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Niji Mahkwa and R.B. Russell students grow together

March 18, 2024 News Story
RB Russell & Niji Mahkwa - Horticulture 1 Spotlight

Niji Mahkwa School and R.B. Russell Vocational School are teaming up to grow healthy food with hydroponics.

On March 13, Grades 5 and 6 students from Niji Mahkwa visited R.B. Russell for a tour of the school’s Horticulture & Landscaping program facilities, including its hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic growing systems.

Located in Niji Mahkwa, the Inner City Science Centre (ICSC) recently acquired two hydroponic towers for growing fresh vegetables indoors.

“Once we’ve planted and started the germination process, the Grade 12 students from the Horticulture Program are going to come to Niji Mahkwa and help us set up the two towers,” said Elena Mallin, a support teacher at ICSC.

“The idea is to collaborate in learning about plants and hydroponics. Emma Mahoney, the ICSC lab tech, and I visited R.B. Russell for a tour of the Horticulture program in the fall and we just fell in love with it. We thought it would be neat to connect the two schools. They’re so close to each other and they feed into each other.”

The collaboration will continue until June, when the veggies will hopefully be ready for harvest. Along the way, the Niji Mahkwa students will learn about plant biology, nutrient cycles, and sustainable agriculture. Grades 5 and 6 teacher Heather Lambert will incorporate Indigenous perspectives and land-based lessons into the learning.

Louise Shachtay has taught Horticulture at R.B. Russell for over 20 years. She’s thrilled that her students have an opportunity to be mentors to younger learners.

“As I’m watching them right now, I can see how proud my students are to show off their space and what they’re doing in the program,” Shachtay said. “I want my students to feel a sense of pride and to be leaders in this community.”

The plant pride is palpable in Tashina Boudreau. A Grade 12 student in the Horticulture program, Boudreau was beaming as she guided the young students through the greenhouses.

“In early April we’re going to go to Niji Mahkwa to help set up the hydroponic systems and help the students bring a different kind of joy to their school,” Boudreau said.

“I get a lot of joy from this. Looking at my tower garden right here, seeing how fresh everything looks, it makes me so happy to know that I’m doing something right. This is a very happy place.”

Boudreau didn’t always have a green thumb. She started attending R.B. Russell this past September and absolutely fell in love with the Horticulture program.

“I’m planning to go to RRC Polytech to study horticulture and landscaping. Horticulture has completely changed my life,” she said.

Shachtay hopes the horticultural collaboration can similarly inspire Niji Mahkwa students. 

“Once they taste the first tomatoes and cucumbers that grow from the little seeds they planted, growing food will take on a whole new meaning for them,” Shachtay said. 

“Perhaps they will become future voices for more greenspaces and food-growing opportunities in the inner-city. I feel we need to empower the youth so that they can slowly break down food insecurity in their community.”


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