Idea grows from seed to student-led movement to get youth gardening

Free seed kits inspire teens and youth to get outside and garden during the pandemic.

Free seed kits inspire teens and youth to get outside and garden during pandemic

Kayla Neumann helped develop the Grow Alberta logo and is involved in the project because it is helping kids find new hobbies and get outside during the pandemic. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The idea started small, much like a seed — but has since grown to be a province-wide movement to get kids taking control of their own gardens at home.

Now, seven schools in Calgary are participating in what's been called Grow Alberta, a student-led initiative to give out free seed kits to families during the pandemic. 

It's an effort to get people outside, growing and learning about food security.

Adam Robb is a teacher at the Career and Technology Centre, a Calgary Board of Education school. His program is about energy and environmental innovation.

He's tried year after year to get his high school-aged students interested in tending gardens at home. But the interest was never there.

Adam Robb says this is the first year he’s been able to interest his high school-aged students to garden at home. (Helen Pike/CBC)

This year, that changed.

"This is the first time ever where I've had dozens of students and families contacting me regularly to try and get gardens going at home," Robb said. "And so we're trying to meet that demand and I think it's just … it's amazing."

He took some seeds and soil, loaded up, and drove around the city delivering the kits he made. Then, he posted about them on Twitter and things took off.

"They were just so excited to get seeds and soil," Robb said. "Who knew that it was as simple as providing it for free to get people gardening at home. If I had known that earlier I would have tried this years ago."

Robb said typically, his class is hands-on. But when the pandemic shut down schools and kids were learning from home and online, lessons weren't the same. 

When the seed kits took off, it was an opportunity for Robb's students. 

Lucas Braun says he has been calling garden centres, and writing grants to get people seed kits. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"It's definitely been a bit of an adjustment," said student Lucas Braun. "But we seem to be figuring it out with this project."

Instead of sitting back and watching their gardens grow, his students were enlisted to help the movement. They are making calls to garden centres to procure seeds, write grant proposals and look for donations and partnerships to keep the initiative moving. 

"It's crazy because it seems like we had the idea like only a month ago and since then it's grown," Braun said. "it's almost been hard to keep track of it all. It's grown so big."

There was interest from educators and families across the province. In Calgary, seven different schools can serve approximately 1,000 students with kits.

The kits include five or six varieties of seeds, a little chunk of soil, and some directions online to help guide the growers. 

Kayla Neumann designed the logo for Grow Alberta, drawing a bee and some flowers that, without planning, assumed the shape of the province's geographic borders.

"I want to help with the project because I know that I am fortunate enough to already have access to seeds and a garden and a support network if I needed to get seeds," she said. "But I know that lots of people around the province don't and [they] need an outdoor hobby."

Robb said the concept is getting educators thinking about how to keep up the momentum and enthusiasm for growing that's sprouted during COVID-19 and physical isolation. He has big plans for the future. 

"We think that we're on the cusp of something," Robb said. "We're using this pandemic as a time to recenter ourselves on and reprioritize certain things and food is at the heart of all of this."

He said during the Grow Alberta initiative, he and other educators are gathering data and creating a blueprint for next year so students across the province can launch seed kit programs themselves, write grants, and create a whole new interest and ownership of growing from seed.