Small Changes Make a Big Difference: The Importance of Non-Toxic Products to Our Health & the Organic Solution

Sapna Singh, a member of “Nature’s Tale” outlined her process in discovering the importance of non-toxic products to our health and the small steps that she has taken, in order to make a greater impact when it comes to determining an organic solution.

Harvest of Hope: Cultivating Learning Gardens

Speaker: Sunday HarrisonWritten by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

What if you could find a system to empower urban children, the youth and their families to learn about growing and preparing fresh food in a cultivated environment? Well, Ms. Sunday Harrison has created just that, by bringing the concept of “learning gardens” to local elementary schools as an after school program. Her objective is to generate a fun and experimental learning environment to help develop the palate of children and the youth, so that they are willing to try new foods and essentially make healthier choices.

Ms. Harrison’s Green Thumb Model consists of implementing learning gardens in a cluster of elementary schools near the Centre for Social Innovation Regent Park (CSI-RP). Within this model one garden and one food educator is designated to serve up to four schools. The garden is designed to be managed by each school at least once per day, which in other words means that a total of 4 classes are allocated to the garden per day and as much as 400 students are involved in the cultivating process per week.

            Although this idea may seem unfamiliar to some of us, there is a variety of research available depicting the benefits and importance of learning gardens. Some of these research findings include:

  • Nutrition programs with and without a school garden; more effective with gardens (Morgan 2010, 127 Grade 5 students, 10 week program)
  • Interest and willingness to try new fruits and vegetables increases with the use of gardens in institutions (Libman 2007, Morgan et al. 2010, Radcliffe et al. 2011)
  • Interventions that target children living in low income urban communities are particularly important because adult eating patterns are developed early in life (Radcliffe et al. 2011)

Learning gardens are also beneficial as they help children and the youth develop food literacy. The best way to learn the language of food is to directly be involved in the harvesting process. By understanding the vocabulary, people gain a better idea as to what is involved in food systems, including its production, distribution, control and essentially how the food we eat gets to our plates. Children and the youth also acquire knowledge regarding seed saving and the annual cycle of vegetables in a season. This concept encompasses both math and science because it also provides a greater understanding of the growth of more seeds with each plant that grows. Normally, people are unaware of what is present in the food that they are consuming, including the negative effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). However having direct involvement in the gardening process gives individuals the ability to completely identify the contents within their food. Playing an active role in cultivating food also allows direct interaction with pesticides/fertilizers. This therefore demonstrates the necessity of fertilizer use to prevent the erosion of soil health and to destroy microbiota of systems in order for plants to adequately extract nutrients from the soil. Additionally, it allows a greater understanding of water conservation, where rainwater can be utilized for hydration instead of excess use of municipal water. Exhibiting this same system of learning gardens in low income urban environments can also counteract organic premium inequality where populations unable to afford organic foods would normally have limited access to them.

Since climate change education starts in middle school, learning gardens implemented within the curriculum can further assist in demonstrating the effects of seasonal change on cultivation. Currently there are limited resources concerning climate change available. A google search for “climate change” between kindergarten to 8th Grade science only yields 6 matches. Furthermore searching “mitigation” yields no matches. Therefore employing learning gardens into the school system can be very beneficial in providing knowledge regarding local foods that grow in Ontario, what seasons they typically develop in and what adapts to our microclimate in Ontario. Additionally, they can also mitigate climate change by allowing for use of locally grown foods as opposed to transporting foods from more distal locations and by sequestering carbon. If these practises were executed by more people, they would have an even greater impact possibly on a global scale.

Typically up to 40% of food grown is wasted in landfill emitting methane gas, as opposed to being properly composted. Therefore educating students on appropriate techniques of composting on school grounds can also prevent agricultural waste.

In addition to learning gardens, Ms. Harrison’s Harvest of Hope program also offers after school youth programs for individuals between the ages of 15-19. Volunteer programs are also available to provide opportunities to children interested in getting involved and they even offer grown-up gardens and placement to attract more diverse age groups. They also provide summer programs for the youth and intergenerational programs for family harvesting in order to encourage the growth of crops rich within the summer months. In addition to managing gardens from seedlings to harvest, they also offer a youth enterprise which is a partial farmers market available in order for extra produce to be utilized rather than wasted.

The future of the program is headed towards a transition from school gardens to ecologically friendly trades. This new direction will also offer youth training and good green jobs in addition to food and urban agriculture and ecological landscape gardening without the use of machinery and pesticides.


1)   What effects do learning gardens have on children with attention disorders?

Many research findings have supported the attention restoration theory, where nature as a whole and gardens in particular have been shown to restore the directive attention of individuals and therefore improve their mental acuity. (Berto, 2005)

            Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have also been seen to present with fewer symptoms when exposed to green space (Kuo and Taylor, 2004) and in particular learning gardens. Many teachers have also reported that students with ADHD and other disorders seem to thrive and perform better mentally in the engaging nature and greenery provided by learning gardens. (Wells, 2000) These students have also demonstrated fewer disciplinary issues in this setting as “invisible walls” can be created to help establish a sense of boundaries.   

2)      What are some possible impacts community gardens can have on the elderly population?

Studies have shown that offering community gardening clubs to the elderly population could essentially reduce the need for more costly and intrusive care alternatives for dementia patients. (Kane and Cook, 2013)

Providing gardening opportunities to the elderly population would allow them to get involved in the activities required for its maintenance and could be a non-pharmacological strategy used to address some of the difficulties in daily living encountered by dementia patients. This can help with maximizing independent activity, increasing adaptability, enhancing function, minimizing the need for support and overall improving the quality of life for this population. (NICE, 2011)

There are many studies available, demonstrating the advantages of horticultural therapy and garden settings in improving attention, controlling agitation, reducing pain, stress levels and falls in addition to decreasing the need for medications including antipsychotics. These can especially be beneficial to the elderly population suffering from dementia. (Detweiler et al., 2012, Gitlin et al., 2012)

One study that was conducted compared the effects of planting, cooking and crafting activities on adult day service participants with dementia to the effects of horticultural based activities on randomly assigned participants from 8 home care facilities. The findings showed that horticultural activities were more effective in both active and passively involving participants who are otherwise difficult to engage and resulted in greater levels of adaptive behaviour. (Jarrot and Gigliotti, 2010) The outcome of this study coincided with Yasukawa’s (2009) findings, where Alzheimer’s patients participating in horticultural activity over a span of 3 months demonstrated improvements in their communication, engagement, behaviour and cognitive abilities.

 Additional studies have further confirmed the benefits of gardening therapy on the quality of life of dementia patients. D’Andrea et al. (2007) found that horticultural activities led to higher levels of functioning, as well as the maintenance of memory and sense of wellbeing in Alzheimer’s type dementia patients. Another study demonstrated that outdoor activities such as gardening resulted in the decline of verbal agitation and considerable improvement in the sleep patterns of nursing home residents with dementia compared to indoor activities. (Connell et al., 2007) Luk (2011) measured the effects of gardening activities amongst nursing home residents with dementia in Hong Kong and found a substantial reduction in aggressive behaviour but no significant decline in agitation.

Finally, Hewitt et al. (2013) concluded that individuals with early-onset dementia in a year-long structured gardening environment experienced positive impacts on their wellbeing, cognition and overall mood. The study also demonstrated that wellbeing maintenance could be possible even in the presence of cognitive deterioration. Involvement in the gardening process provided participants with a sense of self-identity and purposefulness as it allowed them to feel useful, valued and a sense of accomplishment.   

3)   What are some possible benefits of implementing learning gardens in juvenile facilities?

Juvenile offenders in agricultural training programs demonstrated improvement in their job skills, a peaked interest in further education and ideas for possibly pursuing green careers. (Flagler, 1995)

Juvenile offenders enrolled in Green Brigades program involving learning gardening techniques and participating in community landscaping were seen to develop increasing levels of self-esteem (Cammack, Waliczek & Zajicek, 2002a), horticultural knowledge, positive attitudes towards the environment (Cammack, Waliczek & Zajicek, 2002b) in addition to improvements in their mental health and well-being. (Ulrich, 1999)        


1)      "Benefits of School Gardening." Untitled Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. (

2)      "Fact Sheet Summarizes Benefits of Gardening for Children." Children & Nature Network. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016 (

3)      "Half an Hour of Gardening Has Potential to Combat Ill Health and Improve Wellbeing." Nursing Standard 30.11 (2015): 15. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. (

How We Can Source & Incorporate Nutrient-Dense Herbs into our Diets to Maximize Health

Speaker: Dr. Cyndi Gilbert, NDWritten by: Esha & Sheena Jain



It is a great misconception that weeds that grow in our gardens are “the enemy.” Dr. Cyndi Gilbert a naturopathic doctor states that weeds are herbs, a food, which add flavour to our meals, providing us with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Weeds help prevent diseases as they are easily absorbed and aid in supporting our health. Why weeds you may ask, simply put they are accessible, local, free, nutritious and sustainable. The following are just a few brief examples of uses and health benefits of some edible weeds:


Weed Available Nutrients/Vitamins/Minerals & Effects Medical Benefits Disadvantages
Dandelion - Greens: ↑ in beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin K &


- Roots:   ↑ in fiber (inulin) & Iron

          - Gentle laxative

           - Improves fat digestion & reduces cholesterol   

- Leaves: Diuretic effects

Can assist in the management of:

- Acne, Eczema


- Constipation, UTI

- Anemia

- High Blood Pressure

Lamb Quarters - ↑ in Calcium, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C,

  Vitamin K

- Laxative effects

- ↑ in Oxalates

(increases risk of Kidney stones when raw)

Red Clover - ↑ in phytoestrogens (isoflavones), Calcium,

   Magnesium, Phosphorous & Potassium  

Hormone balancing effects

- ↓Hot Flashes

- Prevents breast

 cancer recurrence

- Possibly prevents


Stinging Nettle - ↑ in Iron & Vitamin C

- Helps rehabilitate toxic soils

       - Because it can move minerals and nitrogen

              in soil

- Boosts milk supply in dairy cows

- Gives other flowers or plants there scent

 (e.g. gives  peppermint, and lavender there smell)

Can be used in management of:

- Frostbite

- Acne, eczema

- Anemia

- Hair Loss

- Arthritis, Gout  

- Hay Fever


- Root: used for

 prostate health

- Stings when  


 (no longer stings

  once dry)

  - Handle with   


Burdock - ↑ in fiber (lingnins, Inulin), prebiotics

- Metabolic Effects    

Can be used in management of:

- Diabetes Mellitus

 (controls insulin


- Eczema

Garlic Mustard - Antimicrobial, antibiotics Can be used for:

- Colds/Flu  


There are many herbs/herbal supplements available to us as consumers. However unless we are the ones harvesting these herbs on our own, we cannot be sure of the environmental conditions and the quality of soil that these herbs were grown under. Therefore although there are many advantages of consuming herbs, we must take extra precaution when purchasing herbs from an external source. The best way to ensure we are consuming high quality herbs, is to gain access to information about sourcing, soil quality and growing conditions. This will ensure that we benefit from all of the valuable effects that herbs have to offer, under ideal conditions.


Discussion questions:

  1.     Does the way in which the herbs are prepared affect the amount of nutrients one is able to extract out of them?

Herbs should be exposed to some heat in order to get rid of any harmful toxins present within it. Weed roots have the ability to pick up toxins from its surrounding environment. Therefore herbs should be slightly sautéed to eradicate any toxins, but should not be overcooked as to cook out all of its beneficial nutrients.

  1.     Plant foods contain oxalic acid, why are people afraid to consume raw greens because of it?

Oxalic acid binds with certain nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium and potassium in the body. This forms an oxalate composite in the form of kidney stones. The long-term consumption of foods high in oxalic acid can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

It is important to know which foods contain oxalic acid. Specifically roots and leaves of rhubarb or lambs quarters contain high concentrations of oxalic acid. According to Dr. Gilbert, adding vinegar to these particular roots during preparation, decreases the amount of oxalic acid consumed.

  1. Does consuming herbs affect pregnancy and lactation negatively?

Most herbs used in cooking are safe during pregnancy and lactation; however it is important to know that there are some herbs that decrease milk supply. Consuming herbs in large quantities can also be detrimental during pregnancy and should be consumed in moderation. These include:

- Aloe

- Fennel

- Fenugreek

- Kava Kava

- Periwinkle Herb

- Oregano

- Parsley

- Thyme

- Peppermint/Menthol/Spearmint

- Sage

- Licorice

- Rhubarb (root)

  1.     If your diet consists heavily of herbs, how might it interact with medications?

Most people are unaware that herbs can negatively interact with medications. The herb can cause increasing or decreasing amounts of the medication in the bloodstream. The herb could prevent the drug from getting into the bloodstream by stimulating an enzyme to degrade the medication and eliminate it from the body. This causes a decreased amount of the medication within the body. Some herbs can aid in inhibiting the enzyme responsible for metabolizing and excreting a drug. This causes increased amounts of the medication in the body. The above situations demonstrate how herbs can either cause a medication to appear ineffective or produce side effects.

Some herbs may produce opposite or similar effects as the medication thus reducing or increasing the drug effects respectively. According to Dr. Gilbert a prime example would be a diabetic patient on insulin, who also consumes large amounts of burdock. Burdock is a root that also aids in controlling insulin. The interaction of both the insulin medication and the burdock root may cause an increase in the insulin-like effects causing the patient to become hypoglycemic, which can be life-threatening.  

Some examples of how herbs can interact with medications are included below:


Herb Medications/ Drug Classes Drug Interaction Effects
Echinacea - Anabolic Steroids

- Methotrexate

- Liver Inflammation
Ephedra - Antidepressants

- Antihypertensives

- ↑↑ Blood Pressure & Heart Rate

- Death in some individuals

Feverfew - Anticoagulants - ↑ Bleeding
Garlic - Anticoagulants - ↑Bleeding
Ginger - Anticoagulants - ↑ Bleeding
Ginkgo - Warfarin - ↑ Bleeding
Ginseng - Warfarin - ↓ effectiveness of Warfarin
Kava-Kava - Anti-epileptics - ↑ effectiveness of anti-epileptics
- Anesthetics - Prolongs effects of anesthetics
- Alcohol - Enhances alcoholic effects
St John’s Wort - Anesthetics - Prolongs effects of anesthetics
- Warfarin - ↓ effectiveness of Warfarin
Valerian - Anti-epileptics - ↑ effects of anti-epileptics
- Anesthetics - Prolongs effects of anesthetic agents


Dharmananda, Subhuti, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine,. "DRUGS AND NURSING." On Taking Herbs While Breastfeeding. N.p., n.d. ( 10 June 2016.


Dharmananda, Subhuti, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine. "HERBALS AND DRUG

INTERACTIONS." Checking for Possible Herb-Drug Interactions. N.p., n.d. ( 10 June 2016.


Herrington, Diana. "Oxalic Acid Controversy." Real Food For Life. N.p., n.d. ( 10 June 2016.


"In Defense of Oxalic Acid." In Defense of Oxalic Acid. N.p., n.d. ( 10 June 2016.