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Grow at Home

July 16, 2020

Author: Marissa Lustri, RD, MPH, Program Assistant at Nutrition Connections, in collaboration with Amy Donaldson, OSNP Program Coordinator, and Erin Mutch, PMEd, BEd, BSc, HBOR Learning Coordinator for Environmental Education, Science and Experiential Learning at TVDSB.

Food security was identified as an area of concern for families in Thames Valley in the early spring by the Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) and the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). With the uncertainties of COVID-19, the OSNP and the TVDSB wanted to equip students with the materials they needed to grow their own food at home as a possible step towards self-sustainability. In order to make this a reality, the OSNP secured grant funding, some of which they allocated to TVDSB which utilized the grant funding to launch the Grow at Home project.

The Grow at Home project was designed to align with the TVDSB’s three strategic priorities;

  • provide equitable access to programs and services;
  • to design “innovative learning experiences that promote excellence in student achievement and well-being”; and
  • to maintain relationships with families.

The two key players who made this project a success were Erin Mutch, the Learning Coordinator for the TVDSB, and Amy Donaldson, the OSNP coordinator.

On three consecutive Fridays, Mutch and Donaldson distributed seedlings in various communities in conjunction with a larger produce box delivery program. They worked closely with a group of dedicated ONSP volunteers, organized by Donaldson, who collected the produce boxes and seedlings and delivered them contact-free to students’ porches.

For families who did not have their own yard, and to ensure all students who were interested could participate in this opportunity, 50 cherry tomatoes and snacking peppers were repotted into containers to be grown on students’ balconies. “We are very pleased to engage families in learning together, while addressing food security needs. My hope is that families know how much we care about both student achievement and their well-being” says Mutch.

In addition to the seedlings and produce boxes delivered to students, Mutch designed online age-specific resources linked to the Science, Literacy, and Social Studies curriculum to further support students and their families gardening at home. The resources can be found on the “Explore at Home” website.

This food literacy initiative has allowed hundreds of students in the Thames Valley area to grow tomatoes, peppers and their own greens at home. “It really allows students the opportunity to learn where their food comes from, and the effort that goes into growing food” says Donaldson.

In addition to providing funding for the Grow at Home project, the OSNP grant was also used to launch a spin-off project at five local schools in Thames Valley. This branch of the initiative was commissioned to get school gardens up and growing for the spring and summer. The OSNP’s grant funds were spent on a variety of seedlings for the gardens that were then planted by volunteers following public health guidelines for community gardens.

The community in Thames Valley came together to help ensure the gardens’ success. Local families volunteered to participate in the gardens’ maintenance over the summer months, which is being voluntarily coordinated by local educators. “I am excited to see how the school gardens fair over the summer, and to hear about the success stories from the children growing their own tomatoes, peppers and herbs!” says Donaldson.

“This year, our summer gardening initiative has had its best response ever! Parents have commented that they are so grateful for this opportunity to be outdoors, working in the garden with their children to and to remain connected to the school community during the school closure. It is a beautiful example of giving back to the community, as the food grown will be used by families in our school who are in need of fresh vegetables” says Catherine Tansley, Kindergarten teacher at Eagle Heights Public School.