When Westshore Centre for Learning teacher Debbie Lodewijk started a gardening program at the school, the initial response was rather mild.
“When we first introduced the idea two years ago there was some resistance from the students. ‘You can’t make me go outside’ and ‘I don’t want to,’” she recalled. “Every single reluctant student over the last two years has turned a corner and they’re really involved in the project.”
While the garden at the Sooke Road facility has been in place for many years, it was recently revitalized and now boasts 18 fruit trees, a brand new greenhouse, a mason bee colony and 48 new garden boxes built by the school’s carpentry program.
Food grown at the garden – which includes leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and a variety of berries – goes to the students themselves, as well as the culinary program at Royal Bay secondary. Eight garden boxes are also used by the YMCA/YWCA and can be rented by contacting them.
But first and foremost, the program presents students with an excellent learning opportunity.
“I realized last year that there were kids who didn’t even know how to hold a rake or a shovel,” Lodewijk said.
“(It’s) life skills … and it’s an opportunity for stress and anxiety management. A lot of kids have identified that they feel so much better after working outside.”
Some students have even started projects of their own at home.
“I would never have even been a gardener. (Now) I’m starting garden boxes in my backyard,” said Carlos Costa. “It’s a little side hobby.”
“I enjoy planting something and watching it grow. You just see something that you’re actually making. You’re helping the ground and you’re making organic food for your families and communities,” added Brianna Halliday. “I tried gardening (before) but I wasn’t very good at it. Now that I’m in this class I’m more successful in gardening.”
Community members looking to support the school’s efforts will have a great opportunity to do that on May 13 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) through a plant sale fundraiser at the school (2139 Sooke Rd). Large varieties of veggie starts and berry plants will be for sale by donation.