By LeRae Haynes
Students at Kwaleen Elementary School have been digging holes and throwing rocks during an innovative natural habitat learning project, thanks to a grant from Toyota Canada and a donation from Heartland Toyota.
(Toyota and Kwaleen joined forces to create a unique parkland at the school.)
Local forester, former Kwaleen PAC member and enthusiastic school supporter Peter Opie brought expertise and passion to the project as a consultant. He strapped on planter bags, passed out shovels and introduced the kids to a range of indigenous grasses, wildflowers, trees and shrubs.
Trained in plant identification, site diagnosis and planting prescriptions, Peter knows what native plants go where and why—knowledge that has been used for replanting a forest after a disturbance.
“I love being in the forest and this is going to be a little parkland community. It’s not quite ‘forest’, but there are trees, shrubs, native flowers and grasses,” he explained. “We planted things like Trembling Aspen, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Ponderosa Pine, Common Juniper, Choke Cherry, Saskatoon, wildflowers and perennial grasses.
“These are the native grasses that made ranchers decide that they were going to stay here and raise cattle.”
“This group was out here every day,” Principal Silkwood stated. “They moved all the stones. Mr. Opie explained how to plant the plants and use product to protect the roots and help them grow. The kids learned how to plant—they came and worked during their lunch hours for this project. They will also label the plants and help look after them.”
Grade 5 student Kyle Hubner said he learned a lot about how to plant trees and help out. “I’m really proud of this garden and our school,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Taylor Bachmier, who is in Grade 4 said she learned how to dig a hole properly. “I learned that you have to put in special ingredients for the plant to grow,” she noted. "And there were a lot of rocks!”
Grade 4 student Ali Waterhouse said that she learned about different types of trees while doing this project. "My favourite are the yellow wildflowers and I like the leaves on the aspens,” she explained. “This project will help me identify plants and trees in the wild better.”
Zeah Rusch is in Grade 4 at Kwaleen. “I learned about some of the plants—some were new to me,” she said. “My dad’s a forester, too. I don’t know if he’d know all the names of these plants, but he carries wildflower and tree books with him and could look them up.”
Peter said that the plants came from Sagebrush Nursery in Oliver, which specializes in native plants in the interior part of BC. “These plants are naturalized and once they’re established they will need very little care,” he noted. “The last part of the project will be to build a nice wooded fence as a perimeter to the planted area.”
Joanna Sanders Chief Financial Officer of Heartland Toyota, owner Jay Chappell and General Manager Gerald Overton were on site with the students today, explaining that Toyota Canada’s Evergreen Foundation Program gives grants to schools to produce a natural living habitat or natural learning projects. The successful grant from Toyota Canada was $1,000 and Heartland Toyota donated a further $500 for the project at Kwaleen.
“We’ve had a partnership with Heartland for a few years now: every year we put up a Christmas tree in the dealership, and we were encouraged to apply for the grant,” Peter Opie explained.
One of the things that Heartland Toyota admires about the school is their innovative approach to other ‘green’ gardening projects.
Besides the brand new natural plant ‘parkland’, the school has an area planted with trees from Scout Island and two vegetable gardens.
“With our first garden we had the support and help of the Food Policy Council. They helped supply water to the plants over the summer,” Principal Silkwood explained.
“That went so well, we decided to put in another one. We provide food for the Salvation Army kitchen, as well as providing food for cooking projects here.
“We’ve made ‘Stone Soup’ at the school,” he said, adding that the school collects garbage in the school and composts in the garden area.
Joanna Sanders explained that there has been $4 million donated to projects, between Toyota Canada and dealerships across the country. “This is a fantastic project at Kwaleen—it’s all about kids and learning and the environment,” she said. “Toyota is all about ‘going green’ and this is perfect.”
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