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Garden helping students 'grow'

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A group of students at Crossroads School headed to Lowey's Greenhouse in May to purchase plants for their school's community garden.

Last year, students grew several different kinds of fruits and vegetables there, including kale, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, watermelon, strawberries, as well as lots of different herbs.

The garden is a community service initiative facilitated by “Project Sunset,” an OPP-led program that works to engage youth and prevent substance misuse as well as related problems.

Fiona Gallagher, youth engagement co-ordinator for “Project Sunset,” said the garden is meant to beautify the school and promote pro-social behaviour.

She also hopes it builds a positive connection between the students and their school.

During the garden prep activity, students learned about healthy behaviour and the benefits of eating greens.

“We want to encourage healthy activity, healthy eating, as well as learning new skills,” Gallagher enthused.

A piece of what the students learned relates to both gardening and the goals of “Project Sunset” to promote positive social behaviour and resiliency.

“Part of what we talk about each year while we're doing our community garden is companion planting,” Gallagher noted.

“We'll talk with either Donna or Blair Lowey from Lowey's Greenhouse and they'll teach the kids what vegetables grow well with other vegetables.”

“So that would be the content of that lesson but the intent, the meaning or the life lesson we want to impart through that, is 'who should we surround ourselves with to help us personally grow to be our best,'” she explained.

“How do we make sure we are surrounding ourselves with the right friends and trusted adults.”

Gallagher said the students benefit from the garden in a lot of different ways.

“It's teaching life skills, it's healthy outdoor activities, it's teaching them sustainable living, being able to support and grow things for yourself independently,” she enthused.

“It's about creating a space where they can take healthy positive risks and learn that maybe they like kale, maybe they like brussels sprouts.”

Another part of “Project Sunset” is aimed at empowering youth and providing them with new opportunities.

“We want to make sure we are encouraging the students to live the healthiest lives that they can and learn that it's okay to try new things,” Gallagher explained.

She noted most students involved in looking after the garden have had a very positive response.

“They worked really hard on it and seem to enjoy it," she lauded. "And they care about it all summer.”

Last year, Gallagher was amazed by the amount of fruits and vegetables they were able to grow.

Through the community garden, “Project Sunset” was able to give fresh produce to the families of kids who are a part of the program, as well as to the Country View Child Care Centre there.

In the coming months, Crossroads students and the “Project Sunset” team will weed and water the garden.

“For the summer, we will definitely make sure that it's taken care of and is looked after at each of our programming events,” Gallagher noted.

“Project Sunset” will be running its programming into the summer, where they will do adventure-based activities with Crossroads students whether it's hiking, canoeing, or biking.

The students who planted the garden then will harvest it in September when they return to school for the 2018-19 year.

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