Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Welcome to the outdoor classroom installation

This is my first blog post for “Threads Sown & Grown, Woven & Given,” the title of the outdoor classroom installation series that is central to my PhD research into the relationships between gardens and education.

Outdoor classroom installation (bottom right) at The Orchard Garden, UBC. July 18, 2012

First of all, for readers of this blog who live in the Vancouver area, I invite you to visit The Orchard Garden on the UBC campus to experience this site-specific installation as you might any artistic installation: by moving through it in situ with an open, attentive mind and mindful body. Come by any time or contact me in advance if you would like me to join you in the garden. [If you’re interested in learning more about earth art as a form of site-specific installation art, this is the time to visit Vancouver’s Van Dusen garden].

Secondly, since this blog is an important space for documenting an ephemeral arts-based research project, I invite you participate in the process by sharing your own comments, thoughts, links, questions, and so on. I will moderate comments to ensure that there is no identifying information and that all postings are respectful. Contributions to the blog will form part of my “data” for my doctoral research, and may be included in my dissertation, publications, and presentations.

Finally, what is this project about? In future blog posts I will write more about the historical, material, and theoretical “threads” of this research and installations. In very general terms, however, through an arts-based research process, I inquire – with loving criticality – into the relationships between gardening and education, and specifically the concept of “garden (or nature) as teacher.” Together with teacher education students at UBC’s Faculty of Education, I explore how a garden is an enclosure, much like a classroom perhaps. It frames what is known and knowable. But what else is possible?

Desks growing in neat rows. July 9, 2012
The first phase of this installation series, “Threads Sown & Grown,” creates this frame: it is where I planted a classroom with 24 student desks and one teacher’s desk, all out of flax. The walls are framed with cedar posts, wheat & barley, and tall bean plants. Windows – still in progress – will depict a montage of historical school gardening images, including more problematic contexts such as Nazi Germany and residential schooling.

The second phase, “Threads Woven & Given,” explores what else is possible. Beginning,in September, I will harvest the flax and, alongside teacher education students, create a linen textile installation that will be returned to the garden in the spring as a regenerative gift. Central to figuring out how to turn flax into linen will be collaborating with the incredible Urban Weaver project.

I will try to conclude each post with a question or two. Here’s a big one: Does teaching with gardens make other ways of knowing and being possible? How? Why might this be difficult?

Or, if you’re interested in something more concrete: How does flax become linen? Do you have any experience with retting, breaking or scrutching you’d like to share? Or resources/tools?

On that note: My next blog post will delve into my love affair with flax…

Thanks for reading,
Julia Ostertag
PhD Candidate, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC

(Please email if you would like more information about the project)

Monday, 23 July 2012

CEDAR Summer Camp

Today we had a wonderful group of students participating in the CEDAR Summer Camp program visit The Orchard Garden and participate in a number of garden-based activities. Luckily the rain stopped just in time for their visit!
The snacks the campers made!

During their visit the campers added more plants to our native plant garden (which they helped start last year), helped paint a wooden raven scarecrow, painted signs for the garden, and whipped up a tasty snack of veggies and yogurt herb dip.
Chopping carrots.

The garden in full production!

We had a wonderful time and are looking forward to having the CEDAR Summer Camp next year!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Think&EatGreen 2012 Summer Institute

On July 3-5 over 40 VSB classroom teachers gathered in The Orchard Garden to participate in the Think&EatGreen@School 2nd Annual Summer  Institute.  Think&EatGreen ( is a multi-organizational research project focused on implementing healthy food systems within the learning communities of the Vancouver School Board.  Part of this initiative includes inspiring and educating teachers on the multiple possibilities of using school gardens as outdoor classrooms as well as getting locally produced, organic food into cafeterias.
The Summer Institute included many workshops led by the faculties of UBC Land and Food Systems and Education, as well as other educational partners from the Environmental Youth Alliance, Vancouver Coastal Health, Farm to Cafeteria Canada, and public schools Tyee Elementary, Windermere Secondary, Sexsmith Elementary, and Vancouver Technical Secondary.

Workshop topics included: 
  • Food production, preparation, consumption and composting
  • Tool safety, use and maintenance
  • Teaching science in the garden
  • Watering and irrigation
  • Connecting the food cycle to the curriculum
  • Integrating local food into the kitchen, lunchroom and classroom
teachers learned how to harvest yukon gold potatoes!

Dr. Art Bomke demonstrated how to prepare a site for soil amendments and planting 

Alaina Thebault discussed the importance of pollinators and flowering plants in the school garden 

Eric Drewes demonstrated the necessary maintenance for compost production

So excited for this 5-year research project to build momentum and continue inspiring educators and administrators!  Hope you can join in the 3rd Annual Summer Institute next July!  For more info: 

'Things with Wings': bees, art, and science event!

Things With Wings
Stop by the Liu Institute at UBC on July 27 for the opening night event of Charmaine Lurch's art installation, also featuring Nicky Grunfeld, our volunteer beekeeper and UBC Farm intern: 

Charmaine Lurch is a Toronto-based artist whose work integrates mixed media and recycled objects to maximize the potential of metal wiring as a powerful means of expression. In Things With Wings, she brings wild bees into the popular imagination through her larger than life wire sculptures, evoking the relative invisibility of wild bees and highlighting the tremendous role they play in sustaining our ecosystem.

Installation: July 28 to September 21, 2012
Gallery hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
OPENING NIGHT: July 27 2012, 6:00 pm

Join us for an evening highlighting bees and pollination through art, science, and community initiatives.

With researcher Amanda Van Haga, UBC Farm intern Nicky Grunfeld,
artist Mary Bennett, and poet Kevan Cameron.
Light refreshments to be served!
Liu Institute, The University of British Columbia, 6476 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver
For more info: