Sardis Secondary teacher Tania Toth and student Ryann Allenby with fresh radish harvested from the school’s community garden project.

Chilliwack summer school feeds a hunger for knowledge

Now in its second year, the Chilliwack school district's community garden learning project just harvested its first crop of the season.

Sardis secondary students are finally reaping the fruits – or vegetables – of their labour.

Last week they harvested their first crop from the school’s expansive garden and began distribution of the vegetables to their clients and to the public.

Students have been working at the site since late spring.

More than 30 students, along with teaching staff and volunteers, have continued to work throughout the summer.

They’re earning as much as a full course credit for their work. But they’re also gaining something more, says Ryann Allenby: an appreciation for where their food comes from and the science behind bringing it to the table.

Allenby works at the farm two mornings a week. However, she was there on a recent Saturday as part of the Rotary Garden Tour. She, along with teacher Tania Toth and a handful of other students were there to answer questions, and prepare the vegetables for the first harvest of the year on the following Tuesday.

The garden is an enormous outdoor classroom, says Toth, where students get hands-on knowledge of sustainable food production.

They began spreading rows of composted manure back in April to lay the foundation for the beds. (See video below.)

Since then the students have laid irrigation lines, stretched biodegradable plastic compost and even planted bedding flowers. Each job has a purpose, says Toth. The irrigation lines conserver water; the plastic suppresses weeds; and the flowers – planted strategically between the vegetables – attract ladybugs that are natural predators to more harmful insects.

Allenby is cataloging her work. Cell phone in hand, she’s documenting the garden’s progress for her course-end portfolio.

But she’s not the only one learning. The garden also hosts other school groups from various grade levels, and is working in partnership with the University of the Fraser Valley.

And it’s not just for marks. The output from the garden will feed nearly 40 local families – or shareholders – who have signed on to be part of the Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) program. They’ll received a variety of vegetable boxes from now until October.

The vegetables are also for sale at the Sardis Park Eco Market on Wednesday evenings, with all the money raised going back into the garden project.

Rianna Stiller was there for the first sale last week. The Grade 11 student works six hours, twice a week at the garden. Behind a table filled with crisp radish, a variety of salad greens and baskets of elephant garlic, she talks with enthusiasm about the program. She says it has given her a better understanding of the how produce is grown and brought to market.

Stiller is not the only one to appreciate the program. The farm was recently awarded the $25,000 third prize by the Canadian Talent Select Learning Project 2016.

Toth says she and teaching-partner Joe Massie have yet to decide exactly how the money will be spent. However, they are looking at adding new components to the farm, like espaliered fruit trees.

To learn more about the program, or to find out how to donate time or equipment, contact tania_toth@sd33.bc.ca, or joe_massie@sd33.bc.ca.

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