A program that is encouraging students in the South Slave to drop their pencils and pick up a shovel continues to grow this year, after successful trial runs held at schools in Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Providence in the spring of 2013.
The Take a Kid Gardening (TAG) program, an initiative of the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), was expanded this year to include all schools in the region. The program is a sister project to ITI’s Small Scale Foods Program, which aims to develop local, sustainable food production within NWT communities in the Northwest Territories.
Laura Boucher, a teacher at the Deninu School in Fort Resolution and an avid gardener, said many of her students participated for the first time this year, noting the program had several stages. First, it gets students planting seeds indoors during the cooler months. Then, the young gardeners are taught to care for their plants, watering them and making sure they have enough sunlight until the weather is warm. At that point they will transplant their seedlings to a garden at home or on school grounds.
“We’re trying to get the kids into gardening and to appreciate nature,” Boucher said. “We planted a bunch of plants and flowers, they started germinating and we got the kids to take care of them.
“I think it’s a good program for the kids,” Boucher said, adding that the lessons students learn while gardening often reinforce what they learn in their school curriculum. “It’s a good way to learn about the environment and biology.”
To create the Small Scale Foods program, which also consists of building community gardens, ITI enlisted Northern agriculturalists Jackie Milne and Helen Green.
“The focus of course for ITI is long term, looking at economic impacts and displacing imports to the North and food is a huge one,” Milne said. “How do we rapidly transform that?”
To Milne, the answer is clear: involve the schools. She said they would not only provide access to infrastructure like running water and land, but also provide small hands to get the local growing movement off the ground.
“(ITI) really gave Helen and I a lot of freedom to implement our ideas and were willing to take risks, like when we suggested building a garden at the school,” Milne said. At first, naysayers worried students wouldn’t appreciate the gardens and their efforts would be vandalized, she said, but to everyone’s surprise, the opposite was true.
“In Hay River, the first school gardens were Diamond Jenness and at Chief Sunrise, and they were taken care of beautifully,” Milne said.
Deninu School is now in its second year of the TAG program, with students from Kindergarten to Grade 9 participating. A new community garden was installed on June 17, just in time for students to transplant their seedlings before the beginning of summer. The hope is that the kids will continue contributing to the garden over their holidays.
“This year we’re trying to incorporate the school gardens with the community gardens and that’s kind of a new thing. We’re doing both programs with the children in the schools and then also helping to advance the adult students too,” Milne said.
“The awareness of food has broken through in North America for different reasons: some people are concerned about quality of food and the cost of food; we’re up in the North; (and) there’s awareness of health and diabetes. How do we change that? We change how we eat,” she said.
For some students, the lessons in nature were quick to sink in and have stayed rooted. When Alexa Mandeville was in fourth grade at Deninu School last year, her group was one of the first to participate in TAG.
Almost immediately after taking up gardening at school, Mandeville started volunteering to help others in her community with their gardening. This year, she plans to help her parents and others with their gardening projects, while maintaining her own plants at the school’s garden.
“I like playing in the dirt and planting in it,” said Mandeville, now 10 and in Grade 5.