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Kids Dig It!: The Dirt on Play and Decomposers

By Andrea Lucy, Experiential Learning Program Lead

The best days are digging days!

It’s a simple, yet marvellous activity. One, because kids love getting dirty and messy. Second, because they get to learn about the wonderful world of soil. The kids are so full of joy and wonder. They enjoy discovering a worm digging deep away from the sun, a pillbug curling up into a tight ball, or an ant nest full of pupae the size and shape of a grain of rice. By watching these creatures, they see how they eat organic waste and break it down. Their interest and observations open a window to talking and learning about decomposers. They see how the soil is their habitat, their home. By breaking down waste into soil, decomposers also help make a healthy home for the plants on our farm.

Two girls are crouched down by some soil. They are using small shovels and gardening gloves to dig in the soil for worms. Behind them is the glass from our greenhouse.  Young kids playing in the mud with small shovels. Their hands are covered in mud, and one child has splattered mud on their face. In the background are children lined up at a sink, and some vines and flowers.

Through play, they learn soil is a mixture of these and many more living creatures, along with air, water, and minerals. One group created mud people dressed in zucchini hats. They defended mud island with a moat full of water. Through the kids making mud sculptures, we learned our soil is made of lots and lots of clay! While clay soil makes it difficult for roots to grow, it brought kids at Fresh Roots lots of joy. They could engage in playful learning, creating whatever they imagined. The kids worked collaboratively on their muddy creations and made alterations and changes every day. The worms joined in on the fun as well!

Four tiny snowmen made out of mud. They are on a mud island, with a blue watering can pouring water into a moat around them. The mud people are wearing hats made out of zucchini.

We also found evidence of larger animals moving through the soil. Who do you think made this footprint? Do they play a role in decomposition too?

 A pile of brown mud with a footprint like a bird's in the middle. The mud sits on top of a white paper towel.

In my own digging online, I learned decomposers also help clean up oil spills and plastics in the ocean! What superstars!

Dig into a Field Trip This Fall

If you want to join us in the joy of digging and decomposers, we are hosting field trips at our Vancouver farm sites during the fall. A new offer this year is our “Decomposers!” field trip.

Click here to book a field trip for your group.

A few of our favourite things:

  • The picturebook Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss
  • The picturebook Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
  • This animated video “The Dirt on Decomposers” by Crash Course Kids

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Campers say Camp Fresh Roots is “Really Fun”

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

We’ve heard from a number of Experiential Learning staff this year about their experiences on our team. This month, I thought we should turn it over to the most important members of the team: the kids. I interviewed campers during our EcoWonders camp at David Thompson, and here’s what they had to say:

What do you think about Camp Fresh Roots?

“It’s really fun.”- Multiple campers

“It’s very enjoyable.” – Age 9

“I never knew we would be cooking this much and I really like cooking.” – Age 7

What’s your favourite part?

“Cooking. We made curry and rice and brownies.” – Age 8

“The brownies.” – multiple campers

“The Curry. It had swiss chard, potatoes, and carrots.” – Age 10

“My favourite part is that we get to make food and harvest and learn all the types of plants” – Age 7

“We do lots of different games and fun things”. – age 6

“I like the games. My favourite is Fruit Salad. That’s all you need to know from me.” – age 6

What is Camp Fresh Roots about?

“It’s about plants and games and arts & crafts and fun.”- Age 7

“It’s about the environment and helping” – Age 8

“It’s all about nature and plants and learning about them. There’s lots of nature here.” – Age 7

Well, that about sums it up. Camps will be over for the year in just a couple weeks, but we’re already gearing up to welcome field trips in late September and October. After a much needed rest!

Oh, and that brownie recipe the kids all love? It’s easy, vegan, made with zucchini, and extremely delicious. You can find it here: https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Healthy-Zucchini-Brownies-31120011

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4 Lessons about Worms to Wiggle Along to

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

As I write this, EL Lead Andrea (aka Snap) is leading a wormshop for our EcoWonders campers. What’s a wormshop, you ask? Well, It’s a workshop… about worms! Red Wriggler worms, in this case, which are about to be added to our new vermicomposting bin, but not before our campers have a chance to get to know them and learn many lessons from them.

Lesson one: All animals need a home.

Animals all need food, water, air, and shelter. For our Red Wrigglers, who are not native to this area, that means a blue plastic tote, filled with all the things worms love: dirt, and shredded paper to nest in, and just enough water to stay moist.

Lesson two: Rot rocks!

Our Red Wrigglers will be part of our waste management system. This type of worm is one of the best decomposers of plant matter out there, and we’re going to keep them fed with fruit and veggie scraps and weeds from the farm. As fungus and bacteria start to break those plants down, the little toothless worms will slurp it up like a smoothie. Thanks, decomposers for not leaving us neck deep in food scraps!

Lesson three: Everybody Poops.

Worm poop, or more formally, worm castings, is one of the best plant fertilizers out there. And even though it’s made of rotten banana peels and apple cores and slimy lettuce, and has gone all the way through a worm’s digestive system, its smells…. Totally fine! Like really good, rich soil. 

Lesson four: Worms are just like us (kinda).

They can see (light and dark), they can feel vibrations, they can smell delicious rotting food. They have a brain and a heart (ok, 5 of those) and they breathe air (through their skin). Contrary to popular myth, you can’t make two worms by cutting one in half, but they can regrow parts of their tail if it gets damaged. Most importantly, they need us to be gentle and caring with them, just like we need people to be gentle and caring with us.

We still have a few spaces left in our August camps at David Thompson in Vancouver and Suwa’lkh School in Coquitlam if you have a young worm-curious child in your life. Sliding scale fees are available, starting at $112.50 for a 3-day program or $185 for a full week. Visit freshroots.ca/camp to learn more and register.

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10 Things I Learned from Students at Field Trips

By Andrea Lucy, Experiential Learning Program Lead  

I’ve been a big kid at Fresh Roots’ field trips this year. While my role with Fresh Roots is teaching students visiting our farms for field trips, the students have wowed and amazed me with what they know and experience! Here are a few of the many things local elementary students taught me this spring:

 

1. You’re never too old to do arts and crafts.

Young student sitting down cross legged on the grass with a hammer pounding leaf pigments onto a napkin.

With a little light pounding, the pigment from leaves or flowers transfers onto cloth to make a beautiful, nature-inspired design! Not to mention it smells great!

 

2. Bugs are amazing!
Student in blue mask and shirt holding a large red worm in their hand.

We’ve had so much fun looking up close at ladybugs, bees, worms and pillbugs. Students taught me wasps are accidental pollinators and worms are earth helpers!

 

3. Native plants are a world of wonder, for food, medicine, clothing, and tools.

There’s so much to learn about the native biodiversity of this land. We’ve been tasting some of these plants, including wild rose, learning about how they’re packed full of nutrients and vitamins. In autumn, this plant will grow rose hips. They are a fruit that has nearly 8x the amount of vitamin C compared to oranges!

 

4. Many hands make light work.

Bundles of purple sage flowers hanging on a clothes line against a grey wall.

Students helped harvest nearly 50 bundles of sage flowers for CSA boxes. They hung the flowers upside down to dry them for use in teas.

 

5. A little quiet time is relaxing and recharging.

Two students wearing masks have their heads bend over focusing on writing on clipboards. Behind them is a bed of tall garlic growing, a couple of trees, and the brick exterior of Vancouver Technical Secondary School

The farm offers a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, students are taking a quiet moment to imagine what the farm looked like in the past, present, and into the future. 

 

6. There is nothing more lush or plush than laying on a bed of clover

Person in orange shirt and black pants laying down in a field of clover

So lush and plush; perfect for making clover angels. Just mind the bees pollinating the flowers! 🐝

 

7. It doesn’t have to be complex to be fun.

Young student with pink glasses, black hair in a ponytail, and blue shirt crouched down by a garden bed filled with soil. In the kid's hand is a pillbug curled up in a small ball. The kid is smiling. In the soil is a trowel.

Often the most fun and educational activities were the ones with the fewest instructions. For instance, planting seeds and learning what they need to grow. Then, months later, identifying all the parts of that same now grown-up plant. Another favourite at Fresh Roots is digging and looking for creatures living in the soil. Can you spot the pillbug curled up in a ball?

 

8. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in our world is connected together. 

Over the spring, we thought about the many complex connections in our food system and ecosystem. In the activity shown above, we learned how many of the vegetables we eat were domesticated from the same plants. We thought about how interconnected we, as humans, are to these plants, and to the soil, pollinators, water, and sun these plants rely on.

 

9. Spending time outside with nature supports your well-being.

Take a deep breath in and out. There’s nothing like blue skies over David Thompson Secondary, growing plants, and a bit of sun to relax.

 

10. Today’s children give me hope for tomorrow.

Five young students pictured on a sunny day kneeling over garden beds with a few small squash plants with yellow flowers.

The students we’ve met on the field trips are inspiring. They are caring, respectful, full of wonder, and recognize the importance of the natural world. They are conscientious and recognize the environment as life-giving.

 

If you also want to learn vicariously through children’s experiences, we have a few more spots open in Camp Fresh Roots for our last MidiCamp (August 30-September 1). After that, we’re looking forward to welcoming classes back on the farm for another year of learning and growing.

 

With gratitude,

Andrea

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May is a time of possibility

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

May is a time of possibility, May flowers brought by April’s showers foretelling the coming of summer’s fruits. The month dawns with the midway point of spring, celebrated by people across Europe and by European-influenced culture in North America as May Day, Beltane, or Walpurgisnacht, with festivals of flowers, fires, and celebrations marking the greening of the earth. May Day is also celebrated internationally as International Workers’ Day, a day to organize and advocate for the rights of working people, calling on us to make the world a better place for our fellow humans. 

Green is the colour of the month. The big leaf maple is a fresh, bright green, just like the new tips of the Douglas-fir. Grass and clover and dandelion and plantain mix their greens in my yard, and every bush and tree in my neighbourhood have exploded with greens in the last month. The farm, too, is becoming green. The black plastic tarps that keep our soil protected over the rainy winter are rapidly leaving, and the fresh dark earth underneath is sprouting everywhere with radish greens and lettuce greens and spinach green and pea greens. 

Flowers are the theme of the month. The last of the cherry trees are done blooming (it takes a long time to make a cherry, so they have to get started early), only to be replaced for the briefest of moments by elderflower, then mountain-ash, then hawthorn. The berries are getting in on the action, too. The salmon berries are giving their last flowers now, as they make their first fruits, heralding the coming of spring salmon back to the streams. Thimbleberries are growing so quickly from fresh shoots to large, white petaled flowers, and strawberries, too, are calling to the bees with their flowers. And on the “domesticated” front, the raspberries are about to bloom with just enough time for the first berries before the end of the school year. Last year’s brassicas – kale and arugula and horseradish – are in full flower, and the lavender and sage are close to bloom as well. Soon we’ll be seeing pea flowers (if we can restrain ourselves from eating all the pea tips). 

Kids are blooming, too. You can see it in their excitement to be outside, to run, to play, to climb, to explore. We’ve had kids from kindergarten through grade 9 out to the farms for field trips in the last week, and they are all just full of excitement, energy, and wonder at the living world they are part of. One of the things we’ve talked about this week is that humans are part of nature, too, not separate from it. We all are part of the same living systems as big leaf maples and bumblebees and raspberries. We all need the sun’s light, the rain’s water, the air around us and the earth under us. So is it any surprise that we feel May in our bodies?

I’ll leave you with a song that perfectly expresses May to me, Spring by Richard Shindell.

 

With joy in the possible,

Kat

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Vancouver Technical Secondary: A Site History

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

The Experiential Learning Team started our spring Field Trip Season at Van Tech last week with four classes from Laura Secord elementary school. We really love seeing so many classes take advantage of having a farm within walking distance, and look forward to seeing even more classes in the coming weeks. (Field trips spots are still available for May and June at both Van Tech and David Thompson Learn more and register!)

While we have a lot of existing field trip options for teachers to choose from, sometimes I get to make something “off-menu”. In this case, it was a class piloting for our new grade 4-7 ‘Seed to Salad’ year-long program. I’ve been working with the teacher to develop the field trips, focusing around close observation and building connections to the farm. I wanted students to know a bit of the history of the Van Tech farm and well, a number of internet rabbit holes later, we had something really exciting to share with students, and with you!

Before colonization, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations lived on the land, around what is now the farm site, for thousands of years, living in relationship with a rich diversity of other-than-human life. Unfortunately, in the short time that I had to prepare, I wasn’t able to go deeper into the pre-colonization cultural and natural history of the exact farm site; that will have to be a separate project. If anyone has any insights, please share!

The current Vancouver Technical Secondary School building is less than 100 years old (it opened to students in 1928), yet it went through multiple builds, demolitions, and seismic upgrades before the farm was built in 2013. Equipped with maps, archival and contemporary images, aerial photographs, a history of the school written by the Vancouver School Board, and ample curiosity, we tasked groups of students to use this primary and secondary source evidence to recreate Vancouver Technical’s historical timeline.

View From the East

Check out these images, taken in ~1927, 1930, 1985, and 2021. How has the building changed? How about the surrounding area? (Check out the size of Broadway in the 1935 photo!)

View From the South

We love this image of the field hockey team from 1942 and had to recreate it. The original was taking just 2 years after girls were admitted to the school! What do you notice about the school building? What’s growing now that wasn’t in 1942?

Aerial View

This aerial photo, taken between 1942 and 1945 shows how much development has happened in the area in the last 80 years. The close-up shows the school campus. Compare those to the recent Google satellite views! Can you find the farm location on the 1940s close-up?

Students enjoyed playing detective, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and getting a different view of what was, and maybe what could be. They were amazed that just 15 years earlier, a building sat where the farm is now! Sometimes it’s hard to imagine things could be different than they are right now and easy to imagine that they have always been this way, but the history of the Van Tech farm site shows that change is happening all the time, and those amazing things can happen when we choose to make the changes we want to see!

Sources

Google Maps of the Van Tech area, https://goo.gl/maps/9yLUA44PbnhWZiUv9

Information about the seismic upgrades from Colborne Architectural Group, https://www.colbornegroup.com/our-work/heritage/vancouver-technical-secondary-school-seismic-upgrade/

Vancouver Archives, https://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/

Vancouver Technical School History, https://www.vsb.bc.ca/schools/vancouver-technical/About-Us/School-History/Pages/Default.aspx

Photo Captions

  1. 1927 Construction: Vancouver Technical Secondary School under construction. Photograph taken from East Broadway and Penticton Street on August 5, 1928. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-269. Walter Edwin Frost photo.
  2. 1930 Complete school, from the east: Front view of Van Tech taken from the corner of East Broadway and Slocan Street around 1930, shortly after the school was built. City of Vancouver Archives, Sch P14. Leonard Juda Frank photo.
  3. 1985 school from the east: Front view of Van Tech taken from East Broadway, around 1985. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 790-2078.
  4. 2021 School from East: Front view of Van Tech taken from East Broadway, April 15, 2021, by Kat Vriesema-Magnuson.
  5. Girls grass hockey team with Mayor McGeer taken on September 19, 1936. The team is standing on the fields located on the south side of Van Tech. The Girls Wing of the school, later demolished during seismic upgrading, is visible in the top middle of the photograph. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 99-4945. Stuart Thomson photo.
  6. View from the field south of the school taken on April 15, 2021 by Kat Vriesema-Magnuson.
  7. Aerial view of Vancouver and Burnaby taken sometime between 1942 and 1945. Vancouver Technical Secondary School is visible on the middle right-hand side of the photograph. City of Vancouver Archives, VLP 186.7. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.
  8. Google Satellite View of Vancouver and Burnaby, accessed April 26, 2021.
  9. Close up of Van Tech from the 1940s aerial view. City of Vancouver Archives, VLP 186.7. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.
  10. Google Satellite close up of Van Tech, accessed April 15, 2021.
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Tea Garden Build! – Experiential Learning Report

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!

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How Do You Connect with Nature?

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

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