Students at École des Grands-cedres francophone school in Port Alberni planted some new beginnings last week. They invited parents, grandparents and other family members to help them plant four fruit trees in their school garden.
Trees “connect us with the earth, putting down roots, helping us for the future,” principal Johan Couttenier said as students, teachers, family members and garden sponsors gathered on the lawn in front of the fenced-off garden.
“It’s definitely an investement for the future.”
The school, part of School District 93, started the garden two years ago, focusing on seasonal vegetables. Students and interested parents help plant in the spring and maintain the garden throughout the year. In the fall, students harvest vegetables from their garden and prepare a Thanksgiving meal for their parents.
This year, the school has switched its focus from a seasonal vegetable garden to permaculture. Permaculture is paying attention to natural ecosystems when designing and growing a garden. It is science based, and focuses on sustainability.
“It’s like using nature the way it should be in the wild,” principal Johan Couttenier said.
The garden, which was built on the property along Tebo Avenue (at the corner with Craig Street, in the Jericho Road Church facility) has been transformed. There are meandering, rock-lined paths where students don’t have to worry about walking on plants. There is a raised garden bed planted with native plants and identified with labels in Nuu-chah-nulth, French and English.
Students planted four fruit trees donated by Canadian Tire on Thursday, April 26. Their parents and grandparents were invited to help the students plant the trees: some families had three generations present.
Other events centred around the planting included making seed bowls, painting wooden butterflies and rocks, and a scavenger hunt using photos of trees and other natural items.
The school has a group of enthusiastic parents who sit on the garden committee. Joanne Callender, whose daughter Lily is in Kindergarten (maternelle) and whose young son will be old enough to attend next year, is leading the way to permaculture.
“We’re exploring the idea,” says Callender. “It’s about creating little ecosystems around each tree. Everything in here is supposed to be edible and tactile and beautiful.”
The process of transforming the garden from seasonal to year-round permaculture has been a collaborative effort, she said. “The kids have had a say and the adults that have been interested have had a say. We’ve had lots of work bees; it’s been a wonderful experience.”
The garden provides a ‘learning by doing’ culture for the students, and Callender said depending on what they can harvest, they may be able to make some money to pay for other projects or programs in the future.
École des Grands-cedres has 42 students this year, the highest enrolment the francophone school has had since it opened in Port Alberni. Next year, Couttenier is expecting an enrolment of 54 students. He says projects such as the garden, and the commitment to permaculture, are a draw to the school as much as the language is. “One of the reasons I would say is being connected with nature and making projects (such as the garden),” he said.