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School farm planned for the heart of Squamish

The Howe Sound School Farm project will offer a model of learning and food sustainability for the community, says Squamish CAN
There will soon be a farm on the school grounds at Howe Sound Secondary. 

The Howe Sound School Farm project is a partnership between the Squamish Climate Action Network and the school. 

The 1,114-square-metre (12,000-square-foot) farm will include garden beds, a 30-metre (100-foot) greenhouse, a smaller seed-starting greenhouse, a SeaCan for storage and office space, a wash-up station and gathering space. 

HSS Farm Layout (5)
HSS Farm Layout.  Courtesy Squamish CAN

Organizers are hoping to raise $75,000 by summer 2022 for the project. 

The farm will offer a multitude of learning opportunities for the high school students. 

"We are going to be inviting different classes to come out and use the space for teaching opportunities for hands-on learning," said Krystle tenBrink, executive director of Squamish CAN.

The organization leads the project and will operate the farm, with youth being involved at every step.

"There are so many skills that will be transferable for them — for their resume as they grow and develop. Not to mention all the experiences within the food system: growing food and community benefits. There are going to be opportunities for marketing and sales and for helping on the farm — caring for the soil; crop planning, processing, cleaning food, preparing it to sell. Not to mention the back end of how people purchase food. So, there is a lot that goes into this." 

A big priority from the school's perspective is creating a farm class, according to tenBrink.

There will also be a farm club after school. 

It is also a priority for the farm to become self-sustainable, meaning financially able to support itself, tenBrink.

The intention is that the farm becomes a scalable project and a model of what other high schools can do across B.C. 

"We are likely going to be doing direct sales with a community Good Food box," she said, noting she hopes a grant will come through that will allow the box to be sold on a sliding scale for lower-income families in the community.

What is grown will be able to be sold to the school cafeteria and for food classes, said tenBrink.

The project will be inclusive and incorporate Indigenous knowledge, learnings and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) protocols, she said. 

"It is a big focus of the project," tenBrink said. 

There will be Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim (Squamish language) worked into the identification of plants grown, for example.

Big picture

This farm project fundraiser comes as most of the Lower Mainland is cut off from the rest of Canada due to flooding, after a summer of record heat and as a pandemic wreaks havoc on already fragile supply chains. 

None of this is lost on Squamish CAN, tenBrink confirmed. 

"For us at Squamish CAN it is difficult to talk about... the climate crisis without talking about equity. The justice component. How people have the right to healthy sustainable, locally grown food and we are hoping that this will be the first of many more projects to happen and we hope that this will be duplicated and morphed into more projects in the future," she said. 

"A lot of times folks don't see the connection that food systems have to the climate crisis... In my opinion, it has one of the larger potential impacts. When we can build resilient, healthy food systems that ensure that all members of the community have access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, we are not just improving our natural spaces: we are improving the livability of our community, the students are benefiting from out of the classroom hands-on learning and... food also brings people together. And, there's a direct correlation between local food and health."

The plan is to break ground on the Howe Sound School Farm project this winter following a land offering ceremony with members of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw.

Seeds are to be planted this upcoming spring, with the farm projected to be fully operational by the summer of 2022. 

Community donations will go toward the capital costs of this project, such as fencing, storage equipment, greenhouse infrastructure, soil, garden tools, and the like, she said.

Lessons learned

Six years ago, the Mamquam Edible School Yard (MESY) was launched at that Elementary school. 

Lessons learned along the way with that successful project can be applied to this one, tenBrink said. 

"A key takeaway is that we are better off to fundraise for the entire project and make sure that the essentials are built-in at the start of the project. For example, irrigation," she said. "We did irrigation as an after-thought at Mamquam and we learned the hard way that decreases the projection of the growing food and increases our stress." 

Another takeaway, she said, is that building Mamquam in phases was a smart way to go. 

"Phases make the project a little bit more attainable, so you are not feeling like you are having to do it at the same time." 

Finally, she said that the team learned that relationships are key. 

"Relationships with the school, with the parents, the kids — and allowing everyone to contribute to shaping what this project might look like. We did a great job of that at Mamquam." 

TenBrink recalled that with that project when they were in the planning phases, kids wanted to be able to run from the swings through the garden to the rest of the school field. An interesting aspect that makes the Mamquam garden the unique space it is. 

The garden boxes are also in the shape of flowers, which was the wish of the students. 

"Why not? Let's dream big with no limitations," she said.

Other farm backers include the Farm to School BC program of the Public Health Association of BC, the McConnell Foundation, and the District of Squamish.

This project directly supports two of the Squamish Indicators within the Official Community Plan, as well Squamish Valley Agriculture Plan goal to Increase agricultural land productivity and improve access to foodlands in the Squamish, she added. 

She noted that some local businesses have already jumped on board with donations, which has been heartening. 

"It is exciting to see that the community as a whole is building excitement for this project, but also seeing the potential impact it has as a community asset." 

Find out more or donate Howe Sound School Farm | Squamish CAN.

If anyone is looking to get involved or has questions, email squamishCan@gmail.com.

 

*Representatives from Howe Sound were not available for this story prior to press deadline.