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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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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date October 1, 2021

Welcome to the final month of operation for the 2021 Fresh Roots Farm Season. This month we are undertaking lots of soil TLC so we have a nice, healthy biome in the spring, ready for our seeds and transplants. The only thing we actually plant this late in the season is Garlic. This year we will be filling an entire block (that’s 10 x 45ft beds) with lots of juicy amendments then planting the whole area with Russian Red Garlic. We’ll top them off with foraged seaweed and 6 bales of hay so they have a nice store of nutrients dissolving into the soil all winter until they decide to sprout up in the spring. There are a few beds we will leave to overwinter – like kale, chard, chicory, and a few other brassicas – but the rest we will amend and cover with silage for a nice winter nap. 

October is pretty solidly booked with school field trips on the farm. I’m hoping the youth will witness our system of putting the beds to sleep as a meaningful learning. It’s not just about smothering everything with big sheets of black plastic – it’s about protecting our soil from leaching and weeds all winter long so that we have an easier time in the spring. 

This month also closes out our final markets – October 13th is the last CSA Pickup as well as Market at the Italian Cultural Centre and October 23th will be the final market with VFM at Riley Park. Once our markets are shut, we clear the fields of any veggies that are left and either sell direct to restaurants or donate to local food hub programs. Right now I’m working on a partnership with David Thompson Secondary for a student-led program called the “Free Store” to get our donated veggies into students’ homes over the holidays. Otherwise we try to get our veggies into the weekly boxes at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, or the low-cost market at Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House.

Most of our fruiting vegetables have completely died back. That means no more eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, or peppers. We have some straggling last beans which is kind of shocking to me, but they’ll only last another week or two before they rot in this fall rain. Our flowers are melting off their stems while broccoli and Gailan pump out their last straggling sideshoots so we can bundle them up as broccolini for our final CSA Veggie Box. The transformation of the farm from a beautiful, buzzing production zone into a state of decay is marvellous to me. It means it’s time to slow down and introspect – and it’s so healthy to take stock of what needs work. Looking forward to doing the same for my own damn self, especially in light of this new holiday commemorating one of the Calls to Action for Truth and Reconciliation. 

With production out of the way, Piper and I will be able to focus on winterizing and tidying up the farm. I am so excited to have a clean slate this spring and looking forward to some possible new toys like a rolling flame weeder and a fancy tiller – that’s what I’m asking the Fresh Roots’ Santa for this Christmas, anyway. Another big wish on my list is for more weekday volunteers in 2022 to help us tackle weeds on a weekly basis. With changes in our programming, our SOYL participants weren’t able to support us at our site at David Thompson. This meant the farmers who are dedicated to cultivation had to divide their time between maintenance and seeding; I bet you can guess which task got priority.

That’s pretty much October for Fresh Roots’ Farm team in a nutshell – looking forward to slowing down and taking stock in the months to come. Thanks for a wonderful summer season!

-Farmer Camille

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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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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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My Time at Fresh Roots: A Guest Blog Post by Experiential Learning Volunteer Michèle

I came to Canada from Switzerland to improve my English and to learn some parts of Canadian culture. I thought it would be a great experience to link my personal goals with helping people or kids in some way, and this was the reason why the organisation Fresh Roots caught my eye. From the beginning, I was interested in their mission and wanted to support them to accomplish their vision.

My volunteer time at Fresh Roots started on the farm with a lot of field trips. My first field trip was a little disaster. My vocabulary wasn’t adapted to the topic “farm” and I also didn’t have the skills to do farm work.

As time went by, it got easier for me and I felt more comfortable educating the kids about the farm. Thanks to Kat, Fresh Roots’ Experiential Learning Manager, I learned a lot about growing plants and how to handle them in different seasons.

At the beginning of each field trip, we always took a tour around the farm to observe the plants that are growing this season. With all five senses, we discovered the farm together, all the vegetables and herbs.

I was often responsible for making salad with the kids. For creating salad, we had to harvest some vegetables like turnips, carrots or kale. Harvesting was always the most exciting part for the kids because they felt like real farmers in action. Before we could put everything in the salad, we had to wash and prepare it. Every child added something to finish the salad, which we ate at the end of the field trip. As you know, some kids love salad and some kids hate it. Our goal on the field trips was to invite them to take an adventure bite from our own created salad and perhaps this bite would change their opinion. After they harvested it and prepared it and washed it, they were often proud of themselves, and ate it and enjoyed it!

At Fresh Roots, I had an amazing and funny time all along the way. No day was ever the same. I also learned a lot, mostly about the farm and the farm work, but also about the culture, the education system, and speaking in and listening to English. Fresh Roots strengthened my opinion about food literacy—that it should be an obligatory topic in a primary school. On the grounds of my great experiences here with school children on a farm, I’ll create a little school farm at my school in Switzerland to help teach food literacy to my own class.

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Farm to School Month? More like School to FARM month!

October is Farm to School month, you say?  October is School to FARM month for Fresh Roots!

This fall, nearly 600 students will come on a field trip to our Vancouver Schoolyard Farms. We know that not every student learns best inside a classroom, and our field trips give students of all ages a chance to get dirty, taste delicious food, participate in the life of the farm, and make lifelong memories. By connecting our programs with BC Curriculum Big Ideas, we support learning in the classroom as well as on our farm.

Read on to see examples of what learning on the farm looks like, and get a taste of a Fresh Roots Field Trip.

Games

Whether growing from a sleepy seed to a juicy fruit like these kindergartners, becoming water trying to squeeze through soil, or buzzing like a bee searching for nectar and pollen, active, imagination-driven games engage kids’ bodies and brains. Plus, we all learn better when we’re having fun!

Storytelling

An apple becomes the globe as we share the story of soil on earth. A picture book shows us how alike we are, even if we seem different at first. We write the story of rain and flowers, like this one. “The raindrop fell on a sad looking sunflower and cheered it up. Now this flower is the prettiest flower of all.”

Farm Work

Kids love the chance to participate in meaningful work, especially when big tools are involved! Farm work, like planting, weeding, mulching, or even just digging, also lets kids take appropriate risks, make choices, and work together as a team to accomplish a goal.

Making Salad

When kids participate in making healthy foods, they eat healthy foods, and when you pull the carrots from the ground yourself, they are all the sweeter. Wanna know our secret for getting kids to eat kale? It’s all in the sauce!

Reflection

When we take the time to think, write, and talk about our experiences on the farm, we help put learning into context, solidify our memories, and create bridges to other experiences.

There’s so much more that happens on a Fresh Roots field trip! Our Vancouver farms host school-year field trips weekdays in September, October, April, May and June. Won’t you join us?