CHARLOTTETOWN – May 17, 2017 – A simple project to build small picnic tables equipped with seed trays, launched two years ago, continues to sprout by leaps and bounds. It has now extended into a Charlottetown entrepreneurial class and could soon become part of a project designed to meet curriculum needs in all of the province’s French first-language high schools.
Stéphane Blanchard, youth economic development officer with RDÉE Prince Edward Island, is completely astonished at the incredibly journey his little project has taken in such a brief period.
It was back in 2015 that he began this project with The Good Workers Youth Services Co-op in collaboration with the Réseau Santé en français Î.-P.-É. (PEI French Health Network). The original objective was to give the teenaged members of the co-op an opportunity to build small picnic tables and give them as gifts to the six Francophone preschool centres of the province. The youth were then to show the little children how to plant seeds, care for the sprouts, transplant them and finally produce vegetables and herbs. This original program, known as “Gardens for the Future”, sought to promote healthy eating among children.
Last year, the project was expanded thanks to a contribution from Farm Credit Canada’s Expression Fund. The RDÉE was able to establish small vegetable gardens in each of the preschool centres, again with assistance from the youth services co-op’s members.
“The students are creating a simple entrepreneurial opportunity by taking a product – essentially seeds, soil and a little planter – that produces tomato plants or other vegetable plants, to be sold in June to any interested gardener,” explains the development officer. “We also explore social entrepreneurship; a portion of the production will be given to the community and the generated profit will essentially become a social profit since the school cafeteria will be able to use some of the vegetables, herbs and other products to improve the quality of its meals.”
The Grade 10 students then got children from the local preschool centre to participate in the class project by showing them how to plant seeds in little planters.
The French Language School Board and the PEI Department of Education quickly heard about this great learning and knowledge-sharing endeavour and would like to integrate it into all of the province’s French schools. Discussions are well underway.
At the same time, RDÉE PEI is working with La Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin and its six regional committees on the “School-Community Gardens” project, funded by Canada 150. This project seeks to considerably expand the original 2015 concept to ensure that full-fledged gardens can be established at all six school-community centres as learning tools for the children and as a source of fresh produce for school cafeterias.
The RDÉE recently hired university student Jean-Phylippe Provencher to help get the project off the ground.
“A marriage of all these partners will help children understand the importance of healthy eating and will help them to see where our food comes from,” notes Blanchard. “This unifying project can’t help but bring together the school and the community and vice-versa, all while showing youth the entrepreneurial dimension of such an initiative.”
And it all started with a single seed…