Tea Garden Build! – Experiential Learning Report

Tea Garden Build!

by Mia Fajeau, Youth Program Facilitator

Did you know that many of the plants and flowers that you might spot in your garden or around your neighbourhood, like Dandelion or Wild Chamomile (aka Pineapple Weed), can be steeped to make your very own teas? I’ve always enjoyed a warm cup of tea as a calming and cozy drink during rainy Vancouver winters, and really enjoy adding my own ingredients to try new flavours, soothe my stomach, or wind myself down after a big day! So, when asked to design a planter for the learning circle at the David Thompson farm, I was excited to create a space for students to discover different edible plants that they can use in their very own teas.

The idea was to create a space that can be used during camps and field trips for students to dig around in, do farm work, and to connect with the plants around them. The tea garden can be used as an educational tool to learn about the different edible parts of plants as well as to learn about and identify native plants. The planter design is called a keyhole planter, with a circular entrance at one end into the center. This shape provides easy access to the center of the garden, making it easier to plant, tend and harvest all of the plants.

We are really excited to grow plants and flowers that can be used for teas in this space because teas are a great way to experience plants’ different medicinal properties, and they just taste really yummy! Making tea on cold and rainy camp or field trip days is also a great way to help students warm-up and keep their energy high. Because so many different parts of the plant are used when making teas, a tea garden provides a great learning experience about the functions of different plant parts. It also provides an opportunity for students to get creative and make their own mixtures based on their personal taste preferences. Some of the plants that will be featured in this garden include chamomile, sage, fringecup, and pearly everlasting, the latter three of which are native to the region now known as British Columbia.

The tea garden is ready for planting – a big THANK YOU to the SOYL team who worked hard to lay down the bricks and fill the planter up with compost this past Spring Break!


Farmer’s Log, Start-date, April 1, 2021

Oh, March. Another month of prep before the busy season comes on. The idea is that the better we prepare, the smoother the tomato volcano will be… but I’m sure many-a-farmer will argue that there’s simply no way to prepare for a vegetable glut in the heat of summer. 

There were a couple of things about my job that I fell in love with this month. First is the SOYL youth alumni who joined us for Spring Break:

  • At Van Tech they tended to the sensory garden after amending our entire growing space. 
  • At David Thompson, they planted cold-hardy seeds in the learning beds, built a new bed for a ‘tea garden’ in the outdoor classroom, helped us seed in the greenhouse, and drilled together a frame for a bed in the courtyard.
  • They also collected observational data on our overwintered chard to determine what might have led some plants to survive the cold while others died (conclusion: the healthier plants had more leaves to insulate them from the cold so they survived).
  • SOYL hands distributed about 20 yards of compost over two sites, which is an incredible help for Fresh Roots farmers. Their ingenuity in observations and energy tackling the huge piles of compost left me inspired. So many great problem-solving skills were applied in the building projects, too. What a delight!

My other new love is Fresh Roots’ greenhouse. Jack, Fresh Roots Delta farm lead, and I spent many hours there this month, seeding for our Vancouver locations as well as our new farm project out in Delta, a partnership with Farm Roots. We listened to co-op radio (what an awesome mishmash of music and personalities) while we sprinkled seeds and love into every cell. Even on bitter cold days, the greenhouse is nice and cozy, especially nestled in the courtyard at David Thompson Secondary. In this little oasis, the resident hummingbird screams its electric Tarzan call atop the huge magnolia tree and there are a couple of ravens that visit, often circled by angry crows. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this space is in the middle of the city.

-Farmer Camille


How Do You Connect with Nature?

As I write this, Vancouver has snow on the ground, and where I’m staying right now in Tacoma, Washington we had snow yesterday. But spring is basically here, and if you look closely you can see it all around. I’ve been watching the leaf buds on the hydrangea outside my window swelling for a few weeks now, and just in the last day they’ve started to open up. The leaf buds on the Japanese maple and the neighbor’s plum tree are big enough to be visible from a distance. It’s not just the plants that are telling me spring is here. I’m very much not a morning person, but for the last few days I’ve been waking up before my alarm because there is light coming into my room before 7:00, and sunset isn’t until nearly 6:00 here these days.

We hear about connecting with nature, and how great that is for our physical and mental health, but how do you do that

  • The first, and arguably most important step, is just to notice. Look, feel, smell what’s around you. There is nowhere in the world that isn’t part of nature, so it doesn’t matter if you’re deep in the wilderness or at the top of a skyscraper. We’re all affected by the sun, wind, and rain; we all breathe the air around us.
  • The second step is to remember, so you can compare what is happening over time. Writing down your thoughts and observations in a nature journal is one great way to do this. Because I’m terrible at remembering to remember, I have a journaling app that prompts me each evening to jot down what I remember about the day, like the crocuses I saw while walking the dog, or the hummingbird that flashed his magenta throat at me. I’ve also been taking pictures from my home office window and posting them on my social media daily-ish (very -ish). It’s been a great way for me to document visually and share with others. Low tech solutions like a paper journal, or just a daily “noticing nature” check in with a family member or friend are also great!

As you get into the habit of noticing, and remembering what you notice, you can cultivate your sense of curiosity and wonderment. Resist the urge to google everything – with a little patience, the world around you may just answer your questions for you, and sitting with mystery is a wonderful practice. Today, I’m wondering how long it will take for the hydrangea to fully leaf out, and if the plum will bloom before I head home to Vancouver. I’m also wondering what the hawk that was circling the neighborhood this morning was looking for, and if it found it, and where the little birds go when it gets really windy. Maybe I’ll find the answers, maybe I won’t, but they will keep me noticing to help find the answers!

Happy Connecting!


-Kat, Experiential Learning Manager


Farmer’s Log, Start-Date: March 1st, 2021

Hello and welcome to the Farm Team’s very first blog post of 2021! My name is Camille and I’m the new Farm Manager for the Good Food program here at Fresh Roots. I come from a  Deaf Family (Deaf parents, hearing kids) of mostly white European settler descent. Growing up on a large piece of land in what’s now known as South Surrey, the Indigenous land of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, and Tsawwassen First Nations, I was afforded the privilege of tending the soil and growing food with my family. This was where my passion for vegetables was ignited and it continued down paths of wildcrafting, permaculture, and urban farming to where I am now, here at Fresh Roots. 

 A few fun facts about me:

  • my first language is American Sign Language
  • I am obsessed with wild mushrooms
  • I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Critical Theory and Critical Studies in Sexuality. 

My combined education and experience leads to interests at the intersection of everything, like how the ‘local’ food movement can serve to simultaneously feed and exclude marginalized communities – and how breaking bread can bind us together. 

Similar to most Farmers in our region, February was a month of planning at Fresh Roots in addition to a whack of orientation for this noob to the organization. I had lots of introductions to people, programming, and technology that I never knew existed. I’ve been pouring over documents and making seed orders, planning compost deliveries, and scouring resumes to hire folks for our seasonally expanding  Farm Team. I am so excited to bring all of this planning to life. Just like a little garlic sprout, these ideas will transform into something lusciously green and delicious, and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Looking forward, we’ve got lots of stuff germinating. I just received our first seed order from Johnny’s and even got a couple of seed trays started with the help of our Program Manager, Galen. Seeding is kind of like making perogies – put on some good music, set up the trays, get a flow going, and you’re in the zone. I like to imagine all the energy in the room going into every ‘plop’ of a seed. What were Galen and I talking about and how will those words be brought to life by these plants that will emerge? I don’t care if this seems hippy-dippy. It feels good to set the scene for intention and growth in a holistic way. Other things featured this month: an epic, steamy, slippery compost dump; approximately one million zoom meetings; a gigantic, online group interview for our summer staff; and… snow (what!?).  

In March you’ll hear more from me through social media and the second Monthly Farm Report, and by June CSA Veggie Box members will be reading my weekly fresh sheet updates. Soon enough, I hope you’ll all be eating the food the Farm Team has collaboratively created. Can you taste those sweet Hakurei Turnips, yet?

-Farmer Camille


“Did you eat yet?” A Lunar New Year Reflection

By Vivian Cheung, Fresh Roots Operations Coordinator

As a Canadian-born Chinese, I grew up learning to communicate through culturally diverse lenses. Not only did I get immersed in weekly Saturday morning Mandarin classes, but I also was exposed to the important language of food.

On both a technical and cultural level, Chinese is a language and a people of rich symbols and hidden meanings. A single character is more than just a phonetic letter, but has multiple layers of history and stories that get amplified as you bring more characters into the discourse. The same could be said about people’s interactions. The phrase “吃飯了嗎?” which loosely translates to “Did you eat yet?” is more than just a literal inquiry about dinner. If a parent asks this to their child, it implicitly displays a deep concern and readiness to care for their well-being – mostly commonly referred to as the Asian code for “I love you”.

As we ring in the new year, I reflect on how food plays a huge role in communicating how we in the Chinese community symbolically celebrate and how eating together speaks louder than our seemingly average table conversations. For instance, what we eat during new year takes on a persona of its own, often through our clever mastery of homophonic puns and visual storytelling:

  • Rice Cakes (年糕) sounds like ‘year high’ (年高), hoping for the recipient will have a greater, more prosperous year than the last, or for children to grow taller
  • Oranges/Tangerines (橙/桔) sounds like ‘to succeed/be lucky’ (成/吉) and the bright colour symbolizes gold to represent good fortune
  • Dumplings (饺子) sound like ‘exchange midnight’ (交子), so eating them is like saying ‘out with old and in with the new’; they also look like ancient Chinese currency, symbolizing wealth in the new year
  • Fish (魚) sounds like ‘extra/surplus’ (余), which can be combined to make phrases, such as wishing the new year will have more than they need (年年有余)
  • Noodles symbolize long life due to their long length and should not be cut

Most importantly, the act of coming together over food is the pinnacle of Chinese celebrations, with new years as the most important family dinner. Especially during times like these when gatherings are restricted, it is a reminder that we are in this together as a family, this past year and many to come. It is more than just a dinner; it is a declaration of love and care as we share and delight in each other’s company – the ultimate “Did you eat yet?”.

Regardless of who you are and where you come from, I invite you to feast on the Lunar New Year festivities this week, including the current exhibit at the Chinese Canadian Museum: 

More LNY online events to check out: 

From our families at Fresh Roots to yours, 新年快樂 (Happy New Year)!

恭喜發財 (Wishing you prosperity)!



What vegetable do you feel like today?

By Kristen McLester, Youth Program Facilitator

What vegetable do you feel like today? That’s the kind of question you’d hear at a Fresh Roots interview or group zoom call. This question provides a peek into what working with Fresh Roots is like. This past summer I had the opportunity to pursue a full-time job with Fresh Roots as a youth program facilitator. I was excited to become involved in the local food system but I had no idea just how rewarding and fulfilling my experience would be. I initially thought I would be teaching campers about agriculture but I feel like I learned just as much, if not more, from the campers and the community.

Prior to camp, I had the opportunity to explore different avenues Fresh Roots is involved in, such as the LunchLAB initiative, re-indigenizing the food system, and virtual learning opportunities. I also explored their farm sites in Vancouver and Coquitlam. I’ll never forget one sunny day in Coquitlam, working with the SOYL team to create new plant beds. In between digging and uncovering tarps, we snacked on some golden raspberries and oh my, they were some of the tastiest berries I’ve ever had. 

Fast forward to the first day of camp, and I was probably just as nervous as the kids were. The rest of the summer is almost a blur because it passed by so fast, but there are so many memories I hold. I’ll never forget the first time a camper found a worm, held a ladybug, picked their first carrot, or created their intricate bug hotel. There was a lot of teaching moments as well, like conflict resolution between fighting siblings or calming a frustrated child who just wanted to go home. There were a lot of firsts for me and the kids and so many things that we taught each other.

Outside of the day camp itself, there were opportunities to meet with the other Fresh Roots staff through group events such as a decolonize workshop or their annual long table dinner. Fresh Roots provided a safe place to take risks and explore new avenues. There were (and are) so many opportunities to get involved within the community and I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to learn and grow in our local food system.

Oh, and today, I feel like kohlrabi!



BC Election- it’s time to #NourishKidsNow 🥒 🥪 🍅

The week after Thanksgiving seems like the perfect moment to think about the status of food security in BC and Canada.
One way to address food insecurity is to support a national cost-shared, universal healthy school food program.
  • Did you know Canada is the ONLY G7 nation without any form of universal school meal program?
For the past several years, organizations and individuals have come together through the Coalition for Healthy School Food to advocate for a cost-shared, universal healthy school food program in Canada.
With the upcoming election in BC, we have the opportunity to continue to ask MLA candidates to commit to #NourishKidsNow and invest in #BCSchoolFood to make sure all students have daily access to healthy food at school. Please use THIS LINK to send a message to the candidates in your riding. (it takes less than 30 seconds!)

For more reading check out this article from the emerging Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice entitled Exploring the Emergence of a Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social JusticeFresh Roots just signed on as a supporter!

And this CBC article published this morning entitled School food programs pivot to keep feeding students during COVID-19Our very own LunchLAB Chefs TJ and Tasha are pictured prepping food for this past spring/ summer’s LunchLAB: Chefs for Families COVID-19 meal program for kids and their families.

We hope you’ll take a moment to add your voice to the call to #NourishKidsNow!


Take Learning Outside This Fall!

Fall is (almost) here, and the rain is due any day now. Whether your kids are learning in school, online,though a distributed learning program, or home learning, don’t let the rain keep you inside. Fall is a magical time to learn outside.

Deep Learning

We’ve always known that hands-on, experiential learning creates the kind of deep learning and connection that lasts. That’s why we welcome over 2000 field trip students a year to our farms to dig in the soil, plant seeds, harvest carrots, and connect to the living ecosystems that make our food systems possible. And playing and learning in the natural world allows us to learn with all our senses. Sure, you could look at a diagram of a tomato plant and watch a video about how they grow. But it’s no match to smelling that fresh tomato leaf scent as you brush through rough leaves, searching out just the ripest, reddest fruit, giving it a gentle tug to pull it from the vine, and then popping it in your mouth (after a quick wash). You can really feel how all that sunlight captured by the leaves and water and nutrients taken in by the roots has transformed into the sweet, bright, juicy fruit in your mouth, and how all that work done by that tomato, and the soil, rain, and sun before that (not to mention the bees!), is now nourishing you. You can’t help but feel connected, and grateful. That’s deep learning.

Healthy Learning

Health is at the front of all of our minds these days. Learning outside supports physical and mental health, as has been shown by many studies in the last few decades. Being outside in a safe place can contribute to lowered blood pressure, better immune system functioning, improved mood, better focus, and much more. Two hours a week of outside time in a natural setting, like a park, garden, wilderness area, or even an urban farm, is enough to give significant health benefits. Plus, outside is a safer choice to learn and play with friends. In fact, the BC CDC recommends taking students outside more often during the school day as a way to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19.


Joyful Learning

While learning and joy can be found in many learning settings, even digital, joy is so much easier to access when you’re outside. From the splashing in mud puddles, to finding the longest worm, to dancing in the rain, there’s so much to inspire joy outside, no matter the weather. And by giving your students the gift of being able to find joy and magic in the natural world, you’re giving them something they’ll be able to turn to in times of struggle for the rest of their lives. You can help them find the joy in the wind, in the rain, in fallen leaves and acorns, in all that Fall brings.

Learn with Us

Fresh Roots is honoured to offer outdoor learning opportunities on our David Thompson and Van Tech schoolyard farms this fall. We offer single and multi visit field trip programs for pre-K through secondary, including curriculum-linked programs, and flexible pricing to accommodate different group sizes. All of our programs are led by experienced educators, and have carefully created health and safety protocols to make sure we’re all staying healthy and also having a great time learning. Please visit our Vancouver Field Trips page to learn more about how you can join us.


A SOYL Summer-Part 2

A SOYL Summer- Part 2

As the 2020 SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) wraps up another action-packed week or learning and growing together we are sharing the second installment in the three-part series written by four SOYL alumni from the summer of 2019. Introducing the second installment of this three-part series:

Written by Stephanie, Maria, Railene, and Sarina, 2019 SOYL Participants

Chapter one: The beginning of SOYL

The anticipation of SOYL was finally over as the first day finally arrived. We gathered together in a circle, seeing new faces. We were sorted in crews with people we had not yet connected with. While we started doing icebreakers and name games the awkwardness slowly faded away. Despite only meeting hours before, our interest bonded us together with beautiful conversations. Laughter and joy spread as we progressed through our first day. Closing off, we participated in an activity that ensured our friendship with one another. A ball of neon pink string was passed between all of us and we wrapped the string around our wrist three times. When it was our turn we would say what our goals for SOYL are. We discussed our goals to contribute to each other and promised to uphold the community agreements. In our community agreements, we agreed to be on time and be respectful to everyone in the community. Our schedules were formed the following week and we had lots to do. On the first day, we also learned how to use the gardening tools safely. We learned the importance of watching our surroundings so we don’t get into an accident. One of the two most important things we took from SOYL on our first week was safety but mostly fun!

Chapter Two: Community Eats

Most of the SOYL members can agree Community Eats is one of the best things in SOYL! What isn’t there to love about eating healthy, delicious, sustainable foods together as a community. In the morning a crew goes up to the kitchen inside the school and starts planning for the yummy meal. The veggies that sadly could not make it to the farmers’ market due to imperfections are used in the meal. For example, sometimes the vegetable isn’t pretty but it’s still perfect to eat. Community Eats is a hands-on learning experience for students. We learn to cook the food and on the other hand, we learn the importance of reducing waste. A couple of topics we covered in Community Eats are how we can use the unwanted pieces of veggies to make a broth instead of composting right away and we also learned about urban agriculture but will get more into that later. When all the cooked food was brought outside, we gathered together to listen to one of our SOYL crew members to introduce the meal of the day. While we were eating the delicious food we started having conversations with our SOYL staff, mentors, and crew members.

Chapter three: Farm Work

From buckets to shovels, every tool had a purpose on the farm that would make specific tasks easier. The first time on the farm we learned about tools such as forks and shears to ease into using them in the future. We even learned about the benefits of a glove. The glove will protect you from small thorns pricking your fingers or spiky weeds difficult to pull out. The facilitators made sure we knew how to handle such large tools with safety and care. Nicole, Hanah, and Sunny were the facilitators that ensured we understood how to clean the tools and safely put the barrels back. By the end of the day, we all knew how to properly use them. Tools such as shovels were used by the majority of us to remove the weeds in the beds with deeper roots. We all took part in the satisfaction of pulling a weed in one swift pull. Sometimes on the farm, we have been hungry for a snack while weeding and a simple trick is to eat one of the popular edible weeds on the farm. Most of us can say purslane is one of the best snacks on the farm. It’s succulent which contains water, making the pure green leaf fun and crunchy. The lemony leafy taste makes it even more desirable when spotting a bunch on the veggie beds. After the unwanted plants are pulled out of the beds we harvest the veggies. Harvesting is a rewarding job to do. The eye-catching multi-colored plants are removed from the beautiful deep rich soil we have on the farm. The mouth-watering task makes our days a whole step more enjoyable. During the program, we go to two different high schoolyard farms, one at David Thompson and the second one at Van Tech.

Proceeds from the Fresh Roots Fourth Annual Schoolyard Dinner *At Home Edition* fundraiser On Sale Now provide critical funding for Fresh Roots programs, like SOYL, that engage and empower youth more important now than ever!