École Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys: Natural Gardening Principles for a Stronger & Healthier School
Alison Stanley, our lead volunteer for the Foundation’s funded school garden recalls how the project started and now thrives. Through the help of various charities, not-for-profit organizations and civic-minded businesses, the school garden at École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Woodstock, ON is a testament as to how we can all come together and build sustainable projects for the good for the community and for the next generation.
Our first grant from United Way Oxford paved the way for a school garden project in Woodstock, Ontario. It led to the Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation lead sponsorship. Other local sponsorships followed such as Home Hardware Building Centre, the Woodstock Environmental Advisory Committee, the schools’ own parent councils, other not-for-profit organizations, civic minded businesses, and the support of the Vice-Principal, Kimberly Ellis. Our school project budget covered not only the initial start-up of the garden, but also a 3-year sustainability plan that would ensure funding was secure to operate the garden for at least three years. Sustainability funds included covering the cost of the yearly plants and seeds, straw for weed barrier, additional soil and compost, and a small amount for other miscellaneous items.
Planning the Garden
The project kicked off in the fall of 2016. The first task was finding a good location, in full sun, with good soil drainage, in an area that would be easy for students to access. Planning was done on paper first, drawing out two garden plots, and getting a rough idea of what types of foods would be planted. Then, the groundbreaking activity began. The initial work involved prepping two garden plots for growing produce, constructing a shed to store supplies, and installing rain barrels to help with water conservation.
The Students Get Started
The students in grades 3-8 got involved by installing compost bins, raking the soil, creating rows, applying weed barriers to pathways (newspaper and straw), and planting locally purchased strawberries, onions, leeks, broccoli, carrots, peppers, celery, beets, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and kale.
Over the 2017 summer months, the garden was maintained by a few of the school families. Activities involved mostly weeding and watering, to ensure optimal plant growth. “I really liked watering the plants and watching them grow and checking on them over the summer,” says Keira Lambert, a grade 4 student at the school who has helped with the project from the start. Keira’s comment also aligns with the Plant A Seed & See What Grows Foundation name, as students get to see a seed or plant grow into the food it becomes at harvest time.
Most of the food was harvested in September, by students, and delivered straight to the school cafeteria. Paulette Kydd, the holistic nutritionist at the school, used the food to provide students with healthier food options. “Because of the school garden, we could now provide meals with vegetables that were picked just hours ago which provide optimal nutrition to our students,” she explains. “The staff and students continue to be excited to see the food we create with their harvest. Kids who normally shy away from eating vegetables are more likely to try these creations!”
Addressing Community and Societal Needs
Our garden project teaches youth what healthy food is, and where it comes from. Connor Stanley, one of the students involved in the grant application, and an active participant in all the gardening activities, now understands that where and how food is grown impacts the flavour of our food. “The best thing about the garden is that we get fresh food that tastes better than anything you can buy,” explains Connor. “It’s better than anything you can buy because you know that there were no pesticides used. You also know where it came from.” Working in the garden also teaches youth basic business principles, math, and science skills. The students learn about teamwork and collaboration, and working together toward a common goal.
Promoting Health and Wellness
Exposure to green space, fresh air, and sunshine has many health benefits, including an increase in feelings of wellness and belonging. Morgan Vording, a student at the school, shared her thoughts on how the garden helped her. “Participating in the school garden was a lot of fun. I got to take some time off of (boring) school, to learn about the earth, planting etc. It was really nice out (thankfully), and I got to spend some time in the sun, doing something educating and fun. I learned a lot of things about how to plant. It was awesome!”
Learning About Natural Gardening
Our garden at École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys is nurtured using some of the principles of “natural gardening”. The natural gardening concept consists of a back to earth philosophy, which includes:
- Keeping the soil pure and free from pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers
- Composting plant matter back into the soil at the end of the growing season
- Enriching the soil with leaves in the fall (which will become nutrient rich compost)
- Planning for crop rotation to optimize soil health
A New Season of Growth
The new gardening season for this year and throughout summer months is well under way. Mdme. Cindy Desrosiers, one of the Grade 6 teachers at the school, volunteered for her class to help with all of the planting activities. Throughout the month of May, students in the class helped with planting, weeding, watering using rain barrel water, adding compost to the soil, and adding straw for weed barrier. Several families from the school community will come during the summer months to tend to the garden.
The Tower Garden
The project is expanding this fall 2018 to include an indoor garden system. With the funding from the Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation, the school was able to purchase the Tower Garden, a vertical, aeroponic growing system that will be used to grow leafy greens all year long. We’re all looking forward to the next school year’s learnings, bountiful harvests and great meals – from our Tower and outdoor gardens.
About the Writer: Alison Stanley
Parent Lead, École élémentaire Catholique Ste-Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Garden Project
Alison Stanley is a mother of two boys with a passion for gardening. Her passion for gardening started after volunteering for a Giving Garden project at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc., where she worked in the Finance Department. Using a Japanese process called “Yokoten”, commonly known as sharing best practices, Alison was inspired to share her knowledge of gardening. She is the Foundation’s lead project volunteer for the school garden project at École élémentaire Catholique Ste-Marguerite-Bourgeoys. She is an avid gardener at home, where she teaches her boys to grow and harvest food for the family. In sharing her passion with students, she hopes to help them learn about the earth, gardening, composting, water conservation, and the importance of fresh air, sunshine, and spending time in nature.