For children at some Montreal-area schools, back-to-school rituals include more than sharpening pencils and loading up backpacks. For them, late August and September is a time for plucking ruby red tomatoes from the vine, pulling crisp carrots from their rows, and feasting at an annual Harvest Party.
At 30 English Montreal School Board elementary schools, there is a program called Before and After School Enriched Daycare (B.A.S.E.), which is a provincial government-subsidized extended care service that aims to provide enriching educational activities.
In 15 of the schools, the program includes managing a garden. The children, who are between 4-12, plan, plant and maintain the gardens with the help of animators.
“I’ve seen some great benefits when the kids are exposed to nature and they get this very practical, hands-on experience,” said Ryan Oxley, a Green Club animator working at five EMSB schools. “Some of the kids don’t have access to a garden at home. It’s nice to give them this opportunity within a school setting to create that connection back to our food, plants and nature.”
In the spring, they grow plants starting from seed, turn the soil and add compost. When the weather is warm enough, they work together to plant the garden and tend it until the end of the school year. The children harvest the garden in August and September, and when the weather turns cold they begin planning next year’s garden.
Students also learn about composting, cooking, plants and insects, and the environment. Volunteers weed and water the plots over the summer, to ensure a bountiful harvest for the children to enjoy in the fall.
Oxley said the school garden program began as a pilot project about five years ago and has been growing ever since. Half of the 30 schools served by the daycare now have a school garden, and two to three new gardens are added every year as funding and school resources become available. “The goal is to have gardens in all 30 of those schools,” Oxley said.
In addition to the garden program, B.A.S.E. has worked with five schools to establish a compost program to divert food waste from the trash and transform it into nourishment for the soil.
“Kids know me as ‘the compost guy,’ Oxley said. “Even kids who are not in the daycare will come up to me and tell me what they composted that day, or tell me when other kids are not composting!”
More information on the school gardens program is available at daycare-matters.com.