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Archive for the ‘urban agriculture’ Category

Reflecting on yield, by Chimu Titi, Urban Roots Youth Program Leader

Gardeners think a lot about yield, what is it?  Quantity?  The quality? What we learned? What we shared?  As summer retreats and fall approaches we recall what went right and what went pear shaped.  We have numbers.  Over 20 lbs of fresh organic produce harvested per week and enjoyed in Urban Roots Culinary programs as well as sold at the Green Thumbs Growing Kids table by youth volunteers.  This does not include the produce harvested daily by community members.  We sold over 70 lbs of fresh organic produce at the weekly Regent Park Farmers Market.  Produce was also harvested by families during our Family Drop Ins.

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But wait, there is more!!  Yes, our gardens were fruitful, we sowed, watered, tended and harvested.  Who are we?  The youth in our Urban Roots Youth Program began with, as we often find, the gregarious with the quiet, the boisterous with the contemplative and we grew together.  One of our youth never spoke. He was always present never speaking but could always be relied upon to dig in and get to work.  Our goal in the garden was never to push him to speak more and be loud as some of us naturally are.  Rather, appreciating that his consistent participation spoke volumes.  On the hottest day of the summer when his fellow youth packed it in due to the heat, he remained, silently planting rows upon rows of Lal Shak.   Later in the season community members harvested all the Lal Shak and I am certain it was enjoyed, just maybe not silently.

The garden is a space for everyone and our youth are discovering that everyone can grow in their talent in the garden.  Artists can be artists, and science-oriented youth grow in their discipline learning how to directly apply their knowledge to challenges of soil quality, nutrient cycling and water management.  Our builders use their talents to construct new beds while introducing those who have never held a drill before to the world of power tools, all in the name of building a new bed to grow organic produce with high yields.  Yield, yes, we are back to that – or we never left it  – what we learned, shared, ate, sold – all “yield”.  In a garden, the land greets the season not barren, but full of possibility.  What we put of ourselves into the land is where the yield begins.

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Youth with intern, building new bed at Sprucecourt PS garden

Youth with intern, building new bed at Sprucecourt PS garden

Cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and eggplants growing in the bed they built

Cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and eggplants growing in the bed they built

As our growing season moves into autumn, garden needs change and allow us to reflect on what the summer yielded for each of us.  What we sowed, what we nourished, what we tended and harvested and what in turn nourished us.  The fresh air, the exercise, the social interactions and of course the delicious food.

Youth learning about hanging gardens at Rose Ave. school-community garden

Youth learning about hanging gardens at Rose Ave. school-community garden

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                            Youth Culinary activity, stuffed raw peppers.

Youth Culinary activity, stuffed raw peppers.

                                                                YUM! 

Our stall at the Regent Park Farmers Market sold out almost every week and by the end of the season we had repeat customers coming to us for their favourite item grown by the youth actually selling it.

Some of what we had on offer this summer.

Some of what we had on offer this summer.

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Young people, many of whom live in apartments and have limited space to grow have found that their ‘limitations’ in terms of space are actually opportunities.  Along the way they learned to grow and love the food that builds them.  Our Peer Mentors, having been in the program previously, help their fellow youth understand garden practices and cycles.

The cycles we observe in the garden continue in our social relationships, together learning about food, nutrition and growing while encouraging each other to offer their own knowledge, whether it is marigold flowers for wounds, or the chocolate scent of a Jerusalem artichoke flower.  The outstanding flavor of Mizuna in stir-frys.  The garden does not allow for one-way flows of information or nutrients.  We share, cycle, build and grow together. This does not stop in the garden; the youth take these lessons home, to school and to their community.

Chimu Titi, Urban Roots Youth Program Leader

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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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On Aug. 18, seven participants in the Urban Agriculture Summit, hailing from as far away as Oregon, attended a Green Thumbs Growing Kids garden build. We used Compressed Earth Blocks, made by Henry Weirsma of Fifth Wind Farms. Here’s the location – it’s like a small town of 20,000 people, in 10 city blocks full of highrises. The site will be shaded by a building to the south for 3 hours  in midday – actually could end up helping to conserve water.

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Henry showed up with about 100 Earth Blocks. His farm is a little over an hour away in Cobourg Ontario. He makes the blocks from his local clay, and adds 5-8% cement. The blocks are 1/10 of the carbon footprint of a cement block. They contain far less cement and are air-dried rather than kiln-dried. While they won’t last as long as cement blocks, they are comparable to wood for longevity, and using them thus leaves more trees alive and breathing. By growing more food and composting food waste close to home, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Further reductions are obtained by organic practices that do not use fossil fuels for fertilizer. Each bed this size will reduce GHGe by between 1.13 and 1.38T.

Here’s the crew making sure the bed will be 1m away from the fence for kid safety, levelling the ground for the first course.

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And the Earth Blocks look sharp, too. After the bed is built, we will coat the blocks with a low-VOC sealer and then let kids paint on the exterior. Raised beds warm up faster in spring and cool down slower in fall, adding length to the growing season. The thermal mass of the blocks moderates temperatures and protects the plants from extremes. You can add a plastic row cover under which Bloomsdale spinach will grow all winter.

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Henry (left) and Brad, a workshop participant.

The first course takes the longest.

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After the first course is laid all nice and square and levelled up with sand, the work goes pretty fast. We used a low-VOC adhesive between courses and between block sides. Four courses are planned. The build takes a little less than 4 hours, including introductions and lots of chatting.

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Here’s Marie laying in the last block.

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Here’s the finished bed. The dimensions are about 4′ x 9′, which is not too wide for little people to reach into the middle. The length is not so long that kids are tempted to jump onto the bed to get to the other side. It will happen, for sure – but less of the time. A few little chunks of Earth Block came off during the build – but each block is 4″ deep and 7″ wide so it doesn’t matter too much. Extra blocks are piled inside the bed, hoping they don’t wander too far before we get another delivery and build the next bed with students!

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Finally, here’s the group, with me on the left – not pictured are Joe (taking the shot) and Anita (staff – cleaning up!) I barely broke a sweat with all the help. It was a great day, and Rose Ave. PS kids are going to be excited to continue building this new garden area. For all the photos, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/46538862@N03/

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earth block building

Students building an earth block garden bed

Want to know how to build a garden bed with children on a school ground? Come join our Urban Agriculture Summit workshop, Saturday August 18 from 1-5 pm. This is a hands-on workshop you’ll leave with new skills and curriculum links for doing your own build. The Earth Blocks are an environmentally friendly material, and the raised beds help to extend the growing season as well as reduce compaction and allow children to garden more easily.

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Urban Roots Youth program starting March 21, 2012. Register now! Send email to urbanrootsyouth@kidsgrowing.ca, or call 647-348-5437.

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Job Posting – Urban Gardening Program Leader, Urban Roots Youth Program
Part-time contract, March 19 to June 29: 20 hours/week; July 3-Aug. 24: 24 hours/week
Wage: Hourly $18.50, contract position.
Reports to Program Director/Volunteer Co-ordinator, Green Thumbs Growing Kids
Green Thumbs Growing Kids works with children, youth and their families to learn about, grow and prepare fresh foods, cultivated in an environmentally sustainable manner, in hands-on programs. We are excited to offer our Urban Roots Youth training and employment program for the second year. The programs take place after school from March through June and during the day in July and August. The successful candidate will have experience working with youth and a working knowledge of greenhouse and garden tasks related to food production.
Schedule: Hours of work will vary, but generally the expectation will be that the Program Leader works one eight-hour day and two six-hour days in spring, and three eight-hour days in summer.
Description of Duties:
 Manage greenhouse and garden-based programs with 12 youth aged 15-29
 Supervise and train volunteers to help run programs
 Promote the Urban Roots Youth program in the community
 Develop, test and refine curriculum relating to food systems, horticulture, urban agriculture, food justice, culturally relevant foods, and food security
 Work with partners to ensure program spaces are full
 Evaluate program with youth participants
 Evaluate and help to hire youth for summer job positions
 Supervise 4 youth during summer

Skills and qualifications:
 Must have a proven track record in supervising and engaging youth
 Must have working knowledge of composting, vermicomposting, greenhouse management, garden or farm experience
 Must have good written and verbal communication skills and a positive attitude
 Must have experience running youth programs
 Must be willing to submit to a criminal reference check for working with vulnerable persons
 Must be able to work with minimal supervision
 Knowledge of current issues in food security, food justice, urban agriculture, nutrition and environmental/sustainability education an asset
 Curriculum development experience an asset
 French language an asset
Green Thumbs Growing Kids is an equal opportunity employer and members of equity-seeking groups are especially encouraged to apply. Only candidates who are short-listed for an interview will be contacted. No phone calls please. Deadline for application: Friday, March 2, 5 pm. Send cover letter and resume to jobs (at) kidsgrowing.ca.

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