Newfoundland and Labrador: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – St. Francis school greenhouse

“This project was one of the first in what has become a growing trend in healthy eating and healthy living in the province.”

Lead Organization:
Lower Trinity South Regional Development Association

Key Partners:
Eastern School District, St. Francis School, Junior Achievement, Department of Health and Community Services, College of the North Atlantic, Service Canada

Community:
Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador

Population of Community:
3,074

Setting:
Rural

Target Group:
Youth, Older Adults

Project Focus:
Healthy Eating, Agriculture Awareness, Skill Development

Implementation Level:
Local and Regional

Stage of Development:
Ongoing

Background

In Newfoundland and Labrador there has been a growing concern about childhood obesity, especially in the last five to six years. The St. Francis School Greenhouse project was one of the first in what has become a growing trend in healthy eating and healthy living in the province.

The project was spearheaded by the Lower Trinity South Regional Development Association (LTSRDA), a non-profit organization whose mandate is to help improve the economic and social conditions of all residents of the region. It has been very proactive in community and regional development. In 2002, LTSRDA partnered with the Eastern School District to reactivate a state-of-the art greenhouse attached to St. Francis School in Harbour Grace. Their first project at the Greenhouse was a Youth Entrepreneur Partnership Program funded through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). The goal of this initial project was to encourage entrepreneurship using the Greenhouse as a venue for a real business venture. The Greenhouse became a focal point for getting students involved in agriculture and developing entrepreneurial skills.

The St. Francis Greenhouse is the only one of its kind in the province. A high-tech, modern facility, it has computer-controlled heating, watering, and operating roof panels, and is equipped with three webcams. The LTSRDA saw the potential to use the Greenhouse to complement the Department of Education’s healthy living curriculum for school children in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Association partnered with Junior Achievement of Newfoundland and Labrador, an international non-profit organization who helped LTSRDA “get the program in the door” and integrated into the school curriculum. The Association was then successful in receiving funding from the Department of Health and Community Services’ Provincial Wellness Grants Program and through the Job Creation Partnership Program and Skills Link Program at Service Canada. The LTSRDA hired a project manager, coordinator and a greenhouse technician. Students from different schools in the District participate in the “Healthy Living Partnership Program” provided by the LTSRDA. The children take part in planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, preparing fresh food themselves and learning about the relationship between agriculture and food on the table.

Students in schools from across the region visit the Greenhouse to plant their seeds and then monitor the growth of their plants via the Greenhouse webcams that broadcast on the internet. Presentations appropriate to various grade levels are given in local schools and students are informed of the nutritional values of the vegetables and fruits they have planted. But the real learning occurs when the process comes full circle and the students are able to prepare healthy snacks – wraps, salads, zucchini muffins – with the produce they helped to plant and harvest. Students learn in a hands-on way about the relationship between agriculture and food on the table.


Photo credit: Lower Trinity South Regional Development Assoc.

Plants inside a greenhouse

Partnerships

A wide variety of partners have been engaged in the Greenhouse project: the Eastern School District, College of the North Atlantic, Department of Health and Community Services, Service Canada, Junior Achievement, and School Councils. These partnerships have allowed the Association to gain credibility and access different funding sources to keep the programs running.

The LTSRDA is heading the initiative, and has taken the lead in developing the proposals, lobbying, and organizing meetings. The Greenhouse project did not become successful overnight – lots of lobbying was done to secure funding and this included managing working committees, hosting open houses, contributing news stories, and writing proposals.

Good relationships were developed with all of the partners, and the LTSRDA emphasizes that they could not have done it without them. The Association worked early on to ascertain the needs of partners, and then build programs at the Greenhouse around their partners’ objectives. Most of all, they worked to build good relationships. These relationships have become rock solid, and the Association feels they would go back to these partners for future programs.

Generating Buy-In

Finding funding agencies has been the greatest obstacle in this initiative. The operation relies on funding – to buy soil and seeds, and employ staff. But the Association has worked creatively to keep the Greenhouse running. They have integrated labour through a variety of their programs, and work to meet granting criteria through different ways. Some staffing has been done through the LTSRDA’s Skills Link Program, which targets youth at risk ages 18-29. These youth are learning the horticultural aspects of overseeing the Greenhouse. Also, the Association is sponsoring a targeted initiative for older workers called the Horticultural Awareness Program. This older workers program allows people who have been out of the workforce to develop new skills. The Greenhouse provides an environment where participants can get hands-on experience in horticulture. In addition to experiencing practical horticulture operations, workers learn about the value of healthy eating by growing fruits and vegetables in the Greenhouse and sharing this knowledge with students.

The Association has really had to lobby funding agencies to access funding, and has tended to go after economic funding, and career and personal development funding even though the core principle of the project is now health promotion. The biggest challenge is to make the project “fit” the granting criteria of funding agencies. In order to gain funding they have had to think outside the box. And the challenge of funding still exists.

Generating buy-in and exposure within the community has not been a problem. St. Francis Intermediate School and Harbour Grace Primary School took their venture a step further and hosted a “Salad Party.” Students invited parents, grandparents, government officials and other partners. It allowed people to come on site and see what was happening, and was an opportunity for the students to practice healthy eating using their own produce.

St. Francis Principal, Christina Pike said, “My students clearly have an increased knowledge of where their food comes from and how it is grown.” The program has brought publicity to the healthy living aspect of local agriculture – something that has all but fallen off the map for many people in the region, especially kids.


Photo credit: Lower Trinity South Regional Development Assoc.

Kids learning to cook

Lessons Learned

The key to getting the project off the ground was developing a program that linked with the Department of Education’s curriculum on healthy eating. The Association has worked to combine the benefits of healthy eating with other objectives and there have been a number of unanticipated spin-offs: from after-school garden clubs, to mentoring between older workers and kids, to career and personal development. The benefits continue to multiply.

Advice to Other Communities

St. Francis was lucky to have a unique infrastructure already in place and attached to the school, but this kind of program can happen off site as well. Students who visit from out of town can plant seeds and watch them grow on the webcam. And presentations made around the region are always accompanied with the preparation of healthy snacks by the students themselves.

The Association’s advice to other communities is to find the right partners, and then build these relationships. Good partners can become your “support team.” Looking to funding agencies as partners early on can also be beneficial. Finally, remember that in-kind contributions can come from non-funding partners. At St. Francis, one of the partners provides electricity to the greenhouse as an in-kind contribution.

Evaluation and Impact

Health outcomes resulting from this project have been amazing. As Denyce Warren explains, “the kids are actually eating fresh vegetables!” Local agriculture is starting to get back on the radar, especially with kids.

Because fresh vegetables are so expensive, many school children do not get this kind of fresh food at home. This program has introduced them to new vegetables, and a greater awareness of healthy eating, and through the salad parties and open houses, excitement about the project is spreading.

The St. Francis School Greenhouse project has generated an interest in healthy eating amongst youth, and has become a great resource for both the school and community.


Photo credit: Lower Trinity South Regional Development Assoc.

A student picking vegetables

Contact

Denyce Warren, Office Manager or
Paulette Cumby, Coordinator
Lower Trinity South Regional Development Association (LTSRDA)
PO Box 100, New Perlican
Newfoundland and Labrador  A0B 2S0
Telephone: 709-583-2016
E-mail: ltsrda@personainternet.com

Resources

Contact the Lower Trinity South Regional Development Association for more information.

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