Saturday, 16 June 2018

Orchard Garden CFE Day 5

Day 5 of the Orchard Garden CFE began on the rooftop of “The Nest” in the centre of campus to learn about the “Roots on the Roof” project. From here, high above the bustling streets and walkways below, you can’t help but consider issues - both literal and figurative - of perspective. After a guided tour from Charles, Emma, and Weiyan (the wonderful team who tend the gardens at Roots on the Roof) I began to draw connections between the disparate theories, ideas, and pedagogies that have been marinating in my head since September. Much like the Orchard Garden, Roots on the Roof offers the vital connection between the theory and content we, as teachers, are tasked with delivering to students, and the method by which it is delivered.

From left to right: Weiyan, Emma, Charles
Charles, Emma, and Weiyan take a bite out of their hard work!

Many touching stories connecting the community and their
experiences of food and gardening are on display. 

Throughout this CFE I have been constantly reminded of the theories of Vygotsky, Dewey, and Piaget, as well as the First Peoples Principles of Learning. (*For those of you not studying or working in the education field, these perspectives have made major contributions to the discipline and privilege process over product, learning through doing.) In the same way, community gardens seem to embody the idea that people construct knowledge from experiences and the social environment around them, instead of memorizing facts by rote. Furthermore, and perhaps even more relevant in the context of Roots on the Roof, the place of learning acts as a vital hub for the community. This couldn’t be more evident than through the various programs, outreach, and learning opportunities on offer by them (as well as by the Orchard Garden!).    

Charles shows a community quilt developed
through Roots on the Roof.
To be candid, living in Vancouver and going to UBC can be a bit… isolating. Through discussion with Charles, Emma, and Weiyan the recurring theme of community became obvious. While each had their own reasons for choosing to work at Roots on the Roof, the enduring highlight for each seemed to revolve around the genuine sense of community that the group provides. This could be represented by the more than 2000 lbs of produce they grow each year for the UBC community, the countless boxes of produce they sell, donations to the local food bank, overseeing community garden plots, or even major events like “Lights on the Roof” that draw like-minded people from all faculties and backgrounds. (It might also come, as I’ve discovered this week, from the more subtle and quieter moments spent working next to friends collectively tending - and learning from - a garden.) Regardless of motivation, Roots on the Roof is a definite force for good in the lives it touches, both directly and indirectly.

Unused roof space at UBC, and by extension, the world!
With the obvious benefits of rooftop gardens fresh in mind (pun intended), and from my vantage point atop The Nest, I was left wondering: Why aren’t rooftop community gardens being used everywhere in Vancouver? After all, the benefits for the community, local economy, and environment are so obvious? If Roots on the Roof, with their 92 square metres of garden, can produce 2000 lbs of food per year, how much could be produced if we used similar spaces at UBC, Vancouver, or the world!? Looking westward to the Pacific, calming breeze against my skin with the fresh scent of mint leaves in the air, my mind started racing. How better to solve food related issues like sustainability, safety, sovereignty, and security than through repurposing underutilized spaces (like rooftops) to bring gardens, community, learning, and the sharing of intergenerational knowledge to the neighbourhood in a truly local context (think so local that it’s literally above your head)? Perhaps this question is a bit naive or overly utopian, but progress - by definition - isn’t made by maintaining the status quo.

I remember reading that in order to feed the global population (currently about 7.6 billion people) we need a cumulative agricultural land mass the size of South America. While it seems likely that industrial agricultural will always be required to meet our needs, the opportunities provided by rooftop gardens (and other under-utilized spaces) could be enormous. In addition, rooftop gardens provide a number of unexpected benefits (called externalities in economic jargon) like insulating buildings that helps cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter, lowering the carbon footprint of the transportation costs associated with transporting food from farm to market, and the immeasurable benefits provided to the community by bridging the disconnect between grower and consumer.

Having thought about the changes I would like to see in the world, I’m left wondering how I might be able to meaningfully and intentionally affect it. Although it probably sounds trite, I can’t think of a better way than through teaching future generations (my students) what I’ve been learning in my CFE this week. If there isn’t one already, starting a community garden at my school is a must. Similarly, (and this is definitely best left for another blog post) I’m learning that students (myself included) retain content through being actively engaged in projects with tangible outcomes, like gardening! It follows that through garden-based learning I can teach the content required by the curriculum while impacting future generations to be the kind of informed, critically engaged, and reflective citizens that can change the world… one rooftop at a time.

Think of the multimodal ELL learning
provided by universal signage like this!!


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