Students in School District 71 are getting a chance to see how a garden grows up close.
A new program called the Comox Valley School Salad Pot Project grew out of the Indigenous Education program, and aims to show kids the basics of growing a garden in a small container.
Staff started the seeds earlier in the spring, and last week the students came out to finish their pots, which have lettuce and tomatoes, in addition to three or four other plants the students pick.
“They come and get six plants for every pot,” says Lynn Swift, a district Indigenous curriculum support worker for K-7 students, though she adds this project is for students at all levels.
Families showed up during the week at Nala’atsi School in Courtenay while maintaining social distancing guidelines and working outside to prevent any potential transmission of COVID-19.
“This is the culmination of weeks of planning,” Swift says.
There are close to 300 families taking part in putting the pots together or having them delivered to homes. Planning started in the spring after schools were closed for most students due to the pandemic. Staff contacted all cultural presenters through the district, and Swift adds staff get the chance to learn from mentors such as presenter Barb Whyte.
“As teachers, we learn from them about Indigenous knowledge,” Swift says, adding the salad pot project idea was Whyte’s. “Our slogan is ‘Food for Medicine,’ and that comes from Barb.”
Whyte, who works as a traditional knowledge keeper and health advocate, has been putting together these little gardens since the indigenous education program started and through the Wachiay Friendship Centre. Over the last 25 years or so, she has seen the youngsters she worked with come back with their own children in order to pass on the knowledge of growing food.
The salad pots offer a chance to learn about gardening even if families live somewhere without a yard.
It’s also a chance to teach kids about food that is fresh and organic, and that can even boost the immune system.
“So far, I think everybody’s enjoyed the process,” Whyte says. “It’s nice to show the kids where the food comes from.”
The idea behind the salad pot is to teach basic gardening skills to kids in a way in which they can see the process take shape, as they plant and take care of the crops. It is designed to be more manageable than a conventional garden.
“A salad pot is not so overwhelming for the children,” Whyte says. “They plant it and then they take care of it and watch it grow, and then get to eat off of it.”
The project timing in the midst of the pandemic was also appropriate in that food security has been on people’s minds more of late.
“I thought this would be a great project right now with COVID happening,” she says.
Students also receive a booklet with information about the nutritional value of plants, along with recipes for dressings and other information for growing, health and hygiene.
Whyte points out that while she has been doing this for years, the process continues to challenge her in new ways, as there is always something new about gardening.
“I still learn something new every year,” she says.
As the project is also about food security, the district has partnered with groups like LUSH Valley Food Action Society to distribute boxes to families.
LUSH has also taken part in the salad pot project, donating seeds, as have others. Art Knapp’s Plantland and Arzeena Hamir of Amara Farm have donated plants and seeds, while the district’s indigenous support workers grew plants, and the district printing shop helped with the booklet. Health officials have also provided some key supporting information, while the City of Courtenay mixed up peat moss and dirt to help with growing the salad pots.
“We have a lot of donors that helped us,” Swift says. “It’s a big project, but we couldn’t have done it without everyone.”