Cailie MacTavish (left) and Maya Vazquez at the grow tower installed in VCI’s cafeteria. Photo: Reid Masson

It is the first year for the Green Industries course at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute (VCI), but members of the class are already hard at work building a legacy for future students.

Participants in Green Industries – which focuses on learning about how to help the environment through sustainability projects – are in the midst of multiple activities, including the planning and building a school-wide compost system, installing flowers and vegetable gardens, planting a fruit orchard, and building a greenhouse. All are ideas developed as the class progressed in its first year.

“We’re building (the course) from the ground up and we decided to do sustainable projects for the school,” comments teacher Tamany Booth, who admits she wasn’t sure exactly what direction the course would take as it developed, but has been very pleased with the results.

Lessons emphasized in VCI’s Green Industries class are not just about saving the planet. Students also learn real-world business tools and have to consider such things as costs and sustainability of their projects.

“They have to do cost evaluations; they have to try and figure out how (their projects) can be maintained easily for future grades,”  Booth explains. “Some of them are leaving (the course) after this year, so they want to make sure it is easily maintainable.”

Students were recently tasked with coming up with landscape designs for a local home project and presenting them to the entire class in a computerized visual format. Up first with their design was the team of Kyle Burmeister and Carson Nixon – who set the bar high. On the huge screen the duo navigated classmates through a complex three-dimensional presentation of a design suitable for a Hollywood mansion.

“My requirements were they needed to give me a bird’s eye view of their project,” laughs Booth of her digital skills being exceeded by her young students. “They all go to these computer programs and start designing these plans that are way beyond expectations!”

As they go through their presentations, it is obvious the students in the class are not only learning, but having fun. It’s not by accident. The course is designed to enhance school culture by bringing the students together, as well as making the school look and feel more welcoming.

“I like all my gardening group work, because it’s fun to actually (participate),” says Maya Vazquez, whose favorite aspect of the Green Industries course is the sharing of ideas between classmates and project partners. “It helps with teamwork and it brings people together.”

Classmate Mitchell Duroucher agrees the course has brought students in the class closer, noting the group projects helped to boost school spirit at a time when sports activities and group outings were non-existent.

Duroucher, who is part of a group working to build an orchard on school grounds, is proud that the various projects being done this spring will allow the current class to leave a legacy at VCI for future generations of students.

“It’s not so much for us, but for the grades coming behind us,” he observes. “We won’t be able to see the harvest, because it takes years to grow, but the school will be able to use it for profit (in future years) by selling fruits and vegetables.”

Revenue generation is one key to the success of the Green Industries course, which will be maintained by creating income from gardens, orchards and compost systems created by the students, who plan on selling worm castings, along with vegetables, flowers and fruit. The class is also currently trying to raise funds to help with the multiple projects in progress and is looking for donations. Anyone wishing to contribute can email Tamany Booth at [email protected], or contact one of the students from the class. Tax receipts are available from the school.

The course has been boosted by businesses in Vankleek Hill, who have already contributed more than $1,100 in donations thus far – funds which helped the Green Industries class purchase materials to start their projects. As the weather warms, students will be holding a sale of seedlings they have started indoors to help raise more funds for the class.

While some students in the class are new to agriculture, the course also contains many who have years of experience in the field. Not only do those students help other members of the class with the basics of growing, they themselves benefit from the sharing of ideas – particularly on the business side of the instruction.

“I’ve grown up on a farm, so I’ve been around this stuff, but it’s kind of putting a new perspective on it,” says Jordan Anderson, who explains that learning about agriculture in class, rather than in the field, has brought a practical perspective for him. “It deals with more of the business side, where you have to figure out what to do. You have to plan everything.”

Many of those plans will begin to come to fruition soon, as the class will soon move their multiple projects from inside to outdoors on the school grounds.

“I think as the weather improves and we get outside and start digging they’re going to really enjoy it,” Booth enthuses.

Students will be transplanting items outside that will be ready for harvest in the autumn, so maintenance over the summer will be key. A school horticultural club is in the planning stages and volunteers from the public are also being recruited to help with maintenance over the summer months.

“I think having something where we are trying to improve the school helps build that sense of community,” Booth says of how the course brings people together. “Also the group work – they’re building their own mini community here.”

Kyle Burmeister (left) and Carson Nixon (centre) worked 10 hours on their Minecraft version of a landscape design for VCI’s Green Industries class, which they presented on the large screen at the front of the class. Sitting with them is classmate Keegan Robitaille. Photo: Reid Masson

VCI teacher Tamany Booth (centre) works with students to transplant seedlings for the school’s Green Industries course. Photo: Reid Masson