Interview with: Anthony Westenberg, Spokesperson for Evergreen & Planting an Organic Future
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
A couple of weeks ago I learned about a new initiative between So Nice, a Canadian brand of organic dairy alternative beverages, and Evergreen, a national not-for-profit, that is setting out to provide Canadian schools with the resources and inspiration to start their very own organic food gardens.
Called Planting an Organic Future, the initiative hopes to engage schools across Canada in organic food gardening as a way to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental champions.
I thought it would be fun to interview Evergreen spokesperson Anthony Westenberg, an expert in sustainability and organic growing, as part of my Interview with series. Read more about the program below.
Tell me about the Planting an Organic Future initiative and how the partnership with So Nice came about.
This initiative, as part of our broader school ground greening program, hopes to engage schools across Canada in organic food gardening as a way to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental champions.
For whatever reason, be it hectic schedules, lack of space, or perceived cost, in three generations since the Victory Gardens our grandparents tended, many of us in cities have lost the art of planting food gardens. But it’s now coming back and especially through community gardening which is a growing movement in Canada’s urban centres.
Schools, where Evergreen works to build outdoor classrooms to bring nature into urban centres, are community hubs; being an organic brand, So Nice shares the same values as Evergreen, so the partnership seemed a natural fit to help re-connect the next generation with the joy of planting (and benefitting from) food gardens.
Why is it important for children to learn about organic gardening?
Nature is the best teacher and children learn from growing things. You hear stories about children being able to identify the French fry, but not the potato.
Research shows that engaging children in gardening has many benefits, including increased likelihood to eat fruits and vegetables, interpersonal relationship skills, ability to work in groups, improved attitudes towards learning, and development of environmental stewardship attitudes.
Children retain more knowledge when they are outdoors and “in the story”.
They learn from participating and interacting and by growing things. Being engaged in each stage of the garden’s growth allows for the child to witness the ever-changing life cycles of nature (prepping, sprouting, planting, stewarding, harvesting). Also, children who are involved in growing food are more likely to engage in healthy eating habits. Providing children with a garden initiates a culture of care and respect through the use of the five senses.
Through gardening, they can touch, smell, see and especially taste the efforts of their work in the garden. It’s healthy, it sparks their curiosity and much of the outdoor curriculum – from math to science, to art and geography - can be taught outdoors.
Finally, children will often be more keen to taste what they helped prepare. It they grow and pull out and then cut the carrot, they’ll be more curious to try it.
How does the initiative work? Where are the gardens located?
Two showcase gardens located in Toronto at the Evergreen Brick Works Children’s Garden and in Montreal at the Royal Vale School, serve as the first seeds to what So Nice and Evergreen hope will be a ripple effect of organic food school gardens sprouting all over Canada. Here’s a video http://www.sonice.ca/organic-future/
How can families get involved?
Evergreen provides many resources to families that want to get involved in bringing the classroom outdoors, from tips on how to start an outdoor garden to providing grants http://www.evergreen.ca/get-involved/resources/.
We encourage them to get in touch with their local schools and community groups to learn about all the gardening activities in their neighbourhood taking place (and how they can get involved), or reach out to Evergreen to learn how to start their own. Families can also visit http://www.sonice.ca/organic-future/ to learn how to start an organic food garden or make a donation.
Your goal is to raise $35,000, how can people help?
So Nice is generously donating a percentage of their sales to Evergreen to help realize and expand these gardens. People can help by showing that there is an appetite for these kinds of learning opportunities by engaging with their schools on the need for more organic gardens in schoolyards.
What is your favourite vegetable?
I am a soup king, so a leek and potato combination, or carrot and ginger, and I’m pretty happy.
What is your favourite dish to make from farm-farm fresh vegetables?
Something simple, like breaded zucchini is right up there for me. Or a simple cheese and tomato on toast for a picnic.
Anything else you would like to add?
I was born and raised on a farm in Kingston, now raising two girls in the city. As often as I can I encourage them off the sidewalk into the forests and fields to join me in ‘racing sticks downstream’. In our neighbourhood we have many fruit trees and grapevines, so seeing their sense of wonderment at picking cherries, plums, grapes and apples as the season rolls along is very inspiring to me.
Thanks Anthony! For more information on this exciting project visit http://www.sonice.ca/organic-future/