Justin Nadeau, School Food Garden and Environmental Education Co-ordinator at FoodShare stands in front of one Bendale Business and Technical Institute's gardens. The Scarborough school grows such produce as okra, tomatoes and carrots, like the one Nadeau is seen here holding.

School garden market program success to be replicated

Seeds grow and develop, but one school’s seed of change has influenced its students through food.

Bendale Business and Technical Institute in Scarborough has become the first school in Canada to have an enhanced gardening program. It was set up in 2010 and initially began as two footprint gardens.

It has expanded into a large garden covering the front lawn of the school that includes a herb garden, fruit trees, a greenhouse, a large garden located behind the school and hydroponic learning methods have been integrated into the mix. The horticulture program at Bendale experiences the most benefits from this program.

Justin Nadeau, School Food Garden and Environmental Education Coordinator at FoodShare: a Toronto non-profit food agency, explained more about the program.

“This [horticulture] program is unique,” Nadeau said. “The students are learning how to design an aesthetically pleasing garden as well as understand landscaping and all those kinds of things.”

Nadeau said students in other programs are starting to get involved in the garden. The business program ran a market that they initiated to sell crops, while the culinary students use the food in their learnings. A gala dinner at the school even used the produce in the meals that were prepared. A student proclaimed that the beans that are grown in the garden taste like candy.

Nadeau said one of the goals accomplished with this is “making sure that everyone is consuming this healthy food.”

Brooke Ziebell, field to table school coordinator, mentioned that other schools like Eastdale Collegiate Institute, and Brock Jr. Public School have followed Bendale’s example by installing gardens. Brock Jr. even created a new terrace garden.

“Very exciting to see the process for [the students], this is a serious investment,” Ziebell said.

Although FoodShare is behind creating school gardens, Nadeau said that other schools outside of the city have heard about Bendale’s success and tried their hand at gardening.

Elaine Howarth, Bendale’s market garden manager, attributes the success of the garden to the students’ willingness to learn.

Through a program called “Focus on Youth,” five students were hired and paid by the Toronto District School Board to  maintain the garden during the summer. FoodShare helped raise funds and applied for grants so the students could be paid.  The students would tend to the crops every day, regardless of weather conditions.

“By the end, they were thoroughly trained farmers!” Howarth said.