School health in action:
Nature and design
Imagining a calmer cafeteria
High school cafeterias can seem overwhelming at times—more than just spaces for eating, they're often used for socializing, studying, or hosting school-based clubs and activities. Cafeterias can be busy, loud, and even chaotic at times.
Staff and students at Glenmary School in Peace River longed for a calmer cafeteria experience for their grade 7-12 students. Everyone came together to imagine a more natural space—some pictured an indoor garden, bursting with greenery and bringing a sense of peace. Others wondered about growing fresh herbs or flowers. Together, they reflected on what a more natural cafeteria space might look like, sound like, or feel like.
Students as co-designers
The school community turned to their wellness lead at Holy Family Catholic Regional Division (HFCRD) for support to make their vision a reality. They received a seed grant funded by the Alberta School Community Wellness Fund—a small amount of money meant to jump-start school-based projects aligned with HFCRD's overall plan for advancing comprehensive school health. The Career and Technology Studies (CTS) construction teacher stepped up to co-lead the project with interested students. With his guidance, young people took charge in:
- Researching sustainable gardening practices
- Identifying plant species with potential uses for the school
- Exploring ways to start and maintain an indoor garden as part of science, clubs, and other school activities
- Developing blueprints, supply lists, and cost estimates for the indoor garden structure
- Figuring out a schedule for CTS construction students to build the structure
- Installing the indoor garden in the cafeteria—it uses PVC pipes, cedar panels, grow lights, and a self-contained watering system to sustain 36 individual plants
With their indoor garden, Glenmary staff and students have taken a unique and proactive approach to improving the eating environment at school. They've brought nature indoors, making the cafeteria more inviting, pleasant, and calm. Feedback from the school community is extremely positive. People describe the garden as "creative" and "beautiful." Some say that it fits in well with the atmosphere at school.
Going forward, staff and students continue to find new ways the garden can strengthen wellness at school. For example, CTS foods students have recently started to grow fresh herbs and strawberries to use in cooking and baking.
For more information and tips to take action, go to:
Indoor gardens and public health
We asked AHS public health inspectors for their pro tips on indoor school gardening. Here's what they had to say:
Make sure the area is well ventilated to prevent too much moisture in the air. Aim for no more than 50-60% relative humidity, measured with a humidity meter from a hardware store.
Keep garden containers away from material that could grow mold, like carpet or drywall.
Avoid standing water—it can grow harmful bacteria.
Store chemicals and fertilizers safely, and follow manufacturer's instructions for use.
Encourage everyone to wash their hands well before and after working in the garden, and before harvesting the crop.
Check with your school authority about a pest management plan.
Keep the area around the garden clean—this will prevent dust and debris from moving around.