These are exciting times when we’re connecting farms to schools and food. Click here to learn more or read an excerpt below. Strongly recommend reading the full article or look at some of the photos of the garden.
Vancouver’s Grandview Elementary welcomes over 170 students every day. Many of these youngsters are eager participants in the thriving Farm to School program, which is facilitated by Michelle Gourley-Giles. The program’s salad bar service has just been upped to twice a week, much to the students’ delight.
Michelle, a part-time Healthy Eating Coordinator funded by Vancouver Coastal Health, works directly with students to prepare the salad bar, which complements the existing hot lunch program. Michelle also runs the school’s garden program. During the hour before lunch is served, small rotating groups of students join Michelle in prepping a whole tableful of fresh fruits and veggies.
Considered an inner city school, Grandview has a unique student makeup with high levels of student vulnerability. A big part of the program is educating the students on how to prepare fresh food and incorporate it into daily living. The school applies for a combination of grants and funding to cover the cost of local food for the salad bar.
Michelle confirms that the children are learning how to make dishes like hummus, dips and even their own salad dressings. Depending on the skill level and age of her helpers, she adjusts the salad bar’s makeup to match their abilities. Procuring and providing fresh local food for the students is a priority, and the students also grow much of the veggies in the salad bar in their in their small school garden.
Grandview has 15 active garden plots: the school’s goal is to grow as much food for the salad bar as possible. In the warmer months they grow lettuces, peas and carrots amongst other things. And the students love it: Michelle is regularly approached by students wanting to participate in preparing the salad bar, most likely because they have had a hand in growing the food they will prepare.
On salad bar days the whole school comes together at the decorated table. Students are served by Michelle and four lucky student volunteers. Food presentation is a huge aspect of Michelle’s work and both she and the students work hard to make the food attractively prepared and presented.
In late fall and winter, when gardening season is over, the school runs a complementary program called “snack attack.” Students make a healthy snack that they could prepare at home, as a way to learn about food options, and to foster independence. “We make things like blueberry bars, we bake, which is often a new experience for students, we always do a fresh fruit smoothie and we do things like hummus and pita chips, salmon dip—whatever we can afford and is seasonally appropriate,” says Michelle.
Rain or Shine
Bad weather is no match for Michelle and the student’s enthusiasm. When it’s wet and rainy out, they turn to rewarding indoor gardening projects like growing potatoes in the classroom, which then get transported to the garden in the spring. Their most recent harvest—which involved potato bags and west coast seed potatoes—yielded a bumper crop of 269 potatoes!
This most recent spud project involved two grade two classrooms. The young gardeners were in charge of watering and caring for the potatoes. In early May, they carried the tubs down to their garden plots, and soon after, harvested their crop. The following week Michelle and her helpers roasted them and added them to the salad bar.
Advice for Success
Michelle credits part of their success to being able to dedicate herself fully to the Farm to School program. When asked if she has advice for those just starting out, Michelle recommends patience, and determination. “Getting programs off the ground is hard, but once the ball is rolling, they can take on a life of their own. It’s so rewarding to see the kids piling fruit and vegetables on their plates.”