Cultivating Sustainable Food Solutions at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School

Cultivating Sustainable Food Solutions at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School
Posted on 06/08/2022
Cultivating Sustainable Food Solutions at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School

An exciting initiative is springing up at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School. In partnership with Farm to Cafeteria Canada and the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE), a dedicated team of students are flexing their green thumbs to grow nutritious food for the school community.

For the past few weeks, students in the Green Industries and Urban Farming Operations (UFO) Specialists High Skills Major (SHSM) programs have been busy tending to outdoor gardens – harvesting radishes and leafy greens and planting potatoes, squash, carrots and other vegetables for the fall. Meanwhile, inside the school, students are maintaining hydroponic grow towers (Tower Gardens) with lettuce, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. 

Students are also responsible for maintenance and production in the school’s aquaponic system, which grows greens while composting waste from goldfish. Recently, they’ve been experimenting with growing peppers in a Conviron growth chamber – a climate-controlled unit that grows crops which would not otherwise be possible during the winter months. 

These systems supply fresh food for the Sir Guy Carleton kitchen year round, which is used to prepare daily lunches for the school community. In the fall, students were able to directly deliver fresh veggies, picked minutes before, to their peers in the Culinary Arts program. 

In addition to providing students with access to nutritious food, the harvest has also been shared with the community: in January, the school donated some of its tower-grown leafy greens to the Parkdale Food Centre.

This initiative first took root in 2018, when Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School received a Tower Garden from ONFE as part of the Classroom Garden program. That same year, the school received a Farm2Cafeteria grant, which provided them with two more Tower Gardens, as well as kitchen equipment for school-wide salad bar offerings and raised garden beds. 

Today, the school is home to 17 raised garden beds and 6 Tower Garden hydroponic units, and its aquaponic system can produce close to 400 heads of lettuce at a time! 

As students engage in hands-on activities like landscaping, watering, and harvesting, they explore broader concepts like food production, ways to address food insecurity, and the science behind grow systems. They also learn to collaborate and problem-solve. Earlier this year, the students were faced with the task of relocating the garden beds due to a nearby development. They selected a new site, re-installed the gardens, and came up with an innovative solution for a new watering system.

Green Industries and Science teacher Derek Brez leads the initiative, with support from Chefs Brad Larabie and Fred Billings, Chief Custodian Tony Falace and school care staff, and Green Industries teacher Anne-Marie Hillewaere. The initiative is supported by OCDSBXL (the District’s Innovation and Adolescent Learning Department), ONFE, Farm2Cafeteria Canada, and the school cafeteria.


We celebrate all victories. Some kids are masters at construction, others have never used a tool before. They get opportunities for success no matter where they are in their learning journey. And they get to work together, so you see collaboration between groups of students that you might not otherwise see working together.” - Derek Brez

The projects are preparing students for a wide range of careers in green technology, sustainability, landscaping, and horticulture, to name a few. They can also apply these skills at home – when schools shifted to remote learning, students learned how to grow vegetables from kitchen scraps and brought home mushroom-growing kits.

Take a look inside Derek's classes to see what the students have been learning, planting, and growing this year:

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