March 29, 2018

Grant helps expand high school micro-farm

Everdale Farm has received a $25,000 grant to expand the micro-farm project at Erin District High School (EDHS) and create a how-to manual for other schools to follow.
It’s one of 15 projects promoting local food production and growth of the agri-food sector, to be supported by $315,000 in grants through the Greenbelt Fund.
The EDHS project started last spring, with previous financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. 
Student work bees were organized during Friday lunch periods on a section of land owned by the school board, across from the library area of Centre 2000. Three-foot high metal enclosures were erected and filled with soil to create raised beds, which improve drainage and make crops easier to manage.
Erin District High School students planted the first raised beds last year.
 “We wanted to make it like a farm park,” said Everdale co-founder and youth director Karen Campbell. 
The idea was to create links to the community, potentially selling some produce to local businesses or restaurants, or donating some to the food bank. The micro-farm is also intended to as a teaching space, supporting areas of the curriculum such as literacy, numeracy and the development of work and leadership skills.
Everdale staff are also creating a comprehensive “Start a Micro Farm at Your School” teaching module to help other schools replicate the project, including advice on soil composition and sample crop plans.
Everdale is a non-profit organic farm near Hillsburgh celebrating its 20th year. Their endeavours include the Harvest Share program that provides weekly produce for members, sales at farmers’ markets, events such as Carrotfest, farmer training programs and internships, and farm school programs designed for various interests and grade levels.
More raised beds have now been constructed at EDHS and there are plans for an area of ground-level planting. 
Since students are away from school in the summer, the strategy is to plant quick-growing crops like lettuce and spinach that can be harvested in late spring, then planting seeds for longer term crops like carrots, kale and potatoes that can be harvested in the fall.
It is a continuation of a longer-term effort at the high school to bring more healthy alternatives to the cafeteria, where students from the hospitality program cook and serve food.
Students with interests in farming, food and environmental issues have been involved. The art department is decorating the new picnic tables and tech students are working on a sign.
The school has received EcoSchool certification for its efforts to reduce energy consumption in the building, the installation of water bottle filling stations and the use of composting bins for the cafeteria. 
The Environmental Club, under the supervision of teacher Ross Watson, planted an herb garden in 2013 on the far side of the parking lot to supply some fresh greens to the cafeteria.
Brainstorming on possible future developments ranges from an outdoor classroom to establishment of nut trees or perennials such as raspberry plants.
Erin is part of the Wellington County Local Food Initiative known as Taste Real. As part of the county’s economic development strategy, it is building a network that includes farms, restaurants, food retailers and the growing farm tourism sector.
“By increasing access to local food and drink, and supporting innovation in processing, we are strengthening rural and urban economies, creating good jobs, and building a more sustainable future,” said Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.