Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Things Are Growing at Windermere Secondary

This week, Quest volunteer, Talia, and I took a little trip to Windermere Secondary School in East Vancouver. I had heard amazing things about their gardening and farming project, and wanted to check it out firsthand. Two students there, Brendan and Cassandra, were kind enough to give us a tour of their facility.

I’m not sure what your high school courtyard was like, but mine certainly did not look like this.

Brendan and Cassandra said that this garden was originally a student initiative started in 2007. A few years ago, a grant request was submitted for the composter, and it went from there. Only three schools in the Lower Mainland were recipients of the grant. The composter aerates the organic material by turning it and heating it, thus speeding up the decomposition. The students use the soil for their own planter beds and will give some away to farms in the area if they have extra.

One of the first things I noticed was that the garden housed a small hive of mason bees (whose importance was outlined in our last post) and lots of flowers to try to attract more to the area.

The garden included several cedar planter beds filled with various vegetables, including kale and lettuce. There were also quite a few garlic plants, which the students will dry later for their use.

Not far away stood a greenhouse built entirely by Windermere students. The greenhouse had an aquaponics system, which is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. Aquaponics “combines the two practices to form a co-dependent farming ecosystem that capitalizes on the benefits of aquaculture and hydroponics and minimizes the negative effects of each”. In this section, the students are growing lemon cucumber and lettuce. The fish in their system are currently goldfish, but Cassandra mentioned the students were looking to get tilapia eventually. Talia and I were amazed that these plants were thriving with no soil in the beds, only gravel. The students also had a fair-sized citrus tree, which had been grafted five times. It now bears five different types of fruit, including limes and tangerines. Last but not least, Brendan and Cassandra pointed out a beautiful gardenia plant, which is their teacher’s personal project.

The students spend on average about 5 hours per week in the garden, watering and tending to the plants. More time is required for replanting.

All of the food that is grown in the garden is used in Windermere’s school cafeteria. This allows the students to see the full cycle of food production: from garden to plate. Quest may even be able to benefit from some of the extra produce this year!

Thanks for the tour Brendan and Cassandra!

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