Westshore Centre for Learning student Josh Hill (right) and a member of the Western Garden Club help themselves to a lunch of pumpkin and apple soup, mixed greens, croutons and pumpkin pie at the school’s campus in Colwood Thursday. The students grew and harvested everything in the meal in the community garden. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

School garden teaching students value of outdoor activity

Students, local club enjoyed fruits of labour during special lunch

The smell of fresh pumpkin and apple soup wafted through the halls of the Westshore Centre for Learning’s Colwood campus on a cold afternoon last week.

Students, faculty and members of the Western Garden Club sat down to enjoy a lunch of soup, mixed greens with shredded carrots, croutons, pumpkin pie and tea. But it wasn’t any ordinary lunch – all the ingredients were picked from the school’s community garden, which the students helped grow and prepare in the kitchen.

As part of the school’s sustainable resources class, which runs from February to June and gives students a Grade 11 science credit, students learn how to plant and nurture seedlings, transplant, weed out and harvest in the roughly, 4,000-square foot garden on Sooke Road. Students had their own grow boxes and planted a variety of tomatoes, lettuces, cabbages, raspberries, carrots, beets, herbs, apples, squash and onions.

While other schools have gardens, Jennifer Freeman of Zero Mile Solutions who helps support the development of the garden, said this one is unique in that gardening is integrated into the curriculum.

“A lot of gardens at high schools are an add or it’s maybe a demonstration garden. But this is really from beginning to end part of the kids’ class curriculum. It’s a really great, unique resource,” she said.

“A lot of people today don’t have to grow a garden anymore, so they’re not getting that really valuable hands-on experience that’s really healing and very helpful. They’re [students] experiencing that. It’s a different form of outdoor activity, like what sports can give to people or going out for a walk.”

The garden has been happening in various capacities on the property for the last 12 years, however, this year the school was able to add a greenhouse, thanks to funding from the Horner Foundation, that supports not-for-profit organizations to foster positive youth development.

Freeman has received lots of positive feedback from students who say being in the garden has made them more self-aware. They realize they’re playing too many video games or instead of going to the smoke pit during break, will go and tend to their garden.

Grade 11 student Josh Hill enjoyed learning about the environment and the world and community around him, and now has plans to pursue a career as a horticulturalist.

“I really liked the class, it’s really fun to learn how to grow plants and food that you can eat,” he said, adding he grew tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and flowers. “You have so much fun and time just flies.”

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