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Algonquin students help bring classroom gardens to life

“Is that a fruit?”

A 10 year-old girl asks the question to her classmate, who is excited about growing peppers in the classroom. It’s his favourite vegetable, and after some discussion, he and his fellow gardening club members decide peppers must be a fruit — since they have seeds.

Nothing has been planted, but the seeds of learning have been firmly rooted in these grade 4-6 students.

Discussions like that one continue as the École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marie students eagerly watch visiting volunteers from Algonquin build their new indoor vermi-compost gardening towers.

In the coming weeks, the students will fill the towers with soil and worms, which convert organic waste from compost to fertilizer. The gardening club will be responsible for watering the plants and collecting compost to feed to the worms.

This is the second year of Classroom Gardens, a project run by the Ontario Network for Education, bringing indoor gardening to 24 elementary and secondary classrooms that have expressed interest across Ottawa’s four public school boards.

College students teamed up with Ontario Network for Education and local elementary schools on Oct. 12 to build the gardening towers.

“We’re just making sure that they’re ready to go and they don’t have to worry about setting them up properly,” said Jessica Ruttan, an employee of the AC Hub at Algonquin. This event was one of the many opportunities the AC Hub Volunteer Centre organizes to “get out in the community and get the students involved.”

Justyne Jones, a project management student at Algonquin College, volunteered for the project. With a background in environmental studies this project was right up her alley.

“It starts with the basics,” Jones said. “It will work so well for the kids.”

Josée Blanchard, elementary teacher and gardening club coordinator, plans to place one of the towers in the school lobby where it will be accessible to every classroom. Classes can adopt a plant and incorporate the garden systems into their curriculum, particularly grade three, which focuses on understanding life systems and the growth and changes in plants.

Blanchard, a new participant in the project, is excited about the opportunities these indoor gardens will provide and hopes the gardening club can transplant some of the produce outside into the community garden they plan to create.

Sonia Rankin, a teacher at Our Lady of Victory, has used both the vermi-compost and soil-free hydroponic towers before.

“The towers were placed in our school’s library (we call it the learning commons) and all students could see the growing process and growth during their weekly library visits. Also, it was great to have the two different towers because it led to natural discussions around the similarities and differences for each growing system. Many students also liked to read by the hydroponic tower finding the sound of the flowing water soothing and calming,” Rankin said.

Kim Statham, library technician at Our Lady of Victory and Algonquin grad, likes how the plant towers make a classroom less cold, adding green to the space.

Rankin said the project also provided an opportunity for students to get excited about exploring different tastes and textures and increasing their veggie preferences.

“We planted lettuce, kale, basil, tomato, cucumber and eggplant. Our cucumbers provided the biggest level of interest and excitement.” Rankin said.

Rankin has used the produce to make salad, pesto and smoothies in the classrooms. This year she hopes that all students at Our Lady of Victory can taste their harvest in the snack bags provided by the school.

“I am hoping we can grow produce to include in the snack bags and get students to connect with the idea of food sustainability and growing their own food as a means to eat [healthier].”

This hands-on approach to learning was made possible by an anonymous donor who funded the project. For more information visit: https://onfe-rope.ca/our-work/classroom-gardens/.

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