Seeds For Change Growing Across York Region and Beyond

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Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: October 15, 2014

Categories: Edible Education Network / Edible Education Project Profiles / GoodFoodBites

dsYu4 - ImgurSeeds For Change is a grass-roots community organization that has partnered with the York Region Food Network to create healthier neighbourhoods through school and community gardens.

Sprouting from York Region, they have challenged the area to grow 2,015 new food gardens by the year 2015. The challenge has since grown to urge other regions in Ontario to grow food gardens in their communities as well.

Lynne Koss and her daughter Marissa first started Seeds For Change in 2010, and since then the team has naturally grown in members. Lynne tells us it was about getting to the root of a problem that affects us, our children and our future generations’ health and well-being.

“We recognized that we needed to make a positive change starting in our own backyard and community, and then spread the word,” shares Lynne.

Together with their dedicated garden coordinators, steering committee, volunteers and supporters, they work to contribute to the sustainability of suburban communities in York Region by providing students and community members with hands-on education through planting, growing, harvesting, celebrating and sharing locally-grown food in school grounds and under-utilized spaces. (Underutilized spaces include windowsills, balconies, backyards, rooftops, places of work or worship, or schools/community gardens.)

By providing accessible programming for children, youth and adults, Seeds for Change empowers people to cultivate a sense of connection and appreciation for the environment. Through physical activity, meaningful and practical education, as well as critical life skills development, the aim is to help York Region residents get outside and become healthier as they teach people to take better care of themselves.

Lynne tells us the program is funded by any means possible. They now ask each garden (school/community) to cover 30% of the cost – this includes covering materials such as cedar for raised beds, soil, compost, plants/seeds, workshop expenses, human resources-garden coordinators, school liaison, etc. The rest of their funds are raised from local businesses, companies’ foundations, major provincial and national organizations such as the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Heart & Stroke Foundation, as well as government funding opportunities, collaborating with other like-minded organizations, participating municipalities’ environmental/green funds, and partnerships with L’Arche Daybreak in making retail items to sell at fairs/festivals and through their website.

It took them two years of meetings with the Facilities’ Managers and others at York Region District School Board (YRDSB) to get approval for the first school garden. They started with the Principals and Eco-teams, but needed to get the buy-in from the local Boards. They currently now have 3 elementary school gardens through YRDSB, 1 privately-run elementary school and another privately-run high school. There are also currently 4 active schools on their waiting list and more in the running, including 5 that will be in the City of Markham’s parks where there are schools adjacent to the park that will be cared for by the students, as well as the local Ratepayer Associations, businesses, etc. Partnerships and collaborating with others has clearly been an integral part of the program.

In an effort to be proactive, the Seeds for Change team created a powerpoint presentation for those involved in the school meetings and tried to address all the problems that might/could come up, along with solutions, so that each issue was faced head on. They also included information compiled from across Canada on what other school boards were doing so that the YRDSB did not need to feel that they were pioneering a new idea, but that much of the groundwork had already been done, tested and proved to be of benefit to all. Important champions to the initiative included: a Sustainability Coordinator from the City of Markham on their Steering Committee who could talk to the municipal legalities, an eager Principal, and a School Liaison who established this as a partnership (and not that the teachers or janitorial/custodians would have extra work).

For more information on their workshops, or to register your garden for the challenge, be sure to visit Seeds for Change.

Lessons Learned and Tips from Lynne Koss

  • Always start with a pilot project of one or a small cluster of schools, so that there is no fear of being overwhelmed by ALL schools wanting to have school gardens at once.
  • Champions should be “within” the School Board – whether it’s a Principal, Eco-team lead, School Trustee – all should be welcomed and part of the ongoing conversation. One of the Public Health Nurses would also be a great addition to the team.
  • I think the biggest challenges are “sustainability of the gardens” and “liability”. Sustainability is now much easier with many schools having after school and summer camp programs and the ability of our Garden Coordinators to assist with the organizing of “teams” to help with the general maintenance of the gardens both over the school year and summers. Liability is one of those areas where we all need to advocate for change and be open to use what other school boards have done to protect themselves.
  • The same rule applies for community gardens – it is extremely necessary to establish good working relationships with the Sustainability Coordinators of the municipalities. Here again, we were able to help with the approval of community garden policies in the Cities of Markham and Vaughan, and are now looking at helping with the Towns of Richmond Hill and Whitchurch-Stouffville. We are always inviting and getting support from the Mayors, Regional Councillors and Councillors.

Factors critical for Success

  • Be the catalyst in your own community to bring people together to share resources, ideas and funding opportunities. We have held several “Deepening Our Roots” events bringing different organizations and municipalities together and it’s been enormously beneficial.
  • Have yourself or several of your volunteers be active on different Steering Committees/Advisory Boards so that you are all “in the loop” as to what is actually happening in your own community. Becoming members of local associations: i.e. Horticultural Society, food-related organizations such as Food For Learning, Imagine a Garden In Every School, Ontario Community Garden Network, etc.

Seeds for Change Successes

Partnerships have been key.

  • Partnering with the City of Vaughan we established a “Growing to Give” community garden at a firehall as a pilot and the City created a Case Study, which was approved and we are moving ahead with other firehall gardens planned over the next few years within Vaughan.
  • Partnering with organizations such as L’Arche Daybreak where people with severe disabilities are making sustainable ceramic plant markers for Seeds For Change with the profits divided between our organizations. We will also be introducing a line of beautifully hand-made gardening inspired cards and ceramic pots.
  • Partnering with organizations such as York Region Food Network whose philosophies and activities align with ours and we can work towards sharing Train the Trainer programs, community kitchen projects, through collaborative funding opportunities, and being able to employ people together – i.e. sharing of garden coordinators with funding from Canada Summer Jobs.
  • Partnering with municipalities we were able to encourage them to take advantage of each others’ research, work and programs i.e. policies – Community Garden Rules, MOU and Garden Agreements, Community Garden Volunteer Waivers, library programs such as Seed Libraries, Enviropacks, Markham Organic Home Gardens, Facebook and social media ideas to engage residents.


For this profile we spoke with:
Lynne Koss
Founder, Seeds for Change



This profile is part of a series of profiles for the Ontario Edible Education Network.
Be sure to check out more profiles from the Network here!