By Tathali Urueta-Ortiz, Youth Empowerment Manager

It is the beginning of the fall, and at Fresh Roots, we are reflecting on all the summer learning experiences!

This year, Fresh Roots is partnering with ReFeed Canada, a Canadian company that focuses on repairing the food system by capturing and utilizing 100% of the nutrition present in unused food. They return it to feed people, livestock, and the soil, thus promoting a sustainable food system. In the spring of 2023, the Fresh Roots team visited ReFeed’s headquarters in Langley, BC, and was fascinated and inspired by their work.

Our work with ReFeed is part of an exciting 2-year project supported by a grant from the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation. The project “Exploring Agritech on Schoolyard Farms” is off to a great start in achieving it’s dual goals of: 1) Partnering with AgriTech companies to test new approaches to improving productivity on our small urban, schoolyards farms; and 2) Building on the success of our current SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership program), bring in new technology components to our existing programs to enhance and broaden learning opportunities for youth.

As a project partner, we are keen to learning from ReFeed about regenerative soil science and how to improve the health of the soil at Fresh Roots Schoolyard Farms.

Kat and Jaimie ‘digging in’ during our tour of ReFeed.

Robby Gass, Director of Regenerative Agriculture at ReFeed Canada, collaborated with us by facilitating four soil analysis workshops at two Vancouver high schools where Fresh Roots have schoolyard farms: David Thompson and Vancouver Technical Secondary Schools. A total of 100 students and 10 Fresh Roots staff participated in these learning experiences. 

Robby at the David Thompson schoolyard farm.

Robby at the Van Tech schoolyard farm.

The workshops Robby facilitated differed from the traditional soil analysis in which you would be looking for available nutrients and minerals or their supply. Instead, Robby analyzed Fresh Roots farms soil samples using an electronic microscope with the students and staff.  Through this regenerative approach, we are looking to see and assess all the parts that constitute the soil: its physical (texture, structure, and water-holding capacity), chemical (minerals and nutrients, pH), and biological properties (diversity and abundance of microorganisms, insects, and other organisms that live in the soil). 

Students identified the microorganisms living in the soil. The analysis revealed that the soil requires some improvement to enhance its health. 

Robby presenting and looking at Fresh Roots soil under a microscope.

Robby had our team and students hooked with his explanation of how the presence of alive microorganisms in the soil directly connects to how nutrient-dense the food is that we grow! This learning experience will continue into the next growing season to determine what measures to take to improve it. Robby suggested using compost that inoculates the soil with all the microorganisms that the soil needs to be in good health for the growing season. 

SOYL’s field trip to ReFeed.

During the summer, we observed how the Fresh Roots summer youth facilitators incorporated what they learned from Robby into their facilitation while running summer programs. It was great to see how the facilitators shared their knowledge with the youth they worked with. They could explain why healthy soil matters and, in concrete and tangible ways, create connections with what the youth were harvesting and eating with the health of the soil.  The SOYL Youth group had the opportunity to visit ReFeed, which turned out to be one of their favourite trips. One of the youth said, “Probably [my favourite  field trip was] ReFeed Canada because it was cool to see the many ways that people are trying to combat this food waste problem in the world and how they do it.” (SOYL Youth, 2023)

A glimpse inside what’s happening at ReFeed!

We are looking forward to continue working and collaborating with ReFeed Canada to keep learning about how Agri-Tech can support Fresh Roots Schoolyard Farms.

Thanks again to TELUS Friendly Future Foundation for supporting this project and stay tuned for more updates!

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