At Windsor House school, we have the wonderful privilege to spend our days learning and exploring on Southlands Heritage Farm in Vancouver. On the farm, students get to follow their own interests related to agriculture and food systems. It is a place that offers a diversity of learning opportunities in the areas of animal husbandry, farming, cooking/baking, horse riding, permaculture, composting, and much much more.
Being a farmer means having an awareness and responsibility for the animals that live on the farm. We begin our day with our morning tasks. Our students choose between egg collection or making sure our animals have all the food and water they need. In our case, the chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and pigs all need to be cared for and our students jump at the opportunity to interact and care for these animals that provide us with so many food and textile products.
Southlands Farm also has a well developed compost system. A key element to growing healthy crops and minimizing our negative impact on the natural world is ensuring that we utilize systems that exist in nature to recycle nutrients back into the soil. Our students gain their understanding for nutrient cycling by combining horse manure (high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) with food compost and other organic matter, high carbon, to create a robust healthy soil with which we can grow nutrient dense crops for the following season.
The farm is also host to a huge variety of native wild plants. ‘Forest Tea’ has quickly become a favourite activity among our students. We take time to look closer at the vegetation around fences and in corners of the farm. Our students love to exercise their ability to identify plants from their leaves, flowers, and stems. Salmon berry, nettle, dandelion root, lemon balm, mint, Douglas Fir, and Hemlock are harvested by our students and boiled to make afternoon tea for everyone at the farm. This activity also provides us with a platform to discuss sustainable harvesting and ideas we should consider if we are to harvest ethically.
With so much to gain from Southlands farm, we feel it is important to exercise reciprocity. The farm is undergoing changes to offer a greater variety of learning opportunities in the future. The outdoor kitchen is being renovated so it can become Food Safe certified. The goal is to host cooking and baking classes to establish the link between farming and food. We have purchased a triple sink and counter tops that are needed to satisfy the requirements for certification. We have also supported the construction of a new pizza oven. Our students have been eagerly mixing mortar and laying brick so our outdoor kitchen can have a robust oven to cook the food we grow!
Our high school students have been contributing to the farm as well! As part of their final project, some of our students have chosen to investigate a branch of permaculture. Currently one student is constructing a rain harvesting system that will collect water and transport it to holding tanks in our orchard garden. Another students is constructing a living roof herb garden that will be installed on the roof of our outdoor kitchen. This way herbs will always be close at hand once we commence our cooking classes next year!
It has been so wonderful to see our students become an integral part of the Southlands Farm community. Their compassion and sense of responsibility towards the plants and animals that live on the farm has strengthened and we have witnessed their sense of curiosity skyrocket through their engagement and experiences on the farm. We are so happy that our students have this opportunity to experience the dedication it takes to produce healthy food and to become aware of the natural systems we rely on to live. Thank you for helping us create such a wholistic and immersive educational opportunity. We are excited to continue developing our program and look forward to seeing what the coming seasons have in store!