Tending the Earth, Sharing the Garden

By Shae Hadden

This spring, seniors and students of Richmond, British Columbia are coming together again in the garden on Richmond High School’s property. Seniors who live in the high-density housing around the city centre started the Community Garden in the same plot of land that the High School had used for its garden in previous years. Working in the same space, they have created the beginnings of intergenerational relationships with students of the Fit for Life and Pre-Employment English classes who learn about gardening, sustainability, local foods and nutrition while they work the soil.

The Richmond High School & Community Garden pilot project, an idea of Evergreen, a national charity that makes cities more livable, was initiated last year with grants and funding from 7 different companies and community agencies. This model hybrid garden, sponsored in 2010 by the Vancouver Foundation, includes four 3’ x 32’ beds for the students and 16 garden boxes with 6’x 6’ plots for the seniors.

After the implementation of the garden on school grounds, teachers adapted school curriculums to include activities such as: learning about local foods and adapting recipes; growing herbs and spices for use by culinary students in the cafeteria program; creating tasty, nutritious snacks students can reproduce at home; making bread; and digging and building new gardens. Students who may have experienced difficulties learning in the classroom became receptive, helpful and useful in the garden.

“The students enjoy being in a non-academic environment doing different tasks,” said Ian Lai, local chef and project coordinator in this pilot program. Ian, founder of the Master Gardeners program of the TerraNova Schoolyard Society (which brings 300 elementary school children a year into a 65-acre local community garden to learn about soil science, gardening and cooking from volunteer experts and teachers), will be mentoring two Richmond High students to maintain their school garden during the summer months this year. These students, stewards of the Richmond High School & Community Garden site, will spend two half days per week learning how to garden from Ian and connecting with the local seniors while they tend their garden plots.

This year, both generations are planning to cook together or share a potluck meal together at the high school on Earth Day, World Food Day and possibly Harvest Festival in the fall. Seniors and youth have developed a mutual comfort with being in each other’s ‘territory’: just by being in proximity to each other over an extended period of time, they have gotten past the stereotypes about people who are older or younger. Old and young alike now share and explain what they know and keep an eye on each other’s gardens.

“We see the Richmond program as a model of what a hybrid community/school garden could be,” adds Ian. “If other schools and districts who own the land their facilities are on would convert a portion of their school grounds to gardens, they could support learning objectives, local food production and the ‘green’ movement, as well as develop intergenerational collaboration in their communities.”

 © 2010 Shae
Hadden. All rights reserved.