BURNABY—“Look! Our beets are growing!” howl the children at Immaculate Conception Elementary in Vancouver as they point and gasp at the pink beetroot emerging from their garden. The chant for beets is deafening, and wide smiles and laughter confirm their enthusiasm.

Students from Immaculate Conception and Holy Cross Elementary, Burnaby, are growing vegetables in their school gardens. Inspired by the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si, the children learn respect for the environment and get a taste of responsibility.

 “We’ve been thinking a lot of how to care for our environment in class, so going on a local food diet is one of the ways the kids have been doing this,” said Marcus Schollen, who teaches Grade 4 teacher at Immaculate Conception. “By learning to grow their own food, they can take these lessons home with them.”

The students grow vegetables in small garden spaces on the school grounds, which means the plants have to be able to survive in the Canadian climate.

“Just by having the students take responsibility of their gardens in their groups, I’ve seen them having more pride in their work and school,” Schollen said.

“It’s a good way to represent to the kids what caring for something is like. The students have to work as a group and make sure their project goals are being met.”

(Kristina Manfron / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

Kristina Manfron, who teaches Grade 3 at Holy Cross, coincidentally also has her class growing vegetables and fruits for the curriculum. “With the theme this year being ‘caring for our common home’, the idea of gardening fits so perfectly. We can care for our environment, and it shows the kids we can make something blossom, grow, and then share it together.”

The gardens “are run by the Grade 3 class, but all the other classes have pitched in and helped along the way,” said Manfron. She found the students “really make connections with the lesson because it’s such hands-on learning.”

Once harvested, the crop is tasted by the students, then donated to the New Westminster Food Bank Society. “This year, we are planning to give a basket of fresh vegetables to Syrian refugees,” said Manfron.

The kids love it, they look forward to it ... they make connections and come back to the classroom with their finds. — Kristina Manfron

“The garden program is something that has to stay as long as we have the means to do it,” Manfron said. “The kids love it, they look forward to it, and they bring extra clothes to change so they can go out there. They make connections and come back to the classroom with their finds.”

Joanna Wilke, a parent who spearheads the gardens at Immaculate Conception, agrees. “It’s a journey of discovering healthy living, teamwork, and perseverance,” she said. “One of my goals with the program is to figure out how we can teach about healthy living habits and the reasons behind it.”

The children get invested in the gardens, but Wilke admits there are some challenges depending on a student’s life background.

For “a family that never gardens or doesn’t eat many fruits or vegetables, it’s unfamiliar to them.”

“It’s about learning ways to have a healthy lifestyle mentally, physically, and emotionally. Gardening is a healing process of self-discovery.”