EMSDALE – The gardens at Evergreen Heights Education Centre are in full bloom.
FARMERS IN TRAINING.
“The produce is still growing, but every day the kids have been feasting on local foods like strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, and honey,” said Kelli Ebbs, Savour Muskoka project manager. “Weather has been on our side.”
In April, the school’s Grade 3 class embarked on a produce-driven pilot project made possible through a partnership with Savour Muskoka.
April 13 marked the official kick-off of the Edible School Yard program, which combines lessons in farming and cooking by using on-site produce gardens as interactive tools.
“Feedback has been amazing,” said Ebbs, noting the kids can’t wait for Fridays when the Savour Muskoka crew comes to visit. “Parents have been very impressed with the raised beds and everything the kids have done. Kids even built the boxes and raised beds themselves using tape measures, hammers and nails.”
On June 1, the students were presented with $1,000 from the Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program.
Toyota Canada Inc. and its dealers have contributed more than $6 million through the foundation since its inception in 2000. The funding program seeks to support the education of children in the importance of restoring and preserving the environment.
Evergreen Heights is the only school within Parry Sound–Muskoka to be enrolled in the Savour Muskoka project.
“We could not have done this without the unconditional support of the teachers, principal and administration at Evergreen Heights and of course without the enthusiasm of the awesome Grade 3 class we have been so lucky to work with,” said Ebbs.
Ebbs said the students have become so adept at planting seeds, potting seedlings and transplanting plants staff barely need to instruct any more.
“The results in their skills is exceptional,” said Ebbs. “They are pros in the kitchen.”
As part of the program, the students draw knowledge from different guest speakers who visit the school to teach a variety of useful farming and gardening lessons.
The kids work together to grow their own produce in gardens located in the schoolyard and use the food they farm to create healthy meals.
“We have a straw bale garden that is growing potatoes and three different varieties of squash. Next year we will demolish this garden and it will turn into the herb and perennial garden and outdoor classroom,” said Ebbs.
The students have also learned livestock aspects of sustainable living. Although, Ebbs said the effort resulted in a slightly comical outcome.
“One day when we did a component on raising chickens. We brought the chicks inside and taught the lesson there,” explained Ebbs. “The fire drill served as a dilemma as we all remembered while outside that we left the chicks in the classroom.”
The success of the Edible School Yard has been made possible through multiple donations from various groups, including the Township of Perry, Fern Glen Farm and Garden Center, Seed to Green Farms in Emsdale, Robinson's Independent Grocers in Huntsville, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Although the program is doing well, Ebbs said the students would welcome donations of materials to take their gardens to the next level.
“We would love some milled lumber for benches and an arbor for an outdoor garden classroom we are building,” explained Ebbs. “We would always welcome a donation of clean topsoil.”
As year-end approaches, Ebbs highlighted a challenge of the program.
“The kids will go the entire summer not witnessing the wonderful work they have produced, but come September everything will be in full production and it will be a great to resume where we left off,” she said.
Local volunteers are being sought to help maintain the gardens over the summer months while the students aren’t in class.
Anyone interested in volunteering throughout the summer can email Kelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.