Cooking for the Community at Forest Grove Elementary

One of the main goals of any school garden program is to grow food in a school garden that can be used in the school’s lunch program. I knew this from the very beginning of Sprouting Chefs but also knew that the size of our garden at Forest Grove was not nearly big enough to produce enough food for the whole school…or was it?

Sometimes monumental tasks take a different kind of thinking and approach.

The school garden grows a few things in abundance:

Kale, Chard, Salad Greens at certain times of the year, Tomatilos, Garlic and Herbs

All these ingredients if combined the right way with some supplements like pasta could create a meal that the community could enjoy.

In October 2016, the school was provided funding via the Metropolis at Metrotown Community Investment Fund that allowed Sprouting Chefs to provide support to the garden over the summer of 2016 to properly maintain, harvest and plant more crops for the Fall of 2016’s Cooking Classes as well as Spring Seed Gardening Classes and another set of Cooking Classes for the Primary Students.

With this in mind, there was an intention to finally connect the food growing in the garden with a lunch provided to the entire school…for FREE.

In the Spring of 2016, the school Principal, Al Post and I set out a plan that would create an event to connect the community to the garden and the food we are growing there. Event ideas ranged from a school market to having a guest speaker come in to speak about the importance of eating locally and seasonally. We engaged our partners at Whole Foods to provide what the garden could not as well as other community groups to be a part of this event.

Cooking Classes were to be provided to 5 Intermediate classes that would highlight a combination of what was available in the garden as well as what was seasonally and locally available. Recipes included: side dishes to serve at Thanksgiving, a food preservation class featuring the tomatillos and making the tomatilo salsa we normally sell at the Christmas Craft Fair which was not happening this year.

Ok, so part of the reason we really needed to create an event was to be able to sell the salsa at all since we grew and harvested so many tomatilos over the summer! Salsa was sold after school the day we had our lunch as expected, it sold out due to the fact the kids not only helped grow the tomatillos, they also helped make the salsa!

What I decided to do was to choose a handful of students out of these 5 classes that would then help me cook for the entire school at the end of the week. This actually worked really well to set the tone of the classes and create a good behavioral management tool for each class. By starting the class talking about the fact I was looking for students who demonstrated responsibility, leadership, a willingness to serve as well as strong cooking skills, the tone of the class dramatically shifted. At the end of each of the 5 classes, several students approached me to help out.

The easiest thing I could think of that would also incorporate what was available from the garden was a Tomato Pasta. Tomatoes were harvested and frozen, garlic was harvested and cured earlier in the summer and managed to hold very well until October. Salad greens, chard and kale could be used as a salad.

A donation of a gift card was provided by Whole Foods which allowed us to purchase ingredients for the 5 Cooking Classes as well as a few things needed for the end of week lunch. Pasta and canned tomatoes were donated by our friends at Ciolfi’s as well. Funding was provided to Sprouting Chefs in the Spring for whatever else was needed including disposables to serve the lunch.

In the end, about 25 students were chosen out of close to 100 kids. The recipe for the Tomato Pasta was broken down into tasks the kids could take on including: chopping onions, peeling and chopping garlic, cutting basil, grating cheese, making the tomato sauce, harvesting salad greens from the garden, making a dressing for the salad, serving the meal to the students in the school as well as clearing and cleaning.

The Hot Lunch Coordinator of the school provided the parent volunteers needed to help in the kitchen and set up the school gym. Two seating times were chosen to serve half the school at 11:30 am and the other half at noon.

Focus was placed on the students helping where they would do most of the food preparation and cooking while the parents provided the set up and support. This allowed the an opportunity for the kids from the Cooking Classes a real chance to shine. It was amazing to see how many kids wanted to stay for the entire event to not only help with the food preparation but also the clean up too!

There was a real sense of school community pride that was created as a result. For every child that didn’t necessarily like the lunch for one reason or another, there were many children who came up and asked for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. Only one student asked for plain pasta so all the others had pasta with the tomato sauce.

What I do regret was not speaking at the event when I had the chance. Overwhelmed by the day and not having anything prepared, I can reflect back now and be able to at least say I am most proud of all the kids that happily and willingly participated, who served with the true sense of generosity where they did not expect anything in return. I am proud that despite not knowing exactly how much to make, if we had enough at all or if it would not work out, that faith in the school community and the intention of providing this meal carried me through.

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Will we do it again? I really hope so. Will it be the same recipe? Perhaps but with a new batch of equally eager students ready to shine their light into the world through the creation of a meal.

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Smells Like Teen Spirit – Environmentors

Teens these days can get a bad rap. I for one, as a mother of younger children, have the odd fear that my kids are going to grow up in world infused with social media mixed messages, over sexed marketing schemes and that whatever the Kardashins are doing is the trend.

Sure the media tends to highlight the worst case scenarios. But what if we start a movement that changes things by highlighting all the teens that are setting out to “be the change they want the world to see”. One of my biggest pet peeves is also this “anti-bullying movement”. Sure this is a good thing to promote “anti-bullying” but we’re still using the word “bullying” and I would rather see a movement that focuses on Kindness, Compassion and Peace and the children who are examples of that.

From the very beginning of the Forest Grove School Garden Project, I have felt that children learn more from other empowered youth and teens who are just slightly older than they are. The garden has allowed an opportunity to let the youth in our community shine. I have witnessed the power of influence when a 14 year old shows a 7 year old how to do something simple like use a drill. And when that 14 year old uses a drill to attach a sign of virtue on to a school garden with the words: “Patience”, “Trust”, “Compassion” or “Forgiveness”, well, you can only hope that some of these virtues seep into their consciousness.

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Although the Forest Grove School Garden is a project that takes place at an elementary school, I felt it was important to include other generations of students in the project. Not only can the lessons learned in the classroom transcend into nature’s outdoor classroom making them real and effective, there was also a need to include the rest of the school community to ensure the project was a success. If other community members were involved, especially those who were about to graduate from the school and go on to high school, there was less chance of vandalism because there was a sense of ownership and care over the project. Grade 7 students therefore were vital to the build of the school garden.

A Grade 7 student getting guidance from our friends at Home Depot who funded the school garden build at Forest Grove.

A Grade 7 student getting guidance from our friends at Home Depot who funded the school garden build at Forest Grove.

The student featured in this photo has gone on to programs in the field of trades after his Grade 9 year and now is enjoying an apprenticeship with a construction company. Coincidence? Or did being a part of building the garden spark an interest in him?

Once the garden was built, it was time for the parents and champions of the project to take a step back and hand over some responsibilities to the students themselves as well as reaching out to high school students who might be interested in helping sustain the garden; creating a bridge into the community via the garden. The answer was given to us in the form of an amazing group of teens called the Burnaby Youth Sustainability Network. This is a group that was formed from the passion of two Grade 11 students in 2010. Every month the teens gather together students from all 7 local Burnaby high schools to discuss matters regarding: recycling, water conservation, sustainability, waste management and now, school gardens. They continued to expand this network by evolving a group in Ontario and now there is even a national network of youth for sustainability. They were and still are a natural fit to reach out to.

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The group has received awards in Environmental Stewardship and Youth Leadership via the City of Burnaby. Just look at them! I’m inspired by how tall and proud they are standing J

Creating the After School Garden Club was the answer to several issues about sustaining a school garden. The Garden Club is a group that is made up of students within the school from K to Grade 7, (K to Gr. 2 students must come with a parent or guardian) to water, weed, harvest and maintain the garden space. Leading this group with various organic methods and principles, I placed myself in charge. But leading a group of sometimes 20 plus students on my own with a handful of parents can also be quite challenging. Enlisting the help of the teens was a natural answer.

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Teens are given some direction and then asked to help younger students with various duties around the garden like using clippers or cutting down big sunflower stalks in the fall. Watching them work together with the younger students is definitely a sight to behold. There is sometimes a bit of hesitation on both parts but after awhile, the groups find a flow that might only last a few minutes but a connection has been made.

An Outdoor Education Program was another group that we reached out to who responded by helping us with our Fall Harvest and Clean Up. There must have been at least 20 students who came to help with this activity. Although this was an organized after school group lead by a teacher, they still came with enthusiastic hearts and genuinely wanted to help.

Students from the Burnaby Mountain Secondary Outdoor Ed Club who happened to be international students this year as well, helping us out for our fall harvest event.

Students from the Burnaby Mountain Secondary Outdoor Ed Club who happened to be international students this year as well, helping us out for our fall harvest event.

Summertime is also a time during a school garden project that can be a challenge. Who will water the garden over the summer? What do you do with the food that has grown in the garden?

This year like many other years before, I have led various Summer Work Bees with the school community. We have met on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer to tend to the garden space. We have also set up a watering schedule with the parents and families of the Garden Club. Having a list of emails collected from registration forms in the beginning of each year is quite valuable to continue to reach out to families throughout the whole year.

What has been special about this year is that the leader of the BYSN reached out to me in June before school ended to ask if their group could help in any way. Facebook and social media have been our main lines of communication. If you are going to connect with teens, know how they communicate and social media is probably the main method, more so than emailing and second to texting. After reaching out to me via Facebook, I responded with the list of dates for each Summer Work Bee. A few days later, she let me know that after sending the dates out to her group, we now had teen volunteers for each date. Remember, these are teens who may be attending summer school during the summer, have social lives, are meant to be relaxing and lazing around pools but choose to volunteer their time…to garden!  I had a few doubts but because we had already established a relationship with the group itself, seeing the first group of eager teens including the leader herself, for the first Summer Work Bee still warmed my heart.

Summer Work Bee Crew -Salina, Ariel, Alice, Laura, Jeremy and Alexa

Summer Work Bee Crew -Salina, Ariel, Alice, Laura, Jeremy and Alexa

They genuinely want to help in some way even if it’s just watering, weeding, thinning out beets or harvesting kale seeds. I have had 10 different teens arrive on a Saturday morning in the summer from 5 different Burnaby high schools including Burnaby South which is at least 2 or 3 bus rides away from Forest Grove.

Harvesting kale seeds in the shade and lavender in the sun. Many hands make light work...

Harvesting kale seeds in the shade and lavender in the sun. Many hands make light work…

Of course these Work Bees end up going quite quickly with all these extra hands. When there is time left after the “work” is completed, I encourage the teens to ask me questions regarding their own gardens and they do. We’ve discussed composting, what grows well in containers, what can grow all year round and what you should purchase as established plants. There is a genuine curiosity here.

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I guess my main intention as September creeps ever so close and some of these youth will also be heading off into universities is that this blog reaches them and they feel heard, seen and appreciated. I don’t always get the chance to properly thank them, honor them for what they do and most of all, encourage them not to stop caring for the world we live in, the lives they touch and the difference they are making. By showing up in life, showing up to volunteer with us and maybe only have a brief moment or two with a younger student, they too are planting seeds in the gardens but also in the minds of the younger kids they interact with. Seeds that might grow into an idea that helping the environment is a cool thing to do as is serving the community.

So to Jennifer, Sofiya, Jacqueline, Tomas, Salina, Simon, Ariel, Alice, David, Todd, and numerous others who have shown up in our garden, expressed interest in changing the world, created some amazing events (Do It Green Conference. Check it out. All organized by youth, for youth.), I see you, I honor you and I’m grateful for all you are doing.

~ Ms. Barb

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

The Labyrinth Project

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A couple of years ago at the start of the first Garden Club of the year, I asked the group what they wanted to do in the year ahead. I allowed them to choose a space in the school that could be something they transform by planting some seeds or making a bit more green. That was the first time I heard about the “Big Rock”. I never even really knew about this place until the group of 30 or so of the kids brought me to this space just beside the gravel field.

Of course all the kids loved it! It had this massive boulder called the “Big Rock” that the kids immediately showed me how they all ran and clammered up to sit on, it has 3 benches, a wonderful oak tree and is surround by the forest. There is even a creek near by that you can hear after the rains.

Most of the kids wanted flowers and maybe an arbor…a gate to welcome people I now remember was also part of the ideas…maybe a few more trees but mostly, lots of flowers.

The plans and ideas sat in a folder for awhile and then while searching for garden ideas to create without much of a water source (no way our hose could get to that space and rain barrels are yet to be approved by the district) I came across the idea of building a labyrinth in this beloved space.

What is a labyrinth?

A labyrinth is a path design that can be found in many forms: traced in the sand on a beach at low tide, painted on floors of cathedrals, lined with rocks in the dessert, rolled up in a canvass that can be spread out on a floor, or painted on concrete in all kinds of spaces. They are tools that people can use to find peace; a walking path of winding designs with one way in and one way out and a centre to stop and pause and reflect. Ultimately, labyrinths are mindful tools that anyone can use when faced with an issue. The idea is that instead of looking outside for answers, the person walking the labyrinth finds the answer within themselves by the time they walk out of the labyrinth.

A huge idea for a school right? In a system where kids are mostly inside the classroom learning all their subjects; except if they happen to have a garden 😉

We had no idea how to build or create a labyrinth. There are several sites on the net, a man who creates them at low tide at the beach at Spanish Banks (http://walkingalabyrinth.blogspot.ca/)  sometimes and there is a labyrinth lady too. But when it came time to write a grant, ask for funds and design this thing, Merrill my side kick parent, Al our principal and I had never really experienced anything like this before. The key thing was though, we were all willing to figure it out. Everything is figure outable after all!

2 years pass by with many design ideas out the window. We looked at paving stones, adding a slab of concrete and painting the design on, in laid concrete or rocks. They all went out the window as the main concern was to be honest, what would the kids do with the rocks or paving stones? Would they could they pick them up and throw them at each other? How can we get this approved if there is any trace of threat of injury despite the intentions of what it is “supposed” to be used for?

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Finally, after attending a summer wedding at the UBC Botanical Gardens, I came across a labyrinth there…I almost actually didn’t even see it at first because the design was in laid right into the grass.

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Finally we had a design that would work. Mind you, we had submitted a proposal with the paving stones that was approved by the District so changing it to this we felt would be even better and easier to get done. Also, the costs of crushed gravel vs paving stones was a big difference. 

A grant submission went into the Evergreen Foundation which was a group I had long wanted to become more connected to anyway as Dolores Altin and I were connected from the first time we met several years ago now. A year after that, we finally had funding to start this project.

Most labyrinth projects at schools are created by teachers who are on board first. We worked a bit backwards, getting the staff on board after funding was secured. It wasn’t a hard sell though. Here we were offering a space to use for the classes outside of the classroom; a place for teachers to bring their kids when they were facing a conflict and needing resolutions. Comments from the teachers included: “I’ll be first to line up and use it on a Monday morning!” as yes, it does seem really easy for an adult to wrap their brains around.

But what about the kids? Getting kids engaged in planting of food seemed so much easier. Would they “get” what this labyrinth thing is even?

All I could go with was what I knew of my Garden Club members and here was where a lesson in trust comes into play. You just never know what a kid already knows. When we talked about this idea to the group of kids who wanted to do something at the Big Rock, I wasn’t sure if they’d go for it. Some were definitely confused but one pair of siblings knew exactly what I was talking about. The two sisters went to a church that had a labyrinth and quickly, the older sister became my “go to” student for support. She always corrected anyone who thought a labyrinth was a maze for example: “no, a labyrinth has one way in and one way out” she would say. I also had the most memorable heart felt conversations with Anna when we talked about the idea of sand blasting our names on to the Big Rock itself.

In a conversation up to the Big Rock one day during the planning phase,Anna thought about  how great it would be to add all the names of the Garden Club members who came up with the idea for the Labyrinth. In reflection however, she said this: “The only thing with adding our names to the rock and not anyone else is that everyone else will feel left out and that’s not ok.” Instead of squashing her whole idea, I suggested we echo what we have around the garden and engrave the words of Virtues instead, those words will never change as being a part of who we are after all: Peace, Love, Compassion, Trust, Forgiveness, Service, Responsibility, Confidence, Respect, and Patience. I checked with Anna and she liked this idea.

See, this is what I love about these projects; when else would I or anyone have the chance to have this kind of conversation with a student? When else can we allow their light to shine this way? That is the intention with this space and the garden space, platforms for greater heart felt conversations. I just feel blessed to be a witness to these thoughts and so many others these kids can have.

And here we are, on Pi Day March 14, 2014, having just finished presenting the whole idea to the entire school. Standing before the large crowd of 270 (minus one class on a field trip) I found myself wanting to be a channel to my higher self and just allowed the words to flow. I wanted to explain the best way I could what the labyrinth will be, how it can help them, how it is everyone’s and that we need to respect it, how it will be a legacy piece for the Grade 7 students (let alone a  math lesson!) and then how to use it when it has been built. All eyes were on me with focus and interest and even the little K’s were for the most part, quietly listening. I included my story with Anna and watched her face light up with recognition. The virtues were mentioned and even though Olivia helped us 3 years ago, her hand still shot up with a memory of the day she painted the word “Confidence”.

We hope to have inlaid slabs of stone engraved with words like Peace, Forgiveness, Love and Gratitude that will be stations for the students to stop and reflect upon in the future as well.

Al our principal, ended the assembly the best way ever, with a slide show compilation of photos of the kids from the past year to the songs “Brave”, “Roar” and “Happy”. Of all the things we can teach our kids and this is where I resonate most with our principal, it is to be happy. I hope this labyrinth as tool for mindfulness will be used for the kids to find their own happiness within themselves.

Stay tuned for posts about our build that is set to happen on April 2, 2014 with 3 of the 12 divisions from the school, an opening ceremony in June and a mindful meditation in May with Child’s Pose, Dana Mahon