Central to Religion curricula in Saskatchewan Catholic high schools is the Community Action Project (CAP) in which all students are required to take part. CAPs are based on the five actions identified by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to achieve the mission of the church: proclaiming, worshipping, building community, giving witness and serving.
During the 2015-2016 school year a special CAP project that embraced several of these actions was undertaken by Light of Christ Catholic School Division teacher Rhea Good. Good, a special education teacher in charge of John Paul II Collegiate’s Functionally Integrated Program, developed activities (outdoor and indoor) that allow students to become responsible stewards of the earth: The School Garden Project.
Reflecting concepts from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, Good’s students, along with other students from the school community, became stewards of the Earth. Through this hands-on ministry students created gardens on site, fed others with the harvested produce and replenished the land they used by learning about and creating a Bokashi composting program and a seed-sharing program.
The school Garden Project was started in the fall of 2015 by Good and fellow teacher Jeffrey Kardynal to provide hands-on learning for their students, and to teach Christian stewardship of our earth. While there was already an off-site community garden where Good’s FI students had volunteered, a plan was put in place to create an on-site space for students to engage more fully in the growing and harvesting of the vegetables and to beautify the school environment.
By the spring of 2016 Kardynal’s woodshop classes had built four raised beds in a former grassed area of the school that was adjacent to the concrete student parking area. Good’s students planted tomatoes, peppers, spaghetti squash, lettuce and kale and tended to the watering, weeding and fertilizing of the growing plants. A community partner was found in the local Discovery Co-op as the organization provided a $500 grant to pay for the seeds, bedding plants and tools for the Garden Project.
By late June the first of the produce, kale and lettuce, was ready to harvest. It was at this time that the FI group hosted their first annual Garden Luncheon in the beautiful surroundings of the lush raised bed gardens. Invited guests were the high school’s three administrators and four members of the school’s SRC: the outgoing senior leaders and the newly elected SRC leaders. The group of seven was served a lunch from the garden featuring the fresh kale and lettuce in a salad and freshly cut chives in an egg salad mix for sandwiches, items harvested and prepared by the FI students and staff.
Throughout the summer the gardens were tended by special education students who were involved with local agencies. More community partnerships were established to help with the Garden Project, as agency summer staff were trained by Good. Building community through these partnerships ensured the gardens were cared for throughout the summer, so the harvest could continue in the fall.
When September arrived, and students returned to school, the FI program staff took over again. The harvest from the raised beds provided an abundance of potatoes, carrots, onions, parsley and beans. So plentiful was the harvest the FI students and staff took the project to the next level: they turned the produce into a big batch of “garden harvest soup” and served it to staff and students for lunch on Sept. 8 and 9. The bounty of the land was shared with community. Also harvested and used in the community meal were herbs that included flat-leaf parsley, chives, sweet basil, rosemary and thyme. The crop of herbs was so abundant, the extra produce was offered to the Gold Eagle Casino Restaurant, Kihiw, where chef Jesse Bossman used all that could be provided.
Meanwhile, Kardynal and Good received news that another community partnership had been established. Cargill offered to sponsor the building of a greenhouse and donated $7,000 to jumpstart the project. Other grant monies were received from SIGA and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
A plan was put into place to build a greenhouse, next to the raised beds, on site at the high school. Kardynal was in charge of the construction and his crew included students, staff and community members. The beautiful new facility, complete with heat and water access, was completed this past November. The building of this greenhouse provides space for the messy business of starting seedlings, and for growing other plants in permanent beds in a greenhouse environment. The 12’ x 20’ structure will allow for an entire class to work together.
To reduce waste and to replenish the earth used to grow the produce, Good brought in environmental manager for the City of North Battleford Tammy MacCormick to do a workshop on the Bokashi composting method. The Bokashi method uses a substrate inoculated with effective microorganisms that promote fermentation instead of putrefaction. The inoculant accelerates the breakdown of the food and creates free, organic fertilizer in a four-week turn-around. The sealed containers are easy to manage in a classroom environment because there is no smell and no fruit flies. McCormick guided the students through making the Bokashi recipe to “grow” their own batch of inoculant.
To bring the Garden Project full circle and to teach sustainability to students and staff, a “seed saving” project was initiated. Students and staff worked to collect and store seeds from produce grown this year so that they can be used plant next year’s crop. To fundraise for other costs, seeds were also packaged for sale at a pre-Christmas trade show event and some packages were made into Christmas tree ornaments and given to colleagues, family and friends.
The School Garden Project will join in a province-wide seed-sharing initiative that is to be launched in 2017. Members of the “seed library” will be able to order seeds like ordering a book. Any extra seeds saved from the John Paul II School Garden Project will contribute to the “seed bank” for this new program to increase everyone’s accessibility to seed varieties.
Going far beyond the traditional CAP project, Good’s Functionally Integrated Program students and staff have benefited greatly from the breadth and scope of the School Garden Project. Students not only worked the earth with their hands, planted seeds and watched them grow, they harvested a bounty of produce and shared it with their school and community and they learned sustainability practices. They built community as they shared with others when they had more than they needed. They learned to be good stewards of the earth and of their brothers and sisters.
The ongoing School Garden Project is teaching all of John Paul II’s students and staff, that the earth, when cared for and nurtured, can take care of us and enhance our lives. It allows everyone involved to taste and see that the Lord is indeed good (Psalm 34:8).
Graw is Religious Education Co-ordinator/Communications for Light of Christ Catholic Schools in North Battleford, Sask.