In the playground of Churchill Alternative School, children are drawing their imaginary garden and choosing their favourite vegetables to grow and eat. Volunteer Alissa Campbell has just finished reading a picture book, animated with examples from the school garden behind her. Peas and green beans get snapped up by little hands, the tiny cantaloupe is admired and weeds are cleared to allow it to grow. The best part of the job, Alissa tells us, is when kids are eager to try something new because they had a hand in watching it grow. She goes on to explain that gardens are an applied way of learning that meet different styles and needs of students that might have more difficulty in a classroom setting. Gardening links all disciplines and these children are getting the benefit of that experience.
The garden was planted by students at Churchill Alternative School with help and ongoing support from Growing Up Organic; a garden and farm-based education program. Growing Up Organic has been working with school educators and children at all grade levels for over 10 years in the Ottawa community, empowering a generation to take a hands-on approach to growing and eating. Their workshops provide an opportunity for many students to see for themselves what is involved in the growing of their food.
Now entering their second year of partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, their shared goals of using garden-based education to enhance learning and get healthy food into schools has met with success. With over 40 gardens established throughout the region, Growing up Organic has enabled teachers and students to connect through curriculum-linked workshops that cover a wide range of topics such as soil exploration, biodiversity, plant growth and harvesting healthy food. Their workshops begin in September and are structured around seasonal garden tasks such as seed-saving in the fall, garden planning in late winter and starting seeds in the spring.
Growing up Organic strives to instill a broader understanding of food literacy in children and youth who, as a result will grow up with life-long healthy eating habits, increased food skills and an understanding of related health issues. The relationships they have created with local schools encourage self-confidence and a willingness to engage with the natural world and a sense of environmental responsibility that will serve them into adulthood.