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Sustainable Environment and Urban Agriculture 

What is the significance of outdoor learning on early childhood education. Does it make an impact on inquiry, understanding, learning, creativity, curiosity and knowledge building. Are current models of education giving children the skills to become caring and responsible citizens and is it relevant to today’s world and challenges. Are we set on a path to sustainable education?

David Orr, ecologist and scholar, suggests a fundamental shift and approach in teaching and learning as changes affected by the Anthropocene kick into action. Paulo Freire, educator and philosopher, worked with impoverished youth and became convinced that “traditional pedagogy was oppressive and dehumanizing” and advocated different educational models. In other words, traditional models of standardized education seemed to be failing on all counts of social, economic and environmental justice and in providing sustainable solutions for the future. The model of memorizing and regurgitating facts, the ‘banking’ style was just not enough for the solutions that were needed to build a resilient and self-sufficient society.

Tapping into the natural curiosity of children, leading them towards inquiry-based learning and the understanding of the interconnectedness of all living systems on earth, is the kind of fundamental shift that Orr suggested. Incorporating outdoor education as a way of enriched learning, complementing traditional classroom learning, introduces children to the wonder and awe that nature presents in its dynamic systems. By observation, through inquiry and integrated approaches of learning and environmental stewardship, children gain a better understanding of the natural world and they develop deep knowledge and skills that connects their curriculum and classroom learning, preparing them for current and future challenges.

The key benefits of outdoor learning are:

  • Naturalized spaces like parks, ravines and river systems provide a perfect setting for hands-on experience, participatory engagement, cultural expression and ‘instill in children an abiding sense of care and responsibility for the well-being of their communities and planet Earth’.

  • Working in outdoor spaces, on projects like nurturing a community garden, children will become more aware about current issues facing their community whether it's food-related or an environmental sustainability issue.

  • They will develop a keen sense of space and will be able to see the magnitude of their impact within a span of one growing season.

  • By growing organic fruits and vegetables, nature’s lab will teach children how to take constructive and collective action and transformation through individual empowerment

  • The children will further be able to expand on their curriculum learning by engaging in hands-on activities and nature-based, outdoor games covering a wide range of topics particularly science and environmental stewardship.

  • Using the Heads, Hands and Heart approach will enable children from being knowledge seekers to transformative leaders of tomorrow.

The current environmental and climate crises make it imperative for educators to make children enablers of change at their level, informed by their interest, values and knowledge they bring from home and environment around them. By becoming stewards of the land, the children will have a shared responsibility to take care of the earth, to do their part in keeping the planet healthy. They will not view nature merely as a resource to be extracted and used for their consumption but will learn about the intricate and delicate balance that links the world’s social, economic and natural systems together. According to Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and public policy analyst, we affect what we do today, our economy, our society and our future. The experiences that children gain at an early stage may influence their behavior in later life, paving the way for them to becoming environmentally conscious citizens.

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Water scarcity is becoming an increasing reality and is affecting communities across the globe. Climate change and its impacts are leading us to realize that the time to act is now. We must do more to preserve our precious water resources. We must use water wisely and conserve it. We must recharge our acquifers. We must keep our streams, rivers, lakes, seas and oceans free from pollution.

How and where do we begin? The simple answer is, it begins at home! The change will come only when we shift our lens towards convential water use. We need to conserve water, capture it, store it, recycle it.

We, at Dallington Pollinators Community Garden, are working hard to reach out to community members to provide much needed water education. As well as providing solutions for capturing and harvesting rainwater and recharging acquifers. You can learn more by reaching out to us for 'Water-wise' updates and solutions!

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As if by magic, spring unfolds with warming temperatures and tender shoots that emerge from the ground. With that arises a yearning to tidy up our garden beds and get ready to sow for summer. But before we jump into the cleanup drive, a little patience will help not only the tender shoots but also emerging insects and birds leafing through the litter and building their nests. Towards middle of April is a lovely time to start taking stock of the garden and assess the soil needs. Of course, remove anything that is damaged or appears diseased and prune summer flower-bearing shrubs or trees.

Building Healthy Soils

To really have a successful garden, building healthy soils is the key. It may take a couple of years and you could lend the process a helping hand. Soils are vital to the eco-system and if properly managed, you will reap great benefits as growers and gardeners alike. A healthy soil is alive and teeming with life. It is distinguished by its looks and feel. Ideally it should be dark brown in color, light and crumbly to touch as half of it by volume is porous. The soil crumbs or aggregates in it are formed by organic matter that bind the particles together. How much of organic matter is available to the soil will determine its fertility, structure, feeding mechanism and biological activity. The porosity of the soil adds to its ability to absorb water, allowing water to percolate deep down instead of running off leaving it dry and parched.

Organic matter

The skin of the Earth requires as much care as our own skin, while neglecting it leads to depleted soils. Adding organic material at the time of renewal and regrowth offers many benefits and produces wonderful results for gardeners. Before adding amendments, it will be a good idea to gently rake the soil, turning it over a couple of inches. This will give you the opportunity to examine the texture and color of the soil. If it is crumbly and dark brown as described above, it is perfect soil and will need just a light application of compost. However, if it feels hard and is dry, is light brown in color, indicating poor soil, adding an inch or two of topsoil along with compost will greatly benefit it. Whatever spectrum you land on, adding compost will not harm but help improve the soil.

Cover Crops

Cover crops are another choice for gardeners. These can be planted in fall or early spring and help add nutrients to the soil. In our community garden, we regularly plant cover crops in fall and then in spring. Choose from the recommended cover crops in the table below:

Improving Microbial Activity

Just as we take probiotics to improve our gut health, soils need a similar inoculation as well. Compost remains as the primary energy source for micro-organisms, it provides it all the carbon needed to thrive. In addition, using cover crops, keeping soil well-watered, mulched and avoiding chemicals and pesticides, are all ways to build soil microbial activity.

Ideally, you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars each year on buying new soil. Do focus on understanding the type of soil you have and adding amendments to it. Keep in mind, however, that the crops or vegetables you plant each year, will deplete your soils especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and potatoes. Having a crop rotation schedule in mind would help overcome problems linked to nutrient deficiencies in soil. Take advantage of the mild days of spring and prepare your garden soil for a fantastic growing season!

Links and resources:

Healthy Soils:

Cover Crops:

Crop rotation :

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