Taking Root

Children thrive while growing food with Little Green Thumbs

When grade school children are given a few seeds, a couple of planting boxes filled with earth and a grow light, all for free, amazing things can happen.

Not only do children learn how to grow food, other lessons seem to sprout organically, too. “It builds common understanding, sharing and nurturing,” says Claudia Bolli, co-ordinator of Little Green Thumbs, a popular indoor gardening program in Edmonton’s schools.

One teacher reported that students who were struggling to get along were able to co-operate and find common ground while working together in their class garden.

Another teacher saw a child new to Canada seek out holy basil seeds, a common herb in Indian cuisine. A second student chose cinnamon basil, an herb used in Mexico. Growing the plants let the children connect to a culture they had recently left behind.

Little Green Thumbs currently operates in 56 schools, in pre-kindergarten to junior high. The program is run by Sustainable Food Edmonton, a non-profit organization that encourages the building of community through urban agriculture. For the past 10 years, the program has educated thousands of students on food sustainability, environmental awareness and healthy nutrition.
In a survey conducted by the program, teachers reported that 96 per cent of children had a positive or very positive attitude toward healthy eating after participating, compared to only 42 per cent before the program.

“Kids often become more interested in what is being brought home from the store, they want to go to the farmers market, or they become willing to try new foods,” Bolli says.

In 2017, during a downturn in the economy, Edmonton Community Foundation provided Sustainable Food Edmonton with a grant of $30,000, enabling it to continue to run Little Green Thumbs for free. Shannon Clarke, committee member with ECF, says the decision to fund it was unanimous.

“This kind of program reaches a large number of young Edmontonian and leaves a lasting impact on our communities around food security.”

To apply, teachers explain how the garden fits within their curriculum. Once accepted, they receive four plastic boxes of earth, a 600-watt light, seeds and other supplies, and training on how to grow food indoors. “The indoor garden is easy, convenient, and tangible for teachers to use,” says Bolli.