“If they plant it, they’ll be more eager to eat it,” says L’Ecole Abbey-Landry teacher François LeBlanc of his students. “At basis we need to eat better.” If there is one reason why teacher François LeBlanc got involved in establishing a greenhouse project for in Memramcook it’s that.
But it turns out to be more than that. “I’m more just trying to find different ways to teach. I like to tinker with things and I know kids do, too.” If this sounds like a teacher who likes to do things with his students, you’re probably right. And if you think he’s getting as much as the kids out of the program you’d be right about that, too. We talked to both François and Véronic Cormier, the coordinator of the program, and throughout it was obvious they were on the journey, too. The greenhouse, now that it’s up and running, has got their imaginations fired up with all the possibilities for education and for the community.
In the hour or so we talked they spoke of the possibility of feeding the school and feeding perhaps the nearby seniors complex, as well as having a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. They hope to find their place in the agricultural scene of the area. “One of the challenges is to find our niche,” says François, “maybe herbs or microgreens. No one here is doing microgreens.” They talked about having one crop they specialize in to pay the bills, as well as doing experiments with “weird” vegetables.
While not an expert, François is an avid gardener. “I’m self-taught. I do it on the weekend and at night, that’s when I do it. I try to stop that and get my school stuff done.” Véronic is also self-taught but is also studying nutrition at a school in Moncton.
The educational value of the greenhouse cannot be underestimated but there are challenges there, too. “It’s tough because you do have to follow a curriculum and we’re working closely with another school,” he says. “But I think the school vision with the principal we have now (Pierre Roy) is to have project-based learning and real-life things. He loves the whole entrepreneurship thing, getting kids involved.”
The business of greenhouses
The greenhouse is industrial sized at 33’ x 75’ and has room for whole classes to come in. It was donated by the local golf club who didn’t need it anymore. It was erected by a contractor.
The first day we were there seeds had just been planted but on the second visit the place seemed filled with bedding plants and apparently they had already had at least one sale.
On the day we visited there were seniors from nearby Le Manoir du Mascaret were stocking up on bedding plants.
The children we met that day were Grade 6 students Janelle Bourque and Danika LeBlanc and they had the manner of experienced sales staff. When asked what about the project had impressed them most it was, “M. François trusts us with the money.”
Both girls gardened at home, Janelle for a few years, but this was Danika’s first. She said it was easy now that she had already done it. And she says she loves it. She’s not the only one. “A couple of parents sent letters to the principal,” says François, “and said what we’re doing is helping their kids. Before they didn’t want to go to school. Now they’re loving the whole thing.”
One of the seniors there, Juliette Landry, was a retired Abbey-Landry teacher who said, “Every school should have a greenhouse.” Véronic thinks even bigger than that. “I would love to have another greenhouse and have one for full production and one for education.”
A community greenhouse
But the greenhouse is not just for the school. François and Véronic continually point out the benefits for the community as a place to gather and do gardening and for improving the health of people in the area.
Robert Bourgeois, owner of Belliveau Orchard, also sees the value of the project for the community. He is one of the business people and farmers consulted about how to make the greenhouse succeed. While he doesn’t think it could succeed as a full-blown, profit making business, he does believe in the project and its value to the school, its students and the community. “For the kids to have a hands-on experience to know where their food is coming from is worth something,” he says.
He also says they might think about forming a co-op “so people like me could could invest in it a bit, say, a thousand dollars a year” and with government incentives they could interest others. “It would help the community.”
François says there is still so much work to be done and so much that could be done. “We’re looking to do something for the community. It would be nice for people to jump on and give a hand.”