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When kids will eat vegetables

Marc Schutzbank, from Fresh Roots Farms in the Lower Mainland, addresses a meeting about kids in agriculture at Persephone brewery April 7. Donna McMahon photo

Three Sunshine Coast elementary schools have received a total of almost $5,000 in grant funding from Persephone Brewing’s “Kids in Agriculture Fund” to help grow projects that get kids down and dirty with plants.

The grants were awarded April 7 at Persephone after a presentation by Marc Schutzbank of Fresh Roots Farms on school agricultural programs in Metro Vancouver. Fresh Roots is a non-profit society that works with urban schools to develop agricultural learning opportunities for kids.

According to Schutzbank, a recent study showed that 63 per cent of children in grades 6-8 in Canada don’t know that tortilla chips are made from corn – a symptom that children are profoundly “disconnected” from farming and food production. Schutzbank said that it can also be very challenging to get children to eat healthy food, but “when kids grow their own vegetables, they eat them.”

In a Q&A after the presentation, teachers and parents discussed the challenges of starting and sustaining school programs, such as getting other parents and teachers involved, and managing farming over the summer vacation.

The grants were awarded to support three local school agriculture projects.

The West Sechelt Elementary’s “Farm to School” project is a small plot of land located a five-minute walk from the school on Mason Road. Since 2012 teachers, students, parents, and staff have been planting apple trees, building and planting garden boxes, and harvesting the bounty. Fresh produce from their efforts is included in the school’s breakfast/snack trays. This year the school will partner with food bank volunteers and harvests over the school summer vacation will go to Sunshine Coast families.

Davis Bay Elementary is undertaking an ambitious project to set up a donated 1,500-square-foot greenhouse on school property. When fully equipped, the greenhouse will allow up to 30 students at a time to learn about biology, agriculture, water management, and sustainability. Project partners include Teddy Bear Day Care, the Davis Bay Community Association, Vancouver Coastal Health and neighbours.

Halfmoon Bay Community School is installing a growing tower with LED lights, and solar panels to supplement energy costs. Growing towers can be placed on non-agricultural land, or indoors, have a small physical footprint, and use 90 per cent less water than conventional farming. Students will learn how aeroponics work, and will be encouraged to eat vegetables and herbs that are new to them.

The fund contributed $2,000 to Davis Bay Elementary and $1,374 each to West Sechelt and Halfmoon Bay. Persephone seeded the fund with two per cent of their gross December sales, and ATB Financial also contributed $650.

Persephone owner Brian Smith spoke briefly to the bigger picture of food growing in Canada. The average age of Canadian farmers is 56, and many farms are not being passed on to the next generation. Smith said that farmers are deeply concerned for the future and “want to know how to engage kids.”

Donna McMahon

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