Breaking new ground on campus

Youth get their hands dirty learning entrepreneurship

Have you ever thought about the journey your produce takes, from seed in the earth to food on your plate?

At Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute (BCI) in Etobicoke, ON, students don’t have to wonder. FoodShare’s School Grown farming program nurtures deep bonds between youth and their food, connecting them right to the source.

A partnership between School Grown, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and BCI, the program provides 2.5 acres on which students seed, weed and harvest in order to learn to manage an urban farm.

Before the pandemic the team was also working “on a lot of workshops in the school with science classes,” explains Adam Dirks, School Grown’s Farm Coordinator in a video FoodShare released this week featuring a tour of BCI Farm. Going on to describe one of the projects from the school’s green industries class, Adam says “that class designed that area, picked the plants and planted it. A lot of the trees that are growing around the property were planted also by those classes. So, it’s a pretty skills-based thing.” 

By combining green industries classes, science classes and co-op placements, while actively participating in the growing season on the farm, students can even graduate with a horticulture diploma. Sitting in class and reading textbooks is great, but nothing quite compares to getting your hands in the soil.

All season long the farm also employs farm apprentices; local youth, including recent grads from BCI who are paid to work on the farm and are offered workshops in farming and entrepreneurial skills. In 2020, FoodShare coordinators also supported a small group of youth looking to start their own growing projects. 

Ekow Stone, School Grown’s Youth Engagement Coordinator, explains how COVID-19 has highlighted the globalization of our food systems and the importance of creating sustainable solutions to food supply. “Urban agriculture is a great way to integrate the food supply and the food system in a more local context,” he says.

And it’s not only the students and youth that are brought closer to their food—an on-site market connects residents as well. “Instead of just going to a grocery store, if they can come to a farmer’s market in which, right behind them is the actual site where it’s growing—it just brings people closer to the food that they’re eating, and helps facilitate connection and integration with the food system,” Ekow explains. The team hopes to reopen the market once social distancing measures are lifted and it’s safe to do so.

The farm provides further opportunity for locals to connect with their food by offering a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for the school’s daycare staff, allowing them to sample what’s been harvested each week.

WATCH: Get a taste of what School Grown is all about below.

This is the fourth and final video in a series of virtual tours that give you a behind-the-scenes look at FoodShare’s programming. Get a 360 degree view of the FoodShare warehouse, visit the Harmony Good Food Market and catch some rays in the Sunshine Garden.

You can support School Grown by purchasing BCI Farm’s produce at the St Philip’s Good Food Market or the Waterfront Good Food Market, or get it in one of our Good Food Box subscriptions!

If you would like to learn more about FoodShare’s community food growing programs, check out this webinar about evolving our local food system.