Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership (SOYL)

On an overcast Friday morning on the Northwest corner of the Britannia site, eight eager and relieved Vancouver secondary school students explain that “the clouds are a nice change compared to the scorching sun we’ve been working in.”

The secondary school students are part of a six-week SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) Youth Internship program who’ve spent their summer at four Vancouver Secondary School gardens gaining skills in garden planning, construction, planting, harvesting, sales and other particular aspects of the food system by visiting an organizations in the community. With help from the Grandview Woodland Food Connection here at the Britannia Community Services Centre, the SOYL summer internship program is aimed to engage the youth, build leadership skills, gain experience in growing food and learn about the food system. This year, was the program’s third summer and saw the largest group to date of 16 interns. Together, the group cares for the school gardens at four Vancouver high schools, including the gardens at Britannia.

“The last few weeks of the SOYL internship were incredible” says UBC student and program coordinator, Sahar Zandieh. “As the plants started to grow really quickly and bear fruit, so did the friendships built within the group. Every morning, I looked forward to being in the garden with these participants. They taught me so much about the incredible potential youth have!”

During the six-week program, the interns also learnt about preparing the space for the fall and winter and went on field trips during their “Community Days.” They visited the Portland Hotel Society and SoleFood to discuss access to food, the Delta Landfill to learn about the end of the food cycle, as well as Burn’s Bog, to value indigenous plants and understand how our current agricultural system endangers the peat bog ecosystem, just to name a few. Some of the other exciting projects the youth spearheaded were projects to organize a market table at Britannia, “veggies of the week”, the year-end iron chef potluck and a few self-guided initiatives.

The youth woke up especially early on a Sunday morning to harvest greens as fresh as possible, and set up their stand at Artful Sunday. They sold items from the two gardens they worked at: Britannia and Van Tech Secondary Schools. Produce included garlic, Swiss chard, kale, zucchini, and lots of herbs. Though the youth had created a shift schedule for themselves, many of them were having such a great time that they stayed there all day!

Every Friday, the interns were given a “Veggie of the week”. These were always a seasonal vegetable, often harvested from our own gardens. Their challenge was then to prepare a dish using that vegetable, and bring it back on Monday to share with the group. On zucchini week, they enjoyed all kinds of dishes, and definitely had a few variations of zucchini bread. For their final week, the participants held an even bigger “iron chef” potluck. “The youth were divided into two groups: main dish, or dessert,” Sahar explained. “Each was then given 3 ingredients to prepare a dish with. The savoury crew received winter squash, purple potatoes, and greens. The dessert team received peaches, blueberries, and mint. What a feast! It was amazing to see how the youth had built up their confidence in cooking and put together such wonderful dishes for us to enjoy and close the internship with.  The youth did an outstanding job!”

The youth also took great initiative and saw opportunity in sharing crops between gardens. At Van Tech, there’s a strong row of raspberry bushes that are sending up shoots in hopes of spreading as wide as possible. As they worked in that garden and managed the raspberry canes the youth discussed transplanting some of the shoots and were eager to bring some of the shoots from Van Tech to Britannia! “There’s currently no raspberry patch at Brit,” Sahar explained, “so this was a way to share resources from one school to another. It might be a small idea, but it is inspiring to see the possibility of these students collaborating during the school year to share resources from their gardens.”

The SOYL Program is open for youth aged 13-18 and currently supports school gardens at four Vancouver Secondary Schools: Britannia, Churchill, David Thompson and Van Tech.  SOYL is made possible by generous support from many funders, including Coast Capital Savings and Canada Summer Jobs, and through a partnership with UBC’s Think & Eat Green @ School project in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems.

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