The greenhouse at Karonhianónhnha tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa is a place for students to learn about planting, traditional medicines, and food sovereignty. (Daniel J. Rowe, Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)
For an hour just about every week, students at Karonhianónhnha tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa get to spend time in their new greenhouse, learning about all aspects of planting.
“We were a cultivating people, all our culture is based on cultivation and of course gardening has seen a downturn in over a 30-40 year period, but it’s picking up again,” said Gary Beauvais.
“This is to teach the children all about planting, all about growing, everything in the plant world.”
Beauvais started teaching the new program in January. When he started the greenhouse was empty with only 14 tables inside. Today, every corner of the greenhouse is covered in growing plants and seedlings.
“A lot of the plants we have in here are not only ornamental, they’re medicinal, they’re edible, they attract pollinators, and they attract butterflies to the gardens. A lot of these plants are more than one-purpose plants and that’s what I’m focusing on,” said Beauvais.
The greenhouse was installed last summer, as well as an outdoor classroom and butterfly garden, with funding coming from three proposals written by former principal Earlyn Sharpe.
Since January the programming has been embedded within the school’s science curriculum, offering 30 minutes to an hour in the greenhouse for each nursery to grade six class of students.
Although it’s a part of the science curriculum, Kanien’kehá:ka culture and traditions are very much at the heart of the program.
“The main goal of the greenhouse program is to teach the students about Tsi Niionkwarihò:tens – so our ways,” said principal Kahentorehtha Jacco.
“They’re learning about Mother Earth, medicine and plant life, and also how the earth sustains us. They’re having a hands-on learning experience where they’re able to get out of the class, get out of the textbooks and really see what it’s like to grow something.”
The Eastern Door stopped by the greenhouse on Friday while a class of grade three students had the opportunity to smell different aromatic herbs, taste lettuce greens, check on their recently planted sunflowers seeds, and plant seeds of a honey locust tree that they found nearby the house while on a walk.
The students in the class that day also learned about scarification in botany, the process of weakening, opening, or otherwise altering the coat of a seed to encourage germination.
“They’re a hard bean,” Beauvais told the students about the honey locust. “In order to make them sprout quicker, you scratch the seed or the seed coat. It makes the moisture easier and quicker to enter the seed to make it sprout and germinate.”
He said understanding seeds are just important as other aspects of planting.
“It’s one thing to garden and buy your transplants from a garden centre in the spring, that’s great. But, I think it’s also very important that they understand all about a seed because you look outside in the plant world, including us, we all start from a seed,” said Beauvais.
Promoting healthier eating, and giving students the opportunity to learn about food security, sovereignty and self-sustainability at a young age, is another important aspect of the program.
“It’s more than just growing sunflower seeds. It’s about growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, salad greens, and of course a big initiative is healthier eating for the students,” said Beauvais.
“What if one morning we woke up and there’s no more grocery stores that provides for our basic needs? Do you know how to grow? Do you know how to garden? Self-sustainability is important.”
When the weather gets warmer, both Beauvais and Jacco said there would be more opportunities for students to expand their planting knowledge outside of the greenhouse with the large garden in the front of the school.
“We’re already taking some of the vegetables in there, transplanting them to teach the kids how to transplant and take care of it,” said Jacco.
“Also, looking at different way to sustain the greenhouse, maybe having a sale and letting the students run it, getting families involved with taking care of the garden and greenhouse in the summertime. Right now, there’s a lot of possibilities.”