At the Farm to School BC Spring Celebration, one of the schools SPEC works with, John Norquay Elementary, was awarded the highest award for a school garden. The Farm to School BC Pollinator Award recognizes Farm to School programs and school teams that act as pollinators within their community: buzzing around their gardens, kitchens and classrooms to build healthy food systems, transferring and sharing knowledge, fostering thriving learning environments, and supporting the development of young healthy “seeds”, who will grow up to one day offer the fruits of their labour back to the environment and community.1
This esteemed award went specifically to John Norquay’s school garden committee, which includes Valeria Kao (parent volunteer), Linda De Jardin (grade 6/7 teacher), and Ivy Chang (K/1 teacher) as well as the involvement of many others at the school, such as Gary Loong (grade 5/6 teacher), the school librarian/resident garden carpenter, Mark Warkentin, a very supportive current principal, the former principal, and the former vice principal, and at least 15 teachers that have been involved in the garden program each year. The gardens at John Norquay are a testament to the teamwork and collaboration this school embodies, and this award reflects the strength of their community.
Pictured: Val (parent volunteer) accepting the Pollinator Award on behalf of John Norquay’s School Garden Committee
How Norquay’s Gardens Blossomed
John Norquay started their garden four years ago with the strong support of their teachers, like Linda De Jardin and Ivy Chang, and parent volunteers, especially Valeria Kao. Val applied for funding to start and grow the school garden over the past four years, leading to 18 garden boxes, 2 garden storage boxes, a 3-box compost system, 4 fruit trees, winter hoop houses, 8 grow lights for indoor seedling cultivation, a mason bee home, a large rain-covered blackboard sign, and an annual supply of soil amendment.
Each year, about 15 classrooms manage and maintain the gardens, including 8 classrooms that engage in the SPEC School Gardens Program. Teachers bring their students out into the garden and plant seeds, grow food, and harvest the food for the end of school year harvest celebration. The 8 classrooms engaged in SPEC garden lessons come out in the garden in the Fall to learn about saving seeds, composting, and preparing the gardens for the winter. In the Spring, they learn to direct sow cold weather crops, start and take care of seedlings in the classroom under grow lights, transplant seedlings, and learn about pollinators and beneficial insects. Last year, they even built an insect hotel for the garden.
Pictured: Kindergarten and grade 1 teacher Ivy Chang brings her students out into the garden and allows them time to explore and become comfortable and respectful around plants and insects. She teaches them which plants and flowers are edible right from the start of the year, and continues to bring her students out weekly to go around the garden and munch on a variety of edible plants. By the end of the year, the kindergarten and grade 1 students are fully versed in the plants growing in the garden.
Linda involves her grade 6/7 class in making sure all of the boxes are well watered throughout the Spring. Val teaches the students how to set up the watering system and trains them in effective watering techniques. Other grade 6/7 classes are often involved, and the grade 7s train the grade 6s so that they can take over the watering for the next year. This year, Gary Loong's grade 5/6 class have been trained and sharing the big task of watering the large garden.
Students who are not a part of the garden program with their class are able to join a garden club that Linda and Ivy run during lunch time. The garden club learns to save seeds, grows and transplants seedlings, and takes care of the garden.
For the past three years, the teachers get together and plan a harvest celebration in June, with the help from Val and other parent volunteers who pick up extra ingredients and find tables and dishes. Each class picks one or two vegetables from the garden and uses it to make a dish with their class. Last year, teachers set up stations with each dish, and the classes rotated around and learned about the different vegetables being used in each dish, fun facts about the vegetable, and how the vegetable was incorporated and prepared into that dish.
Even the school librarian plays a part in the gardens. The librarian is a trained carpenter and helped students construct trellises for the garden boxes. He is also called upon whenever there is a repair to be made in the garden, which he happily helps with. And he has an unofficial tool library which has been handy in the garden for things that come up unexpectedly.
Community Pollinators for Food Literacy
The importance of community is reflected in the accomplishments of everyone working with Norquay’s garden. It is easy to see how the garden team functions as pollinators in their community, build healthy food systems and supporting the development of students who will grow up and give back to the environment and community, making them a perfect fit for the Pollinator Award.
And the impact of the gardening program on students can be seen almost immediately. This Spring, Val found funding to have Lori Snyder deliver native plant walks to every single division in the school (over 20 divisions), after which students have been seen identifying and tasting local plants in the schoolyard. From SPEC’s perspective, it is easy for Nikoo, the Program Coordinator, to see how the students learn and grow with the garden throughout their time at Norquay. Not only can students identify which vegetables and herbs are growing in their garden, but they also understand the time and hard work it takes to deliver fresh, healthy, and tasty food onto their plates.
1. The First Annual Pollinator Award went to a program that exemplifies the four Farm to School pillars: healthy, local food in the bellies of students; hands-on experiential learning in the garden, kitchen or community; school and community connectedness; and supporting sustainable regional food systems. (See https://farmtoschoolbc.ca/three-core-elements/ for more detailed description of these F2S pillars).