Small Grant School Story: John Henderson Elementary School

We continue to share new Small Grant School Stories with you this Fall and Winter. These short stories offer a peak into the inner workings of a day at a ‪#‎TEG‬ small grant school, as well as being a repository of all the information we have gathered while working with the school.

Our fourth instalment has us visiting John Henderson Elementary School, as we learn about the trials and tribulations of managing a garden when the veggies are so fresh & plentiful that your neighbours can’t help but gather some for themselves!

wormsJohn Henderson Elementary School is located at 451 East 53rd Avenue in South Vancouver. The school recently celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary in 2013, and continues to strive to encourage it ~500 students to “respect themselves and others and to strive to do their personal best in all ways.”

Henderson Elementary received TEGS Small Grants from 2011 through 2014. Prior to becoming a TEGS School, Henderson Elementary was already well on its way to incorporating thinking & eating green at school – from raised beds for blueberries, beans and more, to a flowering butterfly garden and a compost bin in the school.

Since then the “garden has come a long way, and they now have onsite composting, worm bins (click here to watch the video on the ‘launching’ of the worms), an area for their tools and have utilized the food grown in the gardens throughout the classes including carrot muffins, salads, salsa and zucchini muffins.”

Henderson Elementary has worked with community partners such as BC Fruit and Vegetable Program and Sprouting Chefs. Moving forward, the schools plans to begin a cooking program suitable for both primary and intermediate divisions, among many other plans.

Read more about Henderson Elementary School’s Objectives, Activities, and Outcomes & Reflections via their Project Report Posters, and take a sneak peak inside a day at the school below:

h1One of the most amazing things about seeds is that they are resilient. Some will lie dormant for months – years even – and wait for the perfect conditions to grow. Some will grow despite desperate conditions. After all, within the shallow gaps of cracked pavement, we often see plants fighting for existence, their roots determined to cling to life, literally set in stone.

It is this resilience that can be found at Henderson Elementary, particularly in the students who are part of the Garden Club.

Before Henderson Elementary applied for funding from Think&EatGreen@School three years ago, there were very few food sustainability initiatives happening at the school. Marguerite Leahy, a Kindergarten and Grade One teacher at Henderson, who is also head of the Garden Club, remembers that when she first arrived at the school, students who had been inspired by trips to the UBC Farm were looking into ways to have a garden at the school.  After receiving a Generation Green grant, and then funding from Think&EatGreen@School, what started out as a desire to have a school garden, has now evolved into onsite composting, worm bins, an area to house tools and gardening supplies, several planter boxes and garden beds, and the food grown in the gardens being used in recipes for things like carrot muffins, salads, salsa and zucchini muffins. As well, with the funding from Think&EatGreen@School this year, the school was able to bring in Chef Barb from Sprouting Chefs to come and work with some of the classes and teach them about healthy eating and preparing easy, nutritious and delicious meals at home.h2

However, all of this progress and success has not been without setbacks and perseverance, something that you especially find
when talking to the young students who are part of the Garden Club. These are the students who take care of the gardens, and excitedly plan out what they will plant each year. These are the students who happily give up their lunch hours to have Garden Club meetings. These are the students who meet once a month, before school starts, to make sandwiches for marginalized women in the Downtown Eastside without complaint. And, these are the students who have not only faced three arsons at their school, but who have also dealt with vandalism and people taking food from their gardens. Yet, despite all of this, they remain unfazed, motivated and have positive attitudes about their experiences.

“[G]randpas come and wipe us out!” they laughed (partly in frustration) as they talked about how in the summer some of the veggies go missing. When one of the students had asked an elderly woman to stop taking food from the garden, she replied that “…she needed food too…” and that she thought that it was a “free garden.” The garden is, ultimately, seen as a community space, and members of the community walk by it, appreciate it, and sometimes rely on it. This highlights the complexities of urban neighbourhoods, food insecurity and the valuable skills that the students are learning, as they react to these challenges and learn to understand them. Reasons for community members taking things from the garden could include that they do not have access to fresh and nutritious food and could be far more complex than what appears to be vandalism at the surface.

h3Ultimately, the students who are part of the Garden Club are learning far more about the complete food system and about food sustainability than one might think just by looking at the surface. These students know how to plant and grow food from seed, they know how compost is made and how to cook and share in the joy of eating food that one has grown themselves. However, they are also learning the importance of giving back to their communities through preparing sandwiches for marginalized women in the Downtown Eastside, they are learning to persevere and to adapt to situations beyond their control, and they are learning about the complexities of communities and the people who live in them through their relationships with the people who appreciate their gardens. Like the seeds that they plant, they are resilient, and that is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

-Words by Nicole Read, with introduction by Grace McRae-Okine, for the Think & Eat Green @ School Project. 2014.

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