Plant the Seed of The School Garden: In Conversation with Green Thumbs for Growing Kids Program Director Sunday Harrison

Sunday Harrison

What was the inspiration for the Green Thumbs program?

Originally the inspiration stemmed from wanting my own child to have a hands-on gardening and nature program as part of his childhood. What I wanted for him was the opportunity to explore and connect with nature through food gardening because it was such a pleasure for me, as a child and much later as an adult, to learn about plants and gardening.

The garden is where nature meets culture, and where I think kids start to care about the environment. The absolute joy they express at the smallest things we might take for granted – a worm, a snail – gives us, the adults, our own new found sense of wonder and curiosity. Early exposure to soil helps kids understand the source of life as being the natural world – sun, soil, rain, and plants – and to grasp this with all of their five senses, experientially.

Why is growing food in a community important?

Food production, until quite recently, was much closer to home. School gardens are not a new idea – they were the norm in Ontario earlier in the last century, and are common in less-developed nations as part of food security. Here in downtown Toronto, the high-density urban environment separates us from our food, but even smaller towns and rural schools are full of kids who don’t know where food comes from, because industrial-scale agriculture is no more accessible to kids than any other factory. So kids are quite surprised when we say that healthy soil makes healthy food – in fact, they are sometimes surprised that soil is in the equation at all. Everything purchased at the grocery store is free of dirt!

What are some of the practical benefits of school gardens?

Practical benefits include physical activity, hands-on learning, and increased mental health, along with a better diet. Fresh fruits and veggies are so important, but most of us are not getting enough of these powerful disease-fighting foods. Children, especially those from families on low incomes, are often not getting enough micro-nutrients found in fresh foods. Even the small amounts that they get in the school garden can make a difference. The ripple effect is that they develop a taste for these foods, and start to request them at home and in the school cafeteria. I’ve had many parents comment that it’s the school garden that got their kid to eat vegetables, and many times I’ve observed kids trying new foods in the garden that I doubt they would eat if presented on a plate indoors. Curiosity and peer modelling help kids eat better, and best of all is they’re having fun – they’re not doing it because they have to. The nurturing


Farah Wadia and students standing in river.

“A water what?” was the response I’d get whenever I introduced my grade 8 students to the concept of a watershed.

student project of towers constructed from water bottles with a rainbow painted on brick wall in background

The Ontario EcoSchools program is one of the most effective programs for addressing ETFO’s priority of care and protection of the environment.