Tag Archives: School gardens

Winter garden

IMG_1071I haven’t posted lately here but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing a lot of thinking about kids and food-related subjects. I think of this blog as hibernating right now—something like the winter garden. You can’t see all the activity down below beneath the snow and muck, but it’s happening all the same.

You can follow me on Twitter for news and quick hits about kids and food (plus many other things) @AndreaPCurtis.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School gardens, What's for Lunch?

More than just food

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 11.19.43 AMWe wound down a productive summer in the school garden a few weeks back with a Harvest Potluck and celebration that included fun activities like making the scarecrow above, potato and apple prints, mulching the trees and a scavenger hunt. We’d hoped to eat outside beside our still growing vegetable patch, but threat of rain had us setting up in the school gym at tables we’d dressed with kraft paper and white tablecloths, gourds and crayons.

To add to the incredible spread of goodies provided by families (plus corn and cider purchased by the school), our outstanding French/library teacher and garden advocate worked with kids in class to make roasted carrots, kale salad, beet hummus and “smashed” potatoes using garden veggies (with a little help from the farmers’ market!). We’d planned for about 100 people to turn out, and were shocked and thrilled when some 400 people from our school community filled the gym and hallways. There was some minor panic about long lines for the food and not enough seating but nothing a few hastily erected tables and a tray of warm cider and beet hummus offered to those in line didn’t resolve.

The highlight of the evening for me was when the kids brought down the house with a song about the garden they’d been practising all week long with that same French teacher. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only adult in the crowd dabbing at my eyes. The song and the entire evening showed all of us how the garden has become such an essential part of our school community—a place the kids take pride in tending, a place for both learning and celebrating, a place not just for food but for connecting with others.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 11.20.00 AM(Photos by Andrea Curtis)

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Summer in the school garden

Our veggie garden at home has been a disappointment this year. Combine a heat wave with vacation, sparse planting and greater attention to keeping cats away than planning, and we’ve got a sorry state of affairs out there. Luckily, the school garden has fared much better.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 9.50.49 AMWe focused on veggies that reflect the diversity of our school community this year and we’ve had a bumper crop of kolhrabi,

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edamame beans,

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purple cauliflower,Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 9.50.37 AM

and, of course, the usual beans,Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 9.49.48 AMand tomatoes.

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 Lots and lots of tomatoes.

The children at the school also asked for more flowers in their patch. We had to oblige, of course. With sunflowers,

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and some brilliantly coloured nasturiums.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 9.49.38 AMI can’t wait until we tell the kids that those flowers they wanted are also delicious in a salad!

All photos by Andrea Curtis

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Sign of the times

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Give peas a chance

The school garden is planted, and the year nearly done. In our third year of growing an edible veggie patch, we’re really seeing pickup on the part of the kids, parents and teachers in our community. It’s not that they didn’t respond before, but there’s something different about it this year, a feeling that the garden is part of the social, emotional and academic environment—not just the physical one. There are many kids who’ve never known the school without a garden. They feel tremendous ownership of it, reminding each other to be careful, where the peas, basil or radishes are planted, and they come out for our weekly tending and watering “party.”

There are lots of reasons for this change—the main one being the awesome teachers at the school who embed it into their work in the classroom—but one of the things that has also helped is that there are now colourful signs made by the children explaining what’s happening in the patch.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 9.44.07 AM Last year, with the support of teachers and a local artist, they created collage images illustrating garden-specific concepts like A Plant’s Life, Beneficial Insects, Compost and the Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash) Plot we’ve planted. They also researched and wrote up text to accompany their images. With foundation funding, we had weather resistant signs made. Now kids can go with their teachers and discuss the material as part of an outdoor class, or just read the beautiful posters with their parents or friends.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 9.43.42 AM The signs serve to beautify the playground, mark the garden as a place of kid-centred and kid-led learning and emphasize food literacy in the school.

The sign idea was inspired by a school in Oakland California that I posted about a few years ago here. I’d love to hear what you are doing in your school garden to emphasize food literacy or just make it a more fun and inviting place. Comment here and I’ll post about some of the ideas soon.

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Digging away

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 11.26.08 AMThere is something truly magical about planning and planting a garden. Riffling through seed catalogues, talking to other gardeners about plants, hashing it out on paper, even preparing the soil. In those moments, the garden is all beautiful potential.

I think it’s a bit like writing fiction—something I’m also doing right now. Most writers begin with an image or an idea, a character, a voice, a setting, or maybe a plot twist. In your head it is glorious and perfect and you can only imagine that it will be easy to write and astonish others as it has astonished you.

But then, you sit down to write and come up against your own imperfect mind and gifts, exhaustion or inexperience. It never sounds exactly as you imagined before there were words on a page. No matter how good, no matter how surprising, it never exactly captures that initial inspiration. There are lots of people who pack it in, but also many who keep going, digging away, hoping that they might come close to expressing that moment of clarity and insight.

It is the same in the garden. In imagining the vegetables and herbs and flowers I will grow, there are no cats pooping, slugs eating or tomatoes rotting. At the school garden, there are no seedlings torn by little hands, no vandals painting over the signs the children have made, no seeds that fail to emerge from the soil. Spring is a beautiful kind of reverie and I want to linger here in this moment, to revel in pure potential.

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The politics of food: a reading list

bookshelf food politicsIn our house, we devour books about food. Cookbooks, kids’ books, odes to the tomato, the apple, the cow or cod. We’d read poems about tofu if there were such a thing. (Anyone?) But it’s not just because we like to eat—though we do—it’s more because food is connected to so many other things we care about. Things like community, health, the environment and social justice. We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed.

So Nick Saul and I  wrote a list of some of our favourite Canadian books that see food in this integrated way—not just as fuel for the body but a tool for building a more just and sustainable world—and 49th Shelf has it up on their blog.

Some of the books will be familiar to regular readers. I did a week long series with Jeannie Marshall a year ago here.

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Filed under City gardens, Community Food Centre, Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Garden variety politics

The school garden has been put to bed for the winter, and I find myself reflecting on the season past and beginning to think ahead to what we might do differently next year.

Sadly, here in Ontario, where the government has decided to unilaterally end bargaining with the teachers’ unions, and the teachers have responded by withdrawing their involvement in extracurricular activities (one of the only tools they have left to make their displeasure clear), there could very well not be a garden next year.

We’ve worked hard to embed it into the school’s life—supporting teachers to use the garden as a teaching tool, buying curriculum resources, etc. And it’s worked remarkably well. We have a committed and enthusiastic staff team devoted to using it for teaching purposes. In just the past few weeks, the teachers have been using the harvest in their classes, baking kale chips and making a veggie soup that had children literally pushing to the front of the line to get seconds.

But maintaining the patch is the collaborative work of parents, students and teachers, and such collaboration isn’t possible right now. We’re doing what we can while respecting the teacher’s right to withdraw their voluntary labour, but it might very well not be enough. A lot of work has to go into planning and fundraising—not to mention planting and tending—to make the garden thrive, and without parents, kids and teachers working together the whole thing could easily not happen.

It’s devastating to think that all the work we’ve put into this garden, all the momentum we’ve built over the past two years could actually grind to a halt.

I think making food literacy a part of our schools and education system is a key part of how we’re going to reverse the damage of our current food system—the diet-related health issues, the environmental degradation, the fear about food safety and unfair labour practises. Teachers are our most important resource when it comes to making food literacy a part of our children’s school life. We need to urge our provincial government to treat them with the respect they deserve and get back to negotiating in good faith.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Interview with Sweet Potato Chronicles

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Ceri Marsh, one of the smart women behind Sweet Potato Chronicles, a funny, useful and great-looking website devoted to the family meal. SPC offers recipes, product reviews, ideas for how to get your kids eating healthily and one of my favourite regular features: “What’s so great about…?” (sage, bay leaves, coffee, pumpkin, etc.). Ceri asked such good questions, I wanted to include a few of them here. For the complete interview, follow the link.

Q: What do you want kids to learn about the world from What’s For Lunch?

A: I hope that children who read (or flip through!) the book will see both their differences and similarities to other kids around the world. I hope they’ll recognize the way that food connects us all. I also hope they’ll read about the kids who are taking charge of what they eat at their schools and in their homes—demanding healthy sustainably grown food, asking questions about how it’s produced and by whom—and see that they can also make a difference.

Q: How important is it for kids to have some control/input in their own meals?

A: I’ve been working with our school garden for a few years now and have seen first-hand how kids who weren’t willing to try a new vegetable (or any veg at all!) ended up eating kale pesto simply because they grew the kale themselves. And I love my own son’s enthusiasm about the knobbly little carrots and bitsy peppers we grow in our tiny urban patch. There’s no question when children have an opportunity to grow, cook, prepare or even just get involved in choosing their food, they take more chances and will eat more healthily. But it’s also more than that: when paired with talk about what all this means (to the planet and their own bodies, for instance) they start to see that even in this small way, their personal choices can have a big impact on their world.

Q: Why do you think there is such a strong interest now in what kids eat at school? Is it the Jamie Oliver effect or is there more to it?

A: There’s no question Jamie Oliver has had a huge impact on the school lunch world. But I think that the interest in school lunch is part of a more widespread engagement in food issues. You can’t turn on your computer or open a newspaper without reading about food safety scares, environmental degradation caused by factory farming, escalating food prices, small-scale farmers leaving the land because they can’t make a living, the obesity crisis. People are starting to understand that the industrial system we’ve established over the course of the last few generations is not sustainable. Interest in school lunch and talking about food with children is part of this. If we can teach our children about food and how it’s connected to all these things they care about (their environment, their health, their community and culture) they might actually have a fighting chance of truly changing this system for the better.

Q: How hard or easy is it for parents to get more involved with the issues of food in schools? I just learned my 5 year old is being given chocolate milk for a snack at her Toronto public school. What the heck?

A: It took me a long time to figure out where I fit into my kids’ school as a parent—whether it’s about academic issues, food or volunteering my time. Nobody wants to be that guy when it comes to the teachers, other parents or administrators, marching in and wagging your finger about bake sales or insisting on whole-grain pizza dough on pizza day. But parents are key participants in the school system and we need to be both clear and respectful talking to schools about our expectations, hopes and concerns. Chocolate milk might be okay as a special treat, but serving it to 5 year olds every day doesn’t sound right at all. There was a huge debate about serving chocolate milk in schools in the US last year. Chef Ann Cooper, a key school meal activist otherwise known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, calls it “sugary soda in drag.” I think schools need to think carefully about the mixed messages they send children when they talk about healthy eating in class (the food groups, nutrients, etc.) and then urge them to sell cookie dough or chocolate bars to raise money or offer them processed food or sugary drinks as incentives or snacks.

For more from the Sweet Potato Chronicles interview, click here.

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Kale in kiddie pools and jalapeños in buckets

I’ve spent a lot of time reading kids’ nonfiction over the last few years. Partly because I enjoy it (and so do my boys) and partly for research purposes as I began thinking about writing my first book aimed at children.

Over and over, writer/editor Hadley Dyer’s name came up. Her book, Watch This Space: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces, with illustrator Marc Ngui, is a brilliant look at the importance of public space and how kids can be advocates for it. She’s also written some 13 other books and is executive editor of children’s books at HarperCollins, with authors like Dennis Lee, Kenneth Oppel and Michael Redhill in her stable.

Now, in between her full-time work as an editor, Hadley’s managed to write a new book for young readers, this one about urban agriculture. Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City is a fun and informative trip through the world of growing food in urban areas. From spaceship-shaped greenhouses to aquarium aquaponics, from growing strawberries in old shoes to raising chickens in backyards, the book is full of interesting facts, helpful how-tos (composting, creating a teaching garden) and lots of food for thought.

With a combination of illustrations and photos, bite-size information blocks and longer narrative, it’s a book to dive into again and again.  Hadley manages to strike a easy-going, playful tone but Potatoes on Rooftops is also a call to action for kids to “Join the good food revolution.” In a foreword written by food activists Brian Cook and Barbara Emanuel, they explain: “The decisions we make today will affect the food system in the future and will have long-term consequences for humanity.”

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School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>

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