Connecting youth with nature in Qualicum Beach

Community members and local groups come together to educate children on local food and gardening

Madeleine Dwyer is working on the Qualicum School Sustainability Project this summer

A new project in Qualicum Beach aims to give local youth and children a deeper understanding of their food and the natural world.

The Qualicum School Sustainability Project is the brainchild of local farmer and vice president of the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market Society, Ron Campbell.

Sustainability advocate and Vancouver Island University student Madeleine Dwyer has also been heavily involved in the project.

To date she has been a volunteer, and recently returned from a course near Bella Bella combining traditional indigenous knowledge with science to effectively manage resources.

Thanks to a Canadian government summer student program grant, Dwyer has now been hired to work on the sustainability project full time during July and August, and she and Campbell have a number of initiatives they are looking to cultivate.

“We both have visions of connecting kids more to their surroundings, to nature,” she said. “And to have a better understanding of how their food system actually works.”

Dwyer is currently majoring in First Nations studies at VIU.

So far Dwyer has been doing work in the Kwalikum Secondary School food garden and is also making preparations for a “massive garden” at that school which will include a greenhouse, a Japanese garden, and many other features. This summer she will help install the fence around the new garden and prepare it for the fall.

A number of local business and community members have stepped up with donations and volunteer hours to build the new garden, Dwyer said, and more materials and equipment would be appreciated to help keep the garden running.

At Qualicum Beach Elementary School she will help with a fence around the school’s alphabet garden and she has plans to work on gardens at the other schools around the area.

Dwyer will be working with international students from Japan and China at KSS this summer, getting them out in the garden and local forests, and visiting sites like a local maple syrup farm and the Deep Bay Marine Field Station.

She’ll teach them “market gardening” (how to grow food to sell) including visits to the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market. Dwyer is also working with the Qualicum Beach museum on a native plant garden.

She is also currently developing a plan for a hands-on sustainability course for KSS. This will be an independent directed study course, where students pursue their own interests with mentorship from the school. And she has many other ideas involving the local schools.

“I’d love to start  a tradition with KSS where every grad class gets to plant some sort of fruit tree or fruit plant,” she said.

Down the road she and Campbell would like the program to develop eco tourism opportunities, creating food and cultural tours that will work with and employ First Nations, youth and young adults.

Dwyer will return to her studies at VIU in the fall, but will continue volunteering with the program and managing the new large garden at KSS.

If anyone would like to donate gardening materials, old or new, from lawnmowers to seeds, contact Dwyer at madeleinedwyer@gmail.com.

Four Winter Gardening sessions starting this month at KSS by a local master gardener and horticulture expert will benefit the Qualicum School Sustainability Project.

Connie Kuramoto will teach people how to harvest vegetables all winter long from their gardens.

July 23 will be the first session: Building the Soil for a Winter Garden and  on July 30, Planning and Planting the Winter Garden.

On August 6 learn Crop Protection for the Winter Garden and on August 13, Greenhouses for the Winter Garden will take place.

All sessions run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

For more information visit www.gardensonthego.net.