Loving Spoonful’s GROW Project offers a year-round school garden-based food education program for nearly 900 students in and around Kingston, grades four through eight. “Our focus is on good food, community, collaboration, and environmental stewardship,” said Anne Munier, the coordinator at GROW Project.
“We have workshops on things like food security, food systems, cultural traditions, healthy eating, gardening, environment, and climate change. All of our workshops are interactive and hands-on… The kids really take responsibility for what they’re planting and taking care of.” The program also involves field trips, painting murals around the gardens, and other activities, she said, noting all of the workshops and lessons are curriculum-connected.
When the provincial government closed schools mid-March, part of the province-wide response to the Covid-19 pandemic, educators across Ontario had to think of new ways to deliver their curriculum. Munier noted that the GROW Project faced that challenge too. “We didn’t stop our programming,” she said. “We changed it, just the way educators all over the world have.”
Munier notes that replicating the program experience online has limitations. “You can’t really replace getting to design a garden with a classroom, getting to plant it together, tend to it together, harvest it together,” she said.
What they’ve done instead is bundle the contents of the spring workshop into an at-home learning format. “It includes garden design and planning, lessons about biodiversity, pollination, climate change, and activities to do around these topics,” she said. They’ve also posted videos online, and formatted the activities so that kids can do them with or without garden space.
“We’ve been sharing that with GROW Project teachers, and we’ve also put it onto our website so that any other families who might be interested in food education and activities for their kids can help themselves.”
For the past three years, Munier said funding from a Trillium Foundation grant has allowed the program to expand from seven to 21 schools. That three-year grant is now coming to an end. “We’d like to thank the Trillium Foundation,” Munier said. “We are now in a position of seeking more support from our community for this local initiative.”
In the meantime, Munier’s work continues. “We’re still planting many of our GROW gardens this year, unfortunately without the students,” she said. “All the produce will be donated locally.”
Loving Spoonful, the GROW Project’s parent organization, was established in Kingston in 2008 to facilitate fresh-food access to shelters, meal programs and pantries across the city. In the 12 years since, they’ve delivered over $1,250,000 of food in the Kingston area. Their mandate includes food security, skill development and community engagement, advocacy, increasing social inclusion, and improving mental and physical health.
Loving Spoonful is currently running a campaign to raise funds for the GROW Project’s operation through the 2020-2021 school year. During the month of June, the LesLois Shaw foundation will match donations made to the GROW Project up to $5000.