Everdale’s Farm-Based Education

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Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: October 22, 2014

Categories: Edible Education Network / Edible Education Project Profiles

EverdaleEverdale has been teaching farm-based education since 1998, providing hands-on food and farming learning to people of all ages to build and engage healthy local communities. They educate through the delivery of a diverse range of hands-on food and farming programs: farmer training, workshops that teach basic farming and homesteading skills, various events, and farm school programs.

Their farm school programs, based out of their Hillsburgh Farm and the Black Creek Community Farm in northwest Toronto, offer meaningful learning for children, that they feel is essential in helping to create an ecologically sustainable future.

By bringing kids out to farms, and going into the classroom to bring the farm education right to schools, Everdale understands the importance of instilling strong food literacy skills from a young age.

From early May through late October, their farm serves as a vibrant classroom, offering a series of farm trips for JK-grade 12, pre-schools, guides and scouts, camps, homeschoolers and other groups. The farm trips explore the importance of healthy soil, plants and animals on the farm in relation to the food we eat.

Once late fall comes, they take the farm ‘on the road’ with their Farmers in the Schools programs until early spring. This program brings Everdale educators (and sometimes a chicken or two might join along!) right into kindergarten-grade 8 classrooms with their curriculum-linked programs.

Their approach to direct, applied and passionate education undoubtedly offers results.

One teacher, Geetha Obrien, thoughtfully shares, “any place that has the ability to make 13-year-old girls and boys excited to farm, compost, and recycle is indeed a special place. Everdale’s unique atmosphere and gentle hands-on approach to learning truly touched our students. Many of our students now want to own a chicken, or buy only food produced locally. Thanks Everdale for teaching our students that they can make a difference in the world.”

Everdale’s education programs go from classroom to workplace, too. Through the intern program at Black Creek Community Farm, they provide meaningful employment opportunities for youth who can in turn become mentors to young people in their community. Check out this recent clip with CityNews highlighting the intern program, where youth learn important hands-on food literacy skills, while also growing self-confidence and work experience.


We spoke with Karen Campbell and Erika Longman to gain further insight into the successful, educational program that is Everdale:

Everdale, as a non-profit charitable organization, relies on a number of streams to fund our programs. Among the funding streams are member and donor support, fundraising campaigns, corporate philanthropy, grant seeking, fees for service and farm produce sales.

How did you first engage with schools / communities?
We did this through a partnership with OISE. We had several students approach the farm who were working on their Masters, with a focus on farm and food-based education. We collaborated to develop curriculum ties, extension activities and hands-on lesson plans for several units that could be taught at the farm. All adjacent school boards were contacted as were the parent councils and leadership within the schools themselves. Environmental clubs were a great resource for us too.

Making a case for support was never much of a problem. Teachers were eager to offer their students this sort of learning opportunity. The challenge was in convincing administrators of its value. By linking programs to grade-specific curriculum we have ensured that valuable teaching time is not sacrificed in order to accommodate our programs.

Tips and Lessons Learned
My suggestion for others would be to enter into it with a clear idea of what your teaching goals are and then remain flexible. Programs that are a hit one year may have very little interest the following year. All of our programs are structured around an ‘essential question’ (our objective – key takeaways). That remains constant, but how we go about providing answers for that question is constantly being tweaked, updated and kept fun and interesting.

What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve come up against and how did you address it?
One of the biggest challenges with our on-farm programs has been in getting kids to the farm. Bus costs are increasing and in order to keep things in tow, many boards have reduced their fleet numbers. The result of that is that buses are no longer dispatched to run field trips until they have finished their morning runs. Conversely, they must return students to school earlier in the day in order to begin their afternoon runs. To address that, we have built some flexibility into our program day, allowing groups to arrive a little later and/or leave a little earlier without compromising any of our program content.

What factors were critical for your success?
Perhaps the most important key to our success was in realizing early on that these programs will be in a perpetual state of development. While our goals and objectives remain the same, we are committed to remaining current and relevant in an ever-changing world. As curriculum, teaching methods and modes of delivery change, so must we. We listen closely to what teachers, parents and students have to say about what they need, what they like and what challenges they are faced with. That feedback allows us to continually work toward meeting those needs and filling those gaps.


Karen Campbell, Youth Director & Founder


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!