The grade 1 and 2 students at Sigurbjorg Stefansson Early School in Gimli got a little extra gift when the pandemic sent them home last year. That gift? Individual bags of microgreen seedlings!

Lisa Michaluk has been teaching grades 1-2 for 22 years. About a decade ago, along with the help of former phys ed teacher Sarah Chapnick, she started incorporating more agriculture-related activities in her classroom.

Michaluk says Chapnick organized guest speakers and field trips, but also introduced her to Agriculture in the Classroom – Manitoba’s (AITC-M) resources and activities.

“We were so lucky to have her,” says Michaluk, “her passion for it really made you want to be a part of everything she was doing.”

Since then, Michaluk has implemented a garden in her classroom, taken part in the Little Green Sprouts program for the past two years, ran a research project about bees, and taken countless agriculture-related field trips. She says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I do think that the Ag in the Classroom programs and Little Green Sprouts make such a huge difference to the students,” she says, “Even the thought of taking a seat and then having to wait and be patient. To know how to care for something, it’s important to them.”

When the province moved to remote learning in March of 2020, Michaluk says she hurried to bag the microgreens they had been growing since November 2019 and handed them out individually to each student.

According to the reactions she says she received from students and parents alike, it was a hit.

“It was so cool to see them when we'd have our Teams meeting each week. They’d bring their little micro greens up to the camera to show you and tell you all about how much they grew since the last week,” says Michaluk.

She also recalls parents sending her messages about how they added microgreens to their dinnertime salads, and how excited the children were to eat the plants they grew.

“When the little six and seven year-olds see something, they believe it. And when they believe it, they believe with their whole hearts,” she says, “that’s how big of an impact it has on them, to see how something is growing from the ground and goes right onto their plates.”

Prior to the pandemic, Michaluk says her classroom gardens were themed every year. She says they take great care in deciding what to plant together.

One year, she says they decided to make a taco-themed garden, and the next, a bee garden complete with research into which wildflowers were best. If the kids want corn on the cob and carrot muffins? They plant corn and carrots to make that happen.

“I think what I've noticed the most with the kids is that when they get to decide on what we plant, they're so deeply invested, right?” she says.

Some years the kids request plants that don’t typically grow in Manitoba, but Michaluk says she does her best to oblige anyways. According to her, their watermelons didn’t make it, but that’s all part of the learning process.

Michaluk says she takes care of the garden maintenance during the school year, but the custodian at the school handles it during the summer.

“We are so grateful for him, and we always make sure to share our gratitude with him,” she says.

A favourite AITC-M activity in Lisa’s classroom is the Food Gratitude printable sheet. She says the students love to brainstorm about all the reasons they should be thankful to farmers and what they do.

“It was so interesting, because every food they thought of started like a chain reaction. They were realizing so much and their little faces lit up when they thought ‘that's from a farmer, that's from a farmer!’” she says.

As for advice she has for new teachers, Michaluk says to never be afraid of not knowing something. She suggests joining Twitter to connect with other educators, and to always be ready to ask for help.

She also says you have to be willing to fail, but to use the failure as an opportunity for learning.

“We had it happen a month ago that some of the kids planted speckled peas, and some of them planted buckwheat and the buckwheat did not grow. Failing is part of it too, right?”