Tower gardens: valuable lessons about food, community, and entrepreneurship

By Allegra Newman – 

When Karen Secord of the Parkdale Food Center decided to introduce tower gardening to local schools and recreation centers things happened very quickly. Launched in September, Parkdale Food Centre’s project test phase has already installed ten lush, green tower gardens in three schools and three community centers within their catchment area. Working as a social enterprise the tower garden project allows classes and programs to partner with local businesses. Students at Fisher Park/Summit are partnered with Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again a local bakery and catering company. The students grow and harvest ingredients that are used in Thyme & Again’s catering business and Sheila shares her business knowledge with the students. Students at Connaught Public School are also partnered with a local business and grow herbs for Wentsi Yeung of Culture Kombucha who uses them to flavour her Kombucha drinks. Wentsi shared some of her latest Kombucha recipes with the class at a recent taste testing. Tasting the product was an exciting step for her youngest business partners.

From math to science, literacy to business, teachers are using the care and maintenance of the tower gardens across the learning curriculum. And the learning doesn’t stop at the end of the day. Dovercourt Community Center recently harvested 2700g of lettuce, which was weighed and divided into 4g portions, bagged and sold by the kids in the afterschool program at market value price. Rose Vatsis at the Adam’s Apple Café said they weren’t sure it would sell but all the bags did – in one afternoon. Dovercourt regulars are amazed at how fast the lettuce grows and are looking forward to the next batch being harvested.

According to Sue Hall from the Parkdale Food Center, it was important for this project to have a strong food and finance component. Teaching kids about how healthy food is grown and the importance of eating fresh, whole food are worthy components of the project but so are the lessons learned from local business partnerships. The kids love that they are providing freshly grown food to the local community.

The Parkdale Food Center’s tower gardens demonstrate one way of integrating the learning about food into the school curriculum. There is growing energy around issues of schools and food in the Ottawa region. Follow Just Food on Facebook for information about local events and issues.


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