Farm Schools in BC: Part 1 - Sardis Secondary School Farm
It’s not a typical day in high school for students at Sardis Secondary.
Not only is everyone excited to be there, but they are all participating in working the land – 2.2 acres of farmland right smack in the middle of Chilliwack, BC. This is all part of the Sardis Secondary School Farm, a program brought to life 3 years ago by science teachers, Tania Toth and Joe Massie. Toth and Massie first spearheaded the project with the idea to create a hands-on course that would engage students in Agriculture Education. Now it’s a full-fledged educational farm growing 30 different types of crops, and hosting a vibrant 40 person CSA program.
I met up with Joe Massie and his class of grade 11 and 12 students one day late in May to get a close up look at their day to day activities on the farm. Massie gathers his students in for a quick meeting in the parking lot before the students disperse to all corners of the farm for the morning’s work. Massie has them joking and laughing as he hands out tasks and organizes equipment.
One group of students are excitedly picking an early variety of strawberries called Albion. Tom Baumann a horticulture instructor at UFV, and a longtime partner of the Sardis Agriculture development is also there with two university students, bringing with them blueberry and raspberry plants to add to the garden. The older students work alongside the younger, sharing their knowledge and experience they have gained from the UFV horticulture program. Other groups of students are testing the sprinkler systems and seeding rows of Swiss Chard. Everyone at the farm is so enthusiastic to be outside working and learning at the same time.
This program makes the word “agriculture” come alive for the students. They get to discover that it’s not just a word used for large scale farms, but something that they themselves are a part of. Many of the students tell me they are now growing their own vegetables at home, which is proof that this program is engaging students in food production. Sara Dyck, a grade 11 student at Sardis Secondary tells me laughingly that her parents now have her looking after the garden at home, putting her newfound skills to practice. It's clear she enjoys the work both at home and at school.
In the world of teaching you will more recently hear the words “project based learning” brought up almost daily. This is all part of the new BC curriculum initiated in the last few years. Programs like the Sardis School Farm not only fulfill these curriculum requirements easily, but provide endless learning opportunities across multiple subjects, such as science, business, social studies, etc. On the more practical side, students are learning the latest farming techniques in seeding, weed control, pruning, irrigation, and more. They are learning to manage food production from the start of a seed to harvest, and everything in between.
Over the years, the program has expanded and developed each year, until it has become quite a fixture in the community. There are many community partners who have supported the endeavours of the program, providing tools, supplies and expertise. Community members are also part of the CSA program that is run by the students over the summer.
Massie tells me that in addition to the valuable agricultural knowledge they are gaining here, students also learn some of the most important lessons: how to work together with others. The knowledge and experience they take away from this program is something that will stick with them for many years to come.