With the help of Farm to School in 2015, Yarrow Community School started a garden.
We undid some landscaping, took over some gravel space, tore up some sod and built 7 raised beds for gardening. Volunteers and neighbours built a garden shed, complete with a rain barrel, and along with the shovels, spades, twine, watering cans, and gloves one would normally expect in a shed, we’ve got boxes of clipboards, pencils for outdoor learning, and outside the shed in semicircles, we’ve got stumps for seating–outdoor classroom-style.
We held a school-wide salad day, a pollinator day–focusing on mason bees, even examining leftover pollen collected from their cocoons under microscopes, and seeing pollen mites close up. We installed 2 mason bee hives for kids to watch the comings and goings of some of the best pollinators on the planet.
We started a green smoothie program, where classes take turns making healthy drinks–with our regular blender AND our blender bike–and share samples regularly with the entire school. We bought a fridge and a freeze for storing our healthy produce.
In 2016-2017, we added a greenhouse to our growing space. Most classes participated in planting and growing seedlings for donation to the yearly opening of Ruth and Naomi’s community garden, to support gardening access for many who would not otherwise have it, and to increase the produce grown by that garden–some of which goes into meals created by the Ruth and Naomi soup kitchen for those in need. The greenhouse is open at break times for students to help with watering and for observation of the plants. The on-site daycare also participates in these activities.
Members of the school staff have worked throughout this 2016/17 school year at five after school learning sessions in order keep our garden and greenhouse a part of the daily curriculum. Math, Science, Social Studies (Native Plants) and Art can all be experienced as a part of student learning in our garden and greenhouse. This school year more teachers have begun to feel comfortable teaching in our outdoor classroom. The engagement of students is very high when they can experience learning through all their senses. Some classes have been practicing mindfulness in our garden space (being still for a few minutes and then describing what they have heard, smelled, felt).
Career Education is part of the British Columbia Curriculum and learning about farms and some of jobs that can be done on them is experienced by students when they plan, work and harvest in our school garden. Students set up the greenhouse ‘crate style’ beds by measuring and cutting landscape fabric and shovelling the dirt. Students are learning about working outdoors and the many health benefits this type of activity brings. They are also learning about planning and cooperating in order to complete a purposeful task. A great sense of accomplishment radiates from the students after completing work in the garden or greenhouse.
Our smoothie program continues on a monthly basis, led by the students themselves, with help from a group of parent volunteers. School staff has seen an increase in the “risk taking” of trying something new during our smoothie days. Students are excited to guess what ingredients are in the smoothie. The describing words of “local”, “organic”, kale and stinging nettle are now a part of many students’ vocabulary.
We planted a native edible garden, with plants indigenous to our region–and began to ‘re-wild’ a portion of the school property. We are showing the value of giving living space “back to nature” with plants of importance to First Nations peoples of the Fraser Valley area. Some students have been researching these indigenous plants and hope to add more detailed signage to help educate both fellow students and community members.
We added mason bee hives to our garden area, and the excitement of getting to watch these industrious little creatures up close, and appreciate their pollination prowess. The students are learning about the seasons of the year through the natural life cycle of the mason bees. The students are also observing the life cycle of the garden plants as a part of this natural calendar.
Students participated in a Name the Garden Contest this year. “The Sunny Spot” was the winning entry. A sign with the new moniker will be added to the outdoor learning space.
The students at Yarrow Community Elementary have grow a genuine stewardship for their natural environment through the creation of the school garden. Students are seeing how one person can grow and change their surroundings by simply planting a seed. The children are learning the frailty of living things and the importance of clean air, water and sunshine. When students return to school in September of 2017 they will be expecting to see, harvest and taste the sunflower seeds of the sunflowers that were planted this Spring. A few of these seeds will be saved to plant again in the Spring of 2018… the cycle of the calendar of nature seen in their garden.