La Verendrye School
Portage la Prairie School Division

Stewart Akerley’s fifth grade classroom is full of budding minds and flowering plants.

Cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and green beans – which his students call “magical”, are just a few of the vegetables growing in Stewart’s classroom.

“The first time the plant pokes through, that’s a magical moment. The kids can’t wait to see it. Once it flowers and makes fruit, they love to watch it grow.”

Stewart has been teaching for 12 years, and first started his classroom garden in 2014 through Agriculture in the Classroom’s program Little Green Thumbs. Stewart applied and received seeds, dirt, and supplies to create a thriving classroom garden. Stewart had some experience with gardening, but he says he learned alongside his students.

“It brightens up the room, creates conversations, and the kids start to ask questions about it.”

Stewart’s classroom garden was just the beginning. From taking his students on field trips to Brandon for the Amazing Agriculture Adventure, to inviting farmers to talk with his students, Stewart jumps on every opportunity to provide hands on learning for his class.

“Kids love talking to farmers! Every chance I get to bring in a farming display or activity, I’m all over it.”

The classroom garden has become a centerpiece for a much bigger life lesson. Stewart wants to teach the importance of knowing where your food comes from and making healthy choices. His students are responsible for planting, watering, and harvesting the plants.

“They’re growing these plants from seeds and taking care of them and reaping the harvest. It’s so rewarding for them."

After harvesting the vegetables, Stewart throws a party for the class where they get to eat everything they harvested. The lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers become a healthy salad for the class to share.  Stewart says he can see first-hand how the garden promotes a healthy change in his students.

“This one student came in a week after the party and says ‘Mr. A, Mr. A, we went to Chicken Chef for dinner and we got a salad because I loved the salad we made so much!’”

Stewart is the 2020 recipient of the Teacher Driver Award through AITC-M which honours teachers who show exceptional leadership in agriculture education. Stewart was nominated by one of the first farmers to ever come and speak to his students. He was shocked when he heard the news he had won.

“The students keep me driving and give me the desire to keep this going.”

We are thrilled to have educators like Stewart share the magic of gardening and agriculture with students in Manitoba. Congratulations, Stewart!