When Dave Friend, aka Mr. Organic, first discovered that Vancouver Island, on the BC coast where he lives, has only 72 hours of food supply he just knew he had to do something about it.
When I became a certified organic grower, I automatically became a promoter for and a provider of local, healthy, organic food. During this time I also formed a consultancy service providing advice and guidance to people wanting to grow and/or sell local organic food. I then volunteered my time visiting schools and talking to students about the importance of growing and eating local, health-friendly food, eventually creating the Growing Young Farmers School Program.
I created the Growing Young Farmers School Program in 2009 and although the program has morphed into the Growing Young Farmers Society (a registered charity), it is still predominantly “Mr. Organic” doing the educating, encouraging and empowering of students to grow healthy food. I share my experience here in hopes that others will benefit from learning about our program.
The Growing Young Farmers Society (GYFS) School Program
- Available, suitable and adaptable to all grades.
- Kicks off with an interactive presentation on why we need to grow more local, healthy food.
- Mr. Organic and/or another Grower Educator visits the designated classes (chosen by the school) and over the next few weeks the students become involved in various practices and principles required to grow health-friendly organic food—and yes, they have fun doing so!
- The one hour visits have proved to have the most beneficial outcomes for the students when carried out on a weekly basis (there is a fee for the time a Grower Educator visits a school; the fee is currently $25 for each hourly visit.)
As a general rule, the program runs for six weeks in the fall and ten weeks in the spring. The time of year/growing season decides the type of food-growing activities the students participate in: starting seeds indoors, making their own potting soil, basic soil science, basic plant biology, soil preparation, preparing raised beds, direct seeding, transplanting, edible flowers, watering, weeding, composting, mulching, looking for worms, companion planting, good bugs vs. bad bugs, etc. This past fall program saw Lasagna gardening and seed saving being the two favourites with the kids, along with eating what they have grown!
From a teacher’s perspective, there are a number of plus factors within the structure of the program. For instance, a number of the activities address Ministry of Education prescribed learning outcomes. Three teachers are currently creating lesson plans specifically for the program with a direct link to prescribed learning outcomes.
There are many reasons why I believe strongly that the GYFS School Program (or any other similar program) should be part of the official school curriculum. The vast majority of the 35 million Canadians have less than a week’s supply of food readily available. With an ever-increasing population, what will the food INsecurity situation be when these students are adults and have families to feed? I really believe that they will actually need to grow food for their families.
Here are some of the many comments I have received from teachers, principals, students and parents that reflect the benefits of a growing young farmers program.
Tom Vickers, Principal – Growing Young Farmers has proved to be a rich learning environment for those students taking part. I have received positive feedback from teachers, students and parents. Parents with children who find it difficult to learn academically and struggle to come to school have mentioned that because of the program their children are actually excited about coming to school. The teaching staff have been very supportive of Growing Young Farmers and it is very rewarding to witness the children eating and enjoying the salad they have made from the food that they have grown (see an interview with Tom on the video on the website).
Michaela Curnow, Teacher – We are currently faced with a health care crisis due to intensive farming practices. The program provides a realistic opportunity and experience for children of all ages to be educated, encouraged and empowered to plant, grow, harvest and EAT healthy food. And to take pride in their achievements (see an interview with Michaela on the video on the website).
Jennifer Alberring, Teacher – I am lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in the Growing Young Farmers School Program with my students for the past four years. My students love the the program and are always excited about being actively engaged in their activities with Mr. Organic. Each season, as we take over minimally used field space at the school to grow more food; we are building a school culture around the garden space and growing food. It is amazing to see 9 and 10 year olds with their mouths full of kale, munching on purple sprouting broccoli, chomping on chives and enjoying everyone’s favourite edible flower—calendula. No need to nag these kids to eat their veggies! In fact, our lunchtime supervisors report that it is nearly impossible to keep the primary students from nibbling on organic goodies from the garden. Through participation in the program, students are learning to work together as a team and are becoming critical thinkers about where their food comes from and how it is grown, produced, processed and transported. My favourite part of the program is that students are taking the lessons learned home to their families and are starting food-growing gardens of their own! It is gratifying to know that we are inspiring more people in the community to grow food for the community.
Cathy Afford, Teacher – I wish to express the awesome impact the Growing Young Farmers Program has had on my students and myself. Over the years in my classroom students have grown all sorts of plants in containers, including potatoes in tubs. But it is not the same as being out in the weather, hands in the organic soil, getting hands dirty and connecting with nature. With the support of the program and the knowledge and dedication of Mr. Organic, my students are truly experiencing many beneficial learning outcomes and with so many of these outcomes having a direct association with many of the official PLOs! The enthusiasm generated by the students can only be described as “abundant!” To see 27 students truly engaged and working in a plot of food-growing land has been rewarding indeed. Watching the delight on their faces as they nibbled on tiny pieces of mint that they had grown was one of my greatest rewards of teaching! The program is providing the students with a sense of physical and emotional well-being for life, and they are having FUN!
Carol Hyland, Vice President/Executive of GYFS and parent of four children – I love and support this program because it not only teaches our children how to grow food but at the same time they are learning math, English, science, social studies, etc., through hands-on exploration.
Helen Windsor, Secretary/Executive of GYFS, a farmer and a parent of a 2 year old – With our farmlands dwindling and population growing, we need this program in our schools to teach the children in becoming self-sufficient. They in turn will be the growing (pun intended) force in showing everyone that growing food is not only possible but very much a necessity no matter what size of land you have. An educational food-growing policy within our schools is not only possible but it is a necessity!
Tracy Hilton, parent – Moving to a new school, my son Joseph, grade 4, had a hard time adjusting and had some learning difficulties. The Growing Young Farmers program had an amazing impact on Joseph—he was so enthusiastic and just loved it! As well as throwing himself wholehearted into the hands-on gardening, he wrote about it, drew pictures and made a graph on how wireworms live and work in the soil. Joseph has taught me a lot about gardening and we now grow organic food at home with some of the veggies being grown in our Lasagna Garden bed. GYF is a fantastic program for children of all ages.
Growing Young Farmers (GYF) is fun and I love it.
I like GYF very much and can’t wait to do it again.
GYF is fun and Mr. Organic is so nice.
I like GYF because I can learn new things every time and have a little bit of fun while I am learning.
GYF is fun because you learn how to grow food and I think that is awesome.
GYF is fun and we get to do it ourselves as if it was our own garden.
I think GYF is a good way to have fun at school because you get to build gardens and plant plants.
I am enjoying GYF so much and my favourite part is when we built the Lasagna Garden.
GYF is a really fun time. We are learning so much but it feels like we are just playing and having fun.
GYF is fun because you get your hands dirty.
I love GYF because you grow stuff and get to eat it.
It is so great to see the word “fun” being featured so prominently and I hope you also get the sense that they are learning at the same time—because they truly are! A huge thank you to all the champion teachers who have welcomed me into their classrooms. For further information on the GYFS School Program visit the website: growingyoungfarmers.ca.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dave can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Apr/May 2014 issue.