Project PickleThu 08 May 2014
Story by Mike Schneider
In June of 2012, two hundred young farmers planted two hundred pickling cucumber seedlings in 5 raised garden beds built on underutilized school owned property at Pebble Hill Traditional School in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada.
This was the birth of “Project Pickle”.
During summer high school students in their first summer vacation jobs tended the crop. These students harvested the crop as it matured and planted secondary crops every two weeks throughout the summer.
These school neighbourhood farms began to multiply over the summer and in the fall students at several schools hauled lumber and soil and built their own farms throughout the Delta School District.
There are 31 schools in the district and today 17 schools have farms. Several thousand students of the 16,000 total enrolled in the district have been involved in some aspect of farming to date. Project Pickle fully intends to have all schools involved in some aspect by the end of June this year.
Operating these farms on school owned property affords the opportunity for the children to see the food cycle every day at recess, lunch, after school and during unit based work outside during class time. The subliminal message of agriculture is always there.
I chose the humble pickle for this undertaking because the much-loved crunchy snack touches on many aspects in the food economy that children, (let alone their parents), take for granted.
Firstly, there is the farming aspect. The plants need to be tended to maturity, harvested, warehoused and ultimately pickled. The science of the pickling process has proven to be fascinating to the children for the past two falls, and pickling lessons have been offered in class. In many cases this has involved peer mentoring for the elementary school children where high school students conduct the pickling lessons.
The students are taught the life cycle of the pickle in a “seed to burger” lesson plan that describes how the cucumber goes through marketing, distribution, advertising, retail channels, until it ends up on a burger.
Each school-farm grows what the children choose and they are taught how to understand planting guidelines and what they can and cannot grow in our climate. The only condition is that they dedicate one bed to pickling cucumbers and grow at least one item that is used in the pickling process.
A cornerstone of Project Pickle is our peer mentoring strategy where elementary school team leaders work with high school students to introduce our unit based curriculum studies to the younger elementary students. This year, our partnership with Kwantlen University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) is expanding so that these University Students adopt a school and manage its farm operation over the summer.
In the fall, the chain of mentors get together to run our “Green for Greens” program. In September and October, besides making hundreds of jars of pickles, we harvest our secondary crops and bag them to sell in each school community. Arugula, spinach, various lettuces, beets, chard and other goodies are sold in $5 bags. The proceeds go back to the school to pay for additional farm equipment and supplies.
Hundreds of dollars flow back to the schools and the children grasp the idea of the process that farmers have to undertake in order to make money.
Best of all, the food is sold to parents who put it on the dinner table.
The children are learning a lot about food and the food economy and the program is growing very quickly.
To celebrate Food Revolution Day in 2013, 700 kids planted cucumber seeds in trays where they remained in our greenhouse until June. The seedlings were put in the soil at the farms by an additional 1500 children working in pairs.
This year Project Pickle will again see a couple of thousand kids participating on Food Revolution Day.
In addition to our partnership with Kwantlen ISFS, we are building a relationship with Sole Food Street Farms, the operators of the largest urban agriculture operation in North America. They are providing us with intensive farming expertise and techniques and we are using their specially designed PVC portable garden beds in addition to our traditional cedar installations.
About the author: Mike Schneider is the founder of the Backyard Cooperative and Project Pickle. He is an advocate for agri-literacy and ensuring that agriculture is adopted in to the school curriculum so that children can better understand the regional food system and the food economy.
Get more information on his website (www.bycoop.ca) and articles from the Vancouver Sun, Delta Optimist, and their feature on Global TV.
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