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,



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


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:


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 to learn more and register.


Spotlight on Scientists: Jacelyn Shu

By Vivian Cheung, Operations Coordinator

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


Interview with Jacelyn Shu

Jacelyn is a biologist and scientific illustrator. She completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at the University of British Columbia. She continues to be involved in the Department of Zoology as a lab manager and research technician in the Mank Lab. In addition to her managerial duties to support her lab’s research on guppies and sex chromosomes, her interests in the art and communication side of science has led her to be involved in today’s cutting-edge research through making figures for scientific publications and presentations. For Jacelyn, she enjoys translating complex scientific concepts into simple diagrams and help with turning the gruelling hours of data collection and analysis into a compelling narrative that can be shared with others in a visually appealing manner. See more of her work on her website Jacelyn Designs.



We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

Today I feel like a carrot. Stubby and covered in dirt, but could still be sweet.

Doug Fudge
Gosline Lecture, UBC, 2018


Can you describe your work as a biologist and scientific illustrator? 

By day, I wrangle guppies! My lab has about 6,000 fish that I am responsible for taking care of. I also support my labmates in their research, which a lot of the time means helping with their research projects, ordering supplies, doing administrative work, or taking care of the finances.

When all this technical stuff is done, I get to do more of the fun and creative things. I designed my lab’s logo, ran a course on Adobe Illustrator, and produced a bunch of figures for the papers coming out of my lab. I also started freelancing my science illustration services, and have produced figures and illustrations for other scientists as well.

When water contains toxins, these toxins can be taken up by fish at the gills, causing a physiological cascade that results in cardiovascular collapse.
McCormick, S. D., Schultz, E and Brauner, C.J. 2021. Methods in Fish Biology, American Fisheries Society. In Press.


What was your path to becoming a biologist and scientific illustrator?

I started becoming involved in research in my third year of my undergraduate degree, and did an Honours research project in a lab that I would later continue to do my Master’s degree in. After my Master’s, I decided that I enjoyed research and wanted to stay involved but, but didn’t think pursuing academia was the right path for me.

I was very fortunate to find a job as a lab manager/research technician with my current lab and Principal Investigator Judith Mank. I’ve always enjoyed the behind-the-scenes roles, and I like being able to support my labmates with their research, watch it unfold and take form, then help to communicate the final result.

My path to being a science illustrator is a bit less straightforward and is still definitely in its earlier stages. Throughout my degrees, especially during guest lectures or research seminars, I would take notes in the form of doodles to keep myself entertained. I also learned how to use Adobe Illustrator in one of my graduate courses, and spent just as much time making my presentation figures for talks and seminars as I did on the content itself. My Master’s supervisor noticed that I enjoyed drawing sciency things, and asked me if I wanted to make some figures for his lecture material and some of his publications. I agreed, and since then, I’ve been drawing people’s science wherever I can.

(1) An experimental setup used by Yvonne Dzal. The divided chamber allows Yvonne to measure whole-body respiration and ventilation in little brown bats, contributing to her research on the effect of white-nose syndrome. This figure was recently published in a review in Conservation Physiology. (2) Another of Yvonne’s experimental setups, this one used to measure whole-body respiration. You can read more about Yvonne’s work here.


What motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

I’ve always enjoyed nature and biology, and there’s so much about the world we know, but so much we still don’t know. My favourite thing about my current positions as a lab manager/research technician, as well as a science illustrator is that I get to dip my toes into a bunch of different research areas. It’s inspiring and humbling because there’s so much cool stuff happening on the frontiers of science, and I get to play a small part in investigating the big research questions that are being asked and answered in our current day and age.

As a science illustrator, I also see the importance of what I do. I feel like so much cool and current research goes unnoticed by 99% of the population because most of us are not well-versed enough to understand exactly what it means, and there is often so much jargon and background to wade through. Simplifying and illustrating the research is a great way to make it more appealing and more easily understandable.

Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) vary greatly in colour patterns among males. In particular, two main competing selection pressures have resulted in the same colour phenomenon in multiple river systems. Downstream, high predation results in selection against bright colours that are easily seen by predators; as a result, males are duller. Upstream, there are fewer predators, and sexual selection by female choice favours more brightly coloured males. The Mank Lab studies the genetic basis for colour and sexual dimorphism in these guppies.


How does your work relate to food systems or the environment?

No obvious, direct link, but everything is connected somehow! My lab does basic research on guppies and sex chromosomes, so that is less applied than some other research like climate change or food availability, but no less important (we can discuss the importance of basic research another day). As an illustrator, I get to work with a whole bunch of different projects, but so far no food system stuff or environmental stuff yet. Would be fun though!


What advice would you give to your younger self, or to youth today? 

Success in science doesn’t have to follow the three paths of a doctor, professor, or engineer that are so often preached to budding scientists. These are great professions, but far from the only options. I would say don’t limit yourself, try different things, see what you like, and don’t try to rush the process.


from a talk given by Eleanor Caves at Evolution 2019


Click here to see the full list of Science Odyssey activities


Twitter: @Sci_Od

Instagram: @Sci_Od

Hashtag: #OdySci


Spotlight on Scientists: Dr. Susan Gerofsky

By Nicole Bruce, SOYL Lead Facilitator

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


Interview with Dr. Susan Gerofsky

Headshot of Dr. Susan Gerofsky smiling at the camera. Wearing a black shirt, red scarf, red glasses and red headband

Susan Gerofsky is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Environmental Education in the Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her interdisciplinary research is in embodied, multisensory, multimodal mathematics education through the arts, movement, gesture and voice. She works in curriculum studies, environmental garden-based education, the language and genres of mathematics education, and media theory. Dr. Gerofsky is academic advisor and co-founder of the UBC Orchard Garden, a student-led campus learning garden. She is active as a mathematics educator, poet, playwright, musician and filmmaker, and works with dance and fibre arts. You’ll often find her cycling around town with a baritone horn or an accordion.



We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

I have to say bok choy because I just picked some and they were so fresh. I feel like I grew half an inch being here with the Fresh Roots team in this beautiful place and having this new food springing forth again. There’s so much hope and life there.


Can you describe your work as an educator? 

I’m an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Environmental Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where I’ve been for 16 years now. I teach new teachers in the Bachelor of Education program, specifically secondary math, physics and computer science, as well as graduate students, many of whom have teaching experience and are doing research in education.


I’m a co-founder with some graduate students, including Julia Ostertag, of the UBC Orchard Garden. That’s how I came to be an environmental educator. The Orchard Garden, founded around 2010, is a cross-faculty teaching and learning garden on UBC’s central campus, including the Faculties of Education and Land and Food Systems, with participation from Landscape Architecture and Forestry. From the Education side of things, we wanted to make a place where new teachers could experiment with teaching across the curriculum, with the garden as a co-teacher. How can you help students learn in and with the garden in a role as a teacher of history, poetry, math, art, music or any subject? How can you learn outside in a way that helps you and your students be aware of our more-than-human kin: the plants, birds, insects and other critters, rocks, rain and sky? How can we learn together with an understanding that we are part of whole ecosystems and the world? From a Land and Food Systems point of view, many students are longing for hands-on experience to experiment with growing and harvesting food organically and caring for the soil. Landscape Architecture students need opportunities to design with the natural world, and the Forestry students we work with are interested in urban food forests, the mycorrhizal communication systems within forests and other very interesting topics.


What was your path to becoming an educator?

As a child growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I was very connected with the outdoors. My Dad took us for walks and adventures in the woods, bike rides, canoe trips, and all kinds of outdoor experiences. We always had garden beds around the house, and I was very keen to grow vegetables. From the age of about seven or eight, I had my own little garden patch. I would browse through the seed catalogues in the winter, and carefully choose what I was going to plant. I loved growing things that you could eat, and things that were beautiful and fascinating, like sunflowers and morning glories that would respond to the sun. It was just wonderful to have that little garden, and woods, rivers and lakes nearby.


Before my current job, I worked as a picture and sound editor in the film industry, and then taught adult education and secondary schools. In my first year of high school teaching at Vancouver Technical Secondary School (which now has another Fresh Roots schoolyard farm), I realized there was nowhere for the kids to be outside, even though the school has a huge campus. There were no rocks, logs, picnic tables or anything for kids to sit on outdoors. When I taught summer school in the stifling July heat, I didn’t want the kids to be inside for a four-hour class every day, but the only place we could use as an outdoor classroom was the very noisy front lawn of the school, facing a busy street. So I started a campaign for a school garden. We had parents, teachers, students, administrators and others all around the neighbourhood coming to weekly meetings to plan this garden. We had science students measuring where the shadow fell on our proposed courtyard garden and mapping where the rain went. We had drafting students creating 3D tours of our potential garden. Many people in the school and neighbourhood were involved.


Then they laid off all the new teachers in the district and shuffled them around. I got moved to a different school, which did have a nice school garden. The school garden project at Van Tech was halted when a few of us left the school. We were ready to make this garden, we had raised money for it, we had plans that had been approved by the school board, we had a landscape architect who had helped us draw up the plans — everything was ready to go, but then it got stalled, for 12 years! I live right near the school, and would walk by there every day, glance at this sterile concrete courtyard, and picture it green and leafy. Then, miraculously, some teachers still at the school kept the idea of the garden alive, and new teachers took up the campaign for a Van Tech school garden. They took our plans, refurbished them, and it happened!


What’s more, by the time I was at UBC, Mark Schutzbank, who was a graduate student in the Orchard Garden, joined together with Ilana Labow and got the Fresh Roots farm going at Van Tech. Now I get a CSA box from that schoolyard farm. It’s a full circle. There are other Fresh Roots connections: Galen Taylor-Jones was a student working at the UBC Orchard Garden; Tathali Urueta did her doctoral dissertation about the Orchard Garden and the UBC Farm. These gardens have become the basis for a really strong community all over Greater Vancouver and beyond. There has been a wonderful evolution of the whole idea of growing and eating healthy food at school, and learning curriculum outdoors with the living world in a school garden.


What motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

For me, the most uplifting experience is being part of an intergenerational community, discovering things about our world and finding joy in being together outdoors, learning together, and making and eating food together. There are all the unexpected things that happen when you have workshops and classes in the garden. All of a sudden there are eagles overhead, hummingbirds diving, a field mouse, an amazing rainbow over the garden [laughs], or it suddenly starts to rain. All the unexpected happenings become part of the learning and part of the curriculum. I remember one student teacher who was really keen to learn gardening, but who described herself growing up as “a Nintendo kid”, letting herself into the apartment with a latchkey on a string around her neck and playing Nintendo until her mom got home. She hadn’t had many opportunities to be outdoors, and couldn’t tell a carrot from lettuce growing in the garden at first, but she learned very quickly. When I see people go through that transformation, from wherever they’re starting from to a much greater degree of familiarity and knowledge, and knowing that they’re going to teach this to their students over the next 25 or 30 years as they teach, it seems to me there is plenty of hope for the world. Something very concrete we do right now may have a beneficial influence years into the future.


How does your work relate to food systems or the environment?

I see more and more that people live their lives inside looking at screens, out of touch with the world of living things that we are part of and that we depend on, and that’s all around us. I think if people get too far out of touch with what sustains us, we may start to jeopardize our existence on Earth and the endanger life on the planet. It’s really important that kids grow up with an embodied, sensory, knowledgeable, kinship way of relating to all life on Earth. Knowing where our food comes from, knowing what keeps us healthy and alive, and what keeps all the other beings on earth healthy and alive is so important, and kids only understand that through lots of experiential, outdoor learning.

School gardens are particularly great because you don’t have to rent a bus or buy special gear to get involved, as you might need to do for other kinds of outdoor adventures like camping, mountain climbing and kayaking. Those activities are wonderful and memorable, but they are often a once-a-year kind of experience for kids. The school garden can be there all the way through the year, even in the summertime. It’s right outside the doors of the school. It can bring observation and empathy of the world of living things to kids every day, though all the seasons of the year.

I have the opportunity to work with teachers who, over the course of their careers, reach thousands of students and their families. Everyone in our society cares and is affected by what happens in the schools. I’m really encouraged by the whole worldwide school gardening movement as a way to bring kids into relationship with the world. My own philosophy leans towards permaculture and organic gardening, working without pesticides, herbicides or heavy machinery. We can go with the flow of nature as much as we’re able to and not destroy soil, insects and pollinators. I’m keen to get rid of the concept of ‘weeds’, and to see all plants as potential allies, that generously offer us food, medicine, fibres and more.


What advice would you give to your younger self, or to youth today? 

We are living in a time of extremes like the climate crisis and the COVID pandemic. But if you have an awareness of history, most people’s lifetimes do have extreme times in them. I would advise young people to have hope, and to work in small and large ways to make this the world you want to live in. My shorthand motto for this is “Ride bikes, grow food, make music” — though of course, it might be a different configuration for each person (“Swim, storm watch, sketch”? “Sing, cook, go birdwatching”?) Connect with your friends and community and plan for a future of wellbeing, for our society, for individuals and for all our non-human kin. Through your senses, being aware of where you are and beginning to learn, you can have the most amazing moments of wonder and awe and joy, no matter what else is happening. The natural world keeps going and it’s incredibly beautiful and inspiring. So just let yourself be inspired.


Click here to see the full list of Science Odyssey activities


Twitter: @Sci_Od

Instagram: @Sci_Od

Hashtag: #OdySci

Sky, Sun, Seasons & Shadows: On May 11th 3:30-4:30pm PST, join Fresh Roots and Susan Gerofsky online to learn how we can use schoolyard farms to promote science education. Register at


Farmer’s Log, Start-date, May 1, 2021

A week into April I found myself completely transitioned from working behind a screen to my hands covered in compost, unable to check my messages. It’s awesome. This is why I farm. I love being outside, covered in dirt, with wet, matted hair. Thank Manure it’s finally time to work the soil! We direct seeded about twelve beds at the David Thompson Secondary schoolyard farm, a handful of which are now sprouting. These sprouts are destined to be the first veggies in your CSA box or your June market haul! Time to get excited!

This month, I spent about 2 out of 5 days each week fiddling around with irrigation. This time reminds me once again, how important preparation is for a smooth farm season. When Fresh Roots starts up the growing season, Gray, our Infrastructure Manager, first has to test all the lines and replace any broken bits. Any leaks (or explosive sprays!) need to be repaired before we can hook up the lines that will water our seed babies. Next, we make lists of the parts we need, place an order, and pick them up, sometimes requiring a trip out to Abbotsford. Ideally, we would have a very organized inventory of all the essential, tiny, plastic parts that are dispersed over our many sites. Fresh Roots operates over six sites across the lower mainland (and counting) so this process is a little like herding cats with a broom. 


Once we’ve got all our bits and bobs, we need to assemble them according to crop, asking questions like, “do we need overhead or drip irrigation;” “do we need 1, 2, or 3 lines per bed;” “what kind of emitters do we need and what’s their coverage;” etc etc. It’s a little bit like lego, which is kind of fun, but also tedious. Once everything is in working order we finally set the timers… the hardest part. The technology is not user-friendly. It’s like setting an alarm on a water-damaged watch from the ’90s: half-analog, half-digital, with about two dozen impossible-to-find settings buried under complex command chains. TBH, I’m not really sure if these minutiae are interesting to you, Dear Reader, but there you have it – irrigation in all its tiny, explosive glory. 


Our seedlings in the greenhouse are now fully irrigated and warm under the clear light shining through fresh panes of glass. It seems like the ideal situation, right? Wrong. Turns out a heavenly courtyard in the middle of a school is also a haven for small animals that like to chew things — namely, about a dozen trays of gorgeous plant babies. I can’t blame the animals. Who doesn’t love a sumptuous spring salad after a winter of garbage… Er, turkey? Our response was to build 6 more cages to protect our precious seedlings from grazing. It also spurred a much-needed deep clean in all the nooks, crannies, and under-the-stairs. The whole team — all departments — banded together to tackle this work and it felt so good to accomplish it together. 


Stay tuned next month when I’ll talk about transplants, why we do row covers and the onboarding of our seasonal staff.  


Spotlight on Scientists: Dr. Hasina Samji

By Andrea Lucy, Experiential Learning Program Lead

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


 Interview with Dr. Hasina Samji

Dr. A headshot of Dr. Hasina Samji posed outside, wearing a suit and smiling at the camera.Hasina Samji (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and a Senior Scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. She is an epidemiologist trained at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Samji leads the CHART Lab’s Youth Development Instrument (YDI), an interdisciplinary study measuring predictors of positive youth well-being, mental health, and development in high school students in collaboration with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP-UBC), community, clinical and policy partners, and youth themselves. The YDI will identify skill-development and structural supports for mental illness prevention and positive trajectories for young people. She is also the co-Principal Investigator of the Personal Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (PICS) study in partnership with Anxiety Canada and BC Children’s Hospital to measure the population-level mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PICS study is currently open to anyone over the age of 8 interested in participating. 


We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

Well, I feel like today I’m channelling a beet, basically because I’m wearing a bright purple shirt. I chose to wear bright purple today because it’s been a little rainy, and I wanted something bright and fun.


Can you describe your work as an epidemiologist? 

[laughs] I laugh because up until last year, I used to get a lot of, “Oh, you’re an epidemiologist, that’s like a skin doctor, right?” I see how you got there, like epidermis? Yeah, okay, close. But now with the COVID pandemic, I don’t have to explain what an epidemiologist is as much. Broadly, it’s a person who looks at the distribution and determinants of disease in a population. What I like about epidemiology is it doesn’t just stop at measuring risk factors for disease, but also what can be done to improve prevention and control of these. This applies to not just diseases, but any kind of health outcomes. 

With the CHART Lab, what we’re looking at primarily is among young people, what are some of the positive factors that promote lifelong health? What are resilience factors for youth which protect against adversity? What are the experiences and resources that we can build upon to help youth thrive? To answer these questions, we look at individual-level factors such as emotional and social intelligence. I’m also very interested in structural factors. I’ve found youth to be quite underserved in services, especially mental health services. We do focus groups with young adults, and they say “We’re basically ignored unless we’re in crisis mode, and then people kind of pay some attention to us”. And I thought that’s really not fair. With the CHART Lab team, we work to improve access to services for young people, earlier in the lifecourse.


What was your path to becoming an epidemiologist and working in public health?

Initially, I wanted to work in international health, to go abroad and do international development work. Right after my undergraduate degree, I went to Karachi, Pakistan, where I initially knew no one, to volunteer at the Aga Khan University. One of my projects was to work with a community health center located in an urban slum environment, called a katchi abadi, where we held a cleanliness day. When we visited the slum there were bottles and plastic bags everywhere in the streets, but when you got invited into people’s homes, they were spotless. Keeping your home is important, but you also don’t want your kids playing in the garbage right outside your home. Kids were playing in muddy puddles that were not just mud. So, we held the cleanliness day in partnership with the community and local schools and we walked through the streets and cleaned them up. What was really positive from that experience was the mayor and community organizations were able to come together, not only to clean up the street. They were also able to negotiate a water pipeline that previously hadn’t gone through because it needed cooperation from many different partners. The cleanliness day event helped bring people together at a table and build that kind of community support. My experience in Karachi was really pivotal for learning about community engagement. 

I later did my PhD in infectious disease epidemiology and was really passionate about HIV at that point. I had volunteered after coming back from Karachi to Vancouver, on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at an organization called Vancouver Native Health Society that provides HIV services for people who are Indigenous. That was incredibly eye-opening. I remember I went to a talk at BC Children’s Hospital about international and global health, and they said, “You want to do international health? You just need to look in your own backyard”. I thought, “Ah, yes, you are absolutely right.” There’s work that has to be done here as well and huge disparities in our local populations. 

There were lots of amazing experiences that shaped my path into working with underserved populations, including people living with HIV, people using drugs, and now with a focus on upstream prevention with children and youth. 


What motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

I’m always amazed at how there are such immense health inequities, even here in the context of tremendous wealth in comparison to other places., There still are huge gaps and people whose voices are not being heard. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can work collaboratively to make a difference.


How does your work relate to food systems or the environment?

We have a lot of interest in our team in looking at the climate crisis. We started with a paper that was a call to action looking at the mental health impacts of the climate crisis for young people. We followed that up with questions in our survey, the Youth Development Instrument (YDI), asking young people about the impacts of the climate crisis to their mental health. We asked them to rank problems in the world, and in Canada, and certainly, pollution and the climate crisis come out on top for young people. 

We’re also really interested in food security for young people, because no young person should go hungry. No one should go hungry, frankly. We also ask about eating habits, asking about whether they eat breakfast? Do they have five servings of fruits and vegetables daily? We want to know how young people are eating because that is one of the things that really sets people up for success, along with good sleep and positive social connections. It also makes you feel so much better when you’re eating well, exercising, getting outside. Do young people get a chance to go out in nature? Because we know that’s such an important coping mechanism.


What advice would you give to your younger self, or to youth today? 

I can answer for both young people and myself. Your job or your career is not going to be linear, and you shouldn’t expect it to be. Imagine you got your dream job right out of undergrad, or high school, or whatever your training may be, would you really want to do that for the next 50 years of your life? No, that would be incredibly boring! Remember, it’s not about getting to the end, it’s about what you learn along the way. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, Ruth Simmons, the first black female President of an Ivy League school, said “learning should be uncomfortable,” and that always stuck with me. If you’re not being challenged, you’re not growing.

I would also highly recommend young people to volunteer in different projects. For me, that was really invaluable in terms of learning what was it that interested me. Which populations do you want to work with? The planet is sort of a population [laughs]. Getting a sense of what motivates you is important to know, and you need to expose yourself to many different avenues. Talk to people. If there’s something that seems of interest to you, most people will be very open to meeting with you for coffee or a quick chat. My advice would be to start thinking about those things earlier. What’s next? What am I interested in? There are so many different career paths out there.


Is there anything else you would like to share? 

One of the reasons I’m so excited to work with young people is I’m constantly inspired by young people. We have a Youth Advisory Committee of 15 youth from across the province for the YDI, and I look forward to those meetings more than any other meeting I have. They bring so much energy and they know, in many cases, what challenges there are and how they should be addressed in such a straightforward way. One of the joys of my job now is getting to work directly with young people in our province, and getting to learn from them and collaborate with them.


Click here to see the full list of Science Odyssey activities


Twitter: @Sci_Od

Instagram: @Sci_Od

Hashtag: #OdySci

Sky, Sun, Seasons & Shadows: On May 11th 3:30-4:30pm PST, join Fresh Roots and Susan Gerofsky online to learn how we can use schoolyard farms to promote science education. Register at


Science Odyssey: Join the Adventure! (May 1 – 16, 2021)

You are invited to join Fresh Roots as we take part in Science Odyssey, a ten-day celebration of discovery and innovation that engages and inspires Canadians of all ages with activities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics!

Sky, Sun, Seasons & Shadows

  • Date: May 11, 2021
  • Time: 3:30 to 4:30 PM (PST)
  • Location: Online via Zoom
  • Description: How can we use schoolyard farms as a space for garden-based learning to promote science education? Susan Gerofsky – an associate professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a background in mathematics and experiential education will walk us through a workshop filmed on one of the Fresh Roots Schoolyard Farms located at David Thompson Secondary School in Vancouver, BC. Targeted at elementary and high school educators, this online event will be recorded and presented over Zoom and hosted by Fresh Roots youth empowerment and experiential learning specialists with plenty of time for questions throughout!
  • Link to Register:

Spotlight on Scientists!

  • Date: May 1-16, 2021
  • Location: Fresh Roots Website
  • Description: To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment.
  • Link to View: Spotlight on Scientists!

About Science Odyssey

Led by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Science Odyssey brings together hundreds of fun and engaging activities across the country from Saturday, May 1 to Sunday, May 16, 2021. Events range from science in the streets, visits to labs, science fairs, talks and conferences, school field trips, encounters with scientists and engineers, special exhibits at museums and science centres, scientific events at community organizations, online activities, and much more. 

Consult the full list of Science Odyssey activities.

Social media links:


Twitter: @Sci_Od

Instagram: @Sci_Od

Hashtag: #OdySci