Salad days at inner-city school

By , Toronto Sun

First posted:

TORONTO – Tyler Beckett wants to be a landscaper and the urban farming program on the roof of his inner-city school has greened his thumb.

“It’s helping get me prepare for a job when I’m done school,” said the 16-year-old Eastdale Collegiate Institute student in the Regent Park area.

“I like getting involved with the garden and helping the kids in school. We used to go to the corner and buy chips, now we are eating salads.”

Eastdale Collegiate is an “impoverished” high school and half the students function at a Grade 3 level, said principal Brian Hill.

These kids are from homes where buying fresh produce isn’t a priority, he said.

“As educators, we see the negative effects of poor eating habits and lack of healthy food literacy among students first hand. (Urban farming) is helping us educate our students about the importance of healthy eating and how to grow and prepare healthy food. It helps change their eating habits, gives them skills and instils in them life-long knowledge to make healthy food choices,” Hill said.

“Our kids can’t make it in a regular school. We have kids who didn’t go to school last year. They can come from homes from generational welfare families or where there are mental-health issues. Our kids could have a bad day because their parents didn’t come home last night. The kids have huge needs,” Hill said.

Eastdale provides a breakfast, lunch and snack daily — including school-grown salads — for the 120 students.

It costs about $12 a day for per student.

“We have students that ask for seconds, and we can only give one. Many don’t get a meal afterwards,” Hill said.

The 16,000-square-foot roof-top includes 450 garden planters where a variety of fruits and vegetables are grown.

Josh Harrison-Maul, 16, is thinking about becoming a chef and has been inspired by those working in the local industry.

The school has a professional industry standard kitchen where students prepare the produce a roll out a salad food cart to the cafeteria as part of lunch.

“We bring in visiting racialized chefs to talk about working in the world of food. The kids can see themselves, reflected in these chefs,” said Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, a sponsor of the growing program.

“It’s amazing what happens when you get kids excited about growing food.”

Student Josh initially only became involved to learn how grow food on his balcony.

“When you’re cooking, you need to know where the food comes from,” Josh said. ”That is why I took the seed to market course.”

Students sell surplus at local farmer’s markets.

Eastdale recently added a number of hydroponic tower garden devices which can be used year-round in classrooms to grown produce.

“We have lettuce coming out of our ears,” Hill said.

One in six Canadian children live with “food insecurities,” according to statistics.

Eastdale is one of schools benefiting from groups like The Good Food Machine with in school programs to promote healthy eating.

“We are thrilled to see the positive impact … helping to change the eating habits off children for the better,” said spokesman Angela Simo Brown with another another corporate sponsor, LoyaltyOne.

The roof garden not only educates about food but can be transformed into a science laboratory.

Science teacher Dave Servos brought in Monarch butterfly eggs and the roof top turned into a nursery where students harvested milkweed plants and watched the eggs turn into caterpillars and then butterflies.

“They flew away and went to Mexico. It was something,” Tyler said.

The roof garden is a year-long project. In the fall, there is the harvest and students plant seeds for the following year’s bounty. During the summer, students are hired to water and maintain the gardens.

The program is a “hidden gem” and “practical,” said city Councillor Paula Fletcher.

“The food is locally grown and locally used. Students learn how things grow and how to nurture,” Fletcher said.

Link to article: http://www.torontosun.com/2017/10/15/salad-days-at-inner-city-school