The Delta school district is partnering with an innovative urban farming business to launch a first-of-its-kind agricultural program in B.C.
Beginning this September, the district will begin farming some of its underutilized properties to grow an array of artisan quality fruit and vegetables, using some of the products in school cafeterias, while donating others to the food bank.
Students will be directly involved, having a hands-on role in the urban farming program.
The district consulted with Kwantlen Polytechnic University to help shape the classroom component, but when it comes to the growing, the district has teamed up with SOLEFood Street Farms, co-founded by farmer, author and advocate Michael Ableman.
"Delta is already doing great work and if we can add to that, enhance it, and maybe even have a SOLEFood component as part of it, it would be incredibly powerful as an educational tool to have something on a farm production scale for students," said Ableman.
"Not that we're trying to turn students into farmers necessarily, but more because we believe everyone at some point in their lives should be exposed to how food comes to them, learn how it's grown and distributed," he told the Optimist at his unique urban farm next to B.C.
The idea had its origins last year when long-time Delta resident Mike Schneider, who is planning to set up a website promoting back yard gardening co-ops, approached superintendent Dianne Turner about having a greater sustainable agriculture component in the Delta curriculum. From there came a garden project that saw students growing vegetables on 55 raised garden beds at 15 school mini-farms.
The district notes that soon 700 pickling cucumbers will be planted and will be cared for over the summer by senior secondary and Kwantlen students. The cucumbers will be harvested in mid-summer and stored for pickling in September as a part of Project Pickle.
Saying he wanted to see how student appreciation of farming, as well as healthy eating, could be expanded, Schneider was intrigued with the urban farms run by SOLEFood, including one behind the Astoria Hotel in the Downtown Eastside and one in a large vacant lot beside B.C. Place.
So Schneider, Turner and school board chair Laura Dixon visited Ableman's farm this year to talk about a partnership opportunity, utilizing Ableman's expertise and wealth of experience when it comes to forward-thinking farming.
Established over a year ago, the SOLEFood farm by the stadium is an attention-grabbing site with more than 3,000 planter boxes.
The farm, which employs residents of the Downtown Eastside and sells to local restaurants, is an example that good food can be grown anywhere, including dense urban settings.
Turner said at least 10 per cent of the district's 350-plus acres aren't being utilized, so there's lots of potential opportunities for farming. The district is also exploring other partnership opportunities with the Corporation of Delta.
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