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Rethinking Weeds

The farm is bursting with growth and food right now, but when visitors look around they tell me all they see is weeds.

What is a weed? It’s a plant…just in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the farm, we spend a lot of time pulling out these weeds because they crowd out our tenderly loved and cared-for crops. Weeds compete with our veggies for space, sunlight, nutrients, and water we were hoping would make our kale big and leafy and carrots long and sweet. But amongst the weeds, there is food and medicine, flowers for pollinators, and homes for critters. Do you think weeds are friends or foes?

Forage for edible weeds

Weeds are surprisingly delicious and nutritious! Our Edible Weeds Field Guide can help you identify some common weeds you might find in your neighbourhood in Greater Vancouver, including plantain, dandelions, chickweed, and more! The guide is just a starting point. It includes sustainable foraging guidelines and an Edible Weeds Bingo card you can bring as you go looking for snacks. Bring a plant ID guide, phone app, or mentor, such as a farmer or gardener, to help you start recognizing local weeds. iNaturalist is a good, free ID app to identify unknown plants and contribute to citizen science research. Please forage responsibly!

Edible Weeds Field Guide

 

Make a Transect Map

 

Get up-close with a weed. Explore how it’s connected with other living and non-living things around it. Using string, mark out an area to observe, called a “transect”. Like a field biologist, record and map out your observations within the transect. What do you notice? Try observing multiple different locations, from a field to a crack in the sidewalk.

Transect Mapping Activity Guide

 

Wanted Weed Poster

Weeds wanted! Create a “wanted poster” for a species of weed. Draw and label characteristics of the plant at different life stages to help other people identify it. Your wanted poster may be alerting people that this weed is bad and should be pulled out. Or, you may want to alert the public about how great this weed is for food and medicine! BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation’s (BCAITC) lesson plan has great background information, a field guide of more common weeds, and suggestions for creating your poster.

Gardening’s Most Wanted Activity bt BCAITC 

Invasive Aliens

Some introduced plants are so good at damaging our native plants and ecosystems that they are called “invasive aliens”. They often are quick at reproducing, have few predators, and are great at living in their new home. These are plants to fear! In Suwa’lkh forest, we spend a lot of time with youth every summer removing Japanese Knotweed, English Holly, Himalayan Blackberry and English Ivy. By the next summer, they’re all back again. Himalayan Blackerry’s fruit is delicious and flowers great for pollination, but this plant takes over large fields and stream banks, and is nearly impossible to remove.

There are lots of great interactive games and fun books to learn about invasive alien plants and animals in British Columbia. Or, if you’re looking for experiential learning about invasives, look for a local ecological restoration volunteer program near you.

Invasive Species Games & Activities by Invasive Species Council of BC
Book “Aliens Among Us” by Alex Van Tol 

Rainbow Rolls and more recipes!

What’s for lunch? There is lots of meal inspiration in and amongst our sidewalks and yards. Try adding weeds to create a delicious rainbow roll. Children at our summer camps love this version of a fresh spring roll! They also love dandelion fritters with honey for dessert. Do you have other favourite ways to eat or drink weeds? Share them in the comments section!

Rainbow Rolls Recipe Card
Dandelion Fritters Recipe Card

Do you think a weed is always a weed? What do you do with weeds?

 

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Community Spotlight – Made by Malcolm

By Jaimie Rosenwirth, Suwa’lkh Lead and Malcolm’s Support Worker

Malcolm’s Story

Malcolm is a valued Fresh Roots community member with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and the garden at Suwa’lkh School in Kwikwetlem (Coquitlam) is a place that he loves to spend time. He has been working out in the garden with Fresh Roots for 5 or 6 years now. He was a student at Suwa’lkh who helped create the garden and orchard and helped develop the 7 acre food forest next to the school. During his last year of school he worked outside 3 hours a week, seeding, weeding and uppotting. After Malcolm graduated in 2020 he wanted to continue working in the garden. He started volunteering twice a week and kept coming to the garden throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided him with a safe, welcoming place to go every week. This is a place where he is able to build lasting connections with the community.

Malcolm loves to do the uppotting and seed start tasks. Weeding is also a task he loves because there isn’t too much to think about. With weeding everything must go! Malcolm really enjoyed the seed saving of lupine seeds this summer. Harvesting, leaving them to dry in a paper bag, separating seeds, packaging and labelling. He asked if we would be doing this again next year. Malcolm also really enjoys harvesting the purple peacock beans. These are easy to spot and we just have to pull them all off. The simple repetitive tasks are great for Malcolm. He does enjoy learning new farm tasks when we are able. The more things he can do means he has more choices of tasks to choose from when he is here.

Sonia, Malcolm’s Mom, has said “We are so blessed that he is so welcome there! I tell everyone what an amazing program it is all the time. He is so lucky to have Fresh Roots”.

Support the ‘Made by Malcolm’ Fundraiser!

In addition to dedicating his time to help out on the Suwa’lkh schoolyard farm, Malcolm fundraises by selling Made by Malcolm handmade cards. In January, he raised $362.34 in support of Fresh Roots experiential food literacy education programs. Way to go, Malcom and Jaimie!

Malcolm is back with another Made by Malcom Fresh Roots fundraiser, selling sets of holiday cards for $5! Each set comes with four cards (star, tree, snowflake and stocking). Show your support by purchasing a set of cards through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Made-by-Malcom-655182104946615/!

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End-Of-Season Harvest Reflections

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

Halloween. Dia de Muertos. Samhain. All Saints and All Souls Days. This time of year the harvest makes way for the long cold nights of winter in the Northern hemisphere, and it’s no surprise that many cultures take time to reflect on death, decay, mortality, and those who’ve gone before. All that lives must die, to make way for what will come after. On the farm this month we’ve seen the massive heads of sunflowers go from cheery reminders of summer, to drooping, black reminders that summer must end. We’ve torn up the plants that were lovingly tended all season, and returned their corpses to the compost bin. In spring, we’ll plant again, and we’ll use compost to enrich our soils. This year’s beans and tomatillos and zucchini won’t be forgotten, though, and neither will the young people we’ve worked with this year. The lessons we learned from this growing and learning season will help next year be even better.

I’ve slowly been learning more about the ancestral traditions of my family, and especially my Finnish grandmother. In Finland, Kekri marks the end of the summer’s work and the transition to winter. It was traditionally observed whenever a household’s summer work was done. Eventually, it became standardized to November 1 in western Finland, where my family came from. Like many other celebrations at this time of year, it was a celebration of the end of the harvest, and a remembrance of the dead. The sauna was cleaned and heated, a feast was prepared, and the spirits of ancestors were invited to enjoy the sauna and eat the feast. Once the ancestors had their fill, it was time for the family to do the same. During Kekri, no one was to go hungry, and food and drink would be offered to anyone who came to the door, even children dressed in scary outfits, who would threaten to break the household’s oven if they weren’t given treats. That sure sounds familiar!

With the end of October, our “summer work” is basically done here on the Experiential Learning Team. Field trips are wrapped up, camp is long done, and we’ve said goodbye to nearly all of our seasonal staff. Now is the time for reflecting on what’s happened, looking for what should be pruned away and what should be allowed to flourish in the new year. It’s time to breathe and rest and dream of spring. And it’s time to celebrate our many accomplishments from the past year, and see what all we’ve “harvested”. So here’s a quick run down of what we’ve done this year:

  • We engaged learners from pre-K through 12 in over 11,000(!) hours of learning on the farms and in the community!
  • We more than doubled the number of campers in our summer camps, from 125 to 286, and we were able to offer five free camp spaces at our Suwa’lkh camps.
  • We hosted over 60 classes from local elementary and secondary schools on our farms for field trips, and brought the farm to over 30 classes and day camp groups for workshops!
  • We employed 8 young adults in seasonal positions, where they learned as they taught, and grew in their skills and knowledge alongside our program participants!

I hope all of your harvests have been equally fruitful this year!

In gratitude for abundance and the legacy of those who’ve gone before,

Kat

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2021 Stories – Summer Schoolyard Gardener

by Olivia Evans, Schoolyard Gardener

For my first term in UBC Co-op, I had the pleasure to work with Fresh Roots as a summer schoolyard gardener. As a schoolyard gardener, my main tasks included planning garden layouts, harvesting fresh produce and overall garden maintenance. Schools involved with this project included Windermere Secondary, Britannia Secondary, Templeton Secondary, Strathcona Elementary, Grandview Elementary, Laura Secord Elementary, Total Education Program, and Nightingale Elementary. This overall experience taught me not only new skills in gardening and nutrition, but also about the importance of community.

Some of the highlights I had from this summer included working with the farm team at the David Thompson schoolyard farm, and the weekly lunch cooked by the Vancouver SOYL program participants,  where we gathered together and ate outside at the Italian Cultural Centre. 

This experience was one I hope to never forget, as it allowed me to engage in hands-on learning that will continue to aid me in my studies for the future.

Work with us next summer! We hire youth (ages 15-30) each year, with job opportunities posted starting in March 2022: https://freshroots.ca/about/job-opportunities/.

Thank you Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ), Vancouver School Board and MP Jenny Kwan for supporting schoolyard farms and engaging summer learning programs for kids and youth!

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Hello From Norquay – Art in the Park (part 2)

And that’s a wrap! We had a wonderful time these last few months getting creative with nature for our Art in the Park programming at Norquay Park, led by our very own Molly from the Fresh Roots EL team. Thank you to the amazing kids and families who stopped by to do arts and crafts with us, including familiar faces from our experiential learning programs on our schoolyard farms.

What is Art in the Park? Check out our previous Norquay blog to learn more.

Highlights

This past summer, Molly guided our participants through an array activities, exploring topics of gardening, sustainability, and the environment at Norquay Park. During our first week, we made seed bombs, which proved to be a popular activity as it returns again later in the season and also made a guest appearance at Fresh Roots’ McSpadden County Fair booth. We’re excited for the many flowers that will emerge from these “rebellious” acts of kindness!

Another fan-favourite was nature playdough! Playdough was made from common kitchen ingredients and dyed with natural ingredients such as turmeric and matcha, empowering participants to make their own fun rather than buying it manufactured from the store. Kids loved setting their imagination free, including creating veggies found in the park’s sharing garden.

Finally, another Art in the Park activity for an eco artist in your life are these nature paintbrushes. Repurposing string, and sticks and leaves around Norquay Park, we created works of art for participants to take home – highlighting the unique textures and shapes of different leaves that add excitement into their paintings.

Hope you all have fun trying these activities out as we’ve had holding Art in the Park at Norquay. As the season winds down, we hope to make arts and crafts with you at the park next summer!

 

Norquay arts and crafts,

Summer fun led by Molly.

Hello from Norquay,

 

Vivian

Try this at home!

What’s next for Art in the Park? As the weather gets a little wetter and a little colder, we’re bringing Art in the Park to you, online! Try this activity next time you’re at Norquay Park, or from the comforts of your home!

This tree made from leaves found around Norquay Park. Use this picture above (or print out the worksheet here: Art in the Park – Leaf Tree) and try to match each leaf to its corresponding tree name. Think back to all the trees you have seen at Norquay Park. Using our senses, we can find all of them!!

*Answer Key below, no peeking!!*

Hints:

  • What shape is the leaf? Round? oval? teardrop? heart shaped? 
  • How big is it? Is it as small as a blueberry? Is it as big as your hand?
  • What texture is it? Is it smooth, slippery, bumpy, spikey, fuzzy,  or waxy?
  • Are the edges smooth or bumpy? Are they serrated (like a bread knife or a saw)?
  • Does it smell? Some leaves like cedar give off a strong memorable scent.
  • Does it have any nuts or fruit? It’s much easier to tell what an apple tree looks like when there are apples on it!
  • Is there a pattern? Are there a specific number of points on each leaf? A specific number of leaves on each segment?
  • Have you seen it before in a different context? Like in a picture or on a flag?

Answer Key:

  1. Cedar: cedar leaves are bumpy and segmented. They smell very nice.
  2. Apple: apple leaves are oval shaped with a pointy end. The edges are serrated.
  3. Ash: European ash has long pointed leaves. There are many different varieties of Ash.
  4. Lilac: lilac leaves are heart shaped. They have pretty purple flowers in the Spring.
  5. Oak: oak leaves are wavy and shiny. They accompany acorns in the Autumn.
  6. Maple: maple leaves have five pointed ends, a maple leaf is on the Canadian flag.
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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