by Anne Miller
Few can argue that we need impassioned and capable children to care for this world once they inherit the climate predicament we are leaving them. Robin Jenkinson is passionate about ensuring that individuals and communities become more resilient and, in particular, more self-sufficient in food. She notes that the first wave of school gardens proliferated at the turn of the 19th century, with over 70,000 growing across the U.S. and Canada during the Progressive Era. A few years later, during the World Wars, home-based Victory Gardens produced up to 40% of all food consumed in North America. Their purpose was to reduce the burden of feeding the public during the shortages of wars. Robin feels that the gardens’ initiative back then built resilience and self-sufficiency within society, skills which were necessary to live within the uncertainties of war. This young mother of two sees the importance of rekindling this mindset in these uncertain times by inspiring and teaching our children. Thus, she helped initiate the first school garden at Salt Spring Elementary School, tapping into a currently-resurging international school garden trend.
Robin’s education, experience, understanding and passion make her well equipped to take on this project. Her training and work in botany and river ecology led her to Lyon, France to work on river restoration projects – a dream come true. Back in Canada, she pursued further education in ecological urban design. A school assignment neatly dovetailed with her daughter’s entry into kindergarten so she designed a school garden with the goal to make something worthwhile happen.
Robin’s vision required more than desire and a clever plan. In effect, she became the champion of the project by harnessing her skills in presentation, community building, networking and fund-raising. She began by designing and presenting sketches of what a garden could look like on the rocky, blackberry- overrun hillside tucked behind the school. She shared her report with the Parents Advisory Council, teachers, the principal and fellow parents. She was thrilled how many of them became enthusiastic partners in the project. Knowing such efforts need someone to “spark the engine to get going,” she gladly took it on until it could run on its own volition. Members of the group have taken on various aspects, like composting, getting materials, working with the teachers, building the gates and greenhouse and erecting a beautiful rammed earth wall. They are running with it so she’s not as involved as she was at the beginning. “I love the garden but it makes me really happy when other people take on various parts of the project.”
Robin talks about the advantages of the school garden for the children. Because it’s an inclusive, all-school experience, children become skilled at working together as a team. They learn to care for the earth and they learn how to grow and appreciate good food. “The kids even have kale-eating contests!” Robin refers to studies showing the academic, social and emotional benefits to children who spend time in school gardens and how this involvement can help all types of learners and doers to shine. “Teaching children how to grow food is like planting a seed for the future,” she says. “Long-term success looks like healthy, capable, confident and resilient kids who can feed their communities.”
Learn more at www.schoolgarden.ca. To visit the gardens, join the Salt Spring Island Garden Club for a School Garden Tour on Thursday, May 30 from 9 a.m. to noon. RSVP to Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.