Fresh Roots Recognized as Top 35 Food Organizations Globally

By Danielle Nierenberg and Allyn Rosenberger

Food and nutrition education can empower children to make healthy choices throughout their lives, but most schools do not incorporate food education into their curricula. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that elementary school students in the United States receive, on average, just 3.4 hours of food and nutrition education each year.

With one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. considered overweight or obese, food education cannot be left to food industry marketing. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that the food industry spends nearly $2 billion dollars per year marketing to children; 73 percent of that marketing promotes food and beverages that are high in sugars and fats, yet low in recommended nutrients.

To counteract this unhealthy messaging, many organizations around the globe are working to instill healthy eating habits, foster food literacy, teach culinary skills, and educate children about the environmental, social, and health consequences of their food choices. Food Tank has selected 35 particularly noteworthy programs.

  1. Ciades Sem Fome (São Paulo, Brazil): Ciades Sem Fome (Cities Without Hunger) transforms São Paulo’s unused land into community gardens, school gardens, and agricultural greenhouses to improve the diets and health of local communities. Their School Gardens Project provides children in deprived regions of São Paulo with healthy food and nutrition education. The organization has built 38 school gardens in public schools and estimates they have reached nearly 15,000 children with their food and gardening education.
  2. Common Threads (United States): Millions of low-income children do not know how to choose or cook nutritious foods. Common Threads is dedicated to changing that by providing cooking and nutrition programs to underserved communities across the U.S. They are committed to preventing childhood obesity while also celebrating food culture. Common Threads takes a hands-on, family-centered approach to providing education on nutrition, healthy eating, sustainability, and garden development.
  3. Counterpart International (Cameroon): Since 2012, Counterpart International’s Food for Education program has connected local governments, schools, parents, communities, and nonprofit organizations in Cameroon to improve the health of students through food education. In addition to distributing nutritious meals to schools, they promote the value of healthy eating, build school gardens, and provide participants with food and health education. Since the implementation of their program, they have produced 172 metric tons of food in their gardens, reached more than 500,000 people with school meals and education, and increased school attendance among girls.
  4. Cultiva Ciudad (Mexico City, Mexico): Based in Mexico City, this urban agriculture organization operates school garden programs in schools throughout the city. They teach urban gardening skills and provide food education to at-risk youth. In addition, they collaborate with Centro de Autismo Teletón to operate a therapeutic sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. The therapeutic garden connects these children with nature and delivers basic food and environmental education.
  5. The Curriculum of Cuisine (Portland, Oregon, United States): The Curriculum of Cuisine provides rigorous education on culinary skills and food justice to children in Portland, Oregon. Before establishing their program in a school, they meet with teachers to learn about the academic culture of the students. They then invite chefs into the classrooms to provide hands-on lessons in conjunction with standard academic subjects. For instance, the chefs may join a typical language arts class and work with students to connect their reading and writing to culinary experiences. Alternatively, they may visit a natural science class and incorporate gardening skills into the lesson. This integrative approach seeks to enhance student interest and engagement in food and nutrition.
  6. Edible Garden City (Singapore): Edible Garden City is working to spread the “Grow Your Own Food” movement to Singapore, where land is scarce and people are highly dependent on imports. In addition to working with residents to maintain food gardens, they help schools establish gardens and teach students to grow their own food. They focus on sustainable growing methods, recycling, waste minimization, and nutrition education. Edible Garden City tailors the curriculum to each school and its particular culture; they believe children are more likely to eat their vegetables if they grow them and take ownership of them.
  7. The Edible Schoolyard Project (United States): This national organization seeks to create and spread a national food education curriculum for pre-kindergarten through high school. They believe in the importance of gardens and kitchens as classrooms. The goal of their curriculum is to empower students to make healthy food choices, not only for themselves but also for their environments and communities. They integrate their lessons into standard academic subjects while still incorporating their edible education goals—communication, personal and community stewardship, flexibility, and perseverance.
  8. The Finnish National Board of Education (Finland): Finnish school legislation not only guarantees a well-balanced meal for each student every school day but also requires that schools conduct nutrition education continuously throughout the school year. Every municipality must provide the Finnish National Board of Education with their plans for arranging school meals and their objectives for health and nutrition education. To facilitate this planning, the National Nutrition Council in Finland prepares guidelines for the schools and oversees their nutrition curriculums.
  9. Food Corps (United States): AmeriCorps leaders deliver the Food Corps program to high-needs schools across the U.S. to connect children with healthy food. Because children almost always enjoy food they have grown and prepared themselves, Food Corps focuses on hands-on education in both cooking and gardening. They also help reform cafeterias to ensure they provide healthy options and work with the entire school community to celebrate healthy food. After working with a school, Food Corps measures changes in children’s preferences for vegetables using their research-validated Vegetable Preference Survey. They have found that after participating in the Food Corps program, 7 in 10 children improve their attitudes toward vegetables, one of the strongest predictors of a healthy diet.
  10. Food Literacy Center (Sacramento, California, United States): To improve Sacramento’s health, environment, and economy, and to inspire children to eat their vegetables, the Food Literacy Center teaches low-income children cooking and nutrition. Their programs range from food literacy lessons to community events, each of which focuses on positive reinforcement to help children make healthy adjustments to the foods they already eat. Their food literacy curriculum, Your Sandwich Can Save the World!, is taught to local nonprofits and schools to instill healthy habits early. The curriculum also encourages children to take their knowledge home to their parents and families.
  11. The Food Trust (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States): Headquartered in Philadelphia, The Food Trust is dedicated to ensuring their city’s residents, and people across the country, have access to affordable, nutritious food and education to foster healthy decisions. They work closely with Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, schools, grocers, farmers, and policymakers, in addition to advocates across the country, to develop a comprehensive approach to the nation’s obesity crisis. This approach combines nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, nutritious food to improve food access, particularly among low-income communities.
  12. Fresh and Local (Mumbai, India): As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Mumbai does not have much room for agriculture. To ensure Mumbai’s residents have access to fresh produce, Fresh and Local helps people grow food on their rooftops. Recently, they developed a Nomadic Garden program, in which program staff use a traveling garden to educate Mumbai students about farming, ecology, food systems, and nutrition.
  13. Fresh Roots (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada): Fresh Roots cultivates school gardens and provides food education at schools across Vancouver to catalyze healthy eating, ecological awareness, and community building. They turn school gardens into educational sites, where they facilitate experiential lessons on food, nutrition, and farming; mentor youth through garden clubs and summer programs; host internships for high school students; and empower students to grow their own food.
  14. Gardeneers (Chicago, Illinois, United States): Although school garden programs consistently demonstrate numerous benefits, many schools lack the resources to maintain them. Gardeneers works with Chicago-area schools to improve or establish effective garden education programs. Their experiential lessons teach students about nutrition while enabling them to connect with their communities and environments. They want all children to understand the importance of healthy food in creating successful lives.
  15. Growing Chefs (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada): When Merri Schwartz, a professional pastry chef, realized that knowledge about food sustainability, nutrition, and local agriculture was not reaching local communities, she founded Growing Chefs to change that. Growing Chefs teaches children, families, and communities about healthy food and healthy food systems, with the ultimate goal of creating a world with healthy, sustainable food practices. They offer programs, seminars, and workshops to advance their mission. For instance, they place volunteer chefs in schools to teach children cooking skills, support urban agriculture, and provide children with the space and tools to grow their own food.
  16. Healthy Garden and Kitchen Program (Lima, Peru): An initiative of the nonprofit Centro Ann Sullivan del Perú, Lima’s Healthy Garden and Kitchen Program teaches children to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious, fresh food. The Center, which produces educational programming for students with developmental disabilities, built a new garden and kitchen with support from the Australian Embassy in Peru. They conduct kitchen and garden lessons four to five days per week with help from some of Peru’s top chefs.
  17. Jamie’s Food Revolution (United States; United Kingdom; Australia): Jamie Oliver, a British chef and restauranteur, is using his celebrity status to foster a global food revolution in the way children access, consume, and understand food. Jamie’s Food Revolution works in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia to improve the health of future generations through the food that they eat. They provide food and nutrition education programs, healthy cooking classes, and gardens to schools across the world. The organization also recently launched a six-point plan to tackle childhood obesity in the U.K. The multi-sectoral plan outlines policies and community-based interventions to change food culture in U.K. schools.
  18. Kuzenhof (Freiburg, Germany): This farm in Germany teaches visitors, including children, about the benefits and techniques of farming. Their lessons demonstrate the ways in which agriculture interacts with the environment and the effects of food choice and preparation on the ecological system. They enable children to experience farming and nature with the ultimate goal of fostering environmentally conscious and nutritious food consumption.
  19. Mazingira Institute (Nairobi, Kenya): In 2000, the Mazingira Institute initiated its Urban Food and Nutrition Security and Urban Agriculture Project to provide training courses in urban agriculture, food security, nutrition, and food systems. The training courses develop knowledge and skills among youth and adults, but in 2015 they were recognized for their work with youth, winning second place for the 2015 International Network for Urban Agriculture (INUAg) Innovators in Urban Agriculture Prize–Teaching Youth. The NGO has educated thousands of youth since the inception of this program.
  20. Mbuyuni Garden (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania): The Regent Estate Senior Women’s Group, a local association that promotes the reintegration of vegetables into the Tanzanian diet, established this project at the Mbuyuni Elementary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They created a school garden spanning one-sixth of the school’s land to produce organic crops for school meals. The students harvest the garden’s produce three times a week, enabling school chefs to prepare diverse, nutritious meals. The program teaches children how to cultivate indigenous vegetables, appreciate the origin of their food, and eat more nutritiously.
  21. National Farm to School Network (United States): For communities working to bring food and agriculture education into their school systems and early care programs, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) serves as an information, advocacy, and networking hub. NFSN provides leadership and support at the state, regional, and national levels to expand the farm-to-school movement, which empowers children and their families to make healthy, sustainable food choices. As of 2014, their network includes approximately 42,000 schools in all 50 states.
  22. Nourish (United States): Fostering meaningful conversation about food and sustainability, particularly in schools and communities, is central to the mission of Nourish. They develop television programming, curriculum development resources, web content, and seminars as platforms for their nutrition education. Their Nourish film plays a central role in each of their educational initiatives. The film—which features interviews with best-selling author Michael Pollan, sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, chef Bryant Terry, pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke, and organic farmer Nigel Walker—analyzes our relationship with food and how food relates to biodiversity, climate change, public health, and social justice.
  23. OzHarvest (Australia): The first perishable food rescue organization in Australia, OzHarvest collects excess food from more than 2,000 commercial food providers and delivers it, free of charge, to more than 800 charities. In addition to this redistribution of surplus food, OzHarvest focuses on educating and raising awareness about food waste, food rescue, food security, and sustainability. They also work to promote nutrition education, particularly among disadvantaged youth. Their NEST program, Nutrition Education Sustenance Training, teaches people across Australia to engage in healthier eating practices and food preparation behaviors. NEST is administered at numerous locations, including homeless shelters, schools, youth services, and community centers.
  24. Pasona O2 (Tokyo, Japan): Pasona O2 is located underneath an office building in the heart of Tokyo. They utilize modern technology to grow 100 types of fruits and vegetables indoors using energy-efficient LEDs, instead of light energy from the sun, and hydroponic growing. To engage the city’s youth, they invite student groups to the urban farm to learn about the environment and growing food. In doing so, they hope to expose children in urban areas to the origins of food and instill a love for nutritious fruits and vegetables.
  25. Prinzessinnengarten (Berlin, Germany): In 2009, hundreds of volunteers converted an old city square into a fruit and vegetable garden, now known as Prinzessinnengarten, or Princess Garden. Today, local residents maintain the garden and often invite experts to provide food education to local children. They teach children about sustainable living through sustainable food choices and provide them with the tools to engage in urban farming.
  26. Real Food Media Project (United States): Part of Food Mythbusters, the Real Food Media Project seeks to counter misconceptions about the U.S. food system by creating documentary videos on food. Their films aim to inspire people to believe food system change is possible, educate them on how to affect such change, and, ultimately, grow the sustainable food and farming movement. Each film popularizes complex ideas and policies for a general audience, including children. Most recently, they released a film tackling the fallacious belief that industrial food is necessary to feed the world.
  27. School Food Matters (London, England): School Food Matters develops food education programs for schools across London. Each program includes hands-on cooking lessons, food growing, and, typically, a visit to a local farm. In producing these programs, School Food Matters seeks to ensure that every child has access to nutritious food, an appreciation for the origins of their food, and an understanding of healthy eating practices. They work closely with individual schools to ensure that the program can grow and become a recurring feature of the school’s calendar.
  28. School Garden Project (Beijing, China): The School Garden Projects believes that engaging children in gardening, helping them understand the food supply, and educating them on food and nutrition will enable them to lead healthy, successful lives. Since 2011, this organization has led school gardening programs across Beijing. The programs not only teach children to grow their own food, but also incorporate environmental conservation lessons and nutrition education. In addition, the School Garden Project often takes students on field trips to farms to improve their understanding of the food supply chain and offer healthy cooking classes.
  29. SEED (Cape Town, South Africa): A nonprofit and public benefit organization operating in Cape Town, South Africa, SEED works to increase ecological literacy, provide organic food to students, and improve the health of communities through nutrition and food education. They predominantly work in under-resourced schools to help teachers create outdoor gardens and provide education on the food system. SEED fosters connections between children, the environment, and the food that they eat. Gardening not only builds this connection but also improves the health and nutrition of students.
  30. Siyakhana (Johannesburg, South Africa): Using the principles of permaculture, Siyakhana created a vegetable and medicinal herb garden on an abandoned plot of land in Johannesburg, South Africa. After this success, they expanded their reach and started establishing urban gardens across the city. In addition to programming for urban farmers and city residents, they provide educational opportunities for children in schools, homeless shelters, and community centers. Their lessons focus on food security, health promotion, nutrition, and sustainable urban agriculture.
  31. Slow Food International (Global): Slow Food International works in more than 160 countries to ensure everyone has access to good, clean, and fair food. They are dedicated to combatting a growing disinterest in food, its origin, and the environmental consequences of our food choices. Their initiatives and programs vary widely, from biodiversity projects to international networking. Notably, however, they offer food and taste education to help people understand where their food comes from, how it was produced, and who produced it. This education takes the form of school gardens, farm visits, practical workshops, and knowledge exchange.
  32. Sors de Terre (Paris, France): Outside of Paris, in the Bagnolet suburb, herds of sheep and goats graze the small plots of land that separate apartment buildings. Sors de Terre transforms these plots of land into urban farms, where they teach children to establish, maintain, and harvest gardens. They hope to connect children with the environment and provide them with experiential food education.
  33. Sustain Ontario (Ontario, Canada): Sustain Ontario’s Edible Education Network aims to promote food literacy and create healthy food environments across Ontario. They connect groups in Ontario working to advance this mission so they may share resources, ideas, and experiences; work together; and facilitate efforts educating children on healthy eating, cooking, and sustainable food production. They provide children across the province with a better understanding of the food system and with education on how to grow, prepare, and choose healthy food.
  34. Time to Grow (Hong Kong, China): Time to Grow provides a range of educational workshops to educate children in Hong Kong on urban farming and food systems. They promote conscious food consumption among Hong Kong’s youth by teaching them about their relationship to the environment and to the food that they eat. They also offer cooking classes to children to provide them with the tools to turn fresh produce into a nutritious meal.
  35. Wellness in the Schools (New York City, New York, United States): This New York City nonprofit works with public schools to provide children with healthier school food and teach them about nutrition. Wellness in the Schools (WITS) sends culinary school graduates into school food kitchens to teach the cooks to prepare nutritious meals from scratch and into classrooms to teach children to cook healthy foods. In some of their schools, they have a Garden to Café program, in which they harvest vegetables from the school’s garden and serve them to the children.

For more information:


VSB Student Captures SOYL Program

Learning about Food, Sustainability, and Leadership on Schoolyard Farms

by Nichole Bruce, SOYL Graduate

When I accepted the placement at SOYL this summer, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Some of my friends had done it the summer before and said it was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun. I quickly came to learn that SOYL is more than just working on a farm all summer. To sum it up SOYL is a program for youth run in partnership by the UBC Faculty of Education’s Intergenerational Landed Learning Project, and Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society, a non-profit organization that runs two urban farms on high school grounds. SOYL is perfect for anyone who is interested in the food system, sustainability, and leadership. Over the course of the seven weeks we participated in numerous workshops, traveled around Vancouver on our weekly community days, and learned more about food and agriculture than I could’ve imagined. I decided to join the SOYL program because I was, and still am, interested in all the things I mentioned above, the food system, sustainability and leadership. I had my own vegetable garden at home and was curious about how food is grown on a commercial level and all the factors that affect the production. Since there is no course in school that teaches about agriculture or agronomy, I thought SOYL would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the things I was so interested in.


Harvesting garlicEvery morning we (when I say ‘we’ I mean the 24 SOYL participants) would go to one of the schoolyard farms at either Vancouver Technical Secondary or David Thompson Secondary and work in the farms for the mornings and then participate in a workshop to help us build our leadership skills or prepare for market, where we sold all the produce we grew. Each day was a bit different in terms of what we were doing, which only made the program more fun. We were split into crews of six youth and would work together on whatever task we were assigned and one of the farmers – who have the coolest jobs in the world – would guide us and answer any questions we had. My favourite memory from this summer would definitely be the day we made blueberry jam. All of us – the facilitators, youth, and chefs, squished into the Van Tech kitchens on probably the hottest day of the summer and made over 150 jars of jam. It was so much fun, we had music playing and people were laughing and smiling and we were making delicious blueberry jam that we could soon sell to raise money for next year’s SOYL program.

Communal lunch on the farmMy summer with SOYL has taught me so many things and has shaped my future in ways I don’t quite know yet. Before SOYL, agriculture was something I was interested in but I didn’t know anyone else with the same interest, not many high school students go around saying “I really want to be a farmer when I grow up.” For me, the most valuable experience I had this summer was talking to all the farmers who work on the farms year-round and learning about how they got to where they are. There are so many programs more than general sciences and arts, and talking to people who had been a part of these programs really opened my mind to the possibilities I have once I graduate high school. In regards to life-long lessons I learned, the one that stands out to me the most is not taking food for granted. It’s so easy to not even give a thought to the people and industry that puts food on our plates every day. There is so much more that goes into getting food from farms than a truck driving it to the supermarket, and learning about the food system has given me a new appreciation for the food I eat. In more ways than I can count, SOYL has not only taught me about food but has also helped me become a better, more knowledgeable and more responsible person.

Weeding is tough work!


at van tech 2016

Small Magic in Late Autumn

The Pineapple Express breezes through Vancouver, bringing a day full of sunshine and a tease of spring weather.

After spending lunch with the Aboriginal Youth Program at Van Tech, I was feeling very soft and charmed by the warm air. So I went outside to our Fresh Roots farms to just notice. To notice what activity, small or large, was taking place on the farm. The Kale was upright and loving the sunshine. The hoop houses looked secure. The remnants of garlic planting were visible.

Unseasonably warm, I was able to be in my t-shirt. Charlotte, our head farmer rolled up in the Fresh Roots truck, I was excited to see her because it meant I could help on the farm a little and also because I was hoping to have some company on such a warming day. And little did I know, my favourite task was the garden task of the afternoon- mulching the garlic beds.

From the truck, we unloaded free barrels of straw collected from Halloween houses (thank the spirits for craigslist!). Charlotte saw my excitement and let me have the honour of tucking the garlic babies into bed for the winter. A thick layer of straw blanketing over, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding plants. The warm golden sun illuminated the straw blanket. Charlotte and I looked at how far the straw stretched as a blanket over the garden beds, and visually estimated how many more Halloween houses we needed to contact. As we observed quietly, the aspen tree just south of the garden shed its leaves as the warm breeze blew in. A shower of amber confetti aspen leaves bumbled over the garden through the golden sun. The earth bringing us in for a warm embrace. We couldn’t help but laugh at the magic we were witnessing.

Taking time to be present, to receive the gifts the natural world is constantly offering us, to just feel the changes, can lead to pure magic.


Fresh Roots with Cilantro Cooks!

Marc Schutzbank is transforming the school food system through educational farms on school grounds as the Executive Director of Fresh Roots. We recently sat down with Marc to hear more about his organization and his thoughts on the importance of farming education for today’s youth.

What is the mission of Fresh Roots?

Good Food For All – where everyone has access to healthy land, food, and community. We do that by growing educational farms on school grounds. The food we grow is brought into the school cafeteria and to the surrounding community.

What is your gardening and farming philosophy?

Well, you’ve heard of the 100-mile diet; this is the 50-foot diet. Imagine a high school cafeteria where the food is grown right outside as part of students exploring the nitrogen cycle or learning about organic pest management. That’s what we do on our farm.

Our goal is not to grow all the food for our community. It’s to show youth that their food is important, that growing is hard, and that we need our farmers across our country to have access to good jobs and strong markets. Our schoolyard farms are reminders to people that farms, farmland, and (most importantly) farmers matter. We salute the work of farmers and help to share the story of our food system with youth and our neighbours.

There are so many advertisements for other aspects of our food system, such as restaurants, prepackaged foods, or sauces. But there are no advertisements for greens and healthy vegetables and fruits. That’s our job, and that’s why we’re different: our farm is one big advertisement for kale and broccoli.

What types of foods do you grow in your market gardens?

We grow a schoolyard harvest to ensure that we’re focusing on food we can grow during the school year. Our largest harvests are in September and October to accommodate the school season. Here in Vancouver, it’s possible to grow all year round, and so we do. We use small hoop houses as a means to prevent freezing, and we work with chefs to identify winter hearty vegetables (spinach, leafy greens, kale, etc) that do well during Vancouver’s mild winter.

Finish this sentence… “The most innovative way that I’ve seen one of the vegetables we’ve grown served or prepared is … “

Just this summer, we made incredible zucchini pasta, dressed with a mustard pesto that was to die for. And it was healthy, and it was all grown within 50 feet of the school.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we work with local chefs to help our youth learn how to cook the food that they grow. That food is transformed into incredible burgers, soups, salads, and smoothies for the youth to eat, but also for anyone in the school community who wants to have something healthy to eat as well.

What takeaways do you want the kids who participate in your programs to remember from their time in your market gardens?

That they can do anything. These farms were literally like a moonscape before we worked with the school district and hundreds of volunteers to turn them into outdoor classrooms. Over the course of four days and with hundreds of volunteers, we transformed them into edible experiential learning classrooms. We want the youth we partner with to recognize that when they work together, they really can do anything.

How do you make your gardening and farming practices palatable to larger food growers and processors?

We always know that we are an educational urban farm. That’s really what we focus on: helping to train people and let them know that farmers in rural areas are the true heroes of our food system.

When preparing some of the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor, what are some of the most essential tools, utensils, or items that you have in your kitchen?

Our youth most are in love with the immersion blender. For commercial kitchens, they are a cross between a blender and a chainsaw. Our youth make jams and sauces as part of a social enterprise that they develop and run. Through that work, the youth are able to support themselves, which for many of them is crucial to their success in and out of school.


Fred UnLEEshed!

Fred UnLEEshed: Sept. 19, 2017
Fred Lee highlights Fresh Roots, the Pacific Autism Network and Chinatown BBQ

Fred Lee / Vancouver Courier
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 06:00 AM

FARM TO SCHOOL: Combining urban agriculture, local food and education, Fresh Roots is an innovative program seeded by three friends who have a passion for gardening. In 2009, Gray Oron, Ilana Labow and Marc Schutzbank wondered how much food they could grow for their friends and East Vancouver neighbours. A lot, it turns out. Their backyard experiment was soon full of vegetables, and Fresh Roots was founded. Soon, more gardens sprouted. One shared a fence with a local elementary school garden that had grown into disrepair. The principal asked the three friends if they might be able to help. They would eventually transform the grounds into an edible schoolyard and educational farm enabling hands-on lessons on farming, food and nutrition. Today, the educational farms are located in three school districts — Vancouver, Delta and Coquitlam — with more than 5,000 students visiting Fresh Roots fields annually. The produce grown is sold to school cafeterias, restaurants and local families. In the summer, Fresh Roots employs high school students to garden and sell the food at farmers’ markets. Fresh Roots, which recently earned charitable status, hosted its Schoolyard Harvest Fundraising Dinner at David Thompson high school to raise awareness and support for the school market gardens. David Thompson is home to one of the educational gardens.

To read online click here.


Season of Pruning and Trellising

On leaving room and creating space.

On pruning and trellising.

On learning about learning.


“They’re called ‘suckers’ because they suck energy from the plant. Also because they just suck.”

(Gaelan, teaching a friend’s little sister about what he calls “the theory behind why we prune tomatoes”.)


Aaaaand… we’re back!


Well, it’s been awhile, huh, Fresh Roots cyber land? I’ve missed you guys! I’ve been out ‘n’ about since the end of my Schoolyard Farm Internship last season, immersed in the good things of academia, and family, and such. I’ve been back with the Fresh Roots family, in a slightly different role and capacity. This growing season, I’ve been gardening with a group of students at Windermere Secondary School, growing food together and selling it at a weekly summer market stand! (Shameless plug: We’re at Collingwood Neighbourhood House every Tuesday from 11am – 2pm in July and August. Come say hi!)

On paper, I am a garden coordinator. The #Windermeregarden crew is amazing in many ways, of course gardening being one of them! My job is to support them in that. In the beginning days (sometimes now too) I wondered to myself, “What does that even mean?? look like? feel like? taste like?”  “How does one ‘coordinate’?” “Empowerment is a great word and all, but how does one walk in it, practically, in the everyday kinda things that the inspirational speakers don’t have time to talk about?”


In the process of all this new learning, messing up, adapting, and becoming… My hands, they still get to work the soil, plant seeds, and yank out weeds. My head, often is in a buzz and bubble of uncertainty-laden AHHH!-moments, but so too soul-happy Ahhh 🙂 -moments. My heart, oh my heart, is continually being nurtured and challenged to grow into new capacities, to hold onto peace, to allow and embrace processes of pruning.



The very first thing I grew tried growing. I have a pair of handmade earrings (yay for sculpty clay!) that are tomatoes, in honour of that life event. The poor tomato plant weathered a couple bad storms, got bushy beyond recognition, and tried with all its might to have its measly fruit survive. Granted, we got a handful of cherry tomatoes off of it. But, indeed, it was a sad plant.

And then the students at Windermere teach me about pruning. Brave new world.

This season, we’re growing A LOT of tomatoes at Windermere. Tomato pruning has become a regular thing for us. Heart-level, I’ve been reflecting on how this new role as a coordinator/facilitator involves a lot of pruning, but also trellising. There’s the oft-times stressful process of having my mindsets re-adjusted, my words revised, to honour, empower and leave room for student learning and leadership – pruning. But then there’s also the support of a string or a stake that helps hold me up, helps guide my stalks and arms as they reach up higher – trellising. In this role, I am supported, encouraged, and enlivened by the Fresh Roots team, by the neighbours who visit our market stand, by the students who never cease to come up with witty veggie puns, and naturally and effortlessly create a culture of creativity and good times that I love being in.


It’s a season of pruning. It’s a season of trellising.

And I am still learning. So much.

On letting go, on balancing to-do’s and to-play’s, and fostering farming and fun. On letting old perspectives and boxes be pinched and pruned away. Leaves and suckers – endless task lists, overbearing efficiency, perfectly executed plans. Some things can (and should) be held with an open hand, so that we can focus on growing and maturing the fruit – student ownership and leadership, confidence and creativity, skills and silliness, joy!


Well, perhaps some of that had some semblance of sense and logic. I’m not too sure yet what shape this 2nd iteration of “Hands, Head, Heart” will take on, but I hope you will join me in reflecting on the roles that we play in our communities, and in the diligent work of pruning and trellising tomato plants – in our garden beds, and in our minds and hearts and relationships.

Before I sign off, some scribbles from a day back in the spring, when all this first began. Such is the tone of this season, I think… to hit those low notes.


March 15th, 6:40pm. On the bus heading home from the garden.

If I were to describe what I’m learning in one word, it’d be this:


Be humble—always ready and attentive to learn, change, shift your mindset. Quick to listen, and slow to speak (or instruct, or suggest). Know and be ok with knowing that you know not everything, that you do need help, that you need encouragement, and support, and a community to grow in. And know that it’s a good thing, this not-knowing-it-all-from-leaf-tip-to-root-end, that you need not burden yourself with aspiring for perfection and clear lines in all that you do, in all that it feels others depend on you to do, and do well.

“It’s important not to let perfect take away space for just okay.” (- quoted loosely from Marc Shutzbank)

Sometimes just okay is okay.

Sometimes it’s better than perfect.

Because in those spaces there’s then room to grow, nuggets to dig up, and reason to reflect, and think, and enjoy the loopy jaddegness of swirly lines.

On paper and in planting rows.

Through the avenues in my mind that new neurons fire through,

Excited by novelty.


When I feel that I’m a hopeless bumble, it’s really just good times to practice being


The SOYL Experience (so far)

This is the second week of SOYL and I’ve been having an excellent time! Throughout the program so far, I’ve made new friends and also got to learn more about gardening and farming. I hope further in the program I’ll be able to enhance friendships and create new ones that will hopefully continue once the summer is over. It’s going by so quick! One of my favourite parts of SOYL right now would probably be the harvesting days at the Fresh Roots farms at David Thompson & at Van Tech. So far I’ve been able to harvest some Swiss chard, some arugula flowers, and white icicle radishes. At David Thompson, I find their garden exceptionally beautiful. The Swiss chard, patty pan squash, the chocolate mint make me extremely happy because it’s so awesome to see an urban farm at a school in action and of course seeing the delicious fresh produce that’s organic as well!

My commute to David Thompson is around 40 minutes and I find myself actually enjoying it. I find waking up early and taking the bus puts me in a better mood and makes me excited for the day. As for Van Tech, I do love the space there. Since I’m part of the garden and sustainability club at Van Tech, I feel accomplished when SOYL helps out with the VT Garden Club’s beds because they’re so much better with our help! We’ve been clearing out the intense amount of weeds lately in our bush bean beds and it already looks incredibly better than before SOYL had started! I can’t wait to see what we can do to improve the garden out there this summer. I’m sure members of the club will be happy to see their garden when school starts back in September. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that they know that the SOYL crew helped out with it. 😉

A somewhat gloomy day but that doesn't mean harvesting wasn't fun!

A somewhat gloomy day but that doesn’t mean harvesting wasn’t fun! Group B harvesting swiss chard.

A challenge I find myself being caught in would be my sleep schedule. I become motivated when I am refreshed and about to start the day but I find myself not getting the right amount of sleep. I would say that I’m both a light sleeper and will wake up to any little noise, but I can become a deep sleeper when I’ve had a long day. The problem of my sleep schedule would be that after a long, semi exhausting day at the garden & farms, I always take a nap right after because I really can’t help myself! I know now that all I have to do is find something to do during that specific time so I can save it for a nice deep sleep that will for sure benefit me in the morning. I will definitely try to work on that in the following week.

I remember on one of the mornings I woke up extremely close to 9:00 and was really tired to the point of my eyes wanting to shut. Though when I got there to the farm, I felt more energized and ready to take on the long day. I think it was because of the atmosphere and how everyone was happy and excited but also seeing the positive attitude from the Fresh Roots workers and interns. I also really enjoy having beds and beds of fresh produce surrounding me because it feels organic. (haha get it?) I personally think mornings are the best times to do farm work. There’s something about being surrounded by farm land and blossoming fresh produce that makes you feel so much better! Another activity I feed off of, literally, is weeding! I find weeding a good activity to start off the day because it can be quite relaxing, unless you’re doing it for a heapless amount of time. I think weeding brings people together since it’s a good time to chat to fellow peers about life and such while of course clearing out the unwanted plants. I learned that some weeds are edible like purslane and to me it tastes like a slimier spinach but to each their own. What does purslane taste like to you?

Besides that, I’ve had a great time helping out with community eats. My crew (B) made a delicious and filling meal last week and I enjoyed it very much. We had made a stir fry, using the vegetable of the week, KOHLRABI! That stuff is honestly delicious in a stir fry with quinoa and fluffy brown rice. Community Eats is a fun way to connect with all the other FreshRoots Crew because we get to talk and share stories about the day or generally everything. One of my favourite things about community eats is probably guessing what they’re making that day. I have guessed one dish right but the rest not so close. I always guess what food they’re making on community eats days according to a) what the veggie of the week was and b) I find secret loopholes from some other fresh Roots crew who either have the scoop on what they’re making or saw them carry a certain ingredient. Shoutout to you who have given me hints! 😉

To conclude this blog post, I would like to say that SOYL has genuinely been the highlight of my summer. First because it’s basically taken over my summer but also because I haven’t had this much fun in the garden in awhile! I’ve met great people and I really hope we stay in touch afterwards. I’ve been able to take care of the school garden (at Van Tech) and I’ve also been able to see the process behind growing local and organic food on an urban farm. All the Fresh Roots crew have been so excited and it really makes you have a stronger momentum and a genuinely splendid, beautiful day. Here’s to all the SOYL days to come!

Who needs gloves? You have to touch soil to be in SOYL!


Julie To


SOYL  has been a really fun experience thus far ( re: this is only my THIRD DAY doing SOYL ), and I’m so happy I took this great opportunity. There’s been a lot of gardening–weeding–and cooking, sharing stories and having laughs. It’s feeling really tight-knit already and the first day, I barely knew any names at all. I’ve been feeling very connected to my crew already though I’ve only know all of them for three days.

My crew and I were the first to do Community Eats, and it was so much fun. I love cooking so it was a very fun time for me. We spent all of the morning preparing lunch, which were tacos! Who doesn’t love tacos? Especially with the excellent BBQ jam we received generously from a local chef who came to cook with us.  The entire meal was vegan/vegetarian which I really appreciated because am a vegetarian.

At first, I was slightly anxious of the meal, because I wasn’t sure if it was vegetarian, or if it would be conscious of some dietary needs or concerns ( not only for me but other people as well ). But I was pleased to discover that not only will every meal SOYL will make with Community Eats is vegan/vegetarian but also income-conscious or barrier-conscious. Not only that, but the tacos were filled with veggies for good health. It was so delicious too! I’ve had some not-so-great experiences with doing a cooking program that would try to implement vegetarian or vegan dishes but it not turning out well because it would try to mimic dishes that usually used animal products or meat. Also, we had a vegetable of the week ( how awesome is that? ), which was kohlrabi.

Rosalind commented that it looked like an alien head.


As for the farming part of the program, I feel like I’ve really learned a lot there past couple of days. It’s been a bit of labor but also so much learning through that labor. Types of weeds, how to use gardening tools, some history input here and there about the Fresh Roots program, when to pick the leafs off a kale plant. It’s all been a very enriched education. Like the enriched so(y)l in the urban farms. 

SOYL feels so different from summer formal education, like summer school. I dread the boring, I’m-half-asleep, this-classroom-is-so-hot classes you take in summer school! Granted, maybe this isn’t everyone, but it certainly is for me! I almost make it a point not to take summer school when I don’t need to. It just feels like a waste of the summer, where I could be enjoying the outside, soaking in the couple of weeks when Vancouver has sun. SOYL is really educational and enjoyable at the same time, plus we’re outside almost all day. Getting the fresh air, the sun, and bonding with people that share a lot of the same interests. Another plus, there’s no homework and it’s very engaging. You’ll never find a moment when you aren’t doing something.

I really look forward to the coming weeks of this program.

SOYL Crew Member – Rebecca