Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Does the food we eat come from the grocery store? Of course not.
Agriculture Literacy Month, now held annually in Canada in March, aims to reinforce awareness, particularly among youth, that food isn't grown in grocery store aisles.
Agriculture in the Classroom-Canada started in 2012 and worked to declare one week in early March as the Canadian Agriculture Literacy Week, however due to popular demand the program has grown to last the entire month.
Students in Queens and Lunenburg County schools have the opportunity to learn about agriculture - the original source of our food - all year long, including the month of March.
"When children learn about where their food comes from, it can lead to increased interest and curiosity supporting the idea of healthy eating," said Ashley Gallant, coordinator of communications for the South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE). "We know well-nourished children do better in health, education and in life. That's the overall goal of our food program and an idea we can all get behind."
SSRCE has a food project, RootEd, that focuses on bringing good food back into education by building healthy menus in schools and making positive changes to food culture. The program focuses on four priorities: healthy menus in school cafeterias, food education in the classroom, collective local procurement from Nova Scotia farms and producers and food security in school.
Somer Bergman teaches the mixed Grades 4 and 5 class at North Queens Community School (NQCS). Her class has been working on hatching and raising chicks and learning about sustainable living.
Bergman, who has an agricultural background and keeps honey bees as a hobby, has always been interested in gardening. She recognizes that many of the students from NQCS come from farming families.
"It was important to me right from September to start incorporating some of the things they were interested in into the curriculum," said Bergman.
She started a worm composter in the class to teach the students about soil and organic matter and how these can be used for gardening. The class compost is turned into a "compost tea," then used in watering the plants in the room.
Inside the composter is a pile of worms, another area of study for the class. The teacher reports that one day her students opened up their composter and counted 333 worms, an increase of about 280 worms in just four months.
The class has also been playing the role of Mother Hen, trying its hand at incubating and hatching some eggs. Unfortunately, their first batch was not successful. However, the experience presented another learning opportunity.
A Grade 10 class was able to crack open the eggs and study them.
The class did a bit more research on what was needed for the second batch to be successful, resulting in the purchase of a humidity gauge for the incubator.
"The kids have become almost obsessed with making sure the incubator numbers are right and the humidity is perfect every day. They have taken complete ownership of the project," said Bergman.
A second batch of 18 eggs was due to hatch over the March break. Meanwhile, the teacher noted, "The students have come to the conclusion that farming is hard. It's just not physical work, but it takes a lot of effort, science and knowledge to know how to care for animals and plants."
But many are warming up to the possibilities farming presents too. "I like learning about how the worms can compost our food. I didn't realize that they could reproduce so quickly. I like the anticipation and excitement from having the chick eggs, not really knowing exactly when they are going to hatch, and checking on how they are growing under the light," said NQCS student Lauren Ware.
South Queens Middle School recently purchased a garden tower and students from all grades have been a part of growing and maintaining the garden, whether it was putting together the tower, planting the seeds or watering them, according to the foods elective teacher, Rebecca Reeves-Sheffield.
Some of the fresh greens and herbs are now being used in the cafeteria. Kale that students had planted has survived the winter and now is being harvested and used to make kale chips.
"It is very interesting to see and it is great that a lot of students have a hand in the project," said Reeves-Sheffield. "They really take pride in knowing that they have had some part to play."
Sarah Haughn-Fancy is the Grades 1 and 2 teacher at New Germany Elementary School who has been involved in the 4-H organization for the past 20 years. The school has been piloting a program called Little Green Sprouts that has the students planting, maintaining and harvesting a classroom garden.
The students have been growing several different foods, including sunflowers, beans, peas and buckwheat.
"It's been a great experience for everyone," she said. "It's very hands-on and engaging for the kids."