By Cloe Logan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
A Canada-wide organization that helps teach kids about food systems received a financial boost from the government this week.
On Monday, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced $1.6 million for Agriculture in the Classroom Canada, an organization that works with schools across the country to implement food and agriculture into curriculums.
The charity, which has been around for six years, was honoured for Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month. Its programs span from kindergarten to Grade 12 and aim to educate students about where their food comes from and how it’s produced.
“Everything we develop on the theme of agriculture and food production is connected to Canadian curriculum through science, social studies, food, food courses, nutrition. It really fits everywhere,” said Johanne Ross, executive director of Agriculture in the Classroom Canada.
“Part of our success is that we don’t just say to a teacher… ‘Here’s a resource on how to teach it.’ We say, ‘Here’s a resource, here’s how it integrates into your curriculum outcomes in your province.”’
It’s imperative students know where their food comes from, says Bibeau.
“They must know what farmers’ work consists of and how hard they work to take care of their animals and our environment in order to provide us with high-quality food. I encourage our young people to take an interest in the many job opportunities available to them on farms and in mechanics, electronics and engineering, science, animal and plant health, and much more,” the minister said.
“I applaud the Agriculture in the Classroom Canada team for their outstanding work and celebrate Agriculture Literacy Month with them.”
Ross said part of the money will go to expanding and improving its online teaching resources, as well as hosting professional development days for teachers.
“Nowadays, it’s talking about the environment and sustainability, and food sovereignty and food security, and food safety — all those areas connect to agriculture,” she said. “That’s where we are definitely focusing a lot now. And we still have a lot of work to do in all areas, but we’re going to keep going.”
There are other groups across the province that work with students, including the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC). Over the past 12 years, SPEC has worked to create school gardens, mostly in Vancouver, and deliver classroom programs and resources.
Sharlene Singh is the school gardens program co-ordinator at SPEC, where she says she has seen their programs foster a connection between kids and plants. Kids offer feedback and are involved in designing the school gardens, which Singh says keeps them excited and engaged.
“A lot of our students are really fascinated when they learn that you can actually plant a radish and harvest it within a month. That blows them away,” she said. “A lot of students love kale! It would surprise you how many students want to plant kale.”
Singh sees first-hand the effects working in a garden can have on a student. She remembers a time challenging two groups of students to get corn when she was especially impressed with the group’s teamwork.
“When they finally (got the corn out), the cheers and the enthusiasm that occurred, that erupted from that group … brought me a lot of joy,” she said. “Because I think sometimes we negate the importance of learning in a garden space. It isn’t just planting and growing things, I think there’s a lot of scientific, artistic, mathematics … a lot of art going on.”
It’s not just the educational rewards it can have for kids, but also the mental ones, says Singh. It has been shown that spending 30 minutes outside each day can improve mental health, which she says is more important than ever.
“People are actually dealing with a lot of mental health issues no matter what age you are, and it’s kind of nice to have that space to be in the garden and to just enjoy and learn how to grow food, learn how to harvest, learn how to water,” she said.
“It’s all layered in the teaching of school gardens.”