Renuka Darling, a grade four/five teacher at Regina Street Alternative, is passionate about bringing healthy school food to the students at her school.
Renuka’s own inspiration and drive were fueled by a talk she heard from Ottawa teacher Stephen Skoutajan about his own experience with a school garden at Devonshire Community Public School. A presentation by Jen Coorsh from Growing Up Organic at an OCDSB PD day event clinched it. Renuka immediately signed up for all the possible Growing Up Organic garden workshops for that year. Little did she know that other teachers at Regina Alternative were thinking the same way.
In the Spring of 2017, Regina Street Alternative began working with Growing Up Organic to design, build and install a garden with help from students from grades 3-6. Each grade was responsible for planting and taking care of their own garden bed. Through Growing Up Organic’s curriculum linked facilitated workshops, students learned about planning a garden, starting seeds, planting a salad garden and transplanting seedlings. In the Fall, through other workshops, they learn about how to save seeds for next year’s garden and the role of good soil in making a garden productive and healthy.
By June the salad garden at Regina Street Alternative was ready to harvest. The students picked salad greens and edible flowers and made and ate a delicious salad. Many of the students have little exposure to fresh vegetables at home and some were reluctant to try the salad. Others loved it and kept asking for more. Renuka sees the garden as an opportunity to promote healthy eating to students at the school.
In November, with help from the Growing Up Organic Program, Regina Alternative visited Roots and Shoots, a local farm. Growing Up Organic arranged for one grade to go on this trip but there was so much excitement throughout the entire school that a second bus was rented and it turned into a school-wide field trip.
At the farm, students learned all about farming as an occupation including: growing tomatoes and peppers in a greenhouse, extending the growing season, rotating fields and raising chickens. The kids who had been involved in the garden the previous year especially loved the field trip. They saw the link between their school garden and farming.
Back at school, the students took part in a Growing Up Organic seed saving workshop where they harvested nasturtium seeds. They were amazed at how many seeds you could harvest from each plant. One group of students was really impacted and imagined how one little seed could, in the future, become hundreds of plants.
Renuka says that programs like Growing up Organic have such a big impact because they are easy for busy teachers to implement. “Programs need to come without any extra work. With the Growing Up Organic program the teacher only has to choose the dates and Growing Up Organic brings everything.”
Renuka has many ideas for things she would like to do in the future around good food at her school. She says she wanted to “start small and see if everything is manageable.” Now that the garden is underway she has plans to use the garden produce to cook in the classroom and show kids how they can make simple meals. Regina Alternative also has plans to set up a garden tower so the students can grow food all year round. Renuka envisions growing basil and having the students make pesto that they could then take home for dinner to spread the knowledge from the students back to their families.
Regina Alternative teachers value giving their students the skills to grow and cook good food. This spring, Cultivating Cooks, led by Carley Schelck and Anna March, will host a series of inspiring workshops on healthy eating for the students at Regina Alternative. Cultivating Cooks teaches students to make good food choices through hands-on curriculum linked workshops.
Story: Allegra Newman
Photos: Renuka Darling