The first harvest at Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) yielded both smiles and produce as students, staff and community members pitched in to get everything in before the cold weather.
“It’s been a huge collaboration,” said volunteer Simran Lehal. “There was a mix of students who planted in the spring and the forestry class who helped harvest, and both Jackie Milne and Helen Green came in to lend their expertise.”
The school garden – located in raised beds in the parking lot in front of the school – was funded by a grant from the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI), but was entirely locally driven.
The Sept. 24 harvest saw a big wheelbarrow of kale, three big bowls of tomatoes, five cabbages, a milk crate full of potatoes, squash and a multitude of herbs pulled from the ground and ready to be processed for storage throughout the winter.
“We’ve had a great response from the students, staff and parents, and the DEA,” said Lehal. “It’s really nice that the students and community have been so respectful of the gardens throughout the summer, too.”
The summer holidays did pose a slight challenge for the ardent gardeners, as there were no students around to tend the beds over the warmer months. However, Lehal said a few individuals stepped up to take over the watering and weeding for the season.
“Heather Pedjase and Jan McNeely really took care of things all summer,” she said. “They were fantastic, and this was a real team effort.”
With all the crops now in, Lehal said the students would turn their attention to processing and preserving the food for later use.
While ITI did fund the purchase of a dehydrator – useful for making kale chips, among other things – she said there were already herbs hanging from the rafters in the school’s greenhouse, and she looked forward to using some of the other foods in the high school’s kitchen.
According to Helen Green, a Hay River food proponent and one of the organizers of the DJSS garden, the bigger picture is about introducing youth to concepts of local food security and agriculture that they can then carry forward with them as they move out of school.
“We did practical things, like getting food growing in the classroom,” she said. “We got the interest going and, then when the weather got warmer in June, we could move some things outside. There was already some interest in the community to do an outside garden and DJ was the perfect spot.”
Green said the idea was to keep the food organic and healthy, and to show students how relatively easy it is to produce their own food in a sustainable way.
“We sort of had to plant it and then leave it for the summer, but that’s the challenge of school gardens, anyway,” she said.
Green and Milne are also paid by ITI to travel to other communities in the South Slave to help them set up their own school gardens, including just across the river on the Hay River Reserve. While Green said the soil quality is slightly poorer there than in the planters at DJSS, the garden will get better every year with increased compost use and care.
“It’s just been really successful,” she said of the DJSS harvest. “Everyone was so excited to come back to school and get to it.”
— Sarah Ladik