Green Thumbs Growing Kids is a finalist in the Group Category of Hometown Heroes, a national celebration of environmental achievement. Thanks Earth Day Canada!
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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…
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?!?!?!?!
Rebecca Jones wrote this great article in Education News Colarado on how introducing healthier school menus is not enough in getting children to eat more healthily and nutritiously. Researchers at the Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley found that implementing school food gardens and cooking, and other participatory food related activities, with healthy menu choices in the cafeteria increased children’s intake of healthier fare —- they had a growing appreciation for fresh vegetables and fruit in and out of school! (see the bottom of this post to read the entirety of this article! Or go to the direct link)
I am not surprised. Last week I went to the Cross-Country Kitchen Table Talks at the University of Toronto, put on by the People’s Food Policy Project (Colleen Ross, organic farmer, board member of the National Farmers Union, and farm advocate extraordinaire, was a guest speaker at this event and spoke about the challenges facing farmers in Canada and the vulnerability of our food system.). People across Canada are being encouraged to get together to discuss ideas related to food & public policy development. Discourses at this event were facilitated by Lauren Baker‘s students taking her food systems course at U of T and framed by the Discussion Papers developed by the PFPP. I participated in the conversations about ‘Access to Food In Urban Communities’ and ‘Health and Food’. It was interesting to say the least!
At the ‘Health and Food’ table, one woman was arguing for policies banning junk food in schools, policies forcing restaurants to display the nutritional and caloric value of their menu on their windows, and strict advertising regulations!
I spoke up. I think she might have thought I was disagreeing with her — which wasn’t the case — I just wanted to add to the discourse. I said that developing and reinforcing a positive food culture, school food gardens being one means to do so, was possibly more conducive into getting people to make healthier food choices, in a non-finger wagging way.
I wanted to point out that having prohibitive regulations wouldn’t necessarily change people’s behaviour — we have plenty of information on what is healthy and what isn’t, but my point was that knowing you needed “500 grams of xxx per day” would not necessarily influence people to take such action. People know that smoking is bad and causes cancer, but that does not stop people from smoking! Not to say knowing how many calories a bag of chips contains isn’t effective on some level (well I still eat them! In moderation. Sometimes. Chip fiend for life!). I just prefer to take a more pro-active and positive approach when it comes to food.
The joy and sensory experience of growing your own food and getting to harvest and eat it fresh is invaluable, I can’t say that enough! Gobbling handfuls of tomatoes and nibbling on lettuce leaves and kale becomes a naturally learned behaviour when you have a garden in your school and it becomes embedded in the school’s culture, and the minds of children, often trickling into their homes, and the community!
Needless to say it will be interesting to follow the People’s Food Policy Project, and see what the advocacy end outcome will be….