Winchester 2018 © Courtesy of Green Thumbs Growing Kids
Help us grow healthy kids for a greener future
Step into the vibrant gardens of Green Thumbs Growing Kids (GTGK), where the magic of school-community gardening is transforming the lives of children in downtown east Toronto. In our quest to cultivate a greener future, we’ve established a model for garden-based learning featuring high adult-to-child ratios, curriculum-linked programs for all grade levels, and diverse opportunities for children and youth to connect with nature in a meaningful way.
Since our establishment in 1999, the transformative power of gardening with children has been the driving force behind our organization. From September to June, we seamlessly integrate gardening into the academic curriculum. And thanks to a strong partnership with our school board, we’ve expanded beyond a single school. Every school community is different, and every garden is different. Thus, we all learn and grow together—because in our gardens, nature is the ultimate teacher.
Seventy per cent of the families in our partner schools are racialized newcomers living on low incomes. As fresh food becomes increasingly costly, school gardens have emerged as a beacon of hope, and food literacy—growing, cooking—is essential for fostering healthy eating habits. Research has shown that children who engage in gardening are more likely to try new fruits and vegetables* and that cultivating a taste for these nutritious foods will last into adulthood. The delicious fresh foods grown outside their classroom door empower children in new ways.
But our mission extends beyond nutrition. Climate health is inherently tied to human health, and we don’t shy away from discussing this pressing issue in a way that children understand. Through GTGK programs, children gain valuable knowledge on how gardens can mitigate climate change—deeper soil, containing more organic matter, draws down and retains carbon from the atmosphere. By teaching kids how to nurture the soil, we equip the next generation with the tools to care for our planet.
As we embark on this journey, we seek to honour the spirit of the treaties of this land. We acknowledge Tkaronto as a shared territory among the Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat, and Haudenosaunee peoples. And, through our Indigenous program leaders, we guide students to embrace the wisdom of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum: if we take only what we need, there will be enough for everyone. Our Indigenous staff bring the wisdom of their elders and their names for the plants, helping to bring the Land Acknowledgement, now recited in school, to life.
The benefits of engaging with nature and nurturing plants are scientifically proven to be deeply impactful for mental well-being. The call for outdoor learning resonates louder than ever in a post-COVID world. During the summer, GTGK continues to serve our community by engaging in recreational programs, donating surplus produce to community organizations, and tabling at local farmers’ markets and community events. We even offer summer jobs for youth, allowing them to reap the benefits of time spent outdoors while gaining valuable experience running programs for all ages.
As we urge the Canadian government to follow the lead of other G7 nations in developing a national school feeding program, our curriculum-linked programs empower children and their communities to practice urban agriculture. By supporting GTGK, you contribute your energy to a cause that transcends the boundaries of a single garden. Join us as we foster a greener, healthier and more delicious future for all.
* Langellotto, G.A. & Gupta, A. (2012) Gardening Increases Vegetable Consumption in School-aged Children: A Meta-analytical Synthesis. HortTechnology 22(4).
Learn more at greenthumbsto.org
About Green Thumbs Growing Kids
Green Thumbs Growing Kids is a for-impact food and nature literacy program in three adjoining dense urban neighbourhoods in downtown east Toronto.