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Green Thumbs Growing Kids is a finalist in the Group Category of Hometown Heroes, a national celebration of environmental achievement. Thanks Earth Day Canada!

Certificate

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Susan Hay’s Making a Difference segment on Global TV hit all the right notes. http://bit.ly/s7ghjU

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trees

On May 19, 2011, Green Thumbs Growing Kids will sponsor student tree-planting of a variety of species, on three elementary school grounds, to honour International Biodiversity Day’s 2011 Focus on Forests. Students will be planting trees from seed, to ensure biodiversity within the species. Species to be planted include 4 native trees. The project is supported by the Biodiversity Education and Awareness Network (BEAN) and seed was sourced through the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Tree Seed Facility. When the trees are large enough, they will be transplanted into school yards across the GTA.
The goal of the project is to engage students in providing biodiverse native trees to the urban landscape, creating shade and food opportunities on school grounds. Trees include the Redbud, which has gorgeous spring flowers and edible seeds, and the Sugar Maple, source of maple syrup; also White Pine and White Cedar, both excellent species for school grounds that provide habitat for birds and beautiful all-season greenery. Cedar has the added benefit of being rot-resistant and thus used in garden construction – someday, the curving branches of the open-grown cedar trees can be used for garden trellises, fencing and row covers! Each seed is a unique individual, so planting from seed ensures genetic variability and resilience within the species. These four species are among the types of trees most requested by schools.
The tree seeds are stratifying now. But we need your help to get them planted!
Plant a tree for $20For each $20 donation, your name will accompany a tree seedling (your choice of species) into the school ground nursery! All donors will be listed on the program for the day. You and the media will be invited to the planting event. DONATE NOW
For donations of $1,000 or more, you’ll get all of the above, plus your name will accompany the tree to its new, permanent home in future years.
Proceeds raised will support Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ programs and services to inner city kids. And every donation qualifies for a charitable tax receipt. Truly a gift that will keep on giving.


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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!

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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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An Illustrated Guide to Growing Food on Your Balcony

Our favourite Lara has made this fabulous Illustrated Guide to Growing Food On Your Balcony. A super resource for those of us that do not have backyard gardens.  Especially valuable when you think about most of the gardening books out there.

Lara has had 8 years of growing experience on balconies, particularly in the neighbourhood of St. James Town, which is renown for its high-rises!

Only a few hundred copies have been printed so far. But with your help, Lara(and her supporters and balcony growing advocates) hopes to be able to print more copies of this timely resource for the upcoming spring season to disperse to other educators, community gardeners and those that are interested in growing food on their balcony! I am lucky to have my own copy and look forward to additional information she will be including on soil and how to grow food without a garden!

Overdue: posts about the CASSA conference, Growing A Greener Future from Field to Table conference, Seedy Sunday and updates about our programs!

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seed saving in the winter

Seed saving at Winchester P.S. during garden club

Greetings y’all!

Ah yes, the first notable snowfall in Toronto befall the city last week (and more was dumped yesterday!). Thankfully, we have put hoop houses on many of our garden beds at all of the schools, to extend the life of some of the greens.

One might think that garden programming ends when it gets cold outside, but not true at all! In fact, not only are children able to extend the growing season with aforementioned hoop houses, made out of hula hoops, recycled telephone wire, thick clear plastic and office clips, but also seed more leafy greens, collect seeds for next spring, and continue composting.

Winter composting at school food garden

The neat thing about composting in the winter, is that if it stays active (i.e. hot!) with food waste from the school cafeteria, it releases a lot of steam which always amazes the children and keeps our worm friends warm and toasty in their squirms — that is what we call a cluster of worms that form a ball. And better yet, we will have beautiful fresh compost ready in early spring!

hoop houses on earthblock beds

Rose Ave. P.S. earth blocks

Petit Allan Gardens

École Gabrielle-Roy

On another note what makes the three new earth block beds (from our favourite sustainable builder andl farmer friend Henry from Fifth Wind) at Rose Avenue P.S.  especially delightful, apart from the fact that they will be able to support more sun-loving plants next year, is that they have taken over the space where there used to be a parking lot. Food plants 1, Automobiles 0.

As such, the gardens  remain a wonder in the winter. Children love peeking underneath the hoop houses to see if the seedlings have grown since the last time they checked and they love to crawl & hide behind bushes, and look around and see what life might still thrive under these cold conditions amongst the trees, shrubs, rocks and frozen plants. And we are also grateful for the volunteers who’ve been able to come out to help in outdoor programs!

Oh! I almost forgot to post the link to a video that Mehrdad, one of our 2010 OISE teacher candidates, made over the spring and summer. This video of School Food Gardens in East downtown Toronto shows how school food gardens addresses various food security issues. Please go to our YouTube link here. And maybe the video will warm you up a bit, putting you in that spring time/summer frame of mind. Although it is a beautiful winter day if you ask me!

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School garden produce

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….

a festival of vegetable colours


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