Abundance, Contribution & Friendships in PACTs TCI School Garden

This article originally appeared at

Hot Summer Days at Thistletown, 2016
by Clara Luke, garden manager

Well, I can’t really avoid talking about it so I’ll start with the obvious topic this summer: IT WAS HOT!! And dry. Thankfully, we have a drip-irrigation system at Thistletown CI. Unfortunately, I’m sure we used a tonne of water over the summer  (note: I do not know the precise amount; I don’t think a tonne is accurate). Drip irrigation cuts down on water use but given the long periods without rain and how often we ran the system, it had to have been a substantial amount. On a positive note, many of the plants loved the heat. Soo many peppers and eggplants!

Student Volunteers & Focus On Youth Students

Let’s rewind a little bit though. We’ll go back to the beginning of July when our Focus on Youth Toronto (FOYT) students started working at the garden. The first few weeks after school let out also saw a number of other students coming to the garden to get community service hours. Although we had fewer FOYT students working at the garden than last season (just Dharmik and Ahsif, who added a lot of fun, jokes, and interesting conversation — oh, and some hard work — to the garden this summer ;), there were a number of very appreciated helping hands throughout the month. The heat slowed us down, I’m sure, but don’t think that stopped us from weeding.

I have to admit, though, the compost system got some special attention this summer — possibly because of it’s desirable location in the shade. Ahsif made sure we were chopping materials well, giving it water when it was dry and checking the temperature regularly.


Proud Ahsif and young Dharmik showcase our impressive garlic harvest


Student volunteers, Diyadam and Leke, on market day

Among some of the highlights while working with Ahsif and Dharmik this summer were:

+ The Great Garlic Harvest of 2016 (I know, I know, we didn’t call it that at the time)
+ Making sauerkraut with fellow FOYT students from PACT’s John Polanyi Collegiate garden
+ Garden market days
+ and our end-of-FOYT party, again with our friends at the JPCI garden and Laura, our awesome school garden manager at Elmbank Junior Middle School

TCI school garden TCI Garden market

Cargo bike

Easier way to get market goods to local food banks! David Lockett tests out the new garden cargo bike designed by Dan, a local friend of the garden and instructor of industrial design at Humber College.

Food Bank Contributions

Throughout July and into August, we had a number of other regular visitors and volunteers at the TCI garden who need some shout-outs! We continued to make weekly donations to both the Rexdale Alliance Church food bank and Braeburn Neighbourhood Place food bank. Getting produce to Braeburn became much easier after Dan, a local friend of the garden and instructor of industrial design at Humber College, brought over the completed bike trailer. Thanks Dan! His great design is low-cost, and very light.

Thanks to our Welcomed Regular Helpers

Laura, garden manager at PACTs Elmbank school garden was also a regular face at the garden for a number of weeks this summer. She came by on Thursdays to help us with harvesting, weeding, cleaning garlic, and any number of other tasks that helped us and the garden become even more productive. Thanks Laura!

We also had regular visits from Prince, the mental health and addictions nurse at TCI, and his colleagues, Jodi and Monica. We spent some Friday afternoons doing fun workshops with them and any other students who were at the garden that day. And of course, we did some work at the same time — usually their favourite garden activity, compost chopping. Thank you Prince, Jodi and Monica!

Of course, we can’t forget our dedicated garden volunteers. Thank you to EVERYONE who contributed over the summer! One of our most regular student volunteers was Tommy, who came by even on some of the hottest days. I think he might be close to finishing his 40 hours of community service by now! Sarah is one of the garden’s most regular community volunteers and she has seen so many aspects of the garden this season, and shared many of her experiences of learning and healing in the garden.



A successful garden requires many hours of many days, and many days of many months in order to be as beautiful and well maintained as it can be.

Compost Program

Our compost program got underway this summer as well. So far, a few community members have been coming by with their food scraps for our compost. In exchange, they get ‘garden bucks’ to use at our weekly market. It has been a good start to the program and we hope to get more people involved this season and next!

Our compost program underwent a major expansion this past summer. The bins were inactive at the beginning of our placement, but as a group we managed to bring heat activity back to the compost as it continues to decompose into soil. This took a few weeks to do as much time was spent watering, cutting-up compost, adding compost and shoveling compost had to be spent to get our compost bins literally hot. Many groans, grunts, and muscle aches later, this goal was achieved and we finally have fantastic compost bins that were active and heating up! It’s really crazy when you feel the warmth of compost too; who would’ve thought that heaping pile of stinky kitchen scraps and pesky weeds would be in the process of becoming something so essential for plant life? Still boggles my mind even after my second summer of working how nature works in such awesome and efficient ways.

Looking to Fall

That was the summer but there’s still the fall! School will be back in session, we’ll harvest even more, and ready the garden for it’s winter sleep. But to wrap up our summer update, here is a reflection on the garden by Ahsif, one of the TCI garden’s summer students.

It’s been my pleasure over the the past two summers to be working at the Thistletown Garden and to be apart of it’s amazing growth. Within this time, I have learned how to maintain plants, trees, soil, compost, and the overall landscape of our garden. In order for the garden to remain healthy and fruitful watering, weeding, trimming and other chores are tasks that need almost daily commitment. There is never a day where something can’t be done to improve our garden. Ironically, even things that have died and made into compost require the same amount of attention in order to create successful compost bins. It’s this constant message of “you get what you give” that surrounds the garden like an aura.


Teamwork = Amazing Results

I think this effort of hard work and time to maintain the garden project should be something we all use to treat ourselves as individuals. Being healthy and being happy are goals that everyone should strive for. Spending time on the field, watering, harvesting, cleaning, trimming, weeding, lifting and carrying things, and, reanimating ‘dead’ compost bins, with Clara, Dharmik, the other PACT workers and the volunteers showed me that with time, and effort, seemingly difficult goals are achievable as long as you work with others and never give up your goals.

This past summer working with PACT also gave me the opportunity to make new friends and see old friends too! It’s been quite a stressful summer for me as University is right around the corner and to be surrounded by funny, open and interesting people took the edge off for me and really made this summer a summer to remember. The day at John Polanyi’s awesome garden was some of the most fun I’ve had in quite a while! The food was great, the garden was beautiful, and it was great to see the friends I have gained over the past two summers again.

Overall, this summer, although very hot and humid, felt really well spent with PACT. I’ll miss our weird conversations, the volunteers I have met while working (all of whom were very helpful), the John Polanyi group, Laura from Elmbank, Dharmik and Clara. All of you made my summer special.

xo Clara

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