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Fresh Roots: Leafy Greens from Urban Schools

Fresh Roots Feature

Here at The Good Stuff, we know that what comes out of your blender is only as good as what goes into it. So we're profiling some of the great BC suppliers we buy from. First up: Fresh Roots!

We buy our kale and chard from them, as well as some other occasional greens and herbs.

Below is an interview between myself and one of their directors, Allie:

In a nutshell, what is Fresh Roots Farms?

Fresh Roots is a community based non-profit working towards Good Food For All. We envision a world in which everyone has access to healthy land, food and community. How do we do that? We grow educational farms on school grounds, half acre productive farms where the food that we grow is brought into the cafeterias and sold back into the community to support the project. We support teachers to use the gardens as outdoor classrooms for math, science, literature, and social studies. Last year, Midsummer Night’s Dream was enacted in the garden; stay tuned for a farmer musical! During the summer we hire struggling youth to learn how to grow, cook, and sell healthy food through a program called SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership).

Fresh Roots SOYL

Tell us about your community farms and how they work.

Across BC, it's often youth that feel the largest impact of hunger; 153,000 youth are in poverty. Often that means that they are not getting enough food. And at the same time that students are not getting enough to eat, they’re also not getting the right kinds of food. Vancouver’s youth (65%) do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits or vegetables; 48% of healthy weight females are trying to lose weight; 35% had binge eaten in the past year. 

We work towards changing this in three ways: 

1. We Grow Food. We empower youth, and we learn experientially. Everyone deserves access to Good Food – and that’s why we grow it. We use our productive farms educational farms to grow organic food – or as your grandma calls it, food.

2. We Empower Youth. Our farms are sites for training and supporting youth. During the summer we hire struggling youth who no longer have access to school meal programs during the summer. SOYL helps youth learn to:

  • Produce: Youth grow healthy food for themselves and their community;
  • Cook: Youth cook with local chefs to produce meals for themselves and anyone in need in their school community;
  • Lead: Youth explore food justice and leadership through our leadership curriculum;
  • Sell: Youth sell the food they grow at farmer’s markets, developing critical financial literacy skills, and feeling comfortable speaking and engaging with adults.

We duplicate this program during the school year through our after school garden clubs and volunteer programs for adults and youth.

3. We Learn Experientially. We help bring what’s in our textbooks to life. Whether with teachers at our current schools or for teachers who come to visit, we help to engage teachers and students with experiential learning opportunities from field trips to professional development.

Fresh Roots Vancouver Tech

How did Fresh Roots get started?

Fresh Root’s beginnings sprouted in 2009 with a series of backyard gardens. In 2010, one of Fresh Roots’ backyards shared a fence with a local elementary school garden that had grown fallow and fallen into disrepair. The school asked if Fresh Roots might be able to help them out. As a community, Fresh Roots and the school transformed the grounds into an edible schoolyard. In 2013 Fresh Roots forged a working agreement with the Vancouver School Board. Together we established first-of-their-kind Schoolyard Market Gardens: thriving places where multicultural and intergenerational knowledge sharing abounds!

Tell us about your growing practices and philosophy.

Holistic land stewardship is at the heart of our growing philosophy. Everything on our Schoolyard Market Gardens is organically grown with pure people power. Everything we grow is free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. However, due to our urban context, we are unable to become certified organic. Nonetheless, all of our growing practices align with certified organic standards as much as possible.

Where and how do you sell your food?

We sell our food back into the school cafeterias, to our community in a weekly Salad Box, to local businesses and restaurants, and at farmers markets. SOYL youth are at the farmer’s market during the summer – some come and check out our delicious produce and local demonstrations at the Main Street Station Market from 2pm-6pm on Wednesdays.

Fresh Roots Farmers Market

 

What produce do you grow the most? How do you decide what to grow?

We grow what our customers want! We work with school cafeterias, restaurants, and partners to grow what it is that they want the most. That means that we’re growing what we call a school year harvest –that means that our production peaks in September and October to ensure that youth can have access to fresh, delicious, and local veggies. We grow salad greens, endives, bok choy, gai-lan, the most delicious salad turnips that you’ve ever tasted, and the most beautiful kale that you’ve ever seen. If there’s something you want us to grow – just let us know!

How can someone get involved with Fresh Roots?

There are a few major ways individuals can get involved with Fresh Roots, including:

This work only succeeds because of the support of individuals planting a seed and making a difference. If you are interested in supporting Good Food For All we’d love to connect with you. Check out more ways you can help online.

Want to read about The Good Stuff’s other suppliers? See below:

Discovery Organics: B.C.'s Fairtrade Pioneers

UBC Farm: A Paradise in the City

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