Port Weller Public School: The Treasure within the Garden

In partnership with Port Weller Public School, Peanut Mill and the District School Board of Niagara, we’re happy to let you know that our funded school garden in Ontario is growing and thriving! Read on to see how Katie Wood, our lead project volunteer and her hardworking crew of port pirates discover the treasure within their garden. Read more.

About Port Weller School:

Port Weller Public School in St. Catharines, Ontario is in a unique part of the Niagara Region. Located at Lock 1 of the Welland Canal, the major thoroughfare of the St. Lawrence Seaway, students see the massive cargo ships moving through the canal out the classroom windows. Within a few kilometers of our school are the orchards and vineyards of Niagara on the Lake, and there is a forested park nearby.

The Treasure within the Garden

“Me! Me!” Hands and arms wave wildly. Some students jump up and down. What caused this commotion?  It was a simple question: “Who would like to pull up a carrot?” 

One of the best parts of teaching using gardens is that ordinary things found in lunches and on tables become exciting, interesting, and desirable.  Carrots, beets, potatoes, and radishes are a mystery below the soil that children eagerly wait to see. Lettuce, kale, herbs, and celery are picked and crunched at every opportunity.  Tomatoes are gobbled up from the vines, sometimes even before they are fully ripe. 

Following plants from seed to fork is a lesson in patience and wonder.  If you were listening in on student conversations at the garden, you would hear comments such as, “I didn’t know THAT’s what broccoli looked like!” or “How do these flowers turn into tomatoes?” And almost always, when students are given seeds, “How could this tiny seed possibly make a [insert vegetable name here]?” With our school garden these questions can be answered without words, right before their eyes.

When Jason Sebeslav of The Peanut Mill Natural Foods Market approached Port Weller school staff about a partnership for a garden, an enthusiastic crew of teachers met around a table to dream up our future plot. He shared samples of resources from Plant a Seed and See What Grows Foundation and told us about funding opportunities through the Peanut Mill and the Plant a Seed and See What Grows Foundation.  Our principal at the time, Hilary Abbey, was very supportive. The idea took root and grew from there.

The vision was to have participation from everyone in our school community.  Our Grade 7 students were tasked with measuring and cutting the lumber; neighbours helped with sod removal in the evenings; students from grade K-8 lined up for a chance to use the drill and put the boxes together; wheelbarrows and shovels were brought in by families within the school, and the Peanut Mill staff worked with students to fill the beds with soil, providing treats for everyone during the construction day.  When it was time to plant, a large organic seed donation came from Creek Shore Farms, and families in the school donated seedlings. At the end of June 2017, families “adopted” the garden for weeding, watering, and harvesting.  The community gathered together in the fall for a harvest soup celebration, made with the vegetables from our garden. The Grade 3 class harvested the veggies, and the Kindergarten students washed and prepared them.

Changing minds and attitudes towards our food system and current agricultural practices is vital to everyone’s future.

One of the most rewarding results of having a school garden is seeing the enthusiasm of students who are interested in their food and more willing to try vegetables they have had a hand in growing.  They have experience growing organic produce and have seen firsthand that healthy plants don’t require chemical inputs.  Changing minds and attitudes towards our food system and current agricultural practices is vital to everyone’s future.  It’s not just about the vegetables, either – we have found Eastern Swallowtail caterpillars, ladybug larvae undergoing metamorphosis, and even noticed a large resident dragonfly. 

 

In the garden, children engage with all their senses, making learning concrete and memorable

In the garden, children engage with all their senses, making learning concrete and memorable.

The garden teaches students about the interconnectedness of the natural world.  As educators, our job is to inspire students and create conditions for them to thrive.  In the garden, children engage with all their senses, making learning concrete and memorable.  Steven Bouma-Prediger, author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (Engaging Culture) once said: “We care for only what we love. We love only what we know. We truly know only what we experience.”

Our students are so grateful to have been given the experience of a school community garden!

 

About Katie Wood:

Katie is an educator and small-scale organic farmer with a passion for experiential learning. Her role at Port Weller School includes primary science and leading students in the Environmental Action Team. 

Katie received the District School Board of Niagara’s I Matter special award for exemplary leadership for the Port Weller School’s green space.