Alive! Magazine

June 1, 2016


If you ate today, you can thank Canada’s farmers. Unfortunately, our farming is in peril as aging farmers retire. Meanwhile, experts warn that a lack of appreciation for where our food comes from is contributing to unhealthy eating and obesity. Thankfully, several organizations are working to reverse this trend, starting with kids.

The grass is older on the other side

Most farmers in BC are in their sixties, and less than 5 percent are in their mid-thirties or younger. We see similar trends in other Canadian provinces: more and more farmers are reaching retirement, and fewer young people are stepping into the gap.

When this happens, farmland is often sold for non-agricultural purposes such as residential neighbourhoods. Or, the farms are consolidated into sprawling corporate farms. Farm industry insiders in Europe, Asia, and the US report that this leads to more food insecurity, less biodiversity, and fewer local commodities. Big corporate farms tend to import supplies and sell their products outside of their local community.

Inspiring Canada’s children to get their hands dirty in community gardens and farms can strengthen our local agriculture and provide distinct health benefits to the kids involved. Community groups devoted to this are sprouting up across the country.

A fresh idea takes root

Fresh Roots, a nonprofit in Vancouver, celebrates ecological stewardship. It sees access to healthy land and fresh food as key to community health.

When asked about Canada’s aging farm population, director Marc Schutzbank compares the situation to learning a difficult classical music piece. “An expert pianist may practise a million times before a concert,” says Schutzbank. “In contrast, a Canadian farmer may only plant her crop 60 times in her lifetime.”

“That’s why the knowledge that gets passed down through a farmer is super significant,” explains Schutzbank. “How does the soil work? What happens in the particular contours of this piece of land? We need to ask: what can we do so that the knowledge that exists—that’s embedded in the DNA of these farmers—gets passed on?”

Fresh Roots’s specific focus is sharing the importance of Canadian farmers with youth by telling the story of where our food comes from. “Our role is to get people in an urban setting to say, ‘Hey, this is important, and as a result I choose to support our local farmers,’” says Schutzbank.

Without connecting these dots and building a relationship between the generations, we break the crucial chain of knowledge transfer from old to new farmers. “If we don’t have that knowledge, it’s like pulling the plug on a pianist,” says Schutzbank. “We just won’t have the knowledge or experience to play our piece.”

Extreme school makeover

In 2010, Fresh Roots built its first edible schoolyard at an elementary school. A few years later, the organization partnered with the Vancouver School Board to create Schoolyard Market Gardens.

These gardens were the first such project in Canada. Think of them as outdoor classrooms. Instead of school desks, students sink their hands and feet into the soil and learn about farming, cooking, and eating local produce. Workers and volunteers plant seeds of inspiration in students’ minds about the importance of sustainable, healthy food.

“Our farms are large-scale advertisements for kale and broccoli,” laughs Schutzbank. “Our goal (and what comes out in the research) is that when we spend time engaged in gardening, we eat more vegetables. We’re familiar with them. Our role at Fresh Roots—and at a lot of the organizations like ours—is to remind people that healthy food is easy.”

Growing health benefits

In just the past three decades, the rate of childhood obesity in Canada has gone up by 300 percent. Most of these kids will not outgrow the weight gain. This can lead to self-esteem issues, a higher risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and even poor school performance.

Multiple factors influence childhood health, weight, and nutrition. Sometimes, it’s a lack of food education. Other times, it’s food insecurity, no access to healthy food, or not enough exposure to gardens and farms that would build an actual appreciation for healthy food.

Organizations such as Fresh Roots sit at this important crossroad of influences. “People don’t have a connection to our food system anymore,” says Schutzbank, “so we’re not choosing the right things to eat. And that has a huge impact on both physical and mental health.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada agrees: children who garden are healthier. In its recommendations for tackling childhood health and obesity, the agency recommends we increase our communities’ capacities for local food production and community gardens. This would expose more kids to agriculture. Fresh Roots and similar groups have seen first-hand how their projects positively benefit kids’ food choices, such as increased interest in eating vegetables.

“We just need a relationship with our vegetables,” says Schutzbank. “At one of the elementary schools, we had two little boys in grade 3 who’d never tried broccoli. [By the end of the year,] they were wrestling over who could have the purple broccoli.”

In addition to its school partnership, Fresh Roots runs a summer program where youth are hired to work on different farms and make healthy food for themselves and the community. “Some of these students have never really had vegetables at their table,” says Schutzbank. “They didn’t have the experience of owning their diet and well-being.”

Last summer, one such student discovered an affinity for local zucchini. She started making zucchini fritters and pastas to incorporate the veggie into her life.

A greener tomorrow

It’s not just the schools and children that benefit. Vegetables cultivated in Fresh Roots’s schoolyard gardens get served in BC restaurants and beyond.

“We often forget that farmers don’t sell just the food that you see at the grocery store,” says Schutzbank. He points to local jams and similar products that use Canadian ingredients. “A huge amount of stuff goes into the secondary cottage industry. How can we revitalize our food system and all the pieces that come with it? It starts with supporting our farmers.”

From a holistic perspective, Fresh Roots helps create green-collar jobs, promotes the significance of local food security, enhances community health, and makes school curriculums more engaging for kids. In the long term, experiential learning may one day help change Canada’s aging agricultural trajectory as more and more of our youth are exposed to the practicalities of what it takes to grow food.

Cultivating the future

As we discover the benefits of introducing children—and even ourselves—to gardening and growing fresh food, more of us want to get involved. “The first thing I would do is go outside and plant a seed,” suggests Schutzbank. “Try it for yourself and engage in your own food story.”

If that sprouts a passion within you, Schutzbank recommends connecting with one of the many like-minded organizations across the country. All of them appreciate volunteer time, donations, and other support.

Finally, buy local. “When you’re at the grocery store, think about supporting your local farmer,” says Schutzbank. None of this would be possible without Canadian farmers. Look for labels that designate locally produced products and try to shop at farmers’ markets.

“Let’s grow good food for all,” says Schutzbank. “That’s the big takeaway.”

– See more at:


Gnome More Gnome!

Garden gnomes might eat your crops
But no worries, I’ve got something that stops
those pesky hands from digging in
It’s mustard greens, spicy as sin
When those gnomes eat mustard greens
It blows them into smithereens.

May 2016 Newsletter

Fresh From Fresh Roots

Over the past two weeks, Fresh Roots has been invited to speak with teachersfunders and industry membersthought leaders and professors from across British Columbia to explore what we can do to support a sustainable food and education system that focuses on ensuring that everyone has access to healthy, good, and local food. Here are some of my takeaway moments:

1.  Teachers are incredible force for innovation. Check out what’s happening in Chilliwack or Delta, for new farms on school grounds.  We’re excited to support these projects as we can.

2.  The new BC curriculum creates so many opportunities for teachers and students to use experiential learning through the farms – let’s take that opportunity to explore math, science, literature through a lens of indigeneity and sustainability. We had an incredible field trip exploring these themes just this past month. Come and plant with us! 

3.  SOYL (our summer internship program) focuses on providing job skills training, food literacy, and self-confidence.  And it’s in high demand  We had twice the number of applications as we had spots for youth. We’re excited to help provide healthy food for all youth during the summer. Learn more here.

4.  Almost 1/3 of food produced globally is thrown away.  THAT’S A LOT – Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.  Learn more through the FAO.

5.  We grow healthy food – and, we help help support an urban connection with food and food systems to remind youth of the intimate connection we all have with land, food, and community. Come and eat with us and with rural farmers who are getting more food to the plate than we ever could.  Cheers to them.

6.  Singing feels good – so come and join Rhythm and Roots Choir for a show where the proceeds are going right back into Fresh Roots.  Get your tickets now.

With a fistful of sunshine,

Marc – feeling like a nice summer kale salad with fresh salmon, and crumbled feta with a mustard vinaigrette – Schutzbank

Chief Poet and Executive Director


Salad Rainbow

Farmer’s Log

Thanks to the incredible weather, fertile soil and a little elbow grease, the fields are producing the most beautiful greens and roots in such great abundance we can hardly keep up!  Thankfully, we have some extra help from our new-hires, Allie, our new Good Food Distribution Coordinator and Cody our Schoolyard Farm Worker. With these two on the team we’ll be growing and selling more food than ever before.

– Farmer Charlotte


Fresh Roots in Metro

The city’s farms offer a diverse range of locally grown food and opportunities.

Vancouver is experiencing an urban farming renaissance of sorts.

“There’s an enthusiasm, a sense of resilience and civic engagement,” said Marcela Crowe, Executive Director of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society (VUFS).

The city recently adopted a two-year urban farming pilot. The goal of the project is to “help legitimize urban farming from a land use perspective, and create a consistent approach to urban farming inquiries,” according to the City’s Urban Farming Policy Report.

Besides Vancouver’s long growing season and focus on sustainability, the city’s efforts to promote local agriculture may account for a boom in urban farming. Vancouver aims to increase citywide and neighbourhood food assets by 50 per cent above 2010 levels.

Vancouver has a wide range of farms, the largest being Sole Food at four acres.

There’s also the UBC Farm, which boasts a heritage orchard, a variety of crops, free-range chickens and honeybees as well as a farmers market.

Hannah Wittman, Academic Director for Sustainable Food Systems, pointed out that the farm is launching a participatory seed breeding trial this summer.

“Learning to grow food is one way to expand food literacy in the city,” she said.

Marc Schutzbank, Director of Fresh Roots, believes that urban farming is catching on because “Vancouverites want to be engaged with each other, and gardening is a great way to connect with neighbours.”

Fresh Roots aims to help schools grow community through the process of growing food.

According to Schutzbank, the organization works toward their vision by developing programs that “catalyze ecological stewardship, healthy eating and community celebration.”

Their summer program SOYL, for instance, teaches youth to grow and cook healthy meals for themselves and those in need. With the motto “good food for all,” Fresh Roots “cultivates productive, half-acre educational farms where they grow good food for the school, community, cafeteria and neighbours,” said Schutzbank.

Students also sell the food at local farmers’ markets. Through gardening, they learn traditional subjects experientially, including science lessons about the nitrogen cycle and math lessons involving modelling garden growth.

One of Fresh Roots’ former participants, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants “hardly spoke” at the beginning of the program, but now she is aware of the importance of healthy and whole foods, said Schutzbank.

Read the article online:

Amy Logan For Metro Published on Fri May 20 2016


New Volunteer Postings – Support SOYL Youth this Summer

Fresh Roots and UBC Faculty of Education’s Intergenerational Landed Learning program have been excitedly collaborating and planning to produce our most exciting year of SOYL youth programming yet!

The SOYL summer employment and leadership program empowers secondary students to cultivate and steward food gardens on school grounds for learning, community building and growing Good Food for All. Through the program, youth develop skills in growing, cooking and selling food, as well as a greater connection to themselves, their community, and the Vancouver food system. They also receive a stipend, community service hours and work experience credit for their contributions. See our SOYL page for more details.

SOYL includes weekly Community Eats lunches, and we have some special volunteer needs to help make this program a reality.

  1. Volunteer Chefs (4 positions) – applications are due June 12th
  2. Delivery for Community Eats Volunteer (1 position) – applications are due June 26th

Click on the above links for more details, and contact us at if you have any further questions.


VSB’s Fresh Roots Schoolyard Market Gardens Named BC’s Young Social Innovators 2017

Fresh Roots and the VSB is Recognized as Social Innovators

Social innovators from all sectors came together in Vancouver for the BC Social Innovation Youth Awards, a joint partnership between the government of British Columbia and RADIUS SFU, held at The Imperial Vancouver.

The winners, who are between 12 and 29 years of age, were chosen from 48 very strong entries from all backgrounds, diversities and abilities and from all regions of the province. Their innovations range from small-scale such as Santa’s Workshop that helped 20 of Colin’s classmates in Vernon to the one million meals that Andrew Hall and the Mealshare Aid Society have provided to youth in need. Some innovators have a broad impact, such as Abbey Jones and the CANsave program which has impacted 80 distinct communities across Canada, while Anna Migicovsky focuses on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the work she does through Knack

Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, presented the awards and joined the youth winners afterwards for a panel discussion centred on the dynamic area of youth social innovation.

The awards were part of the BC Summit on Social Innovation, a day-long event that brought together businesses, investors, universities and non-profit organizations to share ideas and engage in panel discussions on how to grow more successful partnerships across sectors. The event partners were Vancity, RADIUS SFU, BC Partners for Social Impact, Vancouver Foundation, and the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.

Keynote speakers at Summit were Tamara Vrooman, president and chief executive officer of Vancity, and Raven Lacerte, youth award winner and co-founder and youth ambassador for the Moose Hide Campaign.

Over 200 attendees had numerous opportunities throughout the day to discuss issues and brainstorm innovative solutions through new partnerships.


Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation –

“After a day spent immersed in discussion surrounding social innovation in the province, I feel energized by all of the progress we are making. The youth award winners, in particular, have innovative solutions to issues that we are facing. I hope the opportunity to connect and form new partnerships will help them to accomplish even more. By working together, we can create a better British Columbia for all.”

Shawn Smith, director of RADIUS SFU –

“British Columbia has a rich history of social innovation and an incredible number of talented people and organizations working to create new solutions to social problems. Today is a beautiful reminder of just how strong we can be we when we work together. We are clearly in good hands, with today’s Social Innovation Youth Award recipients representing a wave of committed youth bringing new perspectives, ideas and energy to the table.”

Tamara Vrooman, president and chief executive officer of Vancity –

“Today’s summit is an opportunity to reflect on our progress, share our stories and aspirations, and be inspired by the passion and creativity of the next generation of social innovators. I think we will emerge feeling that B.C. is rich in the resourcefulness we need to develop innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions to complex social and environmental challenges.”

Raven Lacerte, co-founder and youth ambassador for the Moose Hide Campaign –

“I am honoured to share the work that we’ve been doing with the Moose Hide Campaign and excited to be on stage with the incredible recipients of the BC Social Innovation Youth Award. I am so grateful that young people are being honoured and awarded for the amazing work that is being done across British Columbia. The Social Innovation Summit creates a space to highlight and share outstanding work and connect folks to continue the good work.”

For more information:



Fresh Roots Famous Salad Dressing

How do you get kids to eat their veggies?  Just add a drizzle of our famous salad dressing!

The secret ingredient: nutritional yeast. It tastes a little cheesy without the dairy, a little nutty without the nuts, a little salty without the salt, and all around tasty.

Fresh Roots Famous Salad Dressing

Makes 2 cups


  • ¾ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 large cloves garlic, pressed or very finely chopped
  • 1 cup sunflower or mildly-flavored olive oil


  1. Add all ingredients except the oil to a mason jar and shake well to combine.
  2. Add oil, and shake some more until incorporated.
  3. Serve over salad, fresh or cooked veggies, or grains. Serving your salad in a tote is optional, but deliciously fun!

Thanks to Hollyhock for the dressing inspiration!

Download recipe cards here!


Salad Boxes Are Coming.

It’s been a long winter. If I measure the nutritional gap in my diet between last Salad Box received, 2015 season, and First Salad Box to be received, 2016 season, it’s been a capital “W” Winter, in the Game-of-Thrones-ish sense of the word. Last summer and well into the fall, I was the amazed recipient of more vegetables than I could name or consume. I had no idea what the end of that bounty would do to me.

The cold months came, and I went to the grocery store–just like always–but instead of skipping the produce aisle, secure in the knowledge that I had more than enough socked away at home, I ventured in. The contents were disturbing. I scowled at the wilted greens, recoiled from the alarmingly flexible carrots.

Who grew these things? No one I know on a first name basis, that’s for sure. So, I abstained. I just couldn’t face it. There were weeks on end when my grocery shopping could most accurately be described as “beige”. The hike in food prices certainly didn’t help. They say the falling Canadian dollar has something to do with it, raising the cost of all those wintertime California imports. If ever there was a time to be thankful for locally grown produce, this is it.

Meanwhile, the seeds are germinating. This year, I’m sure I’ll be just as wide-eyed when I open my box as ever, but I’ll be twice as grateful. I’ll eat what’s in season. I’ll eat what’s local. I’ll preserve more, and plan some winter crops of my own, and next year won’t be quite as beige.


– Melissa


(Winter food-blues got you making Game of Thrones references too?  You can still sign up for a salad box!  Check out our three different options, here.)