About Our ProGRAM

WHAT WE DO

Our work, which operates through Seeds of Diversity, is focused on creating opportunities for youth to connect with food systems, learn sustainable practices, and explore careers in food and agriculture. Our hybrid youth-led projects have connected with youth across southern Ontario to support them in learning about food systems, communicating about food and sustainability with their peers, and building skills and experiences. Since April 2021, over 200 youth aged 14-19 have participated in the program, accumulating over 2000 community service hours and building skills in leadership, communications, finance, logistics, coordination, collaboration, and more. 

We also create and maintain school food gardens, supporting elementary and secondary food literacy development. Our school garden project has built 45 food gardens at schools across Waterloo Region and provide hands-on opportunities to learn about horticulture, agriculture, and local food industries.

OUR HISTORY

We began in 2017 with our garden grant program that supports schools in building gardens, and building a network of schools, educators, and communities interested in supporting garden-based learning. We’re still supporting school garden builds across Waterloo Region (see our School Garden Network), but as our organization and community has grown, so have our goals!

Throughout 2020 and 2021, while a lot of in-person programming was suspended, we focused on finding ways to support youth in connecting with food systems and learning about sustainability in a virtual format. This led to the development of our Youth Portal, and to the creation of our online youth volunteer programs.  

Rather than delivering top-down, structured content, our online programs have focused on finding the topics that interest and motivate young people, and supporting them in developing their inquiry skills, food systems knowledge, and communication and career skills. We provide year-round and seasonal opportunities for high school students to gain their volunteer hours and take on meaningful roles through our youth-led projects. 

Thanks to our amazing youth participants, we now run our youth-led blog, host social media takeovers, plan and carry out our Youth Food Market, and interview food industry leaders in our Food Leaders Interview Series. In 2023, we piloted our Youth Advisory Council

In December 2022, we officially rebranded to Youth in Food Systems (YFS) in order to have a name more reflective of all that we do. Read more about this decision here.

2023 - Nurturing partners & leaders

As the year comes to a close and we reflect on the last twelve months, we are excited, proud, grateful, energized, and so many other positive adjectives. Our first full year as Youth in Food Systems! Approximately 125 new high school aged youth in the program. Over 1400 community service hours contributed. 5 incredible projects. And Circle – the engagement platform that over 110 youth are now active on, learning and sharing about all things food in super duper fun & accessible way. 

We were able to engage with our school garden network in new ways through our fruitful partnership with Nurture. During July and August, over 50 youth took the lead in caring for 10 school garden spaces, producing over 200lbs of produce that was sold and donated through our Youth Food Market. Speaking of the Market… our Market Leaders reached over 120 individuals and families through the project, contributing a tangible impact on the Waterloo Region community and their own growth. And now, for the first time, the Market Leader role is year-round, with over a dozen high school students meeting each month to plan and strategize for 2024! 

The blog reached its 300th post this year. Our Instagram reached its 25th youth takeover. Two new learning modules were developed as a co-creation between summer staff and youth leaders. Our content creation has become an incredible and varied way for youth to share their food systems knowledge with their peers in many different formats, enabling learning that is appealing and impactful. 

And finally, the Food Leader Interview Series. Season 3 development, training, production, and partial release all happened this past year. For the first time, an in person interview took place (thanks Daniella and Thompson!), and episodes are reaching more and more folks every day. Because who doesn’t want to learn about being a butcher, or a regenerative agriculture specialist, or a Green Industries educator? 

As our work continues to grow across time and space, we would like to express our gratitude to our many new and continued financial supporters, without whom we simply would not be able to carry out our work: Canada Summer Jobs, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, the Gay Lea Foundation, the Peterborough K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation, and the numerous supporters of our Youth Food Market (see the page here for a full list of who was involved in 2023). 

A thank you and congratulations to our youth participants – this program is yours! And, finally, to you. Our audience, followers, those who take the time to visit our website (welcome, it’s great to have you here!). We can only do what we do because others see value in it, too. We are excited, proud, grateful, energized, and so many other positive adjectives about that. See you in 2024!

2022 - stronger than ever!

** We are now officially Youth in Food Systems (YFS), a shift that was years in the making and involved months of behind-the-scenes efforts to make happen! ** 

2022 has been a year to remember! As things began to settle back into “normalcy”, we finished off our School Garden Grant with 10 new builds in the spring and early summer. This brings the total number of gardens in our network to 45, surpassing our original 3-year plan with OTF. Looking ahead, our focus will be on working with these almost four dozen schools to improve the long-term sustainability and use of the garden spaces for food production and learning. 

This year, our youth-led projects continued to flourish in ways that we could only have dreamed of when it all started two years ago. Our blog now has over 200 posts, our Interview Series consists of over a dozen food leader interviews, our Youth Food Market provided affordably-priced produce to 85 families during four Market days this summer, our Garden Education Program launched, and our Youth Advisory Council is just about ready to pilot! This year, approximately 120 new high school students participated as volunteers, contributing over 1000 community service hours. 

A true highlight of the year comes in the form of new relationships with funders, organizations, and individuals in the community. As usual, a big thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Canada Summer Jobs for the sustained support of our program. We’d also like to thank the Peterborough K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation, the Gay Lea Foundation, and Waterloo Region Community Foundation for their involvement. And, of course, thanks to everyone who worked with us in some way this past year – you know who you are and we hope you know we appreciate you. 

If you’re reading this – thank you! Thank you for being here, for being interested in what we do, and for recognizing the importance of engaging youth in food exploration. We can’t wait to see what 2023 brings for YFS!

2021 - Oh, The Places We’ll Grow!

This year has been our busiest yet. With continued uncertainty surrounding school food gardens and in-person programming, we made a big leap into engaging youth through our hybrid volunteer program. This program, called Youth in Food Systems (YFS), provides opportunities for young people across Ontario to gain knowledge, skills, and experience in food systems. This year, we directly engaged 110 high school students in our YFS program, who collectively logged over 600 volunteer hours. 

That doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our roots, though! 2021 saw 10 new gardens built at schools across Waterloo Region, bringing us up to 35 school food gardens, reaching over 20,000 students each year. With any luck, we’ll be back to consistent in-school learning soon, meaning more young people spending more time engaged with food and sustainable practices. 

As always, what we do is only possible because of the support and partnerships of recent years. This year, in particular, we gained so much from our community partnerships and newly forged relationships with our youth volunteers. We also want to acknowledge the support provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Canada Summer Jobs program, without which we could not have accomplished all we did. 

Moving forward, we aim to continue our trek towards empowering young people to learn, inquire, and communicate about food systems, and how they can participate in the creation of a sustainable food future. Let’s go, 2022!

2020 - a pivotal time to grow!

This year has brought us many unexpected events, endeavours, and opportunities. After an uncertain start to the season, we have been able to move forward with several exciting new projects, including a shift to online resources for youth. We are delighted to announce the launch of our new online Youth Portal! Here, students are able to find videos, activities, and resources related to topics such as indoor growing, climate change, food & nutrition, pollinators and lots of fun arts & crafts. This portal was created to support students’ learning while the education system continues to evolve. Our resources for this portal will continue to evolve and grow as we learn along with you. We are grateful for the support of the Canada Summer Jobs program for allowing us to have a team of talented youth to help make this happen! 

We anticipate a grand total of 15 garden builds this fall, bringing our total up to 40! This was our target goal for the 2020-2021 school year, and we would not have made it without the support of our community and our sponsors. Thank you to Seeds of Diversity and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, in particular, for their ongoing support. 

Much of what we do would not be possible without our wonderful and generous community. We have fostered many new relationships over the past year, and aim to continue expanding our horizons as we further develop as a strong and collaborative community organization. Your support helps ensure that our project continues to provide outdoor education resources and opportunities to an ever-growing number of students and schools.

2019 and into the future – Growing up, and up, and up!

With the success of obtaining the Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, we can grow our project to new heights! This spring, we finished a total of 13 gardens – propelling us forward towards our grand total of 40 gardens by 2021. In addition, we aim to continue our annual Teachers Workshop and Conference, and (perhaps our most ambitious and highly-anticipated objective) support a newly developed youth-led farmer’s market.

Follow us on social media for updates, important grant opportunities, and you can always support us here to ensure our project remains sustainable and ever-present in the community. We thank you for all your support and interest in making sure students have access to grow fresh, healthy food.

2018 – Planting and Cultivating: Finding Community Partnerships

The effort put in this year sowed many rewards. We hosted our first annual Teachers Workshop and Conference to promote and support school food gardens. Additionally, we partnered with Your Neighbourhood Credit Union for a garden at Silverheights P.S in Hespeler. In total, we were able to build 5 more gardens with the help of 48 more volunteers.

The goal of this year was to find strong connections in our community. Each build was possible through volunteer construction, student participation, and local business involvement. Our garden frames were constructed by secondary school students, we sourced our supplies from local businesses, and we collaborated with other non-profit organizations. There is always a place for our volunteers and community members to contribute!

2017 – Healthy Communities, Healthy Kids

Thanks to the incredible partnerships between Seeds of Diversity and the Waterloo Region Community Garden Network, we were able to build 7 new school gardens in the Waterloo Region. We are grateful to have received the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (Region of Waterloo) grant to fund this incredible endeavour. Approximately 67 volunteers participated in the builds, which included supporting school staff, parents, students, and members of the community. In addition, our friends at Grand River Food Forestry built a pollinator and edible food fedge on the perimeter of our Empire P.S. garden.

This inaugural phase of the WR School Food Gardens project set the stage for what we could accomplish as a community, and we plan to continue to grow, grow, grow!