An Amazing Integrative Garden Project Comes to Fruition – and More!
I recall my very first contact with Vireo garden projects. I came upon a thriving and vibrant garden during the 33rd AQEP Congress, which took place at the Québec City Convention Centre in early December 2021. I was mesmerized. All that greenery, the lighting, the smell, and the energy were simply enchanting, like I had stepped into a whole new world.
I asked about the product. The seed was planted in my head. It germinated. I had the idea of growing not only vegetables but also connections. Taking care of a living thing can bring people together. I thought a common project could perhaps break the isolation I had observed among students in classes with learning difficulties. These children were the same age as my students and in the same building. Yet, there were no shared activities, and no friendships had developed.
Since the regular and special needs classes were not close to each other at the school, I dreamed of getting two greenhouses—identical greenhouses that we would take care of together. It was an ambitious dream, which represented a bill of over $30,000.
Money… This necessary project step may appear daunting; however, searching for financial partners was not long or difficult. I first turned to a major school partner: Desjardins. I found dedicated people working there. I received great support. You have to take the time to define and plan your project. There are forms to fill out. But I have never regretted this process for a single second. In fact, this time allowed me to move the project forward with a very clear approach and objectives that made a lot of sense to me. The more I took steps, the more I wanted to realize my project, now named “Verdir les Prés.”
After that, I turned to the foundations, our local elected officials, and the businesses surrounding our school. Of course, I was turned down. But I also received financial aid and encouragement from the Fondation Le Petit Blanchon, our MP Mario Asselin, who successfully solicited many colleagues, and the Fromagerie Des Rivières. When you receive so much help as I did, you not only benefit from material resources to make the dream come true. You also feel, deep in your heart, that there is a lot of solidarity among people.
Our greenhouses were delivered to the school in June 2022. We received help from Vireo for the assembly, a job done with a whole class and four adults, which took only one morning.
The summer vacations were a quiet period. I read up on the product, which was no longer a dream but two bona fide garden. I continued to let the ideas germinate.
As soon as school started, the children explored the greenhouses and online platform. They voted on the seed choices. We started the nursery in early September. What amazed me then was how much time, ability and passion the kids had for the project. I realized that by 5th grade, they could plant, monitor the seedlings, record their observations with the platform tools, transfer the seedlings to the cups they identified, and fill and maintain the water tray by regularly measuring pH and ppm levels. The greenhouses quickly became THEIRS.
This pleasant observation continued throughout the fall. The children showed themselves to be resourceful, responsible and inventive.
I had two other nice surprises. Let me tell you about them.
The first is the satisfaction obtained by the growth of the plants. It happens very quickly. To hear cries of wonder on a Monday morning at the door of a classroom is priceless. Sometimes even from one day to the next, our baby plants grew beautifully and quickly. The children got a sense of satisfaction from seeing their care pay off. This satisfaction was especially noticeable in the nursery and then in the days leading up to harvesting, when the plants turned the classroom into an Amazon jungle, with leaves as big as the children’s hands.
The second is all the offshoots that grew spontaneously around our project. The initial idea was to create a project to break the isolation between students in regular 5th grade and special education classes. This objective was definitely achieved. But along the way, fate and the budding ideas the children turned an amazing project into something even bigger than we ever thought possible.
In October, we welcomed Papi Gilles, a student’s grandfather who came to talk about his volunteer involvement in a Meals-on-Wheels program as part of our theme on hope and self-help groups. Well, I’m still wondering how it happened, but this chance encounter kick-started a collaboration with his Meals-on-Wheels program! We donated our vegetables through a sponsorship mechanism organized on our school’s Facebook page. Dozens of vegetables allowed us to raise money for our little business (which the kids named “La vie en vert”) and feed the less fortunate. We partly donated our second harvest to Grandpa Gilles’s community fridge.
I wanted to thank the financial partners. I suggested that we write a song. The song was written by the kids, sung by the kids, and edited into a video by the kids. They were very proud of the final product.
In December, we decided to hold a press event to thank the project’s financial partners and inform them about the donations the children had made. It was risky, but we decided to go for it. I warned them that we were extending invitations but had no idea what the media response would be.
The students did it all: they hosted the event, sang, explained the 12 aspects of the project, and presented a harvesting demonstration. It was fantastic! We landed in a televised segment on TVA news that night as well as in several print and web articles written by Radio-Canada, Le Devoir and our local paper. On December 22, Mireille Roberge, from the TV show Première Heure, came to host a live show right next to our greenhouses. Sorry. I mean from THEIR greenhouses.
Finally, during the winter, we harvested a third cycle. This time, we aimed at generating zero waste. Mission accomplished!
This spring, we were notified that we won an award at the local gala of the Défi OSEntreprendre of the Centre de services scolaires de la Capitale for our entrepreneurial project, “Verdir les Prés: un projet nourrissant, intégrateur.” We were thrilled!
These are all the wonders that have happened to us since a little seed was planted in my head in December 2021. Verdir les prés is now a mature plant, which has given us much pride and joy. I believe this is just the start to our project. The plant will continue to grow. Long live Verdir les Prés!
5th Grade Teacher at Prés-Verts Elementary School and initiator of the project.
A Vireo school garden project in your school
Are you interested in starting a school gardening project like Sylvie Fortin? Adding a garden project to your school offers a fun, inclusive and collaborative learning project that improves the well-being and performance of your students. Start by making an appointment with a Vireo consultant who will guide you through the process.