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School garden program faces financial drought

A program at more than 60 Vancouver public schools that aims to teach schoolchildren about food is living on borrowed time. Think…

By David Nixon , in Environment , on November 2, 2014 Tags: , , , ,

Sun sets on David Thompson Elementary's half-acre garden plot
Funding could end for plots like this one at David Thompson Elementary

A program at more than 60 Vancouver public schools that aims to teach schoolchildren about food is living on borrowed time.

Think and Eat Green @ School (TEGS) was started three years ago with $1 million dollars in seed money from the provincial government. The funding runs out in March and there is no word yet on whether more will come.

Despite uncertainty about funding, organizers are determined to continue.

“We’re working hard to make sure that we’re not abandoning schools and things will continue to grow and evolve,” said Matthew Kempshaw, a UBC alumni working on the program.

TEGS has been a huge educational asset for Vancouver schools, according Alejandro Rojas, the program’s founder.

He has been bringing his students’ research at UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems into community and school projects for the past 15 years.

Bad timing

Public school students put up signs to protect their hard-earned produce.
Public school students are anxious to protect their hard-earned produce

A key part of the program’s success has been community partnerships with groups like the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC). SPEC has maintained seven successful school gardens, and will continue to do so.

Successful community partners like SPEC are one of the greatest legacies of TEGS, says Kempshaw. “We’re looking at how we can support that network moving forward.”

But the way forward is uncertain. Founder Rojas is retiring, which has made funding prospects for TEGS difficult.

“There was an issue of timing,” said Rojas, “The new colleagues that are replacing me are too junior to compete for large grants with much success, so they need to re-arrange the network.”

The program partners will meet in February to figure out how to carry on once funding ends.

“We don’t know how it will look,” said Rojas, “but the participants are convinced that they have to continue with or without funding.”

Educational push

If funding doesn’t continue, organizers would need to cut from areas like $2,000 school grants for food-related programming. Last year 32 schools received these grants.

Rojas hopes the program’s last round of funding will reach more than twice as many. To do this, TEGS now requires schools to pair up when applying for funding.

Along with food programs supported by TEGS, organizers would also like to see a focus on initiatives like composting, which haven’t caught on as successfully as school gardens.

“We’re trying to connect the whole cycle from preparing it, eating it, all the way back to the garden and composting it,” said Kempshaw.