Our goals for our Farm to School Program were to enhance food literacy through the introduction of our 180 K-5 students to our local farms, farmers markets and our own school garden. With this exposure, along with direct hands-on garden activities, we wanted to facilitate an understanding of where food comes from and how it is grown and harvested. Ultimately our goal was to increase the consumption of locally grown healthy produce and start a “food revolution” at Fernwood School…Will they choose that juicy cherry tomato that they now know tastes delicious over a less healthy alternative?
We were fortunate to start off with our pre-existing greenhouse and rejuvenated garden. We were committed to cultivating a new food culture at Fernwood and were grateful to be a recipient of the PHABC Farm2School Grant. In the first year of our Farm2School program students learned through hands-on gardening about soil, composting, preparing garden beds, planting seeds, and watering and caring for vegetables. Tomatoes, swiss chard, herbs, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic were harvested. Our own produce, along with poultry, kale, and bread from our partner, North End Farm, meant we could offer three “Farm2School Harvest Lunches” over the year where families were brought together. Seated at these lunches in our ‘Farm2School Café’, a direct connection was made for children between the delicious meal they were tasting and their effort to bring it to the table! More positive connections were made for them about where our food comes from when every class went on a field trip to our Salt Spring Farmer’s Institute. Members of the farming community organized an educational day where children visited stations including a blacksmith workshop, the Bittancourt House Museum, a spinning mill, a sawmill, antique machinery, and watched a video about pioneer farming on our island. Positive relationships with food and farming definitely formed where they had not existed before and we celebrated this success at our year-end Family Picnic by enjoying a bountiful berry harvest of raspberries, cherries and strawberries from our partner farm. It was a great way to end off the first year of our Farm2School Program.
This year, in our second year, we worked on further reinforcing these positive connections between our community, our garden and making healthy food choices. We worked on soil building to increase yield (hugelkulture beds loaded with organic material, cover crops/fallow beds, and mulching). Fava beans, snow peas, carrots, strawberries, potatoes, garlic, kale were planted. A Garden Parent Mentorship Group was formed where children from a multi-age nature class measured, sawed, drilled, sanded and then finished a new over-sized picnic table. It’s placement at the front of the school invites students, families and visitors to enjoy the fresh air while eating outside. Kids munch on the various greens including lacinato kale, green kale, red russian kale, lettuce, and spinach as well as cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. Students have been eating the native Salmonberries that grow around the perimeter of the garden. Next year we expect a good crop of berries in addition to a Fall harvest of veggies for more snack and meal opportunities.
We sustain our goals financially with our roadside farmstand. Now that the nice weather is here the farmstand is up and running again. Selling veggie starts, eggs by the dozen and flower baskets cover costs like seeds, fertilizer, compost, greenhouse equipment and more. Every day throughout this year and last (even during school closures on weekends and holidays) kids and staff care for our hens, cleaning their coop, and collecting eggs. Sustaining the garden and coop costs in turn helps us to offer healthy food alternatives to students.
We recognize that similar to the principles of permaculture, fostering a food culture is a slow process. We are overjoyed to be well on our way thanks to this experience! Students have had opportunities to learn about where their food comes from, prepare it and be responsible for their own health by choosing healthy alternatives. Students have had so many positive experiences tasting locally sourced food that we feel they will continue to choose healthy food options when presented to them over their lifetime.
Next year, our student population is set to grow and we would like to thank PHABC Farm2School for giving us this opportunity to cultivate not only relationships with community partners which we know will always be there to help but a healthy food culture at Fernwood Elementary well into the future!