Hands on Learning in the Hamilton Victory Gardens

The Hamilton Victory Gardens don't just grow food - they grow skills and they grow dreams.

By Ashleigh Patterson
Published April 16, 2014

The kids squealed and jumped back from the garden bed when I told them that the dirt under their fingernails right now was essentially worm poop. One of the girls had found a huge one and was fascinated as it wriggled around in her hand.

As I kept talking about how worms take the 'leftovers' from compost, dead leaves, and other 'green stuff' and turn it into soil full of nutrients that plants need to grow, they came back around the bed and kept pulling out weeds.

Last summer I volunteered weekday mornings throughout the spring at the Cancord garden site, supervising and teaching children who had walked over from schools in Hamilton's hardest-hit Code Red neighbourhoods.

Learning how to grow produce in their own backyards is an important skill for reducing poverty and inequality, but these kids are learning so much more than that.

The children who had been in the garden during the harvest the previous fall chattered excitedly about all the things that would grow there and the teachers told stories of kids happily eating vegetables they wouldn't have touched months earlier because they helped to grow them.

While working with us in the garden, the kids practiced cooperation. We only brought out one tool for each student so if they wanted to try another job they had to negotiate a trade for that tool.

Pulling out the rye grass that overwintered in the garden required multiple people using different tools working together to dig it out, break up the soil, and move the grass to the compost piles.

They followed complex directions and helped each other learn how to use the tools. We gave instruction once for each tool at the beginning of their time in the garden and then helped them adjust technique but most of the time the students would correct each other.

Most importantly, the kids were excited by the garden. Of course, some complained that the work was hard and it was hot outside. But at the end of their hour of digging, planting, and weeding, they were almost invariably covered in dirt and smiling.

The Hamilton Victory Gardens don't just grow food - they grow skills and they grow dreams. If healthy, organic produce can grow in our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the people can too. Seeing that inspiration in the faces of those students is why I volunteer with this project.

Would you like to get involved in the Hamilton Victory Gardens project?

We're holding two volunteer information nights (7:00 pm start) on Tuesday, April 29 at Philpott Memorial Church, 84 York Blvd (across from Central Library) and Monday, May 5 at Pioneer Memorial Church, 1974 King St. East (near Cochrane Rd).

You can also support our Indiegogo campaign.

Ashleigh Patterson is a student in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University. She lives in Crown Point West with her husband and preschooler. Follow her on twitter @theashleighp.

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By catelizabeth (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 23:00:53

Great article! I think it's wonderful that thanks to volunteers like Ashleigh and many others, children have the opportunity to learn hands on where their food comes from, and that vegetables aren't just something you find at the grocery store. The Hamilton Victory Gardens sounds like a very worthwhile project both to teach and inspire children to grow their own food, and also as a way to provide fresh veggies to people who can't always afford to buy them.

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