Christy Craig wants your kid to eat dirt.
Oh, and vegetables. Vegetables — not to mention fruit, herbs and leafy greens — the students at Myrtle Philip grow themselves at the community garden she helped install at the school.
"We're growing a ton of carrots because one of my goals is to have every single student pick a carrot out of the ground, wash it off and eat it — along with a bit of dirt," said Craig, the mother of two Myrtle Philip students. Craig launched the School Ground Garden Program as a way to connect kids more closely to the source of their food. Students in every grade learn how to plant, grow and harvest their own organic produce.
"It's moved fast and we are growing a huge amount of food right now," said Craig, who, beyond teaching the basic concepts of urban agriculture, sees the "outdoor classroom" as the ideal setting to touch on more traditional school subjects, like math, science, health, nutrition and proper bear-smart practices.
"My six-year-old grew bean plants this year in his class, and every day he would come home and tell me how tall every one of his classmate's bean plant grew," Craig said. "Then one day he came home and he said, 'I know 100 centimetres is one metre because that's how tall so-and-so's bean plant is.' He applied the abstract concept of measurement, and he got it because he had hands-on learning in the garden."
So far the kids have planted a veritable farmers' market-worth of fresh produce: potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, kale, beans, greens and flowers.
Craig has even bigger plans for the project this fall.
"With the support of the teachers, which is key, I have so many places that I'd like to take this. Cooking with the students is my first goal by growing a soup garden so that in the fall we can harvest and make our potato soup or our squash soup together as a school," she explained. "I also would really love to do a school-grounds farmers' market where the kids sell the food that they grew, maybe after school on a Friday. And it wouldn't just have to be the parents; community members could come down and buy the food. Let's make kale smoothies one day. Let's get a herbalist in and infuse salves with the calendula we grew. Every year I think we can do something different and find out what works."
The school-garden concept has taken hold at a growing list of schools across North America. Farm-to-table pioneer and iconic chef Alice Waters is generally credited with launching the movement in Berkeley over 20 years ago, and since then more and more administrators are recognizing the educational value of student-run gardens — including in the Sea to Sky, where both Mamquam Elementary and Pemberton Secondary have garden plots.
"The Sea to Sky (school district), their education plan mentions collaborating, creating, innovating, and thinking critically, and I just feel like so many of those things can be applied to gardening and learning that self-reliance," she said. "It's also about self-esteem. If you can grow food, you are feeling great about yourself and you can support yourself.
"I'd like to see every school have a garden."
Craig developed her concept through the Whistler Centre for Sustainability's Social Ventures Challenge, which offers business mentorship and coaching to sustainably minded entrepreneurs. You can check out Craig's video pitch for the School Ground Garden Program here: www.whistlercentre.ca/social-venture-challenge-2016/social-venture-challenge-2016-participants.