Urban agriculture isn’t just a euphemism for “grow-op” anymore.
The burgeoning field has found fertile roots on the North Shore, with backyard farms sprouting up and municipalities, community groups and now even schools digging in.
Next fall, in a first for the area, students at West Vancouver secondary will even have the option of a credit course in urban farming and beekeeping.
Twenty-two teens have already signed up to grow winter vegetables and learn beginner apiculture from Gordon Trousdell, the physics teacher spearheading the initiative, which will be counted as a sustainable resources class.
“I’ve been running a garden club at school and just noticed how much more there is you can do and how many curricular connections there are,” Trousdell said. “I just thought it would be kind of cool to get the kids out there working with the bees and in the garden.”
The course will be open to students in grades 11 and 12. A blended class, it will be taught partly online and partly in the field.
“In a practical class, we might just be in the garden and have an expert on beneficial insects come in,” Trousdell said. “Or we might be in the apiary doing Varroa counts or nosema calculations.” (Varroa and nosema are parasites that affect bees).
The school is building an apiary for the class with help from a Vancouver Coastal Health grant. The stipend is one of 13 handed out this year under the health authority’s food security program.
“It’s a big step up in scale (from the club),” Trousdell said. “Before, we weren’t able to keep bees on school property. With it being a credit course, now we are.”
The class also has the approval of the West Vancouver school district, said assistant superintendent Dave Eberwein.
“It just seemed like a great learning opportunity for everybody,” he said
Before allowing the project to go forward, though, the district did an extensive safety review and held public consultations. As far as Eberwein is concerned, the class will be safe.
West Vancouver principal Steve Rauh is another big backer of the course. For him, the interdisciplinary nature of agriculture is one of the program’s key appeals.
“There’s ties to elements of the science curriculum, there’s ties to the mathematics curriculum, from it you can take elements and develop them further in courses like English or social studies,” he said.
The same goes for beekeeping, said Trousdell.
“From a science point of view, it’s just incredible. There’s so many things, so many patterns in the hive to look at.”
And while the course will have a geopolitical aspect, there will be no shortage of hands-on work, Trousdell said.
“Some of the stuff we do in class can seem pretty abstract, whereas if the kids are doing the experiments right out in the ground and getting their hands dirty, I think they might see the application of it a bit more.”