South Algonquin Township council received a letter from Whitney Public School teacher Ian Pietras at their April 20 Human Resources, Administration and Public Relations committee meeting about the school’s proposed community garden, and Pietras’ request for township support. After discussing it, councillor Bongo Bongo suggested referring the request to the municipality’s recreation committees, who they felt would be better able to provide support to what they thought was a fantastic worthwhile initiative for the township’s students.
Councillor Sandra Collins, chair of the HR, Admin and PR committee, introduced Pietras’ letter at the April 20 meeting, and asked for the committee’s thoughts on it.
Pietras is a teacher at Whitney Public School who teaches science, biology, geography, special education, outdoor education and is a white-water canoe, kayak and rafting instructor. His letter to the township explained that he was trying to get the community gardens program up and running this spring to teach his students about food security and community building. He revealed that they were hoping to build several raised garden beds at the school and also contribute to the township’s communitygardens by building several beds at the park by the community centre.
“We want to be able to provide access to healthy local food for more Whitney residents. Please let me know if the township would be interested in participating in a project like this!” he said in his letter.
Collins noted at the April 20 meeting that she’d like more details on the project, like what specific type of support Pietras and his students were looking for, where the grown food would be available and if it would be sold or given away.
“I think it’s important that our children know that food can be grown and from an early age should be involved with this. Gardens and plants are very pretty but food we eat. What does everyone else think of this?” she says.
Councillor Joe Florent was fully supportive of community gardens in general, but not so much if they were sponsored by the school.
“School’s not in session for July and August and that’s the heaviest time to be looking after a community garden. If the school is starting it up, they’re looking for someone to look after it in the summer, most likely meaning the township and the taxpayers,” he says.
Collins agreed with that, reiterating that the watering and harvesting of the grown food would need to be done when the students aren’t there.
“I’m in favour of community gardens, as the majority of us do not have the adequate soil on our property to actually grow anything. So, it has to be up in raised beds with decent quality soil. I think a lot of people would benefit from a community garden and from an educational point of view. I’m just not sure that the school can get completely involved without help in the summer months especially,” she says.
Bongo wholeheartedly agreed with Collins and Florent’s sentiments on community gardens, especially with respect to their educational value for the township’s students. He thought that perhaps the school could partner with either of the recreation committees for this initiative.
“My suggestion is to request a more detailed plan for what this my look like going forward, so there’s a clear vision and it doesn’t end up as a failed experiment,” he says.
Collins agreed and asked Bryan Martin, the CAO/clerk-treasurer and staff to convey to Pietras that yes, the township would definitely love to participate but they feel that the recreation committees would be better partners.
“I don’t want to quash this. I think it’s terrific for children to see things being grown and tend to them and look at soil and pH values and all of the science that goes behind this. I think it’s wonderful,” she says.
Joe Avery, the chair of the Whitney recreation committee says that they are 100 per cent on board with the students’ initiative.
“I have met with the senior class at Whitney Public School to discuss three different locations that they had wanted and the pros and cons of each location in the area they had chosen. I have put in a request to council to approve these raised garden beds to be put in,” he says. “At this time, it is my understanding we are just waiting on council’s approval to have the raised gardens in the location the children want.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times