Just outside of the small town of Freelton, Anthony Siegrist, the director of A Rocha Ontario, is working in a trailer on a property known as the Cedar Haven Eco-Centre. His team have an exciting new program to help connect children with nature through gardening. A Rocha has been doing conservation work on this property for about 10 years, focused mainly on environmental education and conservation. Although A Rocha is a Christian environmental conservation organization, they are not denominationally connected.
The program that the Kindred Charitable Fund will be supporting is called Growing Gardeners, where children can come and learn about vegetable gardening. Anthony sees the key to ensuring future food security is teaching children how to grow food. For some children, this is their first connection to where their food comes from. For others, there is a deeper dive into how to effectively grow food in the spaces we have.
A Rocha, which means “The Rock” in Portuguese, was started in Portugal about 40 years ago. In an environmental context often characterized by fear, A Rocha is bringing hope through care of both people and places. They are preserving sensitive habitats and threatened species, growing food sustainably and feeding people living on low income, inspiring school children, and training young people. A Rocha is changing the way people treat the earth.
Children come to the Growing Gardeners program from a variety of places. Some participants come from their “Earth Keeper’s Club”, which provides conservation programming for youth aged 12-16. Younger children come from the Nature Academy program which engages them in the spring and fall months. Summer camps take place throughout the July and August.
A Rocha uses a “gloves off, hands in the soil” teaching philosophy, according to Anthony. “It’s great to see kids involved in the hot, sweaty work that goes into producing food.” The hope is that ultimately, the Growing Gardeners program will be able to support food banks in the Hamilton area. There’s also a social component to A Rocha’s programming. They want the kids to get to know each other.
With the program in its first year, the team is still working out some basic things like water access and spacing issues. With the recent forest fire smoke in the region, even allowing children to work outside in the garden came into question. The program has pressed ahead with these climate challenges, and the ultimate hope is to connect more children to gardening, and eventually be able to supply produce to others.
Registration for the Earth Keeper’s Club is ongoing. There is also open registration for the summer camps, and registration