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Herding sheep down the streets of Vancouver

IMG_2087There’s no experience quite like it. Seeing a group of children herd sheep down Vancouver’s suburban streets as cars quietly pull over to the side of the road to give way to the moving spectacle.

With mud on their faces and leaves in their hair, the kids pile around a campfire to toast marshmallows and talk about all the fun experiences they’ve had this Spring Break at the “farm”.IMG_2044

From planting and harvesting wheat to collecting honey from the beehives and riding and caring for the horses, the list of farm chores is extensive and novel for many of these enthusiastic learners who are experiencing growing their own food for the first time.

The air is filled with laughter and chatter, as “Farmer Robyn” is fired questions about where foods come from and how they end up in our lunchboxes. I can’t quite imagine the same excitement in a mathematics or chemistry class.

Their curious minds reach such a pitch, that they are asked to find a quiet spot in the field to sit on their own to reflect for five minutes. Dotted amongst the grass and sitting in trees, it’s extraordinary to think how much these children have learnt in just the past few hours about sustainability, food security, the environment and healthy eating.IMG_2046

Imagine the enthusiasm from students to learn if teachers incorporated this valuable knowledge into all subjects at school, not to mention the benefits to a young person’s mental health and wellbeing. A range of studies has shown that by simply allowing people to immerse themselves in a natural setting, this can reduce stress and increase relaxation and improve recuperation (Cooper Marcus and Barnes, 1999, Ulrich, 1999).

Timboon P-12 School in Victoria is doing just this. The teachers have subscribed to the national FP2P Schools Program and instead of just having agricultural studies as a single subject, the school incorporates primary industries into its entire curriculum.

“We tend to get lost sometimes in traditional school and we need to look beyond that and be innovative. Our backs were against the wall to some degree because we had declining enrolments and that was really on the back of some things like declining population in the local area and that’s gonna continue to happen. But we felt that, OK, how can we really make a difference that’s going to inspire our students to re-engage back into our school and we looked at what are some of our greatest strengths? And they’re local, they’re around us. This is our state library, if we were living in an urban environment. It’s sitting there waiting for us to tap into,” said Vice Principal, Sean Fitzpatrick, on Landline earlier this year.

Watching these little rosy-cheeked “farmers” run around in the Canadian fresh air, with dirt on their faces and eating apples picked straight from the tree is inspiring and encouraging. They talk nonstop about their adventures and try to express their feelings in any way they can.

The ‘from paddock to plate’ movement is certainly establishing itself in Vancouver and surrounds, and as we sat eating local seafood at a local grassroots restaurant on Granville Island with Vanessa Perrodou from Farm to School, it became clear.

Farm to School programs in Canada bring healthy, local food into schools by building farms on school grounds. If a school does not have the space for a kitchen, foods can be delivered to a central kitchen where they are diced and sliced and delivered to one or more schools. An alternative distribution model includes fresh local foods delivered to a school and prepared onsite and served in a portable salad bar unit.

Even Canada’s famous poutine, (a comforting combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds that we devoured while visiting farmers in Whistler) is made from locally grown potatoes!

There’s no escaping the love for local in this country.

Louise FitzRoy | Founder
From Paddock to Plate

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