In January, Danielle Brodhagen (co-chair of Slow Food Perth County, culinary queen of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, and all-around sister-in-food) introduced me to Paul Finkelstein. I told him I'd worked on a project the previous summer putting in an educational garden at my local elementary school. I proposed to do the same thing in Stratford, and asked him if he'd like to work with me.
It turned out Paul was already thinking about something similar, but (in true Fink style) WAY bigger.
That day, we started hatching a plan to put a school garden in every elementary school in Stratford...
By February, we had an application in for the Evergreen Foundation's Toyota School Greening Grant program. Four Stratford schools received approval for the grant (Romeo, Shakespeare, Hamlet and Anne Hathaway PS's), and we were on our way!
This week, all our winter planning finally came together. First, we constructed eight school gardens throughout Stratford in one day. This was achieved through the hard work of four Northwestern Secondary School volunteers, who busted their humps on Tuesday cutting sod, enriching the soil, and tilling the 10 foot by 10 foot plots. Thanks Adam & Erin (pictured above), and Gerry & Brandon - you guys really worked it on Tuesday! Thanks also to local farmer Mark Lass, a Slow Food brethren who drove the kids around in his truck and manhandled a tiller all day!
The next day, it was time to deliver the planting lessons to the elementary students of Stratford. Gerry, Marten, and Erin - three SNSS teachers-of-the-future - educated the schoolchildren about the Three Sisters Gardens the First Nations peoples used to plant - the original companion gardening consisting of corn in the centre, beans that climb up the corn, and squash protecting around the perimeter. Paul added a new twist to the Three Sisters, in the form of a 'Cousin': the kids also planted a few mini-rows of Red Fife Wheat, the strain of wheat that was a staple for Ontario pioneers. By the end of the day the seeds had been sown for school gardens at North Easthope; St. Joe's; Hamlet; Bedford; Shakespeare; Avon; Anne Hathaway; and Romeo elementary schools.
Soon the students will be out of school, and will take turns watering their gardens with their families over the summer. When everyone returns in the fall, every school should have a spectacular Three Sisters & A Cousin garden in their schoolyards! We're also going to all return in September to conduct a harvest class, which will hopefully include cooking lessons from a chef who is an expert in Aboriginal cuisine.
Here's the kicker (as if this story needs one!): The SNSS culinary students are then going to take all of the corn, beans and squash grown at all of the gardens and cook them into an a giant batch of delicious Three Sisters Soup. The soup will be served and sold by the kids to attendees of Savour Stratford Perth County, the town's annual food festival celebration taking place on the weekend of September 25. The proceeds from the soup sales will be allotted to the participating schools, who will use the funds raised to support their school lunch programs!
OK, we didn't quite get a garden in every elementary school in Stratford, but there's always next year to build the rest! As far as this week's project went, when I saw our community's spirit and the cooperation that took place between students, school boards and children, it totally confirmed why I love my new town so much. Thanks to Fink, the SNSS Culinary Arts students, Mark Lass, Danielle Brodhagen, the Evergreen Foundation, and the students of Stratford's elementary schools for making The Mother of All School Garden Projects a reality - WE DID IT!!!