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School Food Gardens—Challenges, barriers and how to overcome them

Challenges such as what to do with a school garden during the summer months and how to prevent vandalism are common to most schools. Don’t let these situations prevent you from gardening! Here are some stories about how schools in BC manage these problems and keep up the enthusiasm for school gardens.

You’ll find, as you read through these examples, a key ingredient for successful gardens is partnerships.

Summer Care

Blue Mountain Elementary School in Maple Ridge worked out an arrangement with the Alouette Corrections Centre for Women near the school. The prison sent out a 5-person crew twice a week to water, weed and look after the garden during the summer. They were able to enjoy some of the produce as a benefit. The women also built trellises, garden boxes, and a composting box in their woodworking shop with materials supplied by the school. It is a wonderful partnership and is expected to continue in future summers.

Maple Grove School’s garden in Vancouver evolved from a Healthy Eaters and Leaders summer camp program run by one of the Vancouver School Board’s area offices.

Similarly, the parks and recreation program in Maple Ridge ran a mini-green thumbs program during the summer at one of the school garden sites. This gave the opportunity to run a summer program, while solving the school’s problem of summer care for the garden.

Richmond High School built a garden that incorporated both a school garden and a community garden. In the summer time, the community gardeners take care of the school plots. The gardeners, who are mostly seniors, usually walk to the garden from the nearby apartment buildings. There is someone there pretty much every day and as of yet, the garden hasn’t had one incidence of vandalism. By incorporating both a community garden and the school garden, you get the benefit of the community looking after the garden in the summertime.

Terra Nova gardens in Richmond is the site of several school gardens. One of the schools involved, Spulukwuks, is on a balanced year calendar, so they continue their school year until the end of July. Spulukwuks students will harvest produce from other school gardens. In addition, over the years, more and more students from the other schools seem to return to the garden to do their own harvesting throughout the summer. Since Terra Nova is a public space this is possible. The students know it is ‘their’ garden until September.

At West Vancouver Secondary, the students each signed up to come in once a week for two weeks. They worked in teams of two, and overlapped their weeks so that they’d spend their second week with a new partner, sharing what they saw in the previous week. They also had some teachers drop by from time to time to check up. The facilities were good enough to hook them up with a sprinkler.

The neighborhood daycare housed at an elementary school in Maple Ridge planted a section of the school garden. Since the daycare runs year-round, they took on the role of caring for the garden in the summer.

At Ridgeway Elementary in North Vancouver, families volunteer to look after the garden one week at a time during the summer months.

Bears

Information on composting in bear country. including a video, can be found on the North Shore Recycling website.

There is a document called 5 Steps to Composting in Bear Country on the North Shore Black Bear Network Society website.

Vandalism

An anti-vandalism sign was posted on the fence by the road at a school garden in Maple Ridge. Passers-by could report any unwanted activities right away. The local Citizens on Patrol stated that they thought the signage significantly reduced the number of vandalism incidents at the school.

Richmond High School built a garden that incorporated both a school garden and a community garden. In the summer time, the community gardeners take care of the school plots. The gardeners, who are mostly seniors, usually walk to the garden from the nearby apartment buildings. There is someone there pretty much every day and as of yet, the garden hasn’t had one incidence of vandalism.

Getting help and keeping up the enthusiasm

Plants grow more slowly than the attention span of some students. And sometimes, enthusiasm wanes after a year of two of gardening. Here are some ideas to re-infuse energy.

Ian Lai, founder and Project Coordinator of the Terra Nova Schoolyard Society, reports that in Richmond, they get Grade 12 students to help out in the garden as part of their Creative Action Service (CAS) hours. They send out the notice to all the secondary schools who distribute the call for volunteers through their various networks.  High school grad programs and leadership programs can fulfill their need to leave a legacy by improving or creating a school garden. In Richmond, they sell pickets for the picket fence around the garden as a fundraiser. This keeps the garden fence in repair over the years, while students are able to leave their mark.

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