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