Planting the Seeds for Food Literacy

Start with a Seedling program returns to Prince Street School

The kindergarten students at Prince Street School in Charlottetown are in for a special treat this school year. The Start with a Seedling program is back after a one-year hiatus. This hands-on, intergenerational, food and garden program is aimed at enhancing food literacy and connecting kids with the food they eat.

“We’re hoping to do a lot of the same activities that we’ve done in the past because they’ve proven quite successful,” said Marilyn Carey, the program’s new volunteer coordinator. With a teaching background, passion for food and gardening, and children of her own at Prince Street School, Carey seems a natural fit for the role.

Joining Carey in an organizational capacity are Jennifer Whittaker, Jane Farquharson and Chie Xu. Whittaker has been with the program since its inception in 2014, and brings a wealth of knowledge from her past involvement.

“The trips to the Legacy Garden were a big highlight,” Whittaker said, referring to one of the program’s many hands-on activities. “So the kids were able to kind of play in the dirt and able to harvest vegetables. They harvested carrots, they were able to plant garlic, they had a lot of fun just being in charge of digging a hole, putting the garlic in it, watering it with their little watering cans.”

The Start With a Seedling Program introduces students to gardening and food skills through hands-on experiences//Submitted photo.

Other activities from past years have included planting seedlings in the classroom, having local farmers visit the classroom, visiting farms, looking for signs of spring, and the ultimate in hands-on learning, a cooking day. “Kids just love getting something to do, so when you tell them to chop this up, or cut this up or rip this up with your hands, just touching the vegetables is really fun for the kids,” said Whittaker.

The Start with a Seedling program was born out of a UPEI-based research initiative spearheaded by Dr. Lyndsay Moffat, a professor with the Faculty of Education. Her intent was to examine the impacts of food literacy programming in primary-aged children through experiential learning that included interaction with community volunteers from different age groups.

Moffat developed the Start With a Seedling program and received the green light from Prince Street School to implement it in the three kindergarten classes. The program proved to be a hit amongst all involved – the kids, the teachers, and the community volunteers. Moffat was unable to take the lead for a second year, however she reached out to Whittaker and together the pair worked to access some grant funding for Whittaker to manage the program.

While food literacy remains an important element of the program, the connections the program enables are equally valuable. These include connections to the people who grow healthy, local food, to the places where food is grown, and to others in the community that can share their food knowledge and skills.

“We did get a grant from the Seniors’ Secretariat this year, so we’re still recruiting volunteers, but a lot of past volunteers have stepped up and we have some new volunteers, seniors, and people of all ages really,” said Carey.

The volunteers, who have come to be known as the garden buddies, commit to one or two mornings a month during the school year. Each child is paired with the same garden buddy throughout the year to encourage a deeper level of comfort and connection. The volunteers help guide the kids through the assigned activities each month, ensuring everyone is participating and working safely.

Volunteers of all ages sign up to be ‘garden buddies’ in the Start With a Seedling program. Submitted Photo

With the Start a Seedling program reignited this year, the organizing team is keen to build on the energy and momentum. “We’re in the process of writing this grant for the Department of Agriculture to expand the program, but really it’s more like scale up the program to Grade 3 kids, so the Grade 3 kids we’re aiming at are the kids that were in the original Seedling Program,” said Whittaker.

When asked what impact the program has had on those that have completed it, Carey relates a story involving her neighbours’ son. “William [who was in the first Seedlings program], was just here and he has been speaking the praises of it to my son who has just gone into kindergarten and so when William was telling Gavin about what he should be looking forward to in kindergarten it was first garden buddies and second the end of year field trip.”

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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