Photo: Grade 4/5 students planting potatoes eyes

Sturgeon Lake First Nation School, Valleyview, AB
Grant term 2020-2022

Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation School, home of the Eagles, is located in northern Alberta, and is part of the Treaty 8 area. There are 126 students from K4 – Grade 12 and many of them love to hunt, fish, quad, swim and play video games. This year they are learning to love growing things! 
Grade 4/5 Potato Patch after 3 weeks

Our garden project is about honouring the gifts the Earth gives us and being responsible consumers. As Canadian Status Indians the students are very aware of the traditional hunting and fishing rights they have and spiritually are developing a deeper understanding that there is a balance in nature that occurs. It is not only the animals of the land and water we consume but all kinds of fruit and vegetables. With our garden projects they are learning that we must take care of the Earth, for she takes care of us. For many students, learning how to grow food and garden in three different ways has been an eye-opening adventure, it has inspired some experimenting and most importantly it has shown students that they can grow food for themselves and their family. 

Over the last two years we were not able to create the grow project of our dreams but this year we were able to start 3 amazing grow projects! Our first project is the garden grow tower project. We have five towers that are producing 3 types of lettuces, kale and herbs. This is our year round grow project that will provide greens for salads and smoothies.

Student touring the garden space with David Soto and Cree Instructor Lola Soto.

We then move outside for our second and third grow projects. We have an outdoor garden and a small greenhouse. Our outdoor garden is growing radishes, potatoes, onions, peas, cabbage, and pumpkins. We even have raspberry and blueberry bushes. The students are conducting a bit of an experiment with our strawberries. They have planted some in the garden and are growing the rest in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is our third, medium range grow project. In here we have tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and strawberries. Students know when they return in September that some of the garden will be ready for them to harvest and that other fruits or veggies will be maturing over the summer.  

Students have been learning about composting and we have bins in every classroom and the kitchen. The janitors appreciate this as we have decreased the amount of garbage we create. Students have also been learning about plant life cycles and growing differences between hydroponics, greenhouse and outdoor garden spaces. Students from all the grades were responsible for seeding the garden, watering and maintain the health of their crops. The Junior and Senior High students are responsible for maintaining the water in the grow towers and have learned to test and balance the water pH level, for optimal growth to occur. 

In addition to these projects, all three helped students build garden grow boxes and bird houses to take home. Students can start growing and taking care of birds in their yards. The amount of science and math involved in gardening has surprised the students. Additionally, the ability to be artistic and creative in the garden was also a revelation to many students. The students built planters and flower baskets to place around the school and one student called it “painting with flowers” because they were able to pick the colors of flowers and put them together, in a way that visually appealed to them.

Grade 2/3 Pea Barrel

The garden project would not have been possible with our maintenance man, David Soto and our parent volunteer, Vernon Hamelin. Not only did these two lay the concrete pavers down and design the layout for the garden and greenhouse, they cut barrels for grow bins, built the greenhouse, two raised garden beds and a composting area. The garden grow towers were put together by Carson Redhead-Soto and David Soto. 

Junior and Senior High students monitor the water pH and levels for the garden grow towers.

I grew up growing things on the family farm. I remember hoeing potatoes and gathering carrots. Once I left home for university I did not have a garden, but I did enjoy going to the local Farmer’s Markets for fresh produce. Now, I am re-learning so many skills from my past and way more: water and soil pH, what to do if you have pests, the right temperature for a tomato in the greenhouse, and what to grow in Zone 4.  The best part is sharing what I find out with the students and the pride they have watching their seeds grow. My Dad was proud of me as an educator but I like to think he would be especially proud of the work I am doing showing the students a valuable life skill and deepening their knowledge of the land.  I also like to think that maybe I have inherited his green thumb!

Shelly Hamelin

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