Growing Food Literacy in Educational Institutions

Growing Food Literacy in Educational Institutions

The Food Secure Canada Assembly offered a wealth of informative and inspiring forums & sessions spanning international topics like the Biomass Land Grab, to Northern & Indigenous Food Security/Sovereignty & Agricultural Sustainability related issues such as Fair Trade abroad & at home.

During the Plenary: Weaving Social Movements: Food Sovereignty in Action, the formidable Colleen Ross, National Farmers Union, cited a total of 1.5 % of the Canadian Population currently involved in farming. Only 2 years ago, the figure commonly quoted was 2%; the rate of reduction is alarming. Although interested in all areas of Food Security I feel a renewed urgency to focus on School Food Garden Programs, because of their potential to raise awareness, disseminate knowledge & skills and to develop Food Literacy.

Ideally, school food gardens would be established as part of the core curriculum in every school across Canada & North America; growing Food Literacy toward greater Food Security. The school gardening movement is gaining momentum in Canada & the US and has been more established in some areas than others.

In the US Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, has been the model for sustainable school gardening. The California Department of Education features A Garden In Every School program

In Canada school gardening programs have been more prolific in British Columbia and Ontario. In 2006 Evergreen published a report on Growing Healthy Food on Canada’s School Grounds

In Manitoba the Frontier School Division has lead the way in school gardening based on their Veggie Adventures Health & Science Curriculum. The Mel Johnson School Gardening Program, their most successful program to date, has been recognized as a best practices project by the United Nations Commission on Sustainability, but school gardens in other northern communities in the Division – such as Leaf Rapids – are also prospering.

Locally, several Winnipeg schools have established school gardens, the Community Garden network has involved children and the Boys & Girls Club of Winnipeg has taken an active role in gardening with children & youth. More recently the Seven Oaks School Division has taken a leadership role in expanding school gardening division-wide and close to 40 educators, administrators, staff & parents participated in a full-day workshop to help them get started growing in the spring.

Some NGOs such as Food Matters, OFCM-GUO, the North End Food Security Network, Fort Whyte Farms, Evergreen and businesses such as Sage Garden Herbs…etc. are responding to the growing interest in School Gardening. Perhaps, the time is ripe to form a Winnipeg School Gardening Network.

In Toronto, The Garden and Food Curriculum Working Group (GAFCWG) is a great example of community groups working together.

The GAFCWG is a collaborative network of organizations and individuals, mainly based in the GTA, doing school food garden education. Members and participants not only include those from founding organizations (FoodShare, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, The Stop Community Food Centre, Evergreen and EcoSchools), but also interested teachers, parents and school community members.

Objectives of the GAFCWG are:

  • To develop curriculum-linked activities complementary to the Ontario School curriculum
  • To provide relevant and accessible garden and food activities
  • To share and collaborate on ideas and projects related to garden and food education
  • To provide links and information about educational and environmental resources

During the Schools as Spaces for Nutrition session Debbie Field, Executive Director, FoodShare Toronto presented on FoodShares activities related to Nutrition Education in Toronto schools and introduced the concept of Food Literacy as a requirement for Grade twelve graduation.

FoodShare believes that all children and youth should learn to grow, cook and know good, healthy food.

The Field to Table Schools program models and re-introduces food education in schools, bringing the food system to life with hands-on activities and workshops. Students from JK to Grade 12 learn about composting, food gardens, nutrition, cooking, local and global food systems and more.

Another example of cooperative efforts and sharing – from a little further afield – is the Princeton Schools Garden Cooperative

Their publication Princeton School Gardens, Edible – Ecological – Fun, Garden Planning & Lesson Plans

Dorothy Mullen’s Checklist for Starting a School Garden [NJ Farm to School] is a very well developed & useful tool

Networking with outside sources to build on successful models increases efficiency as the barriers & challenges to [urban] school gardening are very similar everywhere and solutions & teaching resources can be adapted to suit local parameters.

The session titled: Youth Food Movement: Leaders of Tomorrow Leaders of Today, represents and is indicative of the engagement of Youth and young Adults everywhere in matters of Food Security, Food Self Sufficiency and Urban Agriculture. One of the presenters, Cameron Stiff, Concordia Food Systems Project Coordinator and former sociology student says: “… we have the opportunity to be leaders in the field. Getting students out there, growing food, talking about food, working with communities and building a more engaged academic environment – I think that’s the future of education and I’m thrilled that Concordia is embracing it

Cameron offered a tour of the Concordia rooftop greenhouse , an all-organic space, geared towards education and research, sustainable horticulture, and community-building. As a case in point, micro greens grown in this greenhouse were served as part of the Food Secure Canada Assembly’s Feast of Local Flavours

The leadership & initiative of the Youth Food Movement is important and needs to be supported in its interest in urban & rural, sustainable food production.

Katharina Stieffenhofer attended the recent Food Secure Canada conference in Montreal with the support of the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance.

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