambulance van.

During my senior years in high school I experienced a wake up call at the dentists office where I received 6 fillings in my top front row.  This is where I chose to cut out most of the foods I was eating like chocolate, candy, chips and soda.

Over a period of two and a half years, I’ve made a huge transformation in the foods I eat to assist my healthy lifestyle.  All I wanted 2 years ago was to feel better about myself, improve my asthma and find alternatives to my allergies so I didn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.  With these goals, I’ve come a long way with doing my own research and purchasing whole foods and snacks without preservatives and additives.  The only problem I have now is the fact that I am limited on finding healthy food that is safe for me and is sustainable.

Also the opportunity last year to work with Green Thumbs and Youth Voices helped me be more aware of food security issues in St. James Town and fresh local food at farmers markets.  Now I enjoy walking into health food stores and organic markets because I feel like I am not only doing a favor for my body with high quality food but I’m also doing a favor for the environment.  Another thing people don’t realize is that by investing in high quality food now, we can limit the medical expenses in the future.

In the present, I have made a huge impact on what my parents purchase and bring home.  With my knowledge I have been able to educate them about certain nutrient dense foods and proper food preparation.  Now I find my mom buying organic carrots and organic spinach and cooking with nothing but extra virgin coconut oil.  Even though my parents don’t agree with everything I tell them I’m glad they support me in my future endeavors.  With all this previous experience, I’m excited to attend Ryerson University for Nutrition and Food in the fall to really learn in depth.  I’ve always had a stomach for good food and a thirst for knowledge.

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