At Meadowridge, we celebrate over cultural meals, we sit down and we connect over lunches, and we involve students – through gardening, through inquiry and through instruction – in food production and food waste reduction. Over time, students learn to appreciate the role food plays in their lives and the lives of others, as well as the impacts it has on our society, our environment, and our world.
This type of inquiry sparks all sorts of action, and people across our community, students and teachers alike, are taking big steps to ensure everyone has access to, and can experience, the goodness of food.
As one of the 46 students who helped build a wall against hunger, a campaign that collected a whopping 2,260lbs of food, Ray (Grade 4) has a special appreciation for the goodness food can bring. And while the campaign was no doubt a highlight of the nine-year-old’s year, it was not an entirely new endeavor: Ray has been working with the food bank in some way for about five years now. Back in Kindergarten, he and his classmates helped by making sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly, as he recalls) and packing snacks for kids in need.
“We did that for about two grades,” he nods. Over time, his commitment and acts of service only grew. Ray continued to support the food bank in class while also learning more about it on his own from home. Through books and movies and Ted Talks and documentaries, the curious learner learned everything he could about food scarcity and its effects. He couldn’t understand how, with all the food around him, some people still didn’t have enough to eat and drink. “I just wanted to help,” he remembers. Over the next five years, Ray continued to not only learn more, but also, through involvement with a local public speaking club, learn new ways to share all these things he was learning.
Now in Grade 4, and with many years of learning and speech competitions behind him, Ray decided it was time to use his talent for good. “My speaking abilities were getting better by the minute, and I wanted to use them to make a difference – a big difference, a little difference, any difference! – that would combine my talent with my passion.” Fresh off the Build A Wall Against Hunger campaign, Ray learned of an upcoming public speaking competition and knew it was time. Inspired by his learning back at Meadowridge, Ray penned a powerful speech he called – what else? – ‘A Wall Against Hunger’ “Hunger isn’t a problem where we don’t have enough food in the world…” he began in a bold statement, “hunger is a logistics problem.”
On average and often without realizing it, British Columbians throw away one out of every four bags of groceries that we buy. A brown banana here, a bruised apple there… they add up. Thankfully, so too do the small steps we can take to reduce the amount of food we throw away. Established in 2018, the zero-waste taskforce aims to implement these small steps to achieve one big goal: to become a zero-waste school.
“The idea of food or water scarcity feels nonexistent in Canada.”
Led by Mr. James Willms, the taskforce began by first determining what food and how much of it we as a school were throwing away, something which required the six teacher team to sift through lots and lots of garbage and waste. Not ideal. And yet, it was during this exercise that the team noticed some patterns and uncovered some key food waste culprits. Mr. Willms explains that students who were, “too distracted, too excited for recess, or who didn’t like their food,” almost always threw away big portions of their meals. This realization informed and inspired Mr. Willms’ teachings and strategies. “The idea of food or water scarcity feels nonexistent in Canada,” Mr. Willms explains about students’ willingness to throw away food, “so it’s hard to generate care when there is so much of it.” To make real to students the not-real-to-them realities of food scarcity, Mr. Willms involves students in food production and shows them the people and processes and operations behind the food they might take for granted and throw away. Mr. Willms smiles, remembering a few classes in particular who learned this lesson the hard way. After months of tending to a salad garden, students were shocked when they had barely enough spinach to feed even one class. “They suddenly realized what it took to grow all the spinach they saw at the store, and all the spinach at the stores just like it, and then at Costco, too…”. Students marveled, learning not to take that little bit of spinach, or any food, for granted.
“It is important to draw students back and connect them to an actual experience.”
“Can I eat this berry…?” This question might cause great panic for some, but for an expert like Mr. Willms, it’s a sign that students are learning and exploring how he hopes. When out in the north forest, seeing its many bushes and trees and weeds and berries, Mr. Willms actually hopes these types of questions will come up. It's these types of questions which help students see beyond the berry and see the intricacies of the forest instead. That strange berry becomes a salmonberry (safe to eat) or a huckleberry (safe too) or an elderberry (do not eat!). The North Forest, an entire ecosystem, is filled with these living things that we can learn from. During walks through the forest, students learn to identify species, spot mutualistic relationships, and forage. Mr. Willms welcomes all types of questions when foraging, of which he gets all sorts: what if a bird has touched it? if it has been rained on? what about mushrooms? (For the record and to be safe, mushrooms are always a no). As knowledge about the forest grows, so too does students respect, appreciation and care for it. Caring for the forest is a big part of foraging, and something fostered and taught often by Mr. Willms. When out in the woods, students are encouraged and reminded to take only what’s necessary. “I always draw it back to what if everyone took that much?” Mr. Willms shares of this. “It’s important to draw students back and connect them to an actual experience, where they see how the forest would become decimated if we weren’t thoughtful and took too much.”
“We wanted to help.”
For the second year in a row, the Meadowridge Growing Food for the Food Bank Club has worked to plant, harvest and provide the food bank with freshly grown produce. This year, however, it is taking on a new life. Same goodness, same learning, same outcome… only, this time, it is all student-led. Three students, Riz and Ali (Grade 11) and Joel (Grade 9), have been working since the summer to plan with the food bank, work with teachers, and round up volunteers. The pandemic, the students share, has also added increased complexity to an already complex plan. With “very limited” growing experience, the team relied heavily on the expertise of Mr. Willms and Mr. Schofield, who shared their time, experience, and talent to get things going. The club leaders then reached out to the Friends In Need Food Bank and Ms. Boyd was quick to get back to them. She helped Riz, Ali and Joel understand the types of foods the food bank would benefit from the most, while Mr. Willms helped them to understand what would be the most feasible to grow. Whatever matched, they grew; “this meant mostly lettuce, beans, scallions, onions, broccoli and mesclun,” nods Riz. With sessions happening at lunch, and what the team guesses is about 15 to 20 consistent volunteers, things got moving pretty quick after that. While waiting for their seedlings to grow, the students also cleaned up around campus by picking up garbage, removing invasive blackberry bushes, and helping with the forest’s regrowth. With two donations to the food bank already made, the team feels accomplished, especially since its donations that they themselves planted and tended to and harvested. A full circle. As for the club leaders, they not only have a new understanding about the plant cycle, growing conditions, giving back and forest restoration, but also student management: “We now understand where the teachers are coming from when we’re not listening,” they confess, laughing about the time it takes to get student volunteers organized.
“Everything is made in house as much as possible, which not only reduces packaging, but also preservatives.”
None of the education, plans or strategies to become a zero-waste school would be possible without SAGE Dining being on board. As the dining service providers to Meadowridge School – that’s 662 students to feed plus over 100 staff! – they could contribute to many pounds of pollution and waste. Instead, they support our school goals in significant ways, always working with our teachers and administrators and their own team to create the least amount of waste and pollution as possible. “Everything we do,” shares Food Services Director Mr. Kyle Turnbull, “is measured, weighed and tracked.” Lots of attention is paid so that the least amount of food possible is thrown away, from keeping an eye on to what students like and don’t like, to weighing product ingredients at every stage in production. Mr. Turnbull, for his part, is always “taking notes and changing menu items” to accommodate tastes. SAGE Dining also supports and embraces the zero-waste approach at our school, and is constantly sourcing new packaging providers to keep a fully compostable line-up. They have also, notably, removed all single-serve food items and beverages from the cafeteria. “Everything is made in house as much as possible, which not only reduces packaging, but also preservatives,” Mr. Turnbull nods. Keeping the menu in season is also an important part of their approach, ordering locally and in season as often as they can. Right now, with squashes in season, kids have been gobbling up lots of them, including a more popular favourite just served at our Christmas Feast: brown sugar roasted butternut squash. Scrumptious and sustainable? Count us in!
“People take different things away from gardening at different points in their lives, the important thing is to provide the experience.”
Mrs. Stacy Banack admits her first garden was a lesson in “trial and error—” an endeavor that took as many mistakes as it did research and reading. Tough as it was, it was also a lot of fun and hugely rewarding. She liked it. Seeing her then three-year-old son eat a zucchini fresh from that garden only confirmed her growing suspicion… she was on to something. “If you want your kids to eat vegetables,” she shares, “just plant a garden!” Watching her own two children help out in the family garden inspired Mrs. Banack to get her students involved at school too. In class and during clubs, Mrs. Banack has brought her classes to the gardens to teach them a range of lessons, like how to plant different vegetables, winterize a garden, or reach optimal greenhouse soil conditions. This year, Mrs. Banack is hosting the Grade 6 Gardening Club, a group of 14 students who meet once a week to not only dig and plant and tend and harvest, but also – with these skills – serve. Like in the winter, when the group was tasked with pulling all the dead plants and weeds from the gardens (“a dirty thankless job”) and topping up the soil, or with plating tulip and daffodil bulbs for their classmates to enjoy when they bloom in the spring (“a campus beautification”). Now, the club is putting their manpower behind the Growing Food for the Food Bank Club by planting seeds to be later harvested and donated. For Mrs. Banack, these service initiatives benefit the student gardeners just as much as they benefit the community overall. Involving students in the process of growing food helps them to see that interconnectedness, how it is connected to environmental stewardship, our health, and social justice issues. “People take different things away from gardening at different points in their life,” she concludes, “the important thing is to provide the experience.”
“The people, both the clients and the volunteers, are wonderful and colourful.”
Every Friday morning, Ms. Eva Boyd heads to the fridge, swings it open, and scans the shelves for milk and eggs. A fairly typical morning… only, it’s not her fridge she’s looking in, nor a family-sized portion she’s looking for. Instead, she checks huge, industrial-sized fridges for milk and eggs for dozens of local people and families. As a volunteer at the Friends In Need Food Bank, this is all part (and just the start) of a normal day. After counting over these many crates and cartons of milk and eggs, Ms. Boyd heads into the front room to assembly bags of canned goods and other perishables, a task that keeps her going until her shift’s end. It’s a busy few hours with lots of lifting and sorting and running around, but Ms. Boyd enjoys every moment of it. “The people, both the clients and the volunteers, are wonderful and colourful,” she smiles. And while it was a member of the Board who asked her to join, it’s the mission of the food bank that’s made her stay (and what has also kept her volunteering on the frontlines long after her required hours were up!). It is the Friends In Need Food Bank’s mission to ensure that no one in our community ever goes hungry, a call which Ms. Boyd believes in as not only a board member, donor, and frontline volunteer, but also as a member of the Meadowridge community, a community who supports the food bank often and in many ways. “I’m incredibly proud,” Ms. Boyd shares of the school’s most recent efforts, a Build A Wall Against Hunger campaign, “it was such a neat and proactive approach.” With that campaign wrapped up, Ms. Boyd has now been working closely with Meadowridge’s Growing Food for the Food Bank Club and is helping the student-led team to understand how to make their efforts the most effective.