Principal - Oakenwald School
Winnipeg, Pembina Trails School Division

Tanis Thiessen, principal of Oakenwald School in Winnipeg, has always considered herself a farmer’s daughter even though she grew up a city kid. Both her parents grew up on farms and always taught her about agriculture. For fun in the summer, her dad would take her on long drives in the country where he would quiz her on which crops were growing in the fields.

“If you ask any student in Winnipeg where food comes from,” said Tanis, “They will likely say Costco or Superstore.”

On a mission to teach students that food actually comes from farms, and inspired by an Agriculture in the Classroom-Manitoba Seed Survivor visit in 2017, Tanis and her staff of 32 included outdoor education, sustainability and agricultural experience in their 2018-19 school plan.

“The Oakenwald teachers are absolutely amazing,” said Tanis, who has been in education for 25 years, “they are up for anything.”

In the spring of 2019, the Oakenwald teachers worked hard to incorporate agriculture into their curriculums. They had farm animals visit from Up the Creek Cattle Company, one classroom participated in Fort Whyte Alive’s Forest School, and they studied native Manitoba perennials and talked about sustainable agriculture.

In May, the school planted a mini wheat field in a 4’ x 8’ raised garden on the school grounds. They chose to plant the native prairie wheat and do nothing to it in order to observe how it grew according to the natural weather conditions, in line with their school motto: Observe – Wonder – Learn – Share. The school librarian incorporated lessons on native Manitoba plants into every grade’s Maker Space program.

Over the course of the summer, Tanis diligently visited the wheat garden each week to take photos and share them on social media to keep the students updated and engaged with the wheat project using the hashtag #WednesdayWheat. On Friday, August 23, the students who attend the in-school daycare harvested the wheat, along with Tanis and a few other teachers and parents.

Students will participate in “threshing” this September, probably by sandwiching the wheat between two tarps and stomping on it to release the berries from chaff. They will then use a hand-cranked mill to grind the wheat to make flour and students will learn how windmills use stones to grind flour. Then, some of the parents have offered to come in to teach students how to bake sour dough bread using their harvest.

“I’m not sure that we’ll even have enough for a loaf of bread,” said Tanis, “But that will be a part of the learning.”

We are so excited to have passionate educators like Tanis in our province, teaching students about where their food comes from and how it’s grown! Great work Tanis!