Yesterday, I had a chance to visit the amazing schoolyard garden run by PACT. It is a huge (and growing) garden on the northwest part of the John Polanyi Collegiate property, near Bathurst and Lawrence in Toronto. Even as the garden winds down for the winter, the work put into the garden and the output (vegetable and human) are impressive.
Adam Dirks gave me a tour of the vegetable plots, the chicken house, the learning area and the compost facilities. He was on his lunch hour, between morning and afternoon programs with the high school students. Teachers at John Polanyi bring their classes out to work in the garden, cook, study nutrition, plan marketing, run markets, design community outreach, and sometimes just to use the space as a thoughtful place to be and learn. Students from many elementary schools also visit the garden regularly, and Isabella, one of the facilitators, says that the programs are designed to help students learn with all their senses, which gives them a powerful, positive and long-lasting learning experience about food, ecology and the outdoors.
Every type of vegetable that you can imagine, and many that you might not have heard of (cardoon, anyone?) are grown, and the range of fruit and nuts is expanding in the next few years as well. The produce is donated to food banks and some is sold at farmers markets and food co-ops in Toronto, with proceeds going back into the program.
After the tour, Adam made pizza in the oven (that the students built), and served it with one of the best salads (made of fresh young lettuce) that I have ever had!
As well as teaching the practical skills and knowledge that go into producing food, the garden is a community hub for the area, and outreach into the neighbourhood connects students and adults from across cultures and backgrounds. The garden gets great community support and attention, and through that, runs all summer, even when school’s out.
There are many ways that students can work in the garden: teachers can bring classes out occasionally, or on a regular basis, students can do a co-op course for a term, and young people can get paid positions or volunteer over the summer. What the garden proves so well is that many students learn best outside a traditional classroom, and the garden provides that opportunity in both a multi-faceted and an integrated way.
PACT runs four other garden facilities around Toronto, and is looking to expand its greenhouse so that it can run winter programs as well. The Chawkers Foundation helped to fund the development of more classroom materials for high school and middle school, which will be available for teachers to use when they plan a visit to the garden.
To find out more about PACT’s many other programs and their other 4 beautiful gardens, go to their website at http://pactprogram.ca/ .