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Planting seeds for population health through early learning

Oct 23, 2023

Home 5 News 5 Planting seeds for population health through early learning

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Monday, October 23, 2023 …. A local school, Scotsburn Elementary, is a recent recipient of an UpLift student action grant, which they are using in collaboration with the local Scotsburn Community Food Forest to grow more than a garden this school year.

UpLift is a School-University-Community Partnership, hosted within Dalhousie University’s Healthy Populations Institute. The program operates in partnership with government, Nova Scotia Health, school communities, non-profits and the private sector to support the health and learning of school-aged children using a Health Promoting Schools approach. The UpLift Partnership is working in several school regions across Nova Scotia.

The Health Promoting Schools framework aims to create the conditions for healthy learning environments and thriving school communities by engaging youth to drive the changes they want to see. With funding from the Aberdeen Health Foundation, the QEII Health Foundation, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine, the UpLift Partnership has catalyzed this approach in schools across Pictou County and the benefits have been far-reaching.

The Scotsburn Community Food Forest began in 2019 as an idea from community member Raina McDonald to develop edible landscaping in the park beside Scotsburn Elementary. With the help of other amazing volunteers and support from Scotsburn Recreation who owns the land, the project has evolved in phases over the past four growing seasons.

“Our diverse ecosystem is now home to several fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs and an abundance of perennials – vegetables, herbs, medicinals and pollinator attractors,” McDonald says. “The Garden Club at Scotsburn Elementary has taken a leadership role in connecting their peers with the Food Forest. Over the last few years, students have nurtured seedlings in their classrooms and planted them into the Food Forest. Teachers have done a beautiful job of weaving these activities into their curriculum and students are cultivating and observing life cycles and making valuable connections.”

The UpLift grant is being used to strengthen the existing partnership between the school and Food Forest, beginning with an idea the students had to build a Harvest Share Stand, where students and community members can access the garden’s harvest. “This past spring, they painted the walls of the stand, including two beautiful murals,” McDonald explains. “We are hoping that, over time, this stand will also become a hub for sharing other locally grown food.”

“This opportunity has put students in situations where they must learn to work as a team,” says Megan Moore, SchoolsPlus Community Outreach Worker. “They have taken on leadership roles, learned communication, used creativity to create and build, and much more. They have gotten to be part of something that goes from seed to food, to the hands of someone who needs that food. Because of them, there is a beautifully painted Share Shed at the Food Forest and tons of plants that they have helped plant and nurture.”

One of the many benefits of this new partnership has been the promotion of healthier habits for the school and community. “It’s no secret that having kids involved in the creation of their own food is an excellent way to get them excited about eating,” says Moore. “I have seen students learn about healthy foods they hadn’t heard of before. Students have tried new vegetables that they helped grow. It’s been a great way to see kids put healthy foods in their bellies and to also help create that opportunity for others. This club has been a small step in supporting food security within their school and community.”

UpLift grant projects have been completed at schools across the county since the Aberdeen Health Foundation has partnered with the program. The projects have varied from the installation of accessible seating, to sporting equipment purchases, to building outdoor learning environments, funding student leadership groups and more. While the projects may change from school to school, the goals of the program remain the same. “Through UpLift, the Aberdeen Health Foundation is investing to shift the culture in our schools towards health,” says Dr. Pat Craig, Chair of the Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Population Health Committee. Some benefits from that shift are already being seen in participating schools and include strengthened student voice, leadership skills, increased student engagement, and the enhancement of social and physical environments that support health and learning within schools and communities.

“This is the seed of change the Foundation would like to help grow in Pictou County. The bonus is a program that gives students a direct voice in saying what they need to make healthy choices, and that’s when lasting change really takes root.”

In Scotsburn, community leaders can see this change first-hand. “For the students, this grant is supporting physical activity outdoors, breathing fresh air, hands-on learning, understanding where food comes from and what can be grown locally,” McDonald explains. “It’s raising awareness around food security and caring for ourselves and community. We see the Food Forest as an intergenerational learning and gathering place. The students bring a natural curiosity and a playfulness that uplifts other elements of the project and is an integral part of the whole. We hope to continue this relationship for generations to come.”

To learn more about the work of the UpLift Partnership, visit UpLift (upliftns.ca)

The Aberdeen Health Foundation is the leading charity for enhancing health care in Pictou County. In 2022 the Foundation invested over $2 million to fund medical equipment and enhance health programs at the Aberdeen Hospital and in our community.

Michelle Ferris
Executive Director
Aberdeen Health Foundation

902-752-7600 ext. 4442