Summer Sets, Autumn Rises: Summer Re Cap and Back to School Reconnection

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Summer Cooking Camps, Garden Work Bees, Campers, Volunteers, Seed and Good Times

There has been a ton to reflect on in the last two months. It was the first time Sprouting Chefs was back in the gardens cooking with kids in the summer since 2010 and to be honest, I was a mix of excited and scared which are both the same feeling funny enough. Excited to be fulfilling the part of our program that answers the question of “what to do in the summer with school gardens” and scared a bit wondering if I could pull it off again.

All worthy thoughts looking back now. The camps filled up nicely with an age range of children from 7 years old to 13 years old in scattered weeks through the summer. We had access to use the Community Room at Lochdale Community School which had a lovely school garden I had planted out in the Spring of 2016 with the school. I was familiar with the space and a few of the kids too.

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A few goals of the Summer Cooking Camp: to harvest and cook with the food growing in the school garden, to highlight local seasonal ingredients available in BC, to teach at least 10 basic recipes to children that they can then use at home with their families, to instill a sense of confidence and empowerment within each child.

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From Asian Salad Rolls, Roasted Chicken (as seen in the photo above!), Pastas, Salads, Wraps and Infused Waters, we did it all plus a few more depending on the group. Also new this year was taking the groups to Whole Food to learn how to shop on a budget. The older group, 10 to 13 yr olds, learned how to either work together in groups or shop individually with only $5 each to then create a recipe when they returned to camp. It was awesome to see the final creations which included: Tomato Lentil Soup, A Crostinni Hors D’Ouerve with Chicken Sausage, Avacado and Cheese, French Toast, and a Fruit Crisp too. It was great to have a handful of new volunteers and a couple of fabulous staff to help me manage the various degrees of organized chaos. Chase Ando and Valerie Song from AVA Gardens brought in their enthusasim, energy and passion for food during the week with the older kids. We all had a blast!

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In between all the camps, Sprouting Chefs was also funded to oversee and maintain the Forest Grove School Garden during the summer.

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Bursting with life at every turn, Garden Work Bees ranged in activities from watering, harvesting both crops and seeds, planting out more crops, composting and weeding.

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Families from the school’s Garden Club, Forest Grove Alumni and a handful of volunteers from BDO, a new corporate sponsor all came out throughout the summer. Many folks ask how to care for a school garden during the summer and what has been working really well for a handful of schools Sprouting Chefs oversees is a simple volunteer schedule that gets created just before school ends. Parents from the Garden Clubs are asked to sign up for a week to water and care for the garden. In the end, only about 9 families are needed and the families feel really good about caring for the garden and helping their community.

What is needed to maintain a school garden in the summer: access to a hose and water source, someone coordinating the transition between the families usually via email, and a strong knowledge of what each garden space needs. Some of the Forest Grove Families took on more than 1 week, their dedication and commitment to the garden was that strong.

Always in the back of my mind as the summer days passed was the fact the kids in the school would be back soon and to make sure there was something for them to discover and admire about what they had planted in the spring.

Garlic was harvested in July and cured for the Fall Cooking Classes, the Labyrinth was redefined as the grass had grown in and the front garden area was thoroughly watered and weeded all ready for the kids to enjoy again.

When it comes to fall and preparing for the new school year in the garden, the biggest crop and excitement is around our tomatillos. For the past few years now, the kids at Forest Grove have been learning about preserving and then selling Roasted Tomatillo Salsa at the school’s Christmas Craft Fair. Out of the sales and interest, the students then estimate how many more new crops to plant for the following year.

Sadly, the Christmas Craft Fair is not going ahead this year so Garden Club will be creating the salsa to sell to the community  in another way; either via the Burnaby Farmer’s Market or at the upcoming Fall Community Event we are creating with the school.

The Fall Community Event will be a set of 6 in school Cooking Classes with the Intermediate students ending with a celebration where the school community and a few local community groups will come together for a lunch. Another exciting and new adventure for Sprouting Chefs as a pilot project that may become an event other schools can also create with our help.

 

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2014 Summer Reflections – A Mixed Bag of Seeds

Today is September 22, the first day back to school for kids in BC and almost the first day of Fall 2014. Naturally, I am inspired to reflect back on these past few months of growing, planting seeds and harvesting an abundance of growth at the school garden at Forest Grove Elementary here in North Burnaby, BC.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the education system in BC, have a quick glance here at a rundown of what has transpired over the past few years coming to a head these past few months. There are several sides to this story so please, if you do want more info, there are several links to read online. This is just one via the Vancouver Sun.

School officially ended for us on June 13, 2014, although at the time on the day, none of us knew for sure that this would in fact be our last day at the school. As such, there was a huge range of emotions; from hopeful that things would work out and we would be back for Sport’s Day events, end of year assemblies and Grade 7 graduation ceremonies to the extreme of cleaning everything out of classrooms and saying final goodbyes. Without knowing for sure, most of us just hoped for the best despite a huge amount of uncertainty.

June 13 for me was crazy busy. I had 2 cooking classes during the day, hosted a visit from Edible Vancouver Magazine to witness our potato harvest with a Grade 5/6 class and also hosted an end of year (as I was pretty sure it was the end of the year) celebration with the Garden Club where one of our main funders was paying us a visit.

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Thank goodness for the Labyrinth!

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Walking the Labyrinth one last time at the end of the school year did wonders for me; I could ground myself after a hectic day, remind myself what truly was important and enter the paths with a deep sense of gratitude as I led my Garden Club Members through the winding paths to do the same. Our visitor from the McGrane Pearson Foundation was impressed to say the least as he left with his bag of harvested greens from the garden.

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Without knowing for sure when we would be back, I was grateful for at least knowing there would be funding coming in for me to take care of the garden over the summer as well as a couple cooking classes with the summer program hosted at the school via The Grove Childcare Society via the grant we received via Metropolis at Metrotown.

It was a quiet summer of Work Bees mostly attended by my own two reluctant children and a handful of other families popping by throughout the summer. Yes, my own two children now are finding it difficult to go to the garden “again!” as their Mumma brings them more than they would like. Thankfully, they do still help water, plant seeds and are also given the camera to take photos as a way to keep them entertained.

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It’s always a magical time in the summer watching plants growing from seed to sprout to seedling to full on fruit bearing plant. I marveled at the corn plants that started out from an Orville Reddenbocker (yes, the K’s grew popcorn!) container in the K classroom that have now grown ears of corn. The sunflowers that always bring smiles to everyone who sees them, tower a good 15 feet above everything also reminded me of our smallest students who earlier in April planted them. I tried to take as many photos as I could of these beauties not knowing if and when the little ones would see them again but luckily there are still a few in bloom today as the kids headed back to school. It’s always the goal for school gardens that we instill a sense of appreciation for growing food from seed. Having the most exciting time of growth happen when students are not around is always a question schools face of whether or not they grow anything in the summer.

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The goal at Forest Grove was to plant out and tend for as many fruits and veggies as possible so that there was a crop to harvest for this Fall’s Cooking Classes that are set to start in October. So naturally, we did have a crop and garden to tend to in the summer. I believe we achieved this goal as the pumpkins, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash are all almost ready to harvest. Our beloved tomatoes sadly caught the blight but luckily I managed to save two ziploc bagfuls of ripe ones that have been frozen ready to cook with the kids. We also had our first crop of rainbow carrots and planted a succession of radishes which several of our students in the summer program really enjoyed.

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The most excited new crop we have growing still are the tomatillios. I point these out to all the kids visiting the garden as they are a fascinating plant that are also quite delicate as they look like paper lanterns. Little fingers have been trying to squish them too which then kills the fruit trying to grow inside. Perfect opportunity to teach both patience, kindness, and being gentle. We’ll be harvesting these as they ripen to eventually create a “canning” session with my older Garden Club students to transform them into salsa verde to later sell at the Christmas Craft Fair. Our principal is excited about this opportunity to teach the valuable lessons of seed to plate to market!

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Swiss chard and kale have been really abundant this season with a whole separate side crop of chard that has leaves grown the size of some of the small preschoolers. I encourage families to take as much as they like home to cook up the same way as bok choi (sauteed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper finished with some stock or water) served on the side as greens for dinner. The possibility of this crop growing over winter is very good as it has grown and survived before in the past couple of years.

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So with the official day of Fall 2014 starting tomorrow along side of the first day the kids are back for a full day of school I am hopeful for many “Seeds of Intentions” to flourish:

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  • To have a good crop of Garden Club Members with open minds and open hearts who are willing to connect to nature, themselves and each other
  • To cook some amazing new recipes with the 12 Divisions at Forest Grove Elementary using as many ingredients as possible from the school garden
  • To expand the Sprouting Chefs programs to other interested schools throughout the Lower Mainland of BC
  • To inspire other willing, open minded, open hearted individuals to join me on my journey to plant seeds of various virtues from love to forgiveness, courage to kindness with children through planting school gardens and cooking what we grow

Kids who grow kale, EAT Kale!

Kale in the rain. Our Kale grew to a huge 6 or 8 feet this year after being planted last spring. Kale also oddly enough, represented the virtue of “forgiveness”. The Gr. 6 class last year tried growing it in their classroom only to mostly neglect their seedlings by not watering them. Instead of judging or condemning them for neglecting the plants, I simply handed out more seeds to sprinkle right into the garden. This worked wonderfully. The kale grew over the year and there was even kale buds/sprouts which we discovered were DELICIOUS!

Kids who grow kale, Eat kale! Kale chips, kale spanakopita, kale buds/sprouts, kale salad…

Lessons Learned – Spring Seed Classes

Seed Classes – Lessons Learned

Of all the lessons we learned this year at Forest Grove Elementary’s Garden Program, the big one was that direct sowing, planting right into the garden, yielded an amazing harvest. Bringing kids outside to use the garden as it was intended, as an outdoor classroom, even in the rain, was a real hands on and hands in the ground experience.

The kids were able to see what was already “growing on” in the garden. An orientation of what was what in all the areas and space in the garden was included in the class.Even though it was raining on most of the days, this allowed an opportunity to speak about various natural weather meters nature provides. A hill that faces the garden and all the kids have to climb up to get to the playground and garden via 2 different staircases also was home to a huge crop of growing dandelions.

I know, most of us gardeners view dandelions as weed or foodies view them as potential food. I took the lower road and saw an opportunity to show the kids that dandelions do many things. One of the cool things about dandelions is the fact they are natural weather meters. When the buds are closed, that is a sign that it is either raining or rain is on it’s way.

Sofija, a Gr. 1 student in the Mandarin Program at our school, had a brilliant connection. She stated to me: “I know why they close! Because if the petals were open, then the rain couldn’t get down into the roots!” And when I asked her why that was important she said: “because the roots is how the plant drinks in the water!” What other opportunity would she have to show her brilliance I wondered…

Shovels are a favourite of most kids. We have kids that love to use their hands and some that prefer to use a shovel. Puddles were my natural cleaning area to scrub them off after each class. Thank you rain!