Being at home more often than ever before during the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a renewed interest in gardening and growing your own food.
As such, the York Region Food Network (YRFN) stepped up to the plate not only on how to grow the vegetables to put on it, but also what to do with the scraps.
The YRFN’s Compost Learning Hub is just one successful initiative that has been borne out of the pandemic. Held virtually from the outset, the program is showing no signs of slowing down into the fall as people from across York Region – and from all cultural backgrounds – continue their quest to learn.
The Compost Learning Hub is designed to educate participants about waste reduction, how to turn this waste into black gold for the garden, and share experiences along the way.
“This has been a huge success and a hit with a lot of people,” says YRFN’s Jessica Tong. “There is a lot of interest throughout COVID with gardening, growing your food, and obviously with people working in their own gardens. We have a good variety of workshops, a screening of a documentary with a panel discussion afterwards, and things like that really get people interested.
"If they are not so into the garden side of things, we have had preservation workshops, how to re-use your coffee grounds, and we even had a bio-artist who presented her work with microbes in the mud, the soil and how she made that into artwork.
“We really tried to reach out to as diverse a group as possible with all of our topics and I think that really helped to bring as many people as possible in.”
The Learning Hub has also gone a long way in dispelling many of the myths and misconceptions that swirl around composting, including one executive director Kate Greavette says is fostered from residents all the way up to elected officials: that outdoor composters are not well-maintained, stink, attract pests and are otherwise a “negative for the community.”
“That is something we have heard again and again,” she says. “I think through the workshops we have done a good job of encouraging people to understand composters in a different way. If it does attract rodents, it means the composter is not being maintained as well. If it is outrageously smelly, that means there is a problem.
“What we have been doing is troubleshooting so if people are experiencing any of these symptoms in their composters, we have videos, we have facilitators, staff who are there to help people walk through that, and a lot of the education is just letting people know that yes, we all make mistakes as we strive to reduce our waste, but it is learning from those mistakes and carrying it forward.
Although the Compost Learning Hub will continue virtually for the remainder of 2021, Greavette says they are hopeful participants will able to get their hands dirty together in 2022.
“We will be offering tours of our demonstration site where people can either have a guided or self-guided tour and we will be looking at opportunities to really engage young kids and young families,” says Greavette. “There could be scavenger hunts or different opportunities for people to do some self-learning within the space as well. We’ll also be offering some hands-on in-person training and that can be things like making your own vermicomposter (composting with help from worms), to making a do-it-yourself gift.
“We’re looking to have a really wide mix of engagement strategy to fit every single age and demographic.”
What they have come up with so far for the virtual realm, however, has proved to fit every single age and demographic as well.
“We’re so fortunate to have such a diversity of cultures in this area and what we have learned throughout all of our food programming is every single ethno-cultural group has different ways of understanding localities, seasonality, food waste and food practices,” says Greavette. “One of the things that regardless of who the presenters are, regardless of staff, regardless of who is at the table, having that diversity of cultures really allows these conversations to flourish. Something I do, having grown up in Aurora, might be in a different context than someone who has grown up somewhere in Japan. We find that offers a really good base… to foster engagements and also learn from one another.”
Upcoming learning opportunities from the York Region Food Network include a workshop on Oct. 5 on putting the garden “to bed” and closing it for the season.
For more information, visit yrfn.ca.