Thursday 20 September 2012

Up to my Elbows in Learning: Agriculture in the Classroom

“Learning is so much more meaningful when you experience things firsthand, when both you and the students are excited and interested in what you’re doing,” says Terri Jackson, a Grade One/Two teacher at Mayfair Community School in Saskatoon. Not to worry. Students in Terri’s classroom have every opportunity to touch, feel, taste, and experience.

In 2010, Adrianne Begg, the School Garden Coordinator for Agriculture in the Classroom – Saskatchewan, phoned Terri and asked her if she would be interested in receiving funding to develop an outdoor garden at Mayfair School. “It was too good to be true,” says Terri. “My dream had become a reality.”

Terri wanted to make sure that the students felt a sense of ownership for the school’s outdoor garden, so all 180 children at Mayfair School were assigned a task. The Grade Four and Five students, along with community volunteers and staff from Agriculture in the Classroom, picked up tools and constructed raised beds from pre-cut lumber. Another group of students set up a circular bed of native prairie plants using reclaimed prairie (with help from LichenNature) around the school sign. Terri hopes that it will include sweetgrass and red lily so that older students can discuss medicinal plants and Aboriginal culture.

After lunch, the kindergarten to Grade Four students went back and forth with buckets full of dirt. By the end of the day, everything, from tomatoes to gladioli, was planted – and a harsh overnight frost killed it all. Terri quickly replanted over the weekend and collected bed sheets so that they would be ready the next time there was a frost warning.

A second year of funding has allowed Mayfair School to expand its garden, and the Grade Seven and Eight students are putting in a large, circular bed. The students will decide what kind of garden they want. Will it be a Pizza Garden, with pie-shaped wedges of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs? Or a salsa garden, a flower garden, or a Three Sisters garden (squash, beans, corn)? That will be their decision.

Summer Garden Program
Five Saskatoon schools (Mayfair, St. Michael’s, Westmount, Confederation Park, and St. Maria Goretti) were given funding through Agriculture in the Classroom for outdoor gardens, and they were also invited to participate in the Summer Garden program. The summer drop-in program offers garden-based activities one day a week at each of the five schools and ensures that the gardens are watered and weeded. (A recent article in Saskatoon Wellbeing Magazine provides further information.)

Terri hopes to eventually get the community involved in caring for the community garden. She dreams of planting fruit trees and berry bushes and offering cooking classes to teach parents how to make apple sauce.

Garden Club 
Terri has started a Garden Club with interested students from Grades Two through Seven. They meet for half an hour every week and have built a compost bin out of old pallets. The Grade Three teacher will put her students in charge of a recycling challenge and collection.

See, Touch, Taste
An outdoor garden isn’t enough. Terri’s classroom is also filled with plants, along with grow lights and a ventilation system as part of Ag in the Classroom’s Little Green Thumbs program. The children love it and are so excited when shoots come up and when the plants flower. “You can forget about taking attendance until the kids have had a chance to inspect their plants,” Terri says.

The connection between plants and food isn’t always clear though. When the students inspected the baby cucumbers, they thought they were pickles. So Vida Sadler, the class’s educational assistant, assembled the supplies and showed the students how to make pickles. They had a cheese and pickles snack every morning for a month, along with Tiny Tim tomatoes from their garden.

Terri has also brought in fish from the supermarket and let the students touch and poke it before cooking it up with some of their own dill.

In the future, Terri hopes the class will be able to foster baby sturgeon and then release them into the river, and she would like to hatch frog eggs so that her students can watch them turn into tadpoles.

Agriculture in the Classroom
Agriculture in the Classroom is a registered charity that connects kids with agriculture through a variety of different programs. Twenty Saskatoon schools are involved in the indoor garden program, and five of them of also have outdoor garden programs. Teachers are supplied with resource materials and assistance to support their activities. Jessie Best has been managing the Greenscapades program since March 2011, while Shereen Kukha-Bryson has been in charge of the Summer Garden program for the past two summers.

Adrianne Begg says that the response to the program has been phenomenal. “We hear about cucumber plants that produced meters of cucumbers, students requesting that their parents dig up parts of their lawns to grow gardens, teachers starting to garden and compost at home when they never had prior to participating. But what we hear most of all is that teachers are able to connect students with where their food comes from through the gardens, as well as with those who produce that food,” she says. “We believe that through their experiences in School Garden Programs, students, teachers and schools become empowered to be agents of change in their communities, growing toward a healthy and vibrant future for all.”

Agriculture in the Classroom welcomes donations of money or gardening supplies to help them meet the ever-growing demand for more school gardens.

Check out this great video about the Little Green Thumbs Classroom featuring Terri and her students at Mayfair School.

Additional Experiential Learning Opportunities
Grade Five Program, Beaver Creek Conservation Centre
Brightwater Science and Environmental Program, Saskatoon Public Schools
EcoQuest, Saskatoon Public Schools
Earthkeepers, Saskatoon Public Schools
Outdoor School Program, Saskatoon Public Schools
EcoJustice, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools
Ecology Camps & Experiential Learning Workshops, Centre for Continuing and Distance Education, U of S
Education Programs & Camps, Saskatoon Zoo Society
Saskatoon Young Naturalists, Saskatoon Nature Society & Saskatoon Zoo Society

Tuesday 18 September 2012

EcoSask News, September 18, 2012

Prairie-fed water systems, bird photography, bicycle music, kids gone wild for wildlife 
- an eco-eclectic collection 

Permaculture Research Institute, Sept. 20
The Permaculture Research Institute is holding a Potluck Supper followed by a discussion with Heather Noakes of Dirt Craft Natural Building at 6 pm on September 20 at the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon (213 2nd Street East).

Let's Do Local, Sept. 24-28
The public is invited to participate in Let’s Do Local, a week-long schedule of sustainability activities organized by the USSU at the University of Saskatchewan. Topics include solar energy, vermi-composting, and straw bale housing.

World Rivers Day, Sept. 30
Celebrate World Rivers Day from 1-4 pm on September 30 at Friendship Park next to the Meewasin Centre. Discussion and the documentary, The Story of Bottled Water, will start at 6 pm at Lydia’s on Broadway.

Bird Photography, Oct. 7
May Haga will give an hour-long presentation on her photography at the Mendel Art Gallery at 2 pm on October 7, followed by a walk along the river.

Prairie-Fed Water Systems, Oct. 17-19
Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin and the Battle River Watershed Alliance are organizing a conference on Prairie-Fed Water Systems: Opportunities and Challenges in Camrose, Alberta, from October 17-19. Speakers will touch on the impacts of both flooding and drought, the effects on wildlife, and provide local stories.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green, Oct. 20
Mark Bigland-Pritchard and Mark Anielski will speak at a day-long workshop on Faithful Alternatives for Economics, Energy and Environment on October 20 at Oskayak High School. For more information and to register, phone: 306 242-1500 or email

Kids Gone Wild for Wildlife, October 27
Bring your family, dressed up as their favorite wild animals, to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan’s family fun and education event, Kids Gone Wild for Wildlife, on Saturday, October 27 from 9 am to 5 pm at Hall C, Prairieland Exhibition.

Saskatoon Nature Society
The Saskatoon Nature Society’s website provides additional information about the following events:

  • Forestry Farm Fall Sparrow Walk, 9-11 am, September 22
  • Outlook Goose and Crane Trip, 1:30-9 pm, September 23
  • Whooping Crane Outing, 8 am – 5 pm, October 13
  • Outdoor & Nature Photography, Cranberry Flats, 3:30-6 pm, October 14
  • The Northeast Swale presentation, Luc Delanoy, 7:30 pm, October 18

Will our community pastures be sold to foreign investors?
Paul Hanley and Trevor Herriot express concern that Saskatchewan's community pastures could soon be in the hands of foreign investors.

Worth Reading:

We’re going on holidays!
The EcoFriendly Sask family will be holidaying in Baja, Mexico, for the next couple of weeks, and I plan to be incredibly idle. So, no blog posts, no Facebook posts, no tweets! The next issue of EcoSask News will be on October 16.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. A complete listing of all upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 13 September 2012

A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape

“As people who were fed by the land, did they sense the vitality of the wild earth pulsing through their veins? Did they know, beyond any need for conscious knowing, that they were another name for the grass and the wind and the snow?” 

Candace Savage and her husband, Keith Bell, were on a busman’s holiday when they first visited Eastend in southwest Saskatchewan, in 2000. Candace was researching a book, and they had sightseeing plans. But their van kept breaking down, forcing them to stay in one place, and the land around Eastend drew them in, urging Candace to explore its secrets.

Candace and Keith returned the following year and purchased a house in Eastend. Candace would spend the next 11 years thinking and writing a book about her experiences. A Geography of Blood is now in print and is an intimate exploration of the interrelationship between humans and nature.

Selective memories
Candace’s exploration of the Cypress Hills starts with its geography. The Frenchman Valley, where dinosaurs used to roam, contains an ‘unconformity.’ “It is a place where sediments representing hundreds or thousands of years have been swept away by erosion, so that ancient deposits are overlain by much more recent ones. To an unschooled eye, the deposits appear to tell a continuous story, but experts can tell that there is an invisible gap – long periods of time that have been forgotten,” Candace explains. “As I was gazing at the steep, eroded hillsides along the Ravenscrag Road, it occurred to me that there are similar unconformities in the way we choose to remember – and selectively choose to forget – more recent, human events.”

As Candace dug deeper into the history of this area, she came to realize that the pioneer stories that we’d studied at school masked a deeper story. “As a kid growing up on the prairies in the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised on stories of the ‘pioneers,’ a human flood that included several generations of my own ancestors. Oxen, covered wagons, poke bonnets. The march of progress,” Candace says. “There was scarcely a word about the natural productivity of the buffalo prairie – an entire ecosystem reduced to ruins – or about the civilizations that had flourished here for thousands of years before the settlement era, which were sidelined and displaced. The hills forced me to accept that these losses were part and parcel of the settlement story, part of my heritage as a prairie person.”

In A Geography of Blood, Candace points out that an older generation of historians “insisted on an emphatic division between the old West and the New, between the crude brutality of the frontier and the perceived civility of the modern world.” Unfortunately, the division isn’t so clear cut. When questioned about this statement in her book, Candace said, “I often think that, in many important ways, we are still living in the nineteenth century. Our economy is based on the same aggressive, short-term attitudes that justified the slaughter of the bison and the plough-down of the western plains. As evidence, just consider the cascading loss of species around the world and the ever worsening plight of the prairie's own indigenous birds.”

Human animals
A Geography of Blood explores at length the efforts of traditional people to live in harmony with the land. Candace describes one archaeological site that had been inhabited for almost 9,000 years. “Each generation followed in the footsteps of those who had gone before. In fact, new arrivals sometimes situated their camps on the very same spot their ancestors had used in the past, whether ten or a hundred or five hundred years before them. The Stampede Site has recorded this act of remembrance as a sequence of subtle basins, or hearths, filled with charcoal and bone, each one stacked directly on top of the one below. It appears that the buffalo people had a relationship with this place that they maintained by visiting it, almost as if it were a person.”

Most of us today have lost this deep, intimate connection with nature. “I'd say that even the word ‘nature’ is a sign of that disconnection,” Candace says. “As if there were such a thing as ‘nature’ or the ‘environment’ as something separate from us. As if we didn't drink from the river or breathe air or rely on the land for food. As if, even with all our snazzy iThings, we weren't still animals.” Candace doesn’t believe that urban life is responsible for this lack of connection. “One might expect city dwellers to be more cut off from those realities than their country cousins,” Candace says. “Funny thing is, though, that cities all over the world are coming back to life. We're used to thinking that nature begins where the sidewalk ends. The fact is that rural areas are now highly industrialized and cities are – or can be – exceptionally rich and diverse life zones. There's a lot going on across Canada and elsewhere, from green roofs, to natural drainage via swales, to urban-biodiversity policies, to backyard restorations and naturalized parks.”

Our responsibility
A Geography of Blood is the first book that Candace has written in the first person. “I decided on a first-person narrator because the story I wanted to tell is uncomfortable,” Candace says. “As a society, we've put a lot of effort into not knowing it. I thought the reader might like some company as he or she re-encounters these events. Besides, this is a story about what historian Jim Miller calls ‘Native-newcomer relations’ and I couldn't pretend to occupy any viewpoint but my own. I had to own my biases, opinions and limitations.”

A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape should be required reading for Western Canadians. We need to understand our past in order to ensure a future that is in harmony with all the creatures who share this prairie home.

Candace will be reading from A Geography of Blood at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Thursday, September 20 at 7 pm.

For more information 
Candace Savage’s website
Candace Savage: The living community of the earth

Tuesday 11 September 2012

EcoSask News, September 11, 2012

So Much to Discover: Apple Canning, Geography of Blood, Loons of Anglin Lake, Salt Cedar, Watersheds, and Campus Cycling 

Apple Canning Workshop, Sept. 18
Don't miss the Urban Apple Canning Workshop at 6:30 pm on September 18 at CNYC (905 - 20th Street West).

Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, Sept. 20
Candace Savage will be launching her newest book, Geography of Blood, at 7 pm on September 20 at McNally Robinson Booksellers. She is joined by Lorna Crozier, who will be presenting her latest work, The Book of Marvels.

In Geography of Blood, Candace unearths the social and natural history of the Cypress Hills, discovering that “As the descendant of incomers to the Canadian prairies, I am the intended beneficiary, however unwittingly, of an ecological and humanitarian atrocity.” She quotes Narcisse Blood, a local Aboriginal leader, who says, “The knowledge that was here in this land for thousands of years has been ignored . . . . You can’t be sustained without knowledge of the land. What we’re talking about here is survival.”

The Loons of Anglin Lake, Sept. 20
Bradley Muir, the owner of Sundog Excursions, has conducted the Canadian Lake Loon Survey on Anglin Lake for the past three years. At the Saskatoon Nature Society’s meeting at 7:30 pm on September 20, he’ll discuss why there are so many loons on Anglin Lake. The meeting will be held in Room 106 of the Biology Building, University of Saskatchewan.

Salt Cedar Surveys, Sept. 24 & 25
Help the Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council and the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan search for invasive salt cedar at two different locations southeast of Chamberlain. Additional information is available on the NPSS website.

Weekends at Beaver Creek, Sept./Oct.
Join an interpreter at 2:30 pm each Saturday and Sunday afternoon for a hike at Beaver Creek. Find out which animals will be hibernating or migrating (September) or explore the forest for signs of who is in the neighbourhood (October).

Saturdays, from 1-4 pm, children can create a nature-inspired craft.

Campus Cycling Club
The Campus Cycling Club hopes to become more active and is looking for new members. You can join their group on Facebook.

Caring for our Watersheds
Students in Grades 7 to 12 are encouraged to identify a concern that impacts the watershed in their area and come up with a solution. The Caring for our Watersheds program provides cash rewards for the winning entries as well as funds to help students implement their projects.

Interesting Reading:
We win once in a while! New fuel economy standards
Why community pastures must not be sold: protecting our long-term economic, social and ecological benefits
Carbon capture and storage: worthwhile or waste of money?

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. A complete listing of all upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday 10 September 2012

Arctic Circle Cartoon Collection

If you are struggling to live an environmentally-correct lifestyle, take heart! The Arctic Circle cartoon characters don’t find it easy either.

In Alex Hallatt’s first Arctic Circle collection you’ll meet Frank, a hungry polar bear who thinks that bird feeders are designed as handy snack stations, Howard, the eco rabbit, whose green roof dangles carrots over the kitchen table, a group of immigrant penguins, and many more eccentric characters.

 “What are penguins, indigenous to the South Pole, doing at the North Pole?” questions Frank. “Ozone hole got too big and we ran out of sun block,” the penguins explain, “Plus Oscar sold our fishing rights to the Japanese.”

Alex Hallatt has a degree in Biochemistry, but, fortunately for us, drifted into cartooning. Arctic Circle is a syndicated column distributed worldwide by King Features Syndicate.

The Arctic Circle Cartoon Strip Collection is available on iBookstore and for under $3.00.

Enjoy a good laugh. I certainly did – Penny McKinlay

Tuesday 4 September 2012

EcoSask News, September 4, 2012

Check it out! 
Bikes on campus, parks on the street, humans and nature, fruit trees, stars, and vultures 

U of S, Hike, Bike and Roll, Sept. 6 & 7
Get the university year off to a rolling start by participating in Hike, Bike and Roll on September 6 & 7. Get a free bike tune-up, buy a used bike from CNYC for as little as $10, visit the information booths.

Enviro Book Club, Sept. 11
The Saskatchewan Environmental Society has started an environmental book club. They’ll be choosing the first book at 7 pm on September 11 in The Common at The Two Twenty.

Royal Astronomical Society, Sept. 17
The Saskatoon branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada will be meeting from 7:30-9:30 pm on September 17 in Room 175 of the Physics Building, University of Saskatchewan.

Park(ing) Day, Sept. 20 & 21
Walking, biking and hanging out in the park are way more environmentally friendly than traffic jams and parked cars. EcoFriendly Sask is throwing its financial support behind Saskatoon's first Park(ing) Day with two grants of $350 each.

Ken Greenberg, one of Canada’s leading urban designers, will be launching Saskatoon’s first Park(ing) Day at 6:30 pm on September 20 at the Broadway Theatre. Free tickets for this event are available on Picatic.

Don’t miss the September 21 Park(ing) Day activities on 20th Street at Avenue B and on Broadway in front of the Broadway Roastery.

Human + Nature Saskatoon, Sept. 24
Human + Nature Saskatoon is a proposed community‐animation initiative dedicated to the appreciation, enhancement and protection of biodiversity in the City of Saskatoon. A planning meeting will be held at 7 pm on Monday, September 24, in the CNYC meeting room (905 20th Street West). For more information or with regrets, email

Biodiversity: Conservation Starts at the Local Level
ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, has initiated a series of infographics that address the importance of cities and biodiversity action at the local level. Here’s the first: Biodiversity: Conservation Starts at the Local Level.

The ICLEI website also provides a number of case studies documenting municipal best practices on urban biodiversity management and protection.

A Car-Free Year
Congratulations to Jan Norris on a car-free year.

Out of Your Tree
Out of Your Tree, an urban fruit sharing group, now has neighbourhood coordinators in North Park, Riversdale, Eastview, and Nutana Park. Sign up online to become a harvest volunteer or to register a fruit tree.

We’ve been reading:
SK vultures attract diligent birdwatchers
How cities are using nature to cut pollution (natural ways to handle sewage, rainwater, and air quality)
Wasted: How America is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. A complete listing of all upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).