Community garden sprouts at Roseville Public School

While Narayan Nepal loves all kinds of vegetables he’s especially eager to see a favourite pepper included in Roseville Public School’s new garden this spring.

“I can grow the chilies for them,” the 13-year-old Grade 8 student said. “The hot ones.”

When the weather warms up and planting season arrives, virtually all of the school’s 325 students will be involved in transforming part of the front lawn into an area brimming with vegetables and flowers.

An ethnically diverse student body will use the space as a living classroom for discussions on healthy eating and the science behind photosynthesis and osmosis. They’ll use math to plot out the land and track plant growth, and literacy to follow planting instructions and better yet, recipes when they harvest the fruits of their labour.

Everyone from junior kindergarten to Nepal’s Grade 8 class will have a hand – and a garden spade – in the process. Those who take advantage of the school’s parent and family learning centre will also be included.

Initially the garden will be a school project with parental support but the goal is to eventually help feed the surrounding neighbourhood as part of the Windsor/Essex County Community Garden Collective.

Roseville sits in an economically challenged area just east of Jefferson Boulevard. Rows of geared to income housing are just across the street.

“It’s impoverished,” said Roseville principal Eileen Topliffe. “This community needs some help.”

She says 40 per cent of the school’s population is new to Canada.

Nepal’s family is actually from the Republic of Nepal. They arrived in Quebec five years ago and came to Windsor last year.

His family never had a garden in Nepal or Quebec although onions, tomatoes and his beloved chili peppers were a regular part of the menu at home, he said.

Murtada Mousa’s family also enjoyed a variety of vegetables in their native Iraq.

“I like cucumbers,” said the 12-year-old Grade 7 student who arrived in Canada with his family three years ago. “And hot peppers.”

Topliffe said new families are often awed by the abundance of food available in Canada. In a neighbourhood where the average household income falls below the poverty line, she said many struggle to eat healthy on a tight budget.

Education at St. Clair College, planted the seed for Roseville’s garden.

Petro was on site to evaluate an ECE student on placement and she and Topliffe started brainstorming different ways to help not just students but their families and the surrounding community.

“I’ve always been interested in outdoor education,” said Petro, who mapped out a plan to pull in help from St. Clair students in a number of faculties including ECE, horticulture, culinary arts, police foundations and even fashion design.

Fashion students will design garden aprons, police foundations students will do community outreach and culinary students will show kids how to cook what they’ve grown.

As the idea of a garden took root, Petro reached out to officials with the Greater Essex County District School Board and to Steve Green, the network co-ordinator for WECCGC.

Green’s collective provides advice and expertise on how to set up and sustain a community garden.

Eventually, Roseville’s garden may shift to the public park adjacent to the school. It can then become a full-blown member of the collective’s community network, dependent on interested citizens for maintenance over the summer months.

The network’s 17 community gardens feature a wide variety of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers.

“We always encourage people to plant what they eat,” Green said.

Seedlings of beans and wildflowers are already sprouting in planters at the school. Tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes will join the mix later.

WECCGC has helped establish gardens at Prince Edward, Cardinal Carter and New Beginnings in the past but they are considered primarily school gardens and not accessible to the community at large.

“We’ve got a number of schools that are planning to add community gardens,” Green said. “We know these gardens can become a catalyst for neighbourhood renewal.”

Community gardens have helped revitalize different parts of Windsor including Ford City, the west end and the downtown core.

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