This summer, we have been working with youths from Suwalkh School in Coquitlam to expand their Indigenous Medicine Garden and Healing Forest. 

At the start of summer, this space looked rather different. A lot has been done with the youths within this space, and we’re excited to show you everything that has been achieved!

The Garden

The Suwa’lkh Indigenous Garden is part of a horticulture program at the school designed to offer an outdoor learning space, food production, and cultural teachings for students; in addition to horticulture, the garden acts as a therapeutic space. Designed as a traditional Aboriginal medicine wheel, the benches form a circle and invite students and community members to sit and relax in the sacred space. There is also a 40’ long greenhouse which allow  students to have year round access to growing food, which is used in their school lunch program and foods classes.​

Pictured above are just a few of the new beds built this summer. The youths have sowed seeds in a few of the new beds, but more will be sowed as fall/winter approach. The bottom right hand corner shows the “three sisters”, which are composed of corn, bean, and squash. The corn supports the beans, beans provide nitrogen to the soil, and squash shades out weeds and other pests. This system is definitely making the plants really happy; the squash is growing way past its bed and trespassing onto its neighbouring bed!

In the background of the above photo, you can see all the newly built garden beds on the far side of the garden. The rainbow chard, basil, and celery grown in the raised bed are also growing like crazy! I have never seen chard that big in my life! The wood chips surrounding the garden beds are also done by the youths; it was a summer of a whole lot of shoveling, pitch forking, wheelbarrowing. I can confidently say that these youths are all professional wheelbarrow-ers now!

Here are two of the Suwalkh youths, Malcolm and Jess, harvesting tomatoes in the greenhouse. They also learned how to prune these tomato plants in the past weeks.

We have a mason bee house just outside our greenhouse by the entrance of the garden. Mason bees are gentle native bees that are excellent pollinators. Before honeybees were brought over from Europe, native bees, like mason bees, did all the pollinating here in North America. Mason bees don’t produce honey because they collect pollen instead of nectar from plants. One of our talented youths, Jess, painted this sign for our beloved pollinators.

Pictured above is our new nursery just outside the side of the greenhouse! At the start of summer, our greenhouse was completely full, and we are now able to move many of the plants outside under the canopy to prepare them for transplanting. We have a lot of native and medicinal plants that will soon be propagated and planted in the forest (salal, goodberries, lupin… the list goes on and on), as well as plants such as coastal and woodland strawberries. Now we have the capacity to be able to seed and store more plants!

In the Forest

The forest is a place for students and community members to take a stroll and relax in, and a few years back, it had no path available for walking. Two students cleared a loop trail a few summers ago, and this summer, our focus was to rid of the invasives that were taking over this forest. The ones we tackled were English Ivy, English Laurel, and Japanese Knotweed. The youths spent many afternoons clearing these invasives, and by mid August, they somehow managed to clear all of the invasives to almost none… super impressive!

This is the path near the entrance of the forest. The students at Suwalkh painted these rocks- makes a nice welcoming atmosphere.

Pictured above is English Ivy (front pile) and Japanese Knotweed (back pile).

Below is English Laurel (front) and more Japanese Knotweed (back).

These are just some of the piles of invasives the youths got rid of this summer. They wheeled them out of the forest because Japanese knotweed can easily regrow if it gets covered with soil. To properly dispose of these, we needed to allow them to dry before disposing them.

Some of the invasives, English Holly, is piled in the forest, as holly is unlikely to regrow. If you walk through the trail, you’ll see many of these piles all along the forest!

Pictured above is the future outdoor classroom for Suwalkh students! The youths have started clearing a path for it, and look how far they’ve come! Pretty neat stuff happening.

Look at these sunflowers! They started blooming in July, and are still shooting up. We all agree that these sunflowers are some of the tallest we’ve ever seen! They are attracting lots of pollinators and beneficial insects into our garden.

A big thank you for Harvest for donating all the soil used to build this schoolyard garden! We are so excited to see all the food that will be produced from these newly built beds, and it wouldn’t have been made possible without your generosity.

And that’s all for the summer updates at the Suwalkh Fresh Roots Farm! This summer was our pilot start-up program year, and we can only anticipate to see this program and the garden grow in the next year. It’s been really amazing to see the garden and forest transform over eight weeks, and watching the youths bond over working together in the garden and forest is really rewarding to see.

During the school year, students from the Suwalkh school will continue the stewardship of this space, so it doesn’t stop here! There will be a lot more work being done, and we expect a whole lot of veggies to be harvested throughout the year with these new beds. The forest is also moving toward to becoming an outdoor classroom for the students, so keep checking in for these updates!

As for now, happy last days of summer!

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