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.

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