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This article was published 26/1/2017 (1498 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One educator’s idea to teach his class where food comes from is turning into a new $6-million agricultural-learning centre.
Seven Oaks School Division is building a state-of-the-art, farm-themed centre on 50 acres in the RM of West St. Paul.
The site will include a 25,000-square-foot building and an outdoor classroom. It will have sprawling vegetable gardens, with plans for a tree nursery to grow trees for replanting on school grounds for shade groves. A barn and a corral are part of the construction in hopes of eventually housing animals.
Also planned is an indigenous garden with crops indigenous people grew, such as squash, beans and corn, before Europeans arrived.
Construction is to begin this summer.
It all began when teacher Simon Hon at Amber Trails School tore up a chunk of sod in front of the school near Garden City and got middle years students growing kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and beets, and in large quantities.
Hon has been an organic gardener for 13 years and was a grower with the Landless Farmer’s Collective from which people bought shares in exchange for weekly deliveries of produce. He did the same with kids at Amber Trails, with parents buying shares of their kids’ produce.
Hon’s kids got so into gardening that they volunteered to weed, water and harvest vegetables through their summer holidays.
"It’s about sustainability, creating local food systems, decreasing food miles, the consciousness of knowing where food comes from," Hon said.
They even made money, with the proceeds invested back into the farm program.
"Very often in Seven Oaks one teacher will do something, and we’ll say that’s really worth doing with other kids," explained Brian O’Leary, Seven Oaks superintendent.
O’Leary said he doesn’t know of a similar agricultural-learning centre in Canada, but there may be some in the United States.
No outside financing is required. The school division will use proceeds from the recent sale of its maintenance shop on McPhillips Street to cover the cost of the learning centre. About 10 acres of the new site will be dedicated to the maintenance shop and school buses.
"We would like to give Winnipeg kids, who often don’t know where their food comes from, the experience of growing food directly," said O’Leary.
Hon’s project has also introduced vegetables into kids’ diets in a whole new way.
"When they grow food, they become interested and passionate about eating vegetables," said O’Leary. "We had kids this summer harvesting carrots. They’d hose them off and eat raw carrots out of ground, and they thought that was absolutely great."
The farm learning centre is a natural fit for West St. Paul. Seven Oaks School Division services the rural municipality, and 18 of its 38 buses are used in the RM.
"It will be contributing to our tax base, as well as providing employment opportunities," said Mayor Bruce Henley. "It’s a good story, a new direction that education is taking."
Henley envisions the site possibly developing into a mini-version of the Fort Whyte Alive conservation centre. Part of Seven Oaks’s agreement with the RM is to be inclusive with the community by providing public space.
"People could see a frozen skating pond in winter. There could be some community plots for gardening and a trail system," Henley said. "We want to be a good neighbour to a good development."
The learning centre is on undeveloped agricultural property. Seven Oaks has acquired the property, obtained conditional use and zoning approval, and now is completing design of the facility. O’Leary said the learning centre will hopefully open in summer of 2018. It is located just outside the Perimeter Highway on Grassmere Road.