2017-2018 (Year 2)
Nobel Public School, Nobel, ON
A little about our location…
We acknowledge the traditional territories of Henvey Inlet First Nation, Magnetewan First Nation, Wasauksing First Nation, Shawanaga First Nation and Moose Deer Point First Nation that we are working and living upon. These territories are a part of the Robinson Huron Treaty and Williams Treaty. Our little school sits outside the small town rural town of Parry Sound. Located just off HWY 400 almost midway between Toronto and Sudbury our community straddles the border of northern and southern Ontario. Our school is surrounded by white pine forest, beaver ponds and is just steps away is the Georgian Bay, the heart of the 30,000 islands and the Georgian Bay Biosphere persevere. In the summer the surrounding area experiences a massive influx of seasonal residents, cottagers and campers and the population of the Parry Sound area balloons from 6,500 to 35,000 people. This is the area that our approx. 160 students call home.
Our Farm to School Journey…
Our journey started 3 years ago as we looked at how to better support the environmental and health education for our students. We applied for grants, lots and lots and lots of grants. To our delight we received many the grants that we had applied for now had the ability to turn our ideas into reality. Our overall goal was to educate and affect change by building a culture of long term sustainability and environmental and health education. I am proud to report that we are well on our way to achieving this goal.
Due to our geographic location and lack of agricultural land there is limited access to fresh local produce. Because of this we decided that one of the first things we needed to accomplish was to be less reliant imported food from the grocery stores. With this in mind we purchased the materials and built cold frames and 13 raised planting beds to grow our own garden food. We also purchased 3 aeroponic tower gardens to help supplement our salad greens through the winter months (October – May) when outdoor growing is not possible. We also recognized that pollinating our produce and pollinator health in general would impact our garden so we partnered with the local college to place a honeybee hive in their educational apiary and have used it to deliver pollinators and education to our gardens and students.
During the running of our first couple of salad bar services it became apparent that we produced a fair amount of compostable material during the preparation of the food. We recognized that this could be useful to our garden and we currently run 8 vermi-composting bins that are fed every 2 weeks with produce scraps from the preparation of our salad bar. The compost produced by the worms is used to start seeds for our garden and to enrich the soil with nutrients. We also recognized that serving salad on disposable plates and plastic cutlery would go against our idea of being environmentally responsible so we purchased a commercial dishwasher and reusable serving sets. We are now able to provide salad bar options that are grown on site and produce very limited waste in the process.
As the year winds down I am very proud to share the following successes. With a school population of 160 we routinely have over 100 participants in our salad bar programs. We have notice great growth in the number of salad bar options that our students are choosing and a general knowledge of healthy food choices. The grade 5/6 class who is primarily responsible for the food prep have honed not only their kitchen skills but also have developed the ability to problem solve on the go and work together to ensure the salad bar operation runs smoothly. I am very excited to see what the future brings for our salad bar service as we expand our choices and increase our student involvement.
2016-2017 (Year 1)
Nobel Public School, Nobel, ON
From Humble Beginnings to a Food Cycle Enterprise
Nobel Public School is a small rural school on the shores of Georgian Bay, solidly anchored on the very infertile Canadian Shield. However, once planted, the salad bar seed has grown, expanded and proliferated into a full food cycle enterprise that encompasses our school and local community.
We starting our journey by embarking on an Ontario Ecoschool initiative that led us to look at our school’s environmental impact. We realized that we were farther ahead than we thought when it came to outfitting our building, but there were big holes in our service to students and connections to the community. This led us to look to the Farm to School grant to provide us the access to some funds and resources to meet these needs. On top of purchasing the salad bar unit, we have been able to: purchase reusable dishes to reduce our waste, access healthy local food to reduce food insecurity in our community and collaborate with community partners to increase help increase our community engagement.
Our successful application became the jumping off point for what has evolved into truly a complete food cycle. During the planning phases for our salad bar service we looked at planting our own food garden to supplement the local food available. This allowed us to reach out to local lumber mills and aggregate businesses who were happy to help provide us with the materials needed to grow some truly ‘local’ food. Growing through the winter months proved a challenge but with some generous sponsorship from our district social services board, we purchased three aeroponic tower gardens. Not only are they currently providing us with fresh greens, they are also a huge engagement piece for our students and a focal point for food security in our community. The local nursery has been very interested and has provided seeds and soil for students to plant their own fruits vegetables and the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve jumped on board and provided students with seed planting workshops. Every student was able to plant a tray of seeds for sharing between the school garden and home.
We also wanted to mitigate the waste produced from our salad bar program. We thus also used funds to embark on a vermicomposting program that would recycle uneaten organics back into soil for our outdoor gardens and into fertilizer tea for our aeroponic gardens. Students happily shredded newspaper, shovelled peat and mixed the red wiggler worms in composting bins placed in each classroom. From seed, to food, to fertilizer our students are actively involved in, and witness the entire process which is helping increase their food literacy.
It has been an amazing journey to see the excitement of students and the engagement of the community as our program blossoms. Seeds planted in outdoor or aeroponic gardens turn into opportunities for harvesting, preparing and eating local foods in the salad bar which in turn provide opportunities for collecting, composting, and fertilizing our gardens……… and the cycle begins again. We look forward to continuing to be part of this amazing adventure as our food program as it grows and adapts and new opportunities present themselves.