Wednesday, 8 October 2014

PLAYbook receives CST grant!

The Orchard Garden is part of an exciting initiative called PLAYbook, a project to develop a guidebook of approved schoolyard design ideas for Parent Advisory Committees. Partners for PLAYbook include UBC's School of Landscape Architecture (Kris Fox, Susan Herrington), Pediatrics & Public Health, Faculty of Medicine (Mariana Brussoni), the Faculty of Education (Susan Gerofsky, Julia Ostertag), and the Vancouver School Board. Recently, we received a $5,000 grant from CST's Inspiring Minds Learning Projects grant (see proposal here). Thank you to everyone who voted for our project - we appreciate all of your support! Here are some of the photos with our giant cheque - taken at The UBC Orchard Garden.

The grant application required a very concise description of our project, so here it is:

Parent Advisory Committees (PACs) fundraise for, plan, design, and build many of the features on school grounds but it’s difficult to create the best play structure or outdoor learning environment without access to innovative ideas approved by the Vancouver School Board (VSB) for construction.

The PLAYbook will help PACs transform Vancouver school grounds for over 55,000 students. As a “How-To Guidebook," PLAYbook will offer a selection of leading research and best innovative ideas for school grounds in the following areas: landscape architecture, sustainable design, economic and phasing strategies, child development, injury prevention, and outdoor educational opportunities. 

The PLAYbook will be developed by a team of design professionals, health, and education researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in close collaboration and consultation with parents, teachers, kids, the VSB, and community partners.

The user-friendly, locally-adapted, menu-based PLAYbook of school ground design guidelines will be available in hard copy and online to help parent groups create the best outdoor play and learning environments for public schools in Vancouver and beyond.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My Journey through School Gardens in the Central region of Ghana

It is a great honour for me to be given this platform to share my experiences with respect to school gardens in Ghana. During my recent trip to Ghana (my home country) on April 28, 2014, I had an opportunity to carry out a research on behalf of UBC Orchard Garden.  The purpose of the study was to explore the use of school Gardens in Ghana. 

Ghana is located in West Africa, with a population of about 24 million.

Map of Africa

Participating schools 

My research journey led me to four schools in the central region of Ghana: two High schools namely, Mankessim  and Aggrey Memorial High school. The respondents consisted of both boarding and day student s aged between 14 -17 years and one Junior high school namely, Jukwa Model Junior High School. The participants were aged between (11-14) years. I was privilege to observe activity based lessons and also conducted interviews with students and teachers on the issue of school gardens and their pedagogical affordances and constraints. In addition, issues such as the kind of crops grown in the garden, cultural and religious reasons and the kind of support they receive from both the government and Non Governmental Organisations were also explored.
Jukwa Model Junior High School

Mankessim Senior High School

Nature of School Gardens Observed

The School gardens observed were mostly large (at least one hectare or more) but segmented into regions or parts for the purpose of the cultivation different kinds of crops and also easy management of the portions allocated to the students. Mostly tropical crops such as: cassava, cocoa, plantain, garden eggs dominate the cultivated lands. Maize and cassava are the major staples in the south western part of Ghana, where these schools are situated. There is a Ghanaian adage which says that “a man who is able to feed his family on maize from harvest to harvest is considered a wealthy person” hence; vast portions of most farms and gardens are used to cultivate maize in many parts of Ghana.
The produce from the school gardens are mostly used to feed the students in the boarding house. For instance, Mankessim Senior High school, one of the schools visited use the produce from the garden to feed its boarding students.
Notwithstanding the high temperatures in Ghana (average of 29C degrees Celsius) some temperate crops such as lettuce, cabbage, and carrots are commonly grown for learning purposes with the aid of erected shades that reduce the impact of direct sun rays on the plants.

Cocoa trees at Mankessim High School
maize farm at Aggrey Memorial High School
Students preparing cassava stems for planting 
Palm plantation at Mankessim High School
Silage prepared by Agricultural Science students at Mankessim High School
 constructing  Sheds to prevent the effect of sun rays on seedlings 
Mankessim Senior High School: Students are assigned to beds
Hoe: A simple tool used for weeding around plants 
Cutlass: A simple  garden tool for weeding and pruning tree branches 
Teacher demonstrates to students how to nurse lettuce 
Manual watering of seedlings 
Students doing hand watering due to lack of modern irrigation facilities in some schools 
Community, Government and NGO Support for school Gardens!

On the issue of the kind of support given those who are engaged in activities pertaining to the school gardens, one of the teachers commented, “…

"We are mostly supported by MOFA (Ministry of Agriculture)  and Development Assistance for school Farms (DASF) to engage in poultry projects  and garden activities. DASF provide us with watering facilities such as tanks and cans while MOFA assists us with some seeds, poultry birds and some technical advice” 

This was revealing to me because  it  was the first time that  I learnt about kind of support the government and an  NGO have been given to the school garden project. This is a novelty in the history of   the school garden project in the country because in the past it was only the communities that use to give a bit of support to the schools in the form of compost and manure. This sort of assistance from the government and the NGO in my estimation would take the school garden project to a different height.

Students’ Share their experiences in the use of School Gardens for teaching

Emmanuel, a student from Jukwa Junior high school shared his experience and feelings about the school garden project at his school:

 “I remember when we first sowed maize seeds and after few days we could see the sprouts of plants. It brought joy and a sense of fulfillment to me.”

Abena, a student from Mankessim High school in expressing her opinion on this issue remarked: 

”I love to be outside. I could have a practical feel of plants as the teacher takes us through the lessons. I’m also able to talk freely with my friends and learn from them. I hardly get such chance in  the classroom" 

These and other thought provoking comments from students revealed their desire and love to connect to “place” and the unforgettable moments they experienced in their encounter with nature. As Wilson, 1997 rightly stated: sense of place’ provide opportunities for immersion or immediate encounters with the natural world, and opportunities for the experience of magic or memorable moments.” (Wilson, 1997, p. 191) Wilson further argues that the concept of place is necessary “for children’s self formation and the idea that our beings are interweaved with our place, in that “landscape, in other words, shapes mindscapes.” (1997, p. 191). 

Expressing the joy of being in the Garden

Some Constraints with the use of School Gardens for teaching
  1. Land tenureship: Getting permanent space for school gardens remains a challenge as communities’ some things claim back lands for other developmental projects.
  2. Loaded nature of School curriculum: Content driven school curriculum hinders amount of time needed for practical garden based lessons
  3.  Lack of irrigation facilities in some schools
  4.  Issues of Safety: Absence of protective cloths, gloves and boots for students to undertake practical lessons in the gardens (See photos)

What more do kids want to learn with Garden?

In reactions to the issue of what children want to learn from the garden project, Kwame remarked; “I wish we could have varieties of crops here…and also some grass cutters and rabbits so that we can learn about both plants and animals”

On this same issue Akose said:

 “I think the idea of having bees here will be exciting. I know nothing about bees. Will like to learn”…

In reaction to the issue in question, one of teachers answered: 

“I tried to involve the math teacher but he seems not to be interested in gardens. I will love to see how gardens are used to teach other subjects such as math, drama, literature and the rest.”

The amazing experience I had out there with these young kids and their teachers in Ghanaian schools throughout this study has given me additional insights into outdoor learning and experiences of children as they encounter with nature. To me, my journey into the world of  gardens has just began hence, I will continue this insightful  journey in my quest to  seek answers to the following  thought – provoking questions as I engage with my UBC Orchard Garden team mates and other outdoor educators:

What can we do as educators to help children growing up in a fast- paced technological world to preserve their sense of attachment to their surroundings and foster their self-identities? 

 “How does place-based education fit into the present world and what meaning does it and can it potentially have to
better the state of education today?” (Rosenthal, 2008).

Thanks for reading

Kwesi Yaro 

MA Candidate 

(Mathematics Education, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

October Harvest Celebration!

Join us for food and engaging learning activities on October 2 from 11am-2pm! Location: Totem Field, 2613 West Mall (see map). The UBC Orchard Garden team looks forward to sharing this event with you.

 The Orchard Garden (an outdoor space for teaching, learning and growing) can be easily reached on foot or via bicycle. There is also parking across from the UBC Forestry building (map).

 To join us, please e-mail Antonia at to RSVP.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

David Suzuki Foundation recommends outdoor environmental education

Student teachers create giant hyperboloid with George Hart
The David Suzuki Foundation's recent article in the Georgia Staight offers compelling arguments for why teaching outside is not only good for students but also good for teachers!

Read the article here.

This suggests that our work at The Orchard Garden with student teachers is also very important and innovative.

Friday, 1 August 2014

FUN in the garden

Perennial bee garden, The (new) Orchard Garden
Yesterday, a wonderful thing happened in the garden. After many emails to figure out various scheduling challenges, Food FUN campers and 25 Pre- and In-service teachers in Dr. Sandra Scott's EDCP 328 Environmental Education course came together in the new garden on July 31, 2014.

The end of July is a spectacular time in the garden, and the abundance of food of every shape and size was exciting for everyone. For a giant garden salad, we harvested sweet, crisp kohlrabi, carrots, brilliant rainbow chard (enormous!), kale, basil, lettuce, arugula, cucumbers, zucchini, turnip, and, for a splash of colour, nasturtium blossoms.

While some worked to harvest and prepare the salad, others got the opportunity to explore the beautiful perennial herb, flower, bee garden with Navi & Jen's scavenger hunt.

Brilliant rainbow chard
The theme of the FUN camp is food and environment, so after we ate our delicious salad (kids came up for seconds & thirds!) we played a water game, racing as teams to transfer the veggie washing water in leaky buckets to our thirsty apple trees. In a world where 2 billion people are water insecure and agriculture consumes 70% of the world's water, there's lots to talk about when we think about climate change, food security, water issues, and the environment. Students--big and little--had lots of ideas to share for what we can do to make a difference.

"I have plants growing at my house - cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, and just last week I planted carrots!" said one child.

An EDCP 328 student shared how different plants can grow together (polyculture) so that they are healthy and use less water. Indigenous gardeners in North America frequently planted the Three Sisters, the corn, beans, and squash, to grow together providing shade (squash), fertilizer (beans), and structure (corn).

Watering game
Using less water through different irrigation methods was another suggestion, though this led to a discussion as to why most of our food comes from a desert climate in California, where climate change is causing serious droughts and terrible fires.

Thank you to everyone who came to the garden. It was just a short visit, so please come again. It was also likely my last class that I will host in the garden, since I am moving to Ontario in mid-August - so farewell garden, gardeners, and all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of knowing these past few years!


Thank you, campers & UBC students!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Doctoral students "solidarize" with the garden

Today, a class of doctoral students from EDST's EdD (EDST 593A.971 Ethics in Educational Leadership) program joined me in the garden with their course instructors Jeannie Kerr and Vanessa Andreotti.

Uprooted cherry tree & oak cuttings, old Orchard Garden
We walked down from the Scarfe building, along the 'sacred lawn' on Main Mall, and paused for a moment at the old garden. Jeannie described the old garden as a graveyard, and it really does feel sad and abandoned, particularly now that construction for Vantage College has begun and the giant oak tree that flanked the garden has been cut and piled onto the space. We talked about mourning, in the context of this particular garden but also more generally in terms of the extinctions (of plants, animals, languages...) that accompany globalization and the Anthropocene.

Washing station
The new garden, in contrast, was vivid and vital and filled with surprises and abundance. Harvesting giant chard, kohlrabi, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, carrots, and beets reminded us of the great gifts of life that nurturing the land, being nurtured by the land can offer. What are our individual and collective ways of thanking the land for these gifts?

Harvesting turned to food preparation (and weeding - thank you!) as we prepared a rainbow salad and vegetables to take home. Gathered together around the food, we discussed the course readings around accountability (Ranson, 2003) and decolonization and the pedagogies of solidarity (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2012).

Thank you to Jeannie, Vanessa, and the wonderful students for visiting the garden and your generous donation. Please come again!

Gaztambide-Fernández, R. A. (2012). Decolonization and the pedagogy of solidarity. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 41-67. 

Ranson, S. (2003). Public accountability in the age of neo-liberal governance. Journal of Education Policy, 18(5), 459-480. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Math Art Workshop - Wednesday, July 16, 12-5pm

George Hart (in blue) and a giant bamboo hyperboloid at The Orchard Garden
You are invited to two free math/ art workshops in the UBC Orchard Garden, a student-led teaching and learning garden on the central UBC campus:

RSVP & further information:

We are very pleased to have visiting Mathematical Artists in Residence George Hart and Nick Sayers visiting us next week, thanks to a grant from the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) and additional support from the PME (Psychology of Mathematics Education) 2014 international conference at UBC and PIMS, the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Studies.

Nick and George will be leading workshops to create functional mathematical art pieces for the garden as examples of ways teachers can teach math via art, in a school garden.

You can participate for the full one or two workshops, or just drop in for an hour at any point. PME participants are invited to come to the Orchard Garden on Wed. July 16 from 4:00 - 5:30 PM to "Meet George Hart" and take part in that part of the workshop.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Summer Solstice Event

Join us for food and festivities on June 25 from 10am-2pm! This celebration marks the opening of our new garden at Totem Field (2613 West Mall; see map). We look forward to sharing this garden with you. The UBC Orchard Garden team has created a beautiful and abundant place for teaching, learning, and growing.

If you wish to park, there is a parking lot across from the UBC Forestry building (map). The Orchard Garden can also be easily reached on foot or via bicycle.

To join us, please e-mail Julia at to RSVP.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Please vote for our project in the CST Inspired Minds Learning Project!

Julia Ostertag and I are working with Kris Fox (SALA) and  Mariana Brussoni (Faculty of Medicine) , and with Vancouver School Board administrators, parents and kids to develop this cool idea for transforming Vancouver School Grounds for sustainable, lively play and learning. The CST Learning Project is a grant that you need to get votes for -- so please vote for our project as soon as you can! As clown Rosy Sunrise advised, "Vote early, vote often"... as long as that's legal, that is!

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Dirt Museum, featuring Orchard Garden arts-based research!

Please considering visiting the Dirt Museum at the Liu Institute's Lobby Gallery. The opening will be May 22 at 12:30, and the museum is a collective of 14 artists'/researchers' work related to the million ways we understand and experience dirt. Julia Ostertag's research at The Orchard Garden will be one of the works featured at the exhibit, which will run until September 2014.

The Lobby Gallery at the Liu Institute invites you to the opening of


reception: Thursday 22 May, 12:30pm ― 2pm

with artists     Omer Aijazi   عمر اعجازئ     Jon Beasley-Murray    Sarah Fessenden    Stephanie Fung   Mascha Gugganig    Bryn Letham    Nicola Levell    Tal Nitsán                Julia Ostertag    Ofira Roll   Melanie Schambach    Sarah Wen    Clayton Whitt    and    Afuwa

exhibition runs until September 2014 at The Lobby Gallery at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, 6476 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Orchard Garden has Moved to a new Location at Totem Fields!

After 9 wonderful years of being located behind the McMillan building, the Orchard Garden has moved to a new nearby location at Totem Fields!!

The Orchard Garden has been an outdoor classroom inviting learners across disciplines to explore and connect theory and practice. Wonderful memories were created at the old Orchard Garden site. We look forward to creating more such memories at our new site.

A BIG Thank You goes to our outstanding and dedicated team who made this move possible: Susan, Julia, Samira, Roz, Toni, Claire, Galen, Maja, Kwesi and Laura. We would also like to welcome the new additions to our team, Brendan and Scott!  

Our team is eager and excited to continue the current Orchard Garden Projects at the new location, as well as begin many exciting new collaborations with faculties and programs!

We are looking forward to seeing you at our new site at Totem Fields

Friday, 21 March 2014

UBC Sustainability Fair: Recollections from February 24th

The UBC Sustainability Ambassadors organized the fair, which took place in the Student Union Building. Groups attending were wide-ranging, including UBC farm, AMS, and others.

Our display illustrated pictures of food, farming, and festivities. We also provided free kale and a game (see below)! Our team spoke with various people about the Orchard Garden, gardening, planting seeds, and sustainability.

Interested students asked us about volunteer opportunities.

We had many say they learned new things with the game, which involved matching tomato, corn, bean, beet, wheat, and lettuce seeds with pictures, and then locating where these crops were originally domesticated.