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By Jia Qiao, Experiential Learning Community Educator – UBC Career Experience Practicum

Hello, my name is Jia Qiao, I am a graduate student at UBC studying the Adult Learning and Education program. This winter term, I am enrolled in the practicum course LFS 496 with Fresh Roots, working as the Experiential Learning Community Educator. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work on the farm and engage with various groups of students, teachers from different schools in Vancouver, and the Fresh Roots team!


As the 4-month work placement comes to an end, much like the farm winding down for winter, I reflect on the diverse activities I have been involved in over the past few months. One highlight has been supporting field trips for students of varying age groups, from kindergarteners to high schoolers. Witnessing students visit the farm in all weather conditions, be it warm and sunny or chilly and rainy, has been truly remarkable. Engaging with them in various farm activities, such as weeding and resurfacing walking paths with wood chips, has been a fulfilling experience. Many students, experiencing farm work for the first time, embraced the opportunity to get their hands and clothes dirty, proud to be considered real farmers.

Through collaborating with their classmates during the farm work, kids experienced both the joy and challenges of working together, as each individual thinks and works differently. For example, there was a time when I worked with a group of elementary school kids to prepare the farm beds for winter by covering them with leaves. From the outset, the group encountered some disputes over their roles—determining who would be responsible for raking leaves into piles, while others carried the leaves with a wheelbarrow and dumped them on the beds. Throughout the working process, some students were goal-oriented and tried different ways to efficiently complete their tasks, while others took their time and engaged in playful interactions with the leaves. Despite these differences in approach, all team members eventually experienced a sense of fulfillment when the entire farm bed was covered by a beautiful blanket of leaves!

I also enjoyed organizing scavenger hunt activities with children, allowing them to explore the signs of the fall season on the farm. As the kids marched out to the farm, they eagerly kept their eyes wide open to observe all the indications of fall. They listened intently, their ears tuned to the sounds of crows and other animals gathering food. Their excitement peaked when they discovered spiders diligently weaving webs in the tea garden. The joy and enthusiasm displayed by the children during these activities added a delightful dimension to the exploration of nature’s wonders on the farm.

Student made waffles

 Since the beginning of November, I have been assisting Andrea, who is the Experiential Learning Program Lead at Fresh Roots, with the school garden and food programming at Grandview ¿uuqinak’uuh Elementary School. One particularly memorable experience was coordinating a waffle party with the class, a successful event made possible by Andrea’s significant planning and preparation ahead of the big day. Despite Andrea’s efforts, I couldn’t help but wonder if we could successfully manage it with a class of about 15 students!

To streamline the process, the entire class was divided into three small groups: the dry ingredient group, the wet ingredient group, and the cooking group. Each group executed their part based on a recipe assigned to them. For most students, making waffles was a novel experience, and they were thrilled to try different tools and experiment with various ingredients. Though the tables ended up in a bit of a mess, the true magic unfolded when students, seated together at a table, joyfully savoured the delicious waffles they had each contributed to making. Witnessing how different pieces seamlessly came together was truly amazing and exemplified the transformative power of teamwork.

Reflecting on my work placement at the farm and its relevance to my graduate studies in Adult Learning and Education, I am reminded of the learning theories discussed in my classes. These theories underscore the idea that all learning practices are inherently both material and social, or socio-material. In this context, the environment, other animals, objects, and artifacts are viewed as integral to the enactment of human existence and social life, rather than merely background context or tools (Fenwick & Edwards, 2013). The farm, in this case, is considered a crucial component of human existence and a mediator of learning.

Jia spreading straw for garlic planting

Farms are great pedagogical sites for both youth and adult learning. They offer spaces for learning not only about gardening and local ecological conditions but also about sustainability, the decolonization of place, and participatory democracy (Levkoe, 2006; Mundel & Chapman, 2010). Additionally, farms function as “therapeutic landscapes” that contribute to physical, mental, and cultural well-being, increasingly integrated into healthcare and other healing practices (Pitt, 2014; Wilson, 2003). Common activities such as farming foster deep relationships and mutual learning processes within practices.

Beyond academic insights, I have gleaned invaluable life lessons from my engagement in farm work, and the ability to adapt to and embrace changes and uncertainties. Our lives, like the life cycle of a farm, traverse different seasons – a season to sow, a season to grow, a season to harvest, and a season to rest. As with the farm, our lives undergo various phases, and I aspire to possess the wisdom, courage, and patience necessary to navigate through these different seasons in life. Finally, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Fresh Roots team, with special thanks to Kat, Andrea, and Vivian, for providing me with the opportunity to work with them and enriching my work placement experience!

 

A Big Thank You to Jia! 🌸

Jia spent September – December 2023 with Fresh Roots, helping make hands-on learning outside a reality on our schoolyard farms and Grandview ¿uuqinak’uuh Elementary School garden. Jia reminded us to marvel at small and large changes on the farm as the seasons changed. She always brought joy, curiosity and enthusiasm with her to the often hectic and rainy realities of teaching on a schoolyard farm. Thank you to Jia for being up for new experiences and so beautifully balancing the priorities between being a student, mom, and volunteer. We are looking forward to seeing where life takes you next!

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