Webinar Recording: Say Yes! to a Garden in Every School

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Author: Jenn Kucharczyk

Posted: March 4, 2015

Categories: Conversations / Edible Education Network / GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Ontario / Webinars

On February 18th, the Ontario Edible Education Network hosted a webinar to dig into stories behind successful school food gardens in order to inspire and inform fellow gardeners and educators about creative solutions for perennial challenges: community partnerships, summer gap strategies, curriculum linkages and more.  In addition to their vibrant garden presentations, panelists Katie German (FoodShare’s School Grown program), Natalie Boustead (PACT’s Grow to Learn program), and Shamima Basrai (Castlebridge PS Grade 3 teacher), and moderator Sunday Harrison (Green Thumbs Growing Kids) shared their experience with partnership building and suggestions of best practices and resources.

Webinar: Say Yes! to a Garden in Every School from Sustain Ontario on Vimeo.

The presentations sparked plenty of questions from attendees. As promised, we followed up with our panelists to make sure that every question was answered. Thank you to our panelists for sharing all of their insight and experience, and thank you to our attendees for growing the conversation with such important questions and solutions of their own!

Extended Q & A

Question: While it is great to see more and more groups getting paid to do this work, it is so ad hoc, when things like environmental education and home economics used to be embedded in the curricula. What do you think the ideal funding and political situation would be for school gardens looking forward? What do you think the Local Food Act goals could do to further this work?

Sunday: Meredith spoke to the last part of this question during the webinar and mentioned that school boards are responsible for setting policy goals relating to food literacy. Additionally I wanted to say that school food gardens are helping to carry out the implementation of policies such as Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow, which calls for environmental education in every subject in every grade, specifically in regards to soil and food which are expressly mentioned in that policy framework.


Question: Do any of the schools combine a community garden with the student gardens, allowing community people to grow on the school sites along with the students ?

Katie: We aren’t able to offer a community garden program considering that we grow on school board property and face challenges with needing adults to receive police checks (which Natalie also spoke about in the webinar). We do however try to engage with neighbouring community groups in other ways. For example, we use our greenhouse space at the school for students to grow seedlings for the production garden at the Daily Bread Food Bank. We try to find ways that connect students and community that don’t require the police check process.


Question: I am curious about [FoodShare’s] rooftop garden at Eastdale CI. Was it expensive to retrofit the roof to accommodate it?

Katie: The rooftop at Eastdale CI is a really unique space – it was originally designed as a tennis court and instructional space, so it was meant to hold people. It also was built with a ten foot wall around the perimeter, stair cases that open up on to the space, a covered terrace area and a classroom adjacent to the roof top. If the roof did not already have the wall and already meet load requirements, it would have been too expensive to try and put a garden up there. We were fortunate to find such a unique physical space.


Question: We have a community partnership [at our elementary school in New Brunswick] which hired a summer student to help with gardens. Are there grants available directly to schools to hire summer help?

Sunday: In our local major school board (Toronto District School Board) there is the Focus on Youth program which does this, and they are geared to students in neighbourhoods with less access to financial resources. In a survey conducted in 2014, the Imagine a Garden in Every School campaign found the following creative solution: “We use our District School Board of Niagara Energy Rebate to hire a student to tend our gardens and trees during the summer. Every school in the DSBN receives an energy rebate if they have saved at least $250 compared to the previous year’s energy bill for the school. The rebate is 25% of the year’s energy savings.”

Katie: We also use the Canada Summer Jobs program to hire post secondary students to work with high school students in our gardens, that funding stream may available in your area. Other school boards also use a summer co-op program, or summer school program, that incorporate garden maintenance into their daily work. For many students, high school credits are another type of currency if paid work isn’t available.


Question: When you reviewed the research on school gardens, did you find any policies or government bodies that had recognized this literature or used it?

Sunday: If I understand the question, I did find that the Ontario government used a particular study as evidence for the 2010 School Food and Beverage Policy (PPM150) governing schools – in this study, the authors stated that not enough research on school gardens had been done (quoting only Ozer, 2007) and that although popular, school gardens were expensive. That was an unfortunate conclusion, since cost is a relative thing, and certainly the cost of obesity is high and the cost of inadequate nutrition and inadequate food literacy is high. The authors did advise that additional research and evaluation of school garden programs would support decision-makers. The study is by Story, Nanney and Schwartz, 2009, published in the Milbank Quarterly and is titled Schools and Obesity Prevention: Creating School Environments and Policies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. Much more compelling research has emerged since the introduction of PPM150: Blair (2009) and Williams and Dixon (2013) conducted meta-analyses of school garden studies as I mention in the “Making the Case” segment of this webinar, and found good evidence of increased consumption of fruits and vegetables through school gardening.

Suggestion from participant Donna Weldon: I am a dietitian and have been working with a local NGO, Victory Gardens. We take the amount of pounds harvested and work it through to servings of vegetables produced.


Question: Have any of you experienced any issues with food safety concerns from Public Health inspectors in terms of taking the food from the gardens and serving it on site within the school setting? I am working on a project at a local secondary school and they plan on serving produce back to the cafeteria.

Katie: The USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are the practices that guide our school farm to ensure a food safe operation. I’d also suggest the City of Toronto Soil Testing Guidelines as a great resource on deciding when it’s important to test your soil, especially if your school is located in an urban area.


Question: I’d be interested in hearing what were the major objections people have faced when proposing a school garden, in their experience, so as to help me think of responses for such objections before attempting to bring forward a proposal.

Sunday: I feel like I’d like to know what the context is for the objections before attempting to answer this. Because school gardens are not mainstream and included in public education, it is important to have champions and supporters within the school community – at least a small group to start off with that includes teachers, parents, caretakers, administrators, and community partners. If any of these groups of people are not represented, that will be a gap that you’ll be wanting to fill.

Shamima: I would also add that you make sure to know your school board’s policy about school gardening projects. We had a lot of back and forth with our facilities manager covering liability and insurance issues.


Question: All of you talked about the importance of partnerships and networks, and human capital bringing different knowledge, resources and creativity. How do you keep track of and attract the talent and opportunities that are out there?

Sunday: That’s a great question. In some communities, mostly in the US, there’s a phenomenon of Master Gardeners and local horticultural societies taking a lot of ownership of staffing school gardens and bringing their volunteer labour as garden educators. There’s also Agricultural Extensions in many rural communities who see school gardens as providing a headstart for young farmers and are anxious to keep their youth in the communities and in the business of farming. For whatever reason, that hasn’t seemed to be the case in Ontario – however, there are many interns and practicum students who bring fantastic talents on their way to paid employment, and many youth in the profiled programs who may indeed start small businesses in gardening and farming, and create new jobs for themselves and others. Finally, the community itself is the greatest resource – the school children’s families who have a lot of knowledge and seeds of their own to share with the community, often bringing pride in cultural food traditions that otherwise could be lost in the Canadian mainstream or overshadowed by industrial food choices.


Question: How can I find out if there is an initiative in my area? How can I get involved?

Sunday: Please visit agardenineveryschool.ca and take a look at the map – and also ask at your school board. Ontario Ecoschools may have contacts in your board who will know about local school gardens.


Presentation Slides

See Sunday’s presentation below including YouTube videos profiling two more school food garden projects from Elin Marley and Leila Mireskandari. Access and share all of the presentations at slideshare.net/Sustain_Ontario

Say Yes! to a Garden in Every School: Green Thumbs Growing Kids from Sustain Ontario – The Alliance for Healthy Food and Farming

OEEN-logo-for-featured-image-RGBHave a question about the event? Get in touch with Meredith Hayes, Acting Coordinator of the Ontario Edible Education Network, at meredith@sustainontario.ca.


Say Yes! To Good Healthy Food in SchoolsCheck out the Say Yes! To Good Healthy Food in Schools toolkit, or take a look at School Food Garden resources.