Cooking up a Good Start at Carson Grove Elementary School

Cooking up a Good Start at Carson Grove Elementary School

In April of 2016, 110 new students, most of them Syrian refugees, started at Carson Grove, a small elementary school in the East end of Ottawa. This new influx of students bumped the school’s population from under 200 to over 300. Most of the new students were new arrivals to Canada and had high levels of food insecurity. Overnight, the breakfast program expanded from serving 80 kids a day to serving 130-150. Sandra Copeland, the breakfast coordinator, just rolled with it even though she has only 12 minutes in between when those buses arrive and the start of school to feed all 150 students.

Sandra was a chef for 25 years before running the Carson Grove breakfast program supported by ONFE (Ottawa Network for Education). She is very dedicated to her work and to the kids. She dealt with the influx of students by changing the model away from self-serve towards grab and go where the students can select pre-bagged fruits and vegetables alongside yoghurt, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, crackers, bread, bagels. Sandra says that many of the new students coming to the breakfast program were amazed to see such a variety of food. Sandra saw the need for food throughout the day and now provides a snack bin that allows the kids to help themselves when they are hungry.

By carefully watching the students in the morning, Sandra sees if a student looks particularly hungry and will let them take an extra item. She also notices those kids who are feeling shy or having trouble standing in line. One boy, Sandra says, always arrived before school began with a coke and a bag of chips to eat. When the buses were unloaded and the kids started lining up for breakfast he felt too shy to participate. Sandra saw that his need for a nutritious breakfast was not being met. She began inviting him in early so he could eat breakfast without the pressure of the other students.

Sandra arrives at the school 1.5 hours earlier to prep all the food for the day. She serves breakfast from a trolley cart in the gym with rotating student volunteers. Sandra likes to provide variety for her breakfast and regularly introduces new foods to the kids. Sandra remembers a student  who commented “I really like the bread here. We only have the white stuff at home.”

Not only is she committed to providing the students healthy breakfasts but Sandra also has fun with the program. She talks and jokes with the kids making them feel comfortable and at home. Some of the newcomers’ first English words, Sandra says, were the names of fruits and vegetables. Sandra herself has also learned some Arabic words related to food.


Story: Allegra Newman

Feeding Students’ Bodies and Minds at École élémentaire publique Mauril-Bélanger

Feeding Students’ Bodies and Minds at École élémentaire publique Mauril-Bélanger

In 2016, school life for Mauril-Bélanger’s 200 elementary students began to change with the arrival of their new principal. When Caroline Johnston took over the helm, she brought with her ambitions to provide nourishment for the students’ minds and bodies. At the heart of her plan, was an increase in the connection between the school and the local community introducing a broader approach to child development.

Located in the heart of Vanier, Mauril-Bélanger is a small French public school attended by children from neighbourhoods with many challenges. However, when Caroline looks at the school, the students, and the surrounding neighbourhood, instead of seeing challenges, she sees opportunities to create experiences that have lasting impact on the lives of her students. The median income of families at the school is $22 000/year, which means that many families are making difficult choices around food. Caroline adamantly believes that kids cannot learn if they do not have enough to eat. She also believes that schools can and should play a role in providing nutritious food to those in need.

Since many of the children do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Caroline started providing a fruit bowl in every class. She then focused on lunch. Once a week, a group of seniors from the community makes a delicious and nutritious soup for the entire school. Extra soup is then given to local food banks. Eating good food together builds community, says Caroline. She hopes next to change the school breakfast program from a grab and go model to a sit-down model where the children can interact with one another while they eat. Already, she has helped the breakfast program coordinator introduce fresh milk and eggs into the menu and in the coming year she hopes to expand the variety of healthy food choices.

Also in 2016, Elyse Robertson started working at Mauril-Bélanger School as a Community Coordinator. Elyse is a teacher with a community organizing background, a history of working with the local neighbourhood and a passion for school food issues. Part of a pilot project, her mandate is to bring the community into the school and the school to the community, creating a circle where the curriculum is linked to the family which is linked to the community and then linked back to the school.

Mauril-Bélanger has many resources. A full, good-sized kitchen (a rare commodity in elementary schools in Ottawa) and twelve outdoor garden boxes. The students plant the gardens in the spring and during the summer at-risk youth, who are part of the summer program, take care of the plants and harvest some of the produce. A group of parents are presently planning a new garden that will be built in the Spring of 2018.

The school is also surrounded by engaged small business owners who Elyse wants to further connect with. Feeling connected to their local community, say Elyse and Caroline, will give the kids more support outside the school when they need it. Elyse has a dream of creating a social entrepreneur program at the school where students grow microgreens that they then sell to local business owners to raise money and awareness for school programs.

Another way the students at Mauril-Bélanger connect with their community is through volunteering. Even though the need at the school is high, Caroline and Elyse believe that it is important for the students to give back to their community. Grades 5 and 6 regularly visit the local food bank and have made soup to share with the patrons.

Another great resource available at Mauril-Bélanger is the diversity of the greater school community. There are over 24 different cultural origins represented in the school with very diverse and healthy culinary traditions. The yearly multicultural potluck dinner is a highlight of the school year with a feast of food from around the world, prepared by the families of the school. Caroline and Elyse wonder what is preventing students from bringing healthy, hot lunches from home that represent their family cultural traditions. They are considering providing thermoses to students and also thinking about possible ways to heat hot meals within the school. They want to change how families feel about food so that kids are not sent to school with unhealthy lunches. Elyse and Caroline wish there was better access in Ottawa for affordable, healthy catered lunches. They wonder, would parents who are paying weekly for pizza lunch instead put their money towards more healthy food? They are encouraged by the recent Fresh from the Farm fundraiser which provided Ontario vegetables for sale to raise money for school programs. The fundraiser did very well at their school which shows a desire for more access to affordable, fresh and healthy food.

Caroline and Elyse feel like they are just getting started. They are looking for more ways to encourage food literacy and provide opportunities to teach cooking skills to students and their families. Mauril-Bélanger is a school to watch as they move forward with their plans. The coordinated enthusiasm and passion of the school staff to bring good school food programs to the school along with the local landscape of opportunities just waiting to happen is bound to lead to innovative and inspiring projects.

Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: Elyse Robertson

Norman Johnston: From Field to Table

Norman Johnston: From Field to Table

Norman Johnston Secondary Alternate Program is the poster child for high impact school food programs. With Mark Frankish as the Foods Program teacher, Laura Cardiff as the Garden Program teacher and all round healthy food advocate teacher Sally Collins leading the charge, Norman Johnston has changed the way their students feel about coming to school.

As an alternate high school site, Norman Johnston serves students aged 16-21 for whom the traditional system has not been successful for a variety of reasons. Often students struggle with mental health, addiction, poverty, or social exclusion. Sally Collins believes that teaching about self-care, including healthy eating should be a priority. Looking around the school, Sally saw students who were not getting the nutrition they needed, which was affecting their school work.

Five years ago, Sally won a $50 000 Healthy Eating Grant for the school. With this money, she had a foodsroom built at the school providing a space with a stove, fridge and sink. The program has expanded from there. Teacher Mark Frankish, who has extensive background in the food services industry, was hired as the Foods Program teacher. Most days, students in the Foods Program make a healthy lunch for 20-35 students. Getting the students to eat homemade foods that are unfamiliar is always a challenge, but Norman Johnston teachers and staff have persevered. In fact, in 2017 the last vending machine was removed and only one student complained.  And the food is available to all students. “Everyone should be able to try new foods” says Sally Collins. Cost, she believes, should not be a barrier for students to eat healthy meals.

In 2017, Norman Johnston was the only school in Ottawa to receive a $10 000 salad bar grant from Farm to Cafeteria Canada. With this money, they purchased an industrial dishwasher to increase the amount of food prep they could do each day and expanded their outdoor growing space. The students now make and serve delicious salads using school grown greens every week and for special school events. The Foods Program at Norman Johnston is structured around a holistic Farm to Table model with the students growing and cooking much of the food themselves. Sally Collins says the meals the students make are “made from the healthiest food that the kids will eat”. That means pushing the envelope with some things while using other, more familiar ingredients. For example, using white flour wraps to wrap some of the chicken salad wraps because the teachers know that the meal is more likely to be eaten and not wasted.


As well as an extensive outdoor garden, Norman Johnston also has three inside tower gardens and are testing out a soil based garden tower that has an internal vermicomposter. Gardening teacher Laura Cardiff says the students show a lot of interest in the garden program. They learn about seed saving, plant propagation and sustainable gardening through hands-on training with Laura and most recently through workshops with Growing Up Organic. In the fall and spring, students take part in a six-week course where they focus on learning all they can about growing food outside. According to Laura, digging in the dirt contributes to students’ overall well-being. The students who are involved in the gardening program are engaged and connected and feel part of the school. In a population with high absenteeism, gardening students seldom miss a day.

During the growing season, 80% of the food used in the Foods Program is from the garden. In the winter months 70% of the food is purchased while an amazing 30% comes from the blanched and frozen produce from the fall harvest  or from the indoor gardens in Laura’s classroom. Mark’s commitment to using as much local food as possible means that part of the Fall program is preparing and freezing food for later use. When talking about the importance of the program, Sally Collins says that, “dietitians advise that the best thing you can do for teenagers is teach them how to cook.” Students in this program learn about healthy eating, how to read a recipe, cooking on a budget and food preparation skills such as how to properly use knives in the kitchen.

In the Fall of 2017, Norman Johnston constructed a greenhouse that will, according to gardening teacher Laura Cardiff, “lengthen the growing season, provide even more food for the students and even more opportunities to learn about sustainability, food security, horticulture and nutrition.” A current challenge is how to balance gardening with other subjects. Laura would like to see a Health and Wellbeing Specialist  program focused on garden to table. The teachers would also love to see all students take a foods course during their time in high school.

Norman Johnston is well connected to the Ottawa community. A partnership with Gourmet Cuisine helps them acquire used kitchen equipment and the grocery store chains Whole Foods and Metro donate food to the school . A local senior sorority group also collects and donates food for students in need. Seniors from a local residence sometimes help with the garden. The school built raised beds to help the seniors work more easily in the garden. Local chefs also volunteer their time. Recently, Karly Ireland, executive chef at the Nature Museum, came and gave a workshop for the students on making five meals for under $50. Norman Johnston teachers are always looking for more connections to their local community. Sally would like to work with nearby farms to use extra or unsellable produce for the cooking program. She has also set up a partnership with Just Food Farm, located down the road, to host Co-op students and farm field trips.

Sally, Mark and Laura are continually thinking of ways to expand the program at Norman Johnston. Most recently they have been looking for startup funding to purchase a shipping container and fill it with hydroponic lettuce. They want to develop a program where their students will supply Alternate Programs across the city with lettuce and greens for their salad bars.

Norman Johnston’s unique Farm to Table program works because as Sally says, learning about personal food security through growing and cooking leads to happier students. In a program where just coming to school is a major challenge for some students, happier students mean greater academic successes and better future outcomes.

Story:Allegra Newman

Outdoor Gardening with Cairine Wilson Secondary School

Outdoor Gardening with Cairine Wilson Secondary School

Cairine Wilson was one of the first high schools in Ottawa to work with Growing Up Organic. Before this, Growing Up Organic had focused only on building gardens and giving workshops at Ottawa elementary schools but teacher Malia Robin thought installing a school garden would be a great contribution towards this Orleans school’s Platinum Ecoschool status. Malia worked with Growing Up Organic’s coordinator to link their programs to the geography (livable communities) and civics (civic issues and personal action) high school curriculums.

The students, along with Growing Up Organic, constructed four raised beds. Malia, who teaches geography and Nancy Arnott-Conroy, the community living teacher bring their classes together for the Growing Up Organic workshops. They feel this provides an opportunity to bring together students who would otherwise not interact and brings together different aspects of the student experience to the garden.

Malia would love to have more time to work with Growing up Organic. She, like many other teachers, believes that the program is too short and each workshop should be expanded over three days instead of one. For the amount of time the students have in the garden they learn a lot. Malia believes it is a great way to make connections to nature and the wider world and connects well to the civics curriculum. “The Science of It (seed saving workshop) is amazing”, says Malia. “When you show the kids exactly where the seeds are, they have no idea. Even in high school they don’t really realize the very wide variety of strategies the plants have for producing seeds and how a seed grows into a plant and then gives many more seeds to to plant later.”


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: Malia Robin

Cultivating Cooks at Woodroffe Avenue Public School

Cultivating Cooks at Woodroffe Avenue Public School

When Carley Schelck from Cultivating Cooks approached Woodroffe Avenue Public School with the idea of piloting a series of healthy food workshops, Grade 5 teacher MacArthur Millen didn’t know what to expect. Over the next 10 weeks, he and his students were blown away by the incredible learning and delicious food knowledge that Carley and her team brought into his classroom.

Cultivating Cooks is a hands on, classroom based elementary school level program that teaches about growing, cooking, preserving and eating healthy local food. This innovative program makes a strong connection between where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It is the brainchild of Ottawa Entrepreneur Carley Schelck and Chef Anna March both from urban element cooking school. Carley and Anna have made this program adaptable to the needs of each school that they work with. They bring their extensive connections with local experts to add even more value to an already jam packed program. In the Spring of 2017, as part of their first year pilot project, Cultivating Cooks led the students of Woodroffe Avenue Public School through an intensive program of growing, preparing and eating healthy, nutritious food.

Cultivating Cooks Partner Chef Anna March began the workshop series by introducing the students to different parts of vegetables that we eat: seeds, roots and shoots. Simon Bell from the Parkdale Food Center then worked with the kids showing them how to safely use knives to make a delicious salad.

The next workshop had students constructing and planting a new school garden under the guidance of local master gardener and general handyman Tom Marcantonio. Kids learned about using drills and saws and how to ensure the soil is healthy and ready to receive plants. They also constructed a moveable compost bin.

Chef Anna began the next workshop by talking to the kids about what grows where and when. They discussed preserving local food when it is in season for use later in the year. Sue Hall, a registered dietician from the Parkdale Food Center then talked with the students about processed versus whole foods. She also discussed the sugar content in soft drinks. Together with Chef Anna, the kids then made healthy juices from fruits and vegetables.

Trish Larkin from Buchipop began the next workshop by talking about her experience as a beekeeper and the importance of bees in our food systems. The students learned about what kind of flowers they could plant to attract pollinators. Trish also had the students do a honey tasting. They discovered that honey made from the nectar and pollen of different flowers has a different taste.


During the final workshop, Cultivating Cooks brought back Simon Bell to talk about kitchen health and safety. The kids then packed waste-less lunches by layering salads in jars.

Teacher MacArthur Millen says that before this workshop many kids had not grown or cooked before. “Some of the kids didn’t know that carrots come out of the ground.” Teaching kids where their food comes from and how to make healthy meals is the motivation behind this program. Carley believes that teaching food literacy is a vital life skill. Before initiating this program she noticed a knowledge gap. Many schools have school gardens but there is little education around food literacy connected to the growing vegetables.  Carley and Anna want to take this program “anywhere and everywhere that there is an audience”. With that in mind, Cultivating Cooks is hoping to grow over the next few years, visiting more schools and cooking and growing with more kids. In order to serve a wider population, they have developed materials and workshops in both French and English. Carley also sees lots of opportunity to collaborate with other organizations such as Growing Up Organic and ONFE’s Indoor Classroom Garden Program to allow even more schools to take part in Cultivating Cooks.

MacArthur Millen of Woodroffe also has dreams around healthy food in school. His vision is that his students will one day be more connected to the school’s breakfast program. He envisions the students using use local produce to cook and prepare food such as blueberry muffins or strawberry jam to serve at the breakfast program.


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: MacArthur Millen

Working Together To Make Good Food For All at Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School

Working Together To Make Good Food For All at Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School

Students at Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School are lining up to volunteer to serve breakfast to 80-100 kids every day. According to Rachel Sheffield and Kristine Coates, Educational Assistants who run the program for the Grade 7-12 school, students often continue to volunteer to serve breakfast long after they have finished their required community volunteer hours. “They feel an ownership over the program”, says Rachel, “volunteer students are often telling others to take off their coats and backpacks”.

This is a taste of the friendly, welcoming atmosphere that Rachel and Kristine have nurtured with the breakfast program. Sheffield says, for some students, starting their day sitting down with their friends for a nutritious meal is “a refuge away from some difficult home lives.”

But the program is more than the morning meal. Every afternoon, Rachel and Kristine work with students from the school’s high needs program alongside 3-5 co-op students to plan, shop and prep for the next day’s breakfast. For the high needs students, Rachel and Kristine say, the daily routine, as well as the valuable life skills learning, are great for these students who remain at the school until they are 21. It is also valuable for the co-op students who, while earning course credits, learn essential food preparation skills, how to buy healthy food on a budget and how to read a recipe. The skills they learn, Rachel says, transfer to their home life. Students leave the breakfast program knowing how to choose and cook healthy food for themselves and their families.

The breakfast program thrives on variety. Each day of the week they serve something new: muffins, smoothies, chicken wraps, English muffin pizza, homemade salsa, bagels with homemade strawberry jam. In addition, the office provides snacks and sandwiches for students requiring extra food.

The commitment that Rachel and Kristine show for the breakfast program is instrumental in making it a success. They say that they could not do it without the 100% support from the school’s principal Bill Walsh and the funding and support from the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE).


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: Kristine Coates

Building Community Through Good Food at Devonshire Community School

Building Community Through Good Food at Devonshire Community School

Stephen Skoutajan has been running a food based learning program at Devonshire Community Public School for eleven years. He is a pioneer in developing innovative and inspiring initiatives that promote healthy food, sustainable communities and are directly linked to the curriculum. Stephen also has many more years’ worth of ideas stuffed in his back pocket just waiting for the right time.

Using food to build strong, caring communities is a priority for Stephen’s classroom. Giving students opportunities to have positive interactions with their local community helps them feel grounded and connected. Stephen wants to make sure that “kids walk out of school knowing there is a place for them.” He believes this is a vital piece of ensuring positive, lifelong mental health.

As part of Stephen’s commitment to good food and community connection, he and his Grade 5 class take an annual walk around their neighbourhood. They meet local businesses and learn about who is in their neighbourhood. One of the innovative projects led by Stephen in partnership with Growing Up Organic was a neighbourhood walk that ended with a stop at the Parkdale Market to shop. The students interviewed the different market vendors asking them a series of questions about where the food came from. The students then selected local farmer vendors and made their purchases. Back in the classroom, they used their fresh vegetables to make delicious green tomato salsa and a giant Greek salad which they shared with students from Connaught, a neighbouring school. Stephen said parents were amazed at how excited their kids were about salad. “Wow” said one parent, “my kid never eats salad.”

Cooking from local ingredients is another one of the pieces that Stephen integrates into his learning about community. Whether the food comes from Devonshire’s Itty Bitty Garden in the City, built with help from Growing Up Organic, their classroom Tower Garden or from a local farm, learning how to prepare healthy food is an integral thread running through all of Devonshire’s projects. Students are taught how to wash, chop, and cook healthy ingredients to make easy and delicious meals such as gazpacho soup. These are life skills that not many students learn in elementary school. Recently, the class participated in a knife skills workshop run by the Parkdale Food Center. According to Stephen, “when kids have opportunities to be involved, food is fun and less of a problem or hassle.”

For many years, Stephen has been the initiator of many of the food related programs at Devonshire. Devonshire is a French Immersion school where each class spends half their day working with the French teacher and the other learning in English. This limits the time Stephen has to dig deep into these initiatives. However, this past year, Jenny Dunlop began teaching French immersion at Devonshire and is excitedly working with Stephen on initiatives to teach students about community and healthy food. Not only do they together have more time to dive into more involved projects but, as Stephen admits, it is great to have an ally.

This year, Stephen and Jenny’s grade 5 students are participating in the Good Neighbourhood Project. Students visit the Parkdale Food Center every month to take part in workshops where they learn about local issues such as homelessness and food insecurity. The students are also involved in change making initiatives such as the crockpot project, which distributed crockpots to people in need. As part of the crockpot project, students prepared dry ingredients for crockpot soup. Each student made eight packages to give out and one for themselves to take home. Through this project, the students learn more about being part of their community as well as the importance of good food.

Devonshire is also taking part in the Parkdale Food Center’s Growing Futures Project a social enterprise project centered around local, fresh, healthy food. Through the Parkdale Food Center, local businesses are linked with neighbourhood schools to sponsor the purchase of a Classroom Tower Garden. Devonshire is partnered with the local businesses Happy Goat Coffee Company and CakeLab who supplied the school with two tower gardens. Devonshire students grow lettuce, basil and other greens throughout the winter months. The first crop last year was harvested, weighed and bagged by the kids and then sold to the parents and other community members. Seventy percent of the proceeds went back into the outdoor school garden and cooking program and the rest to the Parkdale Food Center. The second harvest this year will be sold through Happy Goat Coffee Company to be shared by their patrons. Through this program, students learn about small businesses and growing healthy food. They gain experiences as entrepreneurs and have opportunities to give back to their community.

Stephen and Jenny believe that Ottawa needs more opportunities for teachers, community members and organizations to get together and share information so that more students can learn about food literacy and connect to their communities through food.


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos:  Stephen Skoutajan

The Future of Food at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School

The Future of Food at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School

Making and eating good food has a long history at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School in Ottawa’s West end. For 35 years, an extensive culinary program has taught students the ins and outs of working in the food industry. From a large industrial kitchen, trained chefs, who have worked in the industry, bring real world skills and knowledge to their teaching. Every student at the school has the opportunity to be exposed to the culinary program during their time at the school. Currently, there are 100 students taking culinary arts with 28 students enrolled in the specialist high skills major program. This program allows students to focus on culinary courses for the duration of their years at the school. Students are prepared to work in the food services industry directly after high school or attend the culinary program at Algonquin College.

A former student, Brad Larabie, manages the cafeteria and breakfast program. These programs allow students hand-on experience in daily food preparation as the food is made and served by the students themselves. The culinary program also caters events inside and outside the school including delicious dinners for local seniors and Ottawa Carleton District School Board of Education meetings.

Alongside food preparation, Sir Guy Carleton students can also learn about growing food. The school’s Green Industries program has been running for 30 years in their heated greenhouse. Six years ago, science teacher Derek Brez and Green Industries teacher Alan Abbey, decided to shift the focus of the program away from growing flowers and other landscaping plants towards growing food. They also took a leap and switched their greenhouse system to an aquaponics system giving their students the chance to learn innovative skills.

Inspired by Stephen Ritz, an innovative teacher in the Bronx, before setting the system up, Alan and Derek attended a 3-day training session in Guelph, Ontario with professionals from all around North America. An Aquaponics system is a combination of aquaculture, fish raising and horticulture. The plants rely on the byproducts of the fish for nutrients while the plants clean the water for the fish. Aquaponics, Derek says, “greatly increased the speed at which veggies are grown” and is “more sustainable because 90% less water is used.

Each year 100 students take Green Industries courses at Sir Guy Carleton and learn about sustainable agriculture. In the greenhouse they grow greens, tomatoes and other vegetables. They also grow incredible basil which is purchased by the Urban Element, a local cooking school for use in their programs. Owner Carley Schelck says there needs to be more and better connections between local businesses and schools. Mutually beneficial partnership, such as this one between Urban Element and Sir Guy Carleton, can have lasting impacts. Not only is the Urban Element able to source freshly grown and hyper local greens and basil throughout the winter, Sir Guy Carleton teachers are able to provide students with real life entrepreneurial skills while bringing in income that is funneled back into the program.

Community collaboration is something in which Sir Guy Carleton excels. The Green Industries Program has collaborated with the Nepean Horticultural Society for plant knowledge, SunTech Greenhouses for their business skill expertise and Algonquin College. Always looking for new opportunities to collaborate, Derek feels that the program is still in the fledgling state and has lots of room to grow. Most recently, Derek and Alan have been working on a possible collaboration with Maple Hill Farm, an urban farm in Ottawa’s Greenbelt, to develop an Indigenous edible plant garden.

This year the Green Industries program made another leap when it began offering an Urban Farming Operations specialist program – a first for the City of Ottawa. A group of students, beginning in 2018, are focusing their high school studies on learning about farming within city limits. Derek is an enthusiastic advocate for sustainable food systems and is eager to introduce the students to the tools and methods of urban farming as an alternative to factory agriculture. The program focuses on front yard edibles, aquaponics, hydroponics and soil based growing. The students will also learn about food security issues with a focus on the importance of local food systems.

Derek and Alan have big dreams. As a Vocational high school, they are willing and able to take more risks than an Academic high school. They are looking for opportunities to expand the Urban Farming Operations specialist program to include Co-op placements with edible landscaping companies and other urban farming entrepreneurs. They are also looking for experts in marketing and promotion of farm products to introduce their students to this aspect of the business of farming. Derek also sees opportunities for the students to work within the community and hopes to connect with elementary schools where his students could “pass on their knowledge” to young children.

Derek thinks that one of the largest benefits of the Urban Farming Operations specialist program is that “the students will come out of the program with skills that other schools do not provide.” This will give the kids a unique career path that will hopefully lead to a future expansion of the urban farming sector in Ottawa.


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: Allegra Newman

A Healthy Start at St. George School

A Healthy Start at St. George School

Breakfast club coordinator Siobhan Stewart and her team of committed volunteers start every day feeding 50-80 hungry students at St. George School in Westboro. Breakfast runs from 8:50 -9:15 and is open to anyone in the school. According to Siobhan, what makes breakfast such a success is that it is self-serve. Students can choose what they want and the volunteers help them serve themselves. Nothing is wasted. Hungry students are also able to take baggies of leftovers with them for lunch as some of the kids, Siobhan notes, don’t always bring lunch.

The menu rotates every week. Some days they have cereals, bagels, bread, jam. They also offer yoghurt, milk, cheese, eggs and fruit. Their most popular days are when they make fresh fruit smoothies.

Siobhan says that the support from the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE)’s School Breakfast Program has been instrumental in keeping the program running. She has benefitted from the Coordinator Training Sessions offered by ONFE, an annual event that brings breakfast program coordinators together to review province-wide program guidelines and learn new tips. At one of these sessions, Siobhan learned from other coordinators that many programs serve fresh vegetables for breakfast. She tried it and was surprised by its popularity.


According to Siobhan, “without our team of parents and community volunteers this program would just not work so seamlessly. They all are fully committed to helping ensure all our students receive a healthy breakfast to start their day ready to learn.”

The breakfast club, Siobhan says, provides a social atmosphere that is safe and welcoming. Kids can sit together in multi-age groupings and eat a nutritional meal. They see volunteers preparing food for the breakfast club and learn about healthy food. Due to its wide catchment,  many kids are bussed to school. When the busses are late, Siobhan says they delay the breakfast program so those students have a chance at a healthy start to their day.

Students at St George School are also learning about growing and eating healthy food through the school tower gardens. The Ontario Network for Education’s Classroom Garden Program provided the school with two tower gardens along with operating instruction and curriculum linked programing ideas. Two student teachers, Stefanie Partridge and Allison Warren lead the program every Wednesday with six rotating students from the two grade 3 classes. The students are directly involved in maintaining the tower, checking the pH and adding nutrients and water. They also reap the benefits of their hard work by harvesting the tower when it is ready and using it to cook a yummy snack for the class. Last year, students made salad and pesto for pasta.


Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: Allison Warren

Planting the Seeds of Healthy Eating at Regina Street Alternative School

Planting the Seeds of Healthy Eating at Regina Street Alternative School

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