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Archive for the ‘health’ Category

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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.

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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

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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.”

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“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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Honey Pot Herbals - New Cross-Promotion with GTGK

Check out this amazing online small business making beautiful personal care products with fine imported and native ingredients. We love Joanne’s soaps and lotions: we tried the Patchouli-Orange Soap and the Sweetgrass Lotion – can’t get enough! Next year, we’ll grow some herbs for Joanne (she got a chuckle out of getting urban surplus to her country home). And if you use the coupon code GTGK1234 when you buy online, we get 5% of the sale! Thanks to Registered Herbalist Joanne Kewageshig for including us in her business! Read more on our website here.

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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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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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Greetings everyone – my name is Meghan and I’m an intern student from the Masters of Health Science in Nutrition Communication program at Ryerson University (whew, that’s a mouthful!). I’ve been asked to write a blog entry from the perspective of someone who focuses on the vital role that GTGK plays in child (or anybody’s!) nutrition. I’m really excited to be sharing this with you today!

I have to be honest that I’ve encountered a few looks of confusion when I mention where I’m doing my practicum placement. “Gardening? Really? But what does gardening have to do with nutrition?” has been the prevailing response from friends and family. In short, the answer to this question is, in fact, “Quite a lot!” The obvious connection between gardening and nutrition is the involvement of food. While my expertise lies predominantly in the consumption of food, I have come to GTGK with an interest in learning about what happens to food before we even consider eating it. In a society where we rely on the grocery store rather than the garden for the provision of our food, our connection to what we eat is being lost. In the minds of many, nutrition begins when we purchase our food and ends when we put our forks down. In actuality, nutrition needs to be viewed as a cycle that is beyond putting food in our mouths; it’s a cycle that starts with growing a seed and includes the subsequent cultivation, consumption, and sustainable disposal of the remainders through composting.

I should probably also acknowledge the other, less-than-flattering reaction I get when I tell people about my internship. “But Meghan,” my friends gently inquire, “You don’t have any idea how to garden, do you?” This, I must admit, is the unfortunate truth. When I was about six years old, my mother helped me to plant a small garden in my backyard that contained green beans and cherry tomatoes. This was last time I can remember doing any sort of gardening. Among my peers, this is not uncommon. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of my friends who would describe their gardening experience as anything beyond minimal. This is where an obvious gap lies between children of today and those of previous (healthier?) generations. This, I believe, is where Green Thumbs Growing Kids has the incredible potential to bring gardening back to the life of a child and thereby influence nutritional preferences, choices, and eventual consumption. My six-year-old self ate green beans and cherry tomatoes at every opportunity during that summer I was responsible for my small plot of land that contained them. Today, these vegetables remain some of my very favourites. Coincidence? I think not.

The key here is both exposure and the creation of a connection between a child and the food that they eat. Scientific studies support this, too: providing repeated opportunities to try a variety of fruits and vegetables almost always results in children with a palate for these foods that we assume they don’t like. Most convincing is what I’ve seen in so far during my placement. Students entering the garden will (literally) run to their favourite plants to get a taste. They will often share these favourites with their friends and will curiously investigate other plants in hopes they might find something good to eat. These are the best kinds of observations for someone planning a career in nutrition; in class we often learn about the deteriorating health of today’s society due to poor nutrition, particularly in child populations. Being in the garden, however, allows me to see that we really do have the ability to teach kids about natural, nutritious foods. Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ vision for “a garden in every school” is a very real solution.

Spread the word – together, we can make this happen!

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It’s important to remember the value of trees in our food-producing landscapes. I remember when Ecoschools first started, feeling like sometimes we were in conflict with the idea of planting more trees on school grounds, because we were thinking about the sun and the annual food plants that need 6-8 hours of it to produce. Other folks were thinking about the need for shade, to cool buildings and children. It just doesn’t seem right to have a conflict about this! We need shade AND sun. So the ideas around ecosystems and permaculture start to make sense in this context.

I think about the urban forest garden this way – there’s a canopy way up high (where the squirrels live and can safely get away from the dogs, only to dig up our seedlings another day). This layer produces the cooling and oxygenated air which we so need in Toronto summers.

Then there’s the understory, which supports fruit-bearing shrubs like elderberry, serviceberry, raspberry, red currant, and other perennials that do well in school gardens. Lots of small fruit – spreading the love.

Finally, on the sunny side of the trees and shrubs, we’ve got the beautiful black soil enriched by compost (and perhaps a leguminous tree, helping to make nitrogen available for the other plants!) in which we grow our sun-loving annuals.

What trees do we want? Well, permaculture ideas tell us that we want maximum yield for minimal input, and more than one benefit associated with each plant or planting. So, Sugar Maple provides shade and sap/syrup in spring. Redbud, (Cercis canadensis) a beautiful native Carolinian species, remains smallish so maybe a good landscape plant for urban areas, but I haven’t seen a lot of it around. Its seeds are edible, and it looks leguminous, so perhaps it is nitrogen-fixing. These are two of the species we’re planting from seed next week, in honour of International Biodiversity Day.

The shrub understory is of great interest to me, and to the birds. It’s a little bit hazardous for the plants to be loved by children, because the shrubs can’t always stand up to that tough love. Elderberry – Sambucus nigra – is not native but it’s way useful. The fruit is loaded with vitamins and anti-oxidants. Last year I made syrup and tincture from the berries, after eating my share fresh out of hand. All winter, whenever I felt a cold coming on, I had either syrup or tincture or both, and never got sick at all. Anyway, it’s an invasive type of plant coming up from the roots, which kind of makes up for the fact that the wood is weak and won’t fight back against kids pulling down the fruiting branches.

I have some extra elderberry cause as I mentioned it is rather invasive… you can let me know if you have a good spot for it and would like to have some. I also have extra seedlings of flowering raspberry, which is a lovely native shrub with a beautiful flower and wildly delicate fruit. The harvest will not make it as far as your kitchen, guaranteed. Let me know at sunday@kidsgrowing.ca if you have a good school garden location for either of these plants.

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Next Friday! If you’re a teacher or educator there are a couple spots left! Please register. Information is on the flyer below.

May 13 GUT flyer - page 1

May 13 GUT flyer - page 2

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