From Dirt to Delicious in Caledon

Originally written for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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The Albion Hills Conservation lands are one of Caledon’s green jewels. Most know the area for its camping, swimming, bike and hike trails, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tobogganing. But it also houses two Outdoor Education Centres, one run by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the other by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

However, what some will remember fondly and others never knew existed, was the dairy farm tucked away in the north west corner of the property. The cows, and their manure pile overlooking the Humber River watershed are now gone, replaced by the Albion Hills Community Farm (AHCF). That is where a group of Caledon children, camping at Albion Hills Conservation Area, came to connect with their local food.

The children’s camp program is called “Dirt to Delicious” or D2D as it is affectionately known by Barb Imrie, a lifelong outdoor educator and the driving force behind the creation of the community farm. Barb, together with Amy Darrell, camp director, and Karen Hutchinson, Director at the AHCF, coordinated the children’s visits to the Farm.

There is nothing more rewarding than to see the look of wonder on children’s faces when they are connecting with their natural world. And there is nothing more basic to life than the food we eat. When a child plants a seed, watches it grow, harvests the crop, saves the seeds for next year and then prepares the meal, the cycle of learning is complete. That is where Dirt to Delicious makes such a great impact.

Assisted by Hayley Cunneyworth, the Farm’s talented summer student from Queen’s University, her brother Jackson in his final year at King Secondary School, and Steve McElroy, outdoor education specialist with TDSB and TRCA, the children weeded, planted and got their hands in the dirt. Steve, our Bee Man, took them to the apiary where they donned full beekeeper suits and went to see the hives. They smoked the hives, took out the trays of combs, and marveled at the cycle of life these tiny honeybees create.

Then they came to meet our first flock of backyard hens. Karen refers to me as the “Chicken Whisperer” and my role was to take the children into the run and meet my “Golden Girls” up close and personal. The children were in awe. “They are so beautiful, and so soft,” said one young girl as she stroked the chicken gently from head to tail feathers. Two eager volunteers collected the eggs. Another child just scooped up one of the hens and held it on her hip. The hen was absolutely calm.

“You are very good with animals,” I marveled.

“My friend has chickens. I love them,” she answered with a smile.

And there you have it. Children in contact with the natural cycles of life are healthy, happy children. They know from where their food comes, how it grows, how to plan for the next season. They know from where their honey comes, and can be amazed by the secret life of honeybees. They can raise their own food, collect their own eggs, and learn a responsibility for life that only farming and animal husbandry can bring.

From Dirt to Delicious plants the seeds. It takes a caring community to grow the children.

The way I see it.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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