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The Eastender: Down on the Van Tech schoolyard farm

Canada’s first school-based farm opened at Van Tech
Fresh Roots garden at Van Tech
Students Elaine Chong (left) and Mychele Wong (right) help tend to the vegetables in the Fresh Roots garden at Van Tech secondary school. Photo Dan Toulgoet

An East Vancouver high school has changed the way students learn by starting up its own working schoolyard farm. It’s the first of its kind in Canada.

The 1,000 square metres of garden space at Vancouver Technical secondary school and the weekly market stand opened May 28 to sell the fresh produce, with funds going back into the garden and the school.

This innovative outdoor classroom was created after Melanie Beliveau, a biology teacher at the school, tried to garner support to put a community garden in the space recently opened after seismic upgrades saw a wing of the school demolished.

When she heard about Fresh Roots Urban Farm, a non-profit society that promotes urban agriculture and how they helped bring the garden at Queen Alexandra Elementary back to life, she got in touch with co-director Ilana Labow.

“Together we dreamt up the idea of a school farm,” Labow recalled.

Bringing that dream to life was a process and both Fresh Roots and the Vancouver School Board had to work to grow the idea to life.

“It took a couple of years to figure out how to make it work for both the VSB and Fresh Roots,” Labow said. “There were no examples of a school with a working farm on it in Canada to look upon for guidance so we had to work together and create a licensing agreement.”

The next step was funding and volunteering, both of which came in abundance.

“The very first people that believed in this project was Vancity. We submitted the idea to their Good Money Impact Venture Challenge in 2012 and won first prize,” Labow said.

After partnering up with Vancity, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the Vancouver Foundation and securing the Greenest City Funding, Fresh Roots took the underutilized space and transformed it last spring into a quarter acre of garden space with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

“Students, parents, teachers and neighbours all came out to volunteer,” Labow said. “The goal was to have the community feel like they created the garden together.”

A couple months later, the organization developed a second schoolyard farm at David Thompson secondary school, which has also proven to be a success.

While the operation of the gardens are reliant on Fresh Roots, they continue to have endless volunteers helping out and the garden is used in the core curriculum for a variety of classes at the school, ranging from biology to marketing.

The society also hosts professional development days for teachers to learn how to use the garden as part of their curriculum.

“From the VSB perspective we want to make sure there is a learning component there,” said Vision Vancouver school board trustee Rob Wynen. “It’s amazing how you can use gardens for the curriculum. You can almost apply it to anything. It creates a bit of excitement around learning and gets kids out of the classroom.”

Wynen said the principal and teachers at the school are all extremely happy with what the garden has done for them and students are excited about it as well.

“This is part of a larger goal of us being the greenest school district in North America and being innovative with our land use.

This is one of the many areas we are working on,” he said.

The Good Food market is open at the garden every Wednesday afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m. and selling a variety of leafy greens, herbs and vegetables or you can choose to sign up for the weekly veggie box program and get an assortment of produce.

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