Thinking outside the (garden) Box

Thinking outside the (garden) box took on a whole new meaning when Janette Haase took on the role of developing and coordinating the South Frontenac Community Services garden. What started out as a mandate to grow fresh food for their food bank soon turned into an incredible learning opportunity for students of Loughborough Public School in Sydenham, Ontario.

Partnering with the Grade 7 Challenge class for exceptional students, Janette works with 25 students from February until the end of the school year. She then picks the same students back up when they return for grade 8 in the fall so the students are able to see the garden through to harvest, and have a hand in closing it up for winter. With additional funding, Janette was also able to provide summer employment for five of these students this year. Plans are in the works to make these summer jobs financially self-sustaining so that students can help out every summer.

Starting in the classroom in February, Janette brings seed catalogues, and introduces students to the possibility of what this season’s garden can become. Together, they shape the menu of many meals and offerings to local residents who rely on the community garden as a source of fresh nutrition throughout the summer and into the fall. Working with students to plan the work and then work the plan, Janette gives them a sense of ownership over the garden and helps them to build a strong knowledge base and practical skills that will serve them the rest of their lives.

Working in groups of 4 led by an adult community volunteer, Janette rotates the students through all the tasks involved in the garden, including taking turns lending a hand in the food bank and with the seniors from the Adult Day program that also runs on the premises.   “It’s important to give them the whole picture of what this project accomplishes and why their time and work is so valuable to their community,” says Janette.

For schools to undertake a garden of this scale can be intimidating to administrators and the thought of implementation and maintenance can seem daunting. By finding the right community partnerships, this type of educational opportunity can still be offered to students—and the students can give a lot back to the community in this way.

“We’re not just teaching these kids how to grow food, we’re teaching them how to be better global citizens, and to see something through from start to finish,” says Janette. With a generation that seems hard to keep focused on anything that doesn’t have a screen, this garden has provided an exceptional opportunity for students to get involved in every aspect of the project and teaches them everything from basic plant science to the rewards of hard work.

If you are interested in implementing a project like this in your community, Janette would be pleased to chat with you about her experience. She can be reached at janettehaase[at]