ReThink Food Follow-up: Spartan Gardens
by Marie Louka
School gardens inevitably fail. The students will lose interest. It’s too much trouble.
Most people remember the obstacles and lose spirit, but North Surrey’s Spartan Gardens persevered and their community is now enjoying the fruits—and vegetables—of their labour.
On November 5th 2015, during SFU Public Square’s We The City Community Summit, over 150 students came together for a one-day challenge called ReThink Food. This event invited students to design a real-world project to address food sustainability in their schools. The students had the chance to attend ideation sessions on healthy food and healthy communities, sourcing of food, and food waste and as well were taken through 3 learning mini-sessions on project planning, budgeting and pitching . ReThink Food provided a platform for the students to solidify their ideas and articulate their vision.
Through the generous support of the Vancouver Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation, Spartan Gardens and nine other teams received funding for their projects.
Spartan Gardens proposed to build a self-sustaining community garden where they could grow food to be used in the school cafeteria and that would act as a classroom environment for classes to be taught in.
We followed up with Spartan Gardens’ club members and their teacher, Andrew Landry, to see how their project was coming along. Interestingly, all the elements that were in the original ReThink Food pitch are at play today. In fact, the garden is moving beyond being simply a “garden”.
Sustainability within food systems was an important concept in the formation and growth of the garden. The latest harvest yielded 425 pounds of tomatoes, and 150 pounds of cucumbers, herbs, and peppers; the entirety of the fresh produce went directly to the school’s cafeteria.
The garden functions as a lab for the practical application of coursework. This is particularly relevant for the new curriculum that allows for project-based learning. Teachers have started using the garden as an educational tool; for instance, some classes had the students come in to identify the plants or to test the soil. The possibilities are limitless as long as the space is open and available.
The garden helped bring together students with various interests, and provided a medium for them to apply and develop their interests, such as physical activity, agricultural knowledge, environmental awareness, and presentation skills. It also brought together teachers and departments, as each department has its own planter in the garden that can be used by students for specific projects.
Spartan Gardens also acknowledges that the garden is on unceded First Nations land, and recognizes First Nations’ traditions and respect for the land in the way the garden is treated and used.
“We wanted to create something that belongs to us. All of us. As a school and a community.” - Andrew Landry
As the garden continues to grow, Spartan Gardens members hope to see it become an integral part of the school’s structure and infrastructure. Their next goal is to ensure that the garden is self-sustaining by creating a seed bank.
On a bigger scale, Landry is working with like-minded individuals in the Outdoor Educators Network to advocate for outdoor education in the new curriculum, and to provide support and resources to other teachers interested in implementing similar projects in their schools.
Program Intern, SFU Public Square