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Raymond Loo Memorial Garden gives Holland College students and staff a place to learn and reflect

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A barren patch of land on Holland College’s Prince of Wales Campus has been turned into an organic garden and Plein air classroom where students and staff can rediscover the therapeutic benefits of nature and take applied learning to a whole new level.

The Raymond Loo Memorial Garden is named after one of the most prominent organic farmers in Prince Edward Island. For more than 10 years, Mr. Loo welcomed students from Holland College’s Transitions program, a career exploration program for high school students, to his farm to learn more about organic farming. When Mr. Loo died of cancer two years ago, Transitions staff wanted to pay tribute to his work and vision for P.E.I. youth by providing students with an outdoor classroom where they could learn about sustainability firsthand by designing, building, planting, maintaining and harvesting an on-campus organic garden.

“Our overall goal is to remember Raymond by carrying on what he started – encouraging students to think about where their food comes from, getting them out in nature and learning what it takes to build and maintain a garden,” said Joan Diamond, Transitions coordinator for the college. “The students’ participation in these activities confirmed our hunch that students really do enjoy learning in nature, despite the fact that they don’t often get the opportunity. Even the students who started out thinking it was ‘lame’, said that they had learned a lot and felt a real sense of contributing in a meaningful way to the community.”

As the project evolved over the spring and summer months, the Transitions team realized that the garden was having a noticeable effect on the campus community as a whole. Students and staff began eating their lunches there, and the college’s youngest students, the children in the college’s Early Learning Centre, began visiting it, too.

The Transitions staff worked with instructors in the Early Learning Centre to facilitate experiential learning with the students in the garden.  Joan Diamond went into the class to talk about sustainability and the importance of knowing where one’s food comes from, and the youngsters planted seedlings indoors to transplant to the garden later.  The children had three planting beds, and the excitement was palpable as they watched their seeds grow. Eventually, they were able harvest and eat them.  They continue to enjoy their afternoon visits to what they refer to as “The Secret Garden”, where they can pick and eat strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

As the campus community began to use the garden more, Diamond noticed a growing trend of instructors taking their classes out to the garden, and the Transitions team decided to create an outdoor learning space complete with seating, stage and podium.

This garden presents endless opportunities to educate and model environmental stewardship. One garden bed is filled with plants that attract the endangered Monarch butterfly.  This year, the Holland College library partnered with the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management team to facilitate a Monarch butterfly release in the garden.  It was a huge success.  Diamond believes that the best way to encourage a sustainable campus is by creating a sustainable culture through engaging students and staff in activities such as these.

“We want to change the way students think about food and nature, and hope to create and maintain a creative space on each of our main campuses that will allow us to continue this work as part of our Transitions environmental rotation, thus enhancing our program content and at the same time enhancing the experience for all students at each of the campuses,” she said.

The Raymond Loo Memorial Garden was created with assistance from the college’s President’s Innovation Fund.