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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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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date November 1, 2021

Of course, the day that I need to sit inside and hammer out a blog, the sun decides to shine and the sky is bright blue. At least I don’t have to squeeze into my mud-soaked raingear today, which is the norm this time of year. 

Reading back on last month’s blog, the goals I set for the farm seemed realistic and intuitive. Alas, this is not how things usually go. Piper, Galen and I went out to Delta to lend hands in planting their garlic and clearing out the high tunnel. We had the intention to harvest the seaweed that was washed up on the beach out there but a storm blew it all away. We also had intentions to piggyback on Delta’s compost pile but ran out of time tying ristra peppers from rafters so couldn’t shovel it into the truck. This all translates into later planting and mulching dates, and more days in transit between locations. 

Galen and I did get our garlic planted at Van Tech: 4 X 45 ft beds (not ten, like I imagined) to mature into big heads of Russian Red Garlic. Amendments we used were compost and river sand, sul-po-mag, and blood meal. We mulched with 6 inches of straw and will add seaweed when it washes ashore in Delta again and we have time to harvest it. We messed around with the spacing a little bit but ended up with 3 rows per bed, intermittently planted (laid out in a posts-and-windows pattern) 6-8 inches apart. It’s important to make sure each clove has 3-4 inches in every direction so it has space to expand its roots and get juicy. That means we planted about 1,000 cloves in these four beds. We also installed 3 X 25-ft beds at about 4-inch spacing for green garlic, which is like a delicious, garlic-flavoured leek harvested in the spring. For this purpose, we used the smallest cloves and some bulbils (garlic flower-produced seed). I’m excited to see how they turn out — I’m expecting thin, single-cloved, tender stalks that we will bunch for our CSA in 2022.

Although our markets and CSA are done for the season, we still have brassicas and chicory producing tasty cold-sweetened shoots. Japanese Sweet Potatoes were dug, and about 200 pounds of sunchokes are looking for homes. We are using these veggies to supply special events like the Indigenous Family Gathering at VanTech and to fill the food boxes for the South Van Neighbourhood House food hub. I’m also hustling a bit to get whatever bits and pieces I can into East Van Farm-to-table restaurants like Ugly Dumpling and Dachi Vancouver. If you’re a restaurant nearby and want to purchase veggies from us, get in touch with me!

Fresh Roots’ Field Lead, Piper, has now finished their contract for the season. I am so grateful for the positive vibes and enthusiasm they contributed this season. What a gem of a human that I’m sad to see go. I’m sure they will continue to charm whatever workplace or schoolroom they enter. This also means it’s up to me, sometimes Galen, and hopefully volunteers to finish up winterizing the farm. There are a lot of plants to pull and plastic to cover our fields, so any help from any supporters or *ahem* readers would be cherished. I promise to give you kale!

Now that I’ve enjoyed my hot lunch and written about garlic (was that really all I did in October? Plant Garlic? Time flies), it’s back off to the fields to tear down some trellising and coil up drip lines from our irrigation system. I’m hoping I’ll get a good dose of Vit D with these sun rays. Stay cozy, friends. 

– Farmer Camille

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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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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date September 1, 2021

Technically the title of this report is wrong. Sept 1 is not a seed-date this month, and there won’t be any more seed-dates for 2021. All our seeds and transplants are in the ground, fully germinated, and fate has been determined– sort of. The intended fate for our veggies is to land in CSA boxes and market shelves. This doesn’t always happen because of the pressure of pests, diseases, weeds, and theft. But I digress…

What a whirlwind of a month, August was. It’s peak harvest season, with a slew of intense heat, drought, and financial crunchiness. Meanwhile the administration team at Fresh Roots is hauling to raise funds so we can afford to operate everything from SOYL Programs across 3 sites in the lower mainland, to EL summer camp, not to mention farming vegetables. 

Although all the numbers aren’t quite in, I think the Backyard Harvest Dinner was a success, Fresh Roots having met our fundraising goal of 20K in pledges and silent auction bids (excluding ticket sales). It is such an epic feat to pull this kind of thing off. There is so much organizing, networking, communication, timing, collaboration, showmanship, and rather bad poetry (sorry-not-sorry). Witnessing Caroline Manuel (Communications), Vivian Cheung (Ops), and Alexa Pitoulis (our ED) pull the whole thing together was kind of like magic. That said, every single person on our core team pulled weight, whether it was packing dinner boxes, cooking for 50 people, or trucking equipment from 3 sites. 

The highlight of the fundraiser for me was the farm team planning our outfits. All season long we were very proud to imagine ourselves as a band called “Planting for Death” – a term I use to refer to re-planting holes where transplants have failed. The team loves to take the weird things I say (ie: “great,great,great,great,great;” “It’s fine, I’m fine, Everything is fine;” and other sayings not quite family-friendly enough to list) and turn them into songs. Well, not literal songs. We are more in our ‘concepts and planning’ phase. The only literal thing P4D has done was put together outfits, dye some eyebrows, and do a little dancing for a fundraiser. But you better trust that our literal outfits were literally epic. This Farm Momma doesn’t lie. 

Last week we said goodbye to our beloved Isobel, the part-time flower arranger and ponderer of deep, comical musings. We planted seeds of rebellion in her, and she is returning to school in Saskatchewan to mess up industrial agriculture. This month we will be bidding our Market Lead, Nico, adieu, as he returns to Ontario to connect (like, he is a dude who really connects) with the Food Security community out there. Piper, Mia and I (with an assist from Galen) will be holding down the fort on the farm and market scene until the third week of October when we will put the farm to sleep for the winter. 

September is my favourite month of all time. First of all, it’s my birthday month and I Thank-Mother I was born. Mushrooms begin to pop out, it’s sweater-weather, and the chill in the air cools down my summer-boiled temper. This is a moment when we still have all the wonderful fruiting veggies of the summer while the cool season crops come on, so we get to enjoy a cornucopia of diversity. I’m looking forward to filling our CSA Boxes and Market Shelves with a plethora of colours, shared with all of you.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date July 1, 2021

July 1st. Wait, what? It’s J U L Y ? It’s July and the kale has exploded along with the weeds. I’m so thankful for our hard-working team (not just the farm workers!) and the handful of volunteers who have joined us in liberating our crops from the overwhelm of hungry, green-leaved neighbours. Fresh Roots has a few hungry neighbours of the human variety, too, which has made an impact on our yields. The unique pressures of Urban Farming continue to surface as we try our best to fulfil commitments to our CSA members, Markets, Programming, the Community Eats Program, Lunch Lab, and Donor Recipients such as South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Hub. All of this is to say, I feel the theme of the past month has been about Community. 

Community

The Fresh Roots Community is blooming into the Summer Queen that she is. All of the youth hired under the Canada Summer Jobs contracts are trained up and ready to operate the Fresh Roots Summer Kingdom (aka Farm). By the second week of July, we’ll have SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) participants growing, learning and leading at three sites, keen to pull weeds and distribute wood chips (I can’t wait to utilize those hands!) and harvest veggies for the market. 

Our Community Supported Agriculture Program is in its 5th week, now, getting our lovely greens and roots into the hands of thoughtful consumers who know their investment is supporting not only the operation of our farm, but also our programming to employ youth and teach kids about agriculture and themselves. It has been a pleasure to put the faces to the names on our CSA sheet and watch as our vegetable babies find their forever homes… in your mouths, I guess?

We attend two markets with two distinct but wonderful communities: Saturdays at Riley Park we connect with the market-goers, organizers and vendors that make up the incredible Vancouver Farmers Market; and on Wednesdays our market is hosted by the ever-generous folks at the Italian Cultural Centre. The ICC market community ‘feel’ is definitely different this season than last – yes, that means the pizza and wine are missing. That is because the ICC is putting their effort into supporting the community in another way: they are hosting an epic vaccination site, seeing an average of 1600 members of our community get vaccinated each day. So while I’m sad that we don’t get a slice of pizza, I’m happier still that we are overcoming this virus with the support of places like the ICC. 

Other amazing community experiences include ogling all the adorable dogs that are walked around the periphery of the farms, connecting with our curious neighbors, playing I-spy with neighbourhood kids, chatting with students who attend the schools where we farm, and staff sharing a lunch of Fresh Roots Salad Mix with that tasty yeast dressing we all love. 

I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg that is the support and connection happening between the coreteam members of Fresh Roots! It seriously takes so much teamwork to adorn our Lady Fresh Roots with the glory she deserves. It takes meetings — so. many. meetings — and so much planning, and phone calls, and notes and communication boards to make sure all the cogs are turning in time between each department. There is also a lot of: “who does what?” in this organization, as she evolves and transitions into something new, it seems like every moment. 

So, yeah. We get weedy, and stuff gets stolen, but the trade off for working in a supportive community is totally worth it.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed-date June 1, 2021

Nuts and Bolting

The nuts of farming, to me, translate to the “awe, nuts!” moments – like when you arrive one morning to your lovingly hand-reared broccoli transplants and find that they have all bolted prematurely. Riding the waves this spring – whether they were tropical hot or arctic cold – meant that a lot of our plantings behaved differently than expected. This early in the spring, when most of our planting spaces are spoken for, it’s hard to make up for failed crops without having a time machine. The effect for Fresh Roots is that we have adjusted our market start dates, and introduced a “soft-market” concept to our first week. 

That said, we did have many gorgeously productive days on site, with all our farm team recruited and in the process of all staff (22 new team members!) training over the past few Mondays. The Vancouver farm team transformed our greenhouse over the last 4 weeks from wild, gregarious, multi-shaped leaves bursting over every surface to a serene, warm oasis with tame baby head lettuces lined up in rows of green and purple. While seeding and rearing transplants is a lovely, crafty task, the prep for transplanting is everything in this process. 

Putting the Seedlings To Bed

When seedlings are ready, their bed has to be made. To start, we first have to uncover the beds that have been sleeping under silage tarps or lumber wrap all winter. If they were uncovered previously, we need to weed — sometimes for hours — before we can move on. Next, we measure and mark out each bed: 36 inches wide, with an 18 inch path. Then we wheelbarrow 3 loads of compost for every 45 foot bed, rake the compost out, and wheelhoe the bed to integrate the nutrition and fluff the mattress, so to speak. If a fluffy bed is a mattress, then consider row cover the sheets. For transplanted beds, the best way to save yourself future battles with weeds is to apply a sheet of landscape fabric to the prepared bed to prevent scattered, wild seeds from seeing the sun or getting irrigated. When we run out of fancy fabric, sometimes we create low-cost covers out of lumber wrap that we cut holes into with rickety scissors found at the bottom of cracked rubbermaid boxes. Transplants are popped into holes in these sheets, and eventually their plumage cascades over the surface, hiding the fact that their sheets are not Egyptian cotton, but rather, black plastic.  

Prepping our beds in this way not only prevents unwanted weed pressure, it also retains the nutritional quality of the soil, preventing nitrogen from being taken up by unplanned plants. Additionally, it prevents surface leaching, by blocking irrigation and rain outside of the holes we farmers have cut. In these ways, we are serving our soil as well as our crops, to minimize our nitrogen output, which also protects the environment.

We did lots of other cool stuff besides bed prep, including clover angels (who knew this was a thing?), building an epic tomato trellis, donating 14 totes of veggies to South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, and wrestling rhubarb – whose leaves I’m considering using in place of landscape fabric, maybe, to suppress weeds? Also makes a great hat during a thunderstorm. 

 

June will see our first CSA Pickup and Market Days – don’t miss them! 

 

We’ll be at the Italian Cultural Centre from 4-7 on Wednesdays starting June 2nd. We’re located at the southwest corner adjacent to the park-look for the white tents, orange signage, and basketball hoops!

AND

Vancouver Farmers Market at Riley Park from 10-2 on Saturdays starting June 12th.

 

-Farmer Camille

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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.  

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Norquay Field House – A Year in Review!

As we mark the dubious 1 year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown we can’t help but celebrate the accomplishments made possible through our residency at the Norquay Field House. With the support of the Vancouver Parks Board and the Field House Project, we have supported food literacy and food access for kids, youth, and the community at Norquay and across Vancouver. In 2019 we served 17,928 nutritious meals and engaged with 6,354 kids and youth through 34,616 program hours. In 2020 we served 73,653 nutritious meals and supported 2,650 kids and youth through 20,055 program hours.

Some of the highlights from this past year are:

  • Norquay Park Food Sharing Garden – We tend a sharing garden where we engage with community members throughout the growing season. We speak to people about plants, share stories and invite them to harvest vegetables on their own!

 

  • Apple Cider Press Day – In 2020 we held this modified annual event with volunteers from the Bosa Foundation preparing and pressing 700 pounds of apples into 35 gallons of juice. We showed many community members how cider pressing works and gave out ginger gold apples generously donated by BC Tree Fruits to take home!

 

  • SOYL Program – We host over 35 high school youth each year who learn how to grow, cook, and share food.  Youth are referred to the program through social service providers and counselors and, through the program, build lifelong skills in confidence, friendship, and leadership. Learn more about SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) here.

  • Schoolyard Harvest Dinner *At Home Edition* – Fresh Roots annual fundraising dinner virtually broadcasted live from Norquay Field House. We hosted 190 virtual participants online with 35 staff and a cooking demo safely hosted by chefs in-person.

  • And last but not least! Right before lockdown before we knew we wouldn’t be back in the field house for a while, Alexa  Fresh Roots Executive Director, then Interim Executive Director got a chance to prepare Fresh Roots’ famous salad dressing for the first time! We hope to be back in the field house preparing and eating food, laughing, learning and enjoying time spent together with our community.