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Canmore and Exshaw school gardens continue to grow through COVID-19 shutdown

"There are a lot of hard, long days involved in this and it is nice that people are starting to recognize that our community's food security is an important thing we need to be thinking more of." 

CANMORE – Classes in the Bow Valley may be cancelled, but the two gardens and one greenhouse at local public schools will continue to grow this season, with the food produced used to support the community during the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

Canadian Rockies Public Schools has partnered with Alpine Edible Schoolyards in Canmore over the past several years to develop and maintain gardens at Lawrence Grassi Middle School and Canmore Collegiate High School, as well as a greenhouse at the Exshaw school.

Superintendent Chris MacPhee said during a board meeting on April 29 the contract with the urban farmer that manages the gardens, and collaborates with each school on incorporating them into the curriculum and food programs, was set to expire this spring. 

With tight budgets and classes at schools cancelled for the remainder of this school year due to COVID-19, MacPhee said it still made sense to renew the agreement and shift its focus over the short-term to support the community.

"What we decided to do when we looked at the dollars we had in the school division, was to continue his employment, especially right now, as this is the time our gardens get planted," MacPhee said. 

"The piece that is important to note is that any of the foods we are able to get out of the garden this year will be opened up to the community and just the community."

Christian Wright, with Alpine Edible Schoolyards, said one of the biggest challenges to the program this year is that the three sites will not be used as part of the curriculum at each school.

"It is different work for me," Wright said. "When I had classes, I was prepping the beds and getting ready for the students. 

"Now, obviously with no classes, there is less building of capacity with other people and students, and more focus on production." 

The change in how the gardens are being managed also means a shift in what is being planted. With the food generated expected to go to help the community, through programs like Food and Friends and for the Bow Valley Food Bank, growing nutritious food for those in need is the priority. 

"I am definitely not going to be planting quite as much of the quick growing lettuce greens," Wright said. "I have redone my planting, as there will be more focus on stuff that will produce consistently throughout the season."

With less students in the gardens this spring, he also said it is possible for him to focus on some projects at the gardens that require more time and effort. The high school garden, for example, is currently being framed with lumber to help it function more efficiently. 

Wright is assisted by a team of dedicated volunteers this season to operate the three sites. It is hard work, but he said it is also meaningful in many ways. 

"We are working to help decrease the stress of food insecurity here in the Bow Valley," he said.

"There are a lot of hard, long days involved in this and it is nice that people are starting to recognize that our community's food security is an important thing we need to be thinking more of." 

Alpine Edible Schoolyards also works with the Canmore Community Daycare and the local preschool to offer programming for its children. The daycare and the preschool are located in the Roundhouse, immediately adjacent to the garden located on the grounds of LGMS.

While the Roundhouse is currently closed, Alberta's relaunch strategy sets out that daycares and out-of-school care programs may resume operations as early as May 14 with enhanced infection prevention and control measures in place. 



Follow's COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.


Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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