One of the community-based approaches Assiniboine Food Security Alliance (AFSA) supports to increase food security is to encourage gardening. Gardening can take many forms ranging from backyard gardens to community gardens in more public spaces. Of particular interest to AFSA is to encourage school yard gardens. Why?
More people want to know more about where their food comes from, under what conditions it was produced, who produced it and who packaged it. Unfortunately, food is mostly treated as a mass-produced and marketed commodity, thus ignoring its relevance to the community.
School yard gardens can be a small investment with big dividends in our community. By creating a school yard garden students become involved in the growing of food. It is possible to connect with others in the community and to gain some control and knowledge of our food system, however modest that might be.
Additional benefits for students and adults allows for the production and consumption of pesticide-free nutritious food, getting moderate exercise and learning about healthy living. In addition, school yard gardening reduces the high energy requirements to process, package and transport food from other parts of the world that are highly packaged with plastic, cardboard and Styrofoam. This doesn’t even consider all the other things that are added to food so that it has a long shelf life on supermarket shelves.
Students like to grow plants and teachers want to engage children. What better way to involve youth than to grow vegetables through hands-on activities such as a school yard garden. Community residents such as seniors and other volunteers can get involved too to pass on their knowledge and receive the spiritual, emotional and physical benefits. Communities benefit by contributing to the beautification of school grounds; creating more opportunities for students, teachers, parents and others to enhance the community in co-operation with one another; and adding the simple enjoyment of a garden that helps youth rally around a common place.
Any garden, including school yard gardens, provides great learning opportunities for parents and teachers to teach young people. Learning can be in-class and out-of-the-classroom, helping students to learn about what they can do in a positive, experiential atmosphere. Gardening encourages students to learn about where food comes from, how to care for living organisms and how to celebrate the harvest of their efforts.
Establishing a school yard garden can complement the existing school curriculum in science, language arts, environmental studies, history and cultural studies, art classes, computer literacy and so on. Besides all that, for the student it’s all fun learning.
While every school with a garden has its own unique story, creating and maintaining a school yard garden requires teacher interest and involvement, student participation with parent and community support. Across Saskatchewan, students have painted garden murals, donated produce, created social spaces with tables and benches, planted fruit trees, started native plant areas, built raised beds and so much more.
Some school groups have started special garden projects, garden clubs or garden committees and have organized workshops, gone on field trips, held picnics, prepared food from their produce and have become involved in larger community gardens. The learning possibilities are only limited by the creative imaginations of the students and teachers.
There are some challenges for school yard gardens that need to be identified as early as possible in the planning stage. Access to water, a lack of suitable gardening supplies or equipment, garden care during the summer holidays, lack of gardening knowledge and a fear of vandalism are all important considerations. However, as each garden project is unique, these challenges are generally overcome with thoughtful consideration by those involved.
Basic consideration for planning a school garden includes: determining the type of garden; how it will be organized; participant goals and activities; and how the project complements the school culture and curriculum.
The school divisions in Yorkton and area support the development of school yard gardens for many of the reasons suggested as well as additional ones. A few schools have started gardens and more are being discussed and planned for 2014. This is very encouraging.
Assiniboine Food Security Alliance is providing leadership to create and establish school yard gardens. Our children and grandchildren are part of the community and we think they can benefit too. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact us.