Students at West Sechelt Elementary School (WSES) are excited to get their hands dirty at their own little farm that is within walking distance of their school.
Thanks to a $2,500 grant from Van-couver Coastal Health, the work of some committed parents, support from community nutritionist Meghan Molnar and the use of land from farmer Jon Bell, the 30 x 30 metre farm is starting to take shape on Mason Road.
Soon kids will be able to plant their own veggies on site and tend to them until it’s time to harvest the food and share it with classmates.
The project is the school’s version of Farm to School, a pilot project started last year that is meant to get healthy, locally grown food into schools in an effort to educate students about nutrition.
“This kind of project is extremely important because most children have no clue where their food comes from,” said Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) liaison Genevieve Pierre. “Lots of kids just think their food comes from the store, but without farms and without knowledge, we don’t have a sustainable way of life.”
Students at WSES are starting to get the message through two Farm to School lunches that have been put on since the pilot project began.
The first luncheon served locally grown vegetables that intrigued, like purple and yellow carrots and some lettuce the students grew and harvested themselves from the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden. Kids also enjoyed fresh strawberry rhubarb crumble complete with flour crushed by a local flour peddler.
A Farm to School luncheon in the fall boasted squash soup, oven fries and apple cupcakes.
At each luncheon, Bell came out to talk to the kids about their food and answer questions.
“I’ve always known that kids have a great disconnect with where their food comes from, and I wanted to help make that connection,” Bell said of why he first got involved.
After a year in the pilot program, Bell pitched the idea of using a portion of his land for students to grow their own food for future lunches.
Everyone loved the idea, and with an influx of volunteer labour, the site was cleared and leveled and is now being prepped for a new vegetable garden.
Remaining money from the $2,500 grant (a few hundred dollars was spent on previous luncheons) will be used to put up a shed and purchase tools for students’ use.
Pierre explains that students will take turns during their daily neighbourhood walks to tend to the garden.
Over the summer, families are signing up to take week-long shifts to ensure there’s something to harvest this fall.
The community dietician involved hopes the garden will become an important part of the identity of the school.
“That’s what we want to do, make Farm to School part of the culture so it is built into the lesson plans and everyone gets that education,” Molnar said.
And it’s education that is missing in the current curriculum according to Pierre.
“These kids are getting a great valuable lesson on food knowledge, and school totally misses the boat on that. One of the most important things in our lives, how we fuel our bodies, they’re never taught that anywhere,” she said.
WSES has embraced the pilot project and principal Susan Budgell said students are excited about getting out to the farm to plant and tend their vegetables.
“This could not happen without our PAC though. If you do not have parents behind a program like this, it can’t work,” she noted.
Some speculate it was the lack of parent involvement at other schools that prevented them from grabbing onto the Farm to School funding when it was available last year.
“We did put out a call for proposals so all the schools had the opportunity for the funding, but only West Sechelt grasped onto it,” Molnar said.
“I would love to see another school or two start the program locally, and it could slowly grow,” Molnar said. “West Sechelt Elementary School has a good location to grow their own vegetables but another school could partner with a farmer close by. Farm to School can take many forms.”