Gardening for Kids: Learning to Dig It

A Garden Club for Kids LEARNING TO DIG IT

A program created by Poppy Innovations to help connect kids to where their food comes from

by Holly Quan published in City Palate May/June 2016City Palate Garden Article May 2016

We hear it all the time: Canadian children suffer diet- related health problems, from obesity and diabetes to food allergies and sensitivities. Not only that, but busy families don’t have time to shop or prepare nutritious meals, much less share quality family time over a tasty, healthy dinner. And, except if you’re among those who shop at farmers’ markets, we’re all becoming ever more distant from our food’s producers. Ask a kid where milk comes from and they’re likely to say, “The fridge.”

Enter Sharon McCormick, founder and CEO of Poppy Innovations, a business she established to reconnect adults and kids to healthy food – and  to each other. She’s created a cool new program, hosted at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, to engage both kids and adults in learning to grow their own food.

Describing herself as an “agri-preneur,” McCormick’s philosophy and the programs she’s created are founded on her life and career experience. For one thing, she recalls spending many summer hours as a kid in her family’s large garden, planting, weeding, thinning, and picking. “I didn’t appreciate the bounty of fresh, nutritious food at the time, but as an adult I have a different outlook,” she says, adding that she subsequently put her four kids to work in the family’s home garden – an experience that continues to bear fruit, so to speak.

“Every summer we get together to make and preserve salsa from our own vegetables,” she says. “My kids are older now, but they still love this event, and they’re proud that we create preserves and gifts as a family, entirely from our own garden and effort.”

Seeing an opportunity to put that passion into practice, McCormick founded Poppy Innovations in 2012 and now creates interactive education and activity-based programs across the food spectrum – growing to cooking – that she calls “gate to plate.” McCormick also built upon her business acumen and her background in kinesiology, which takes a holistic approach to health. She says, “I design opportunities for edible education. It’s a hands-on, learn- by-doing approach that’s fun for both kids and adults.”

McCormick’s programs include a parent and child culinary class at various locations in Calgary (check her website for details). Although her focus is on kids, she also offers classes for adults and teens and has organized a community garden in De Winton with garden plots for lease.

But it’s her partnership with the Calgary Farmers’ Market that embodies everything both organizations stand for: involving people, regardless of age, in learning about, appreciating, and using fresh, seasonal, locally produced  food.


For the past couple of years, Poppy Innovations has partnered with the Calgary Farmers’ Market to offer unique cooking classes and demonstrations on the market’s stage. “It’s quite a feat,” says Amanda Langbroek, director of marketing and events at the market. “Everything from the sink to the induction cooktop is on wheels, so we can quickly put together a mini-kitchen. We feature particular vendors or themes, and vendors often talk about the ingredients we’re highlighting, everything from honey to seasonal fruit and more.”

The program McCormick is excited about is the Kids’ Garden Club, hosted at the market’s outdoor patio. Every Thursday in July and August, parents can drop their kids at the patio for up to 90 minutes of games, learning, and hands-on gardening in a big planter supplied by Agrium Inc. The club is oriented to ages 4 through 12, and can accommodate about 20 kids each week. To participate, pre-register via the Poppy Innovations website. You can choose as many sessions as you like.

“We’ll show kids how to take care of the plants and soil and how to pick and prepare yummy food from the garden,” McCormick says. “Market vendors will talk about the difference between gardening and farming, the impact of weather, and it’s also a chance for city kids to actually talk to real farmers, ask questions and learn about good food and where it comes from.” Every participant will also receive $5 in “market bucks,” so after the class they can shop the market with parents and apply what they’ve learned.

There’s a big kickoff planting event on June 4, from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. “We’ve selected fast-growing plants like salad greens, but other vegetables take time to grow and mature, so we need to plant early,” McCormick explains. “The June planting event is open to everyone, no registration required. Bring your kids and help us get our garden started.”

McCormick’s ultimate goal is to empower kids and parents to make healthy, nutritious food choices, to inspire curiosity about new foods, and learn where food comes from. “It’s about fun,” she says, “the learning part comes along for the  ride.”

 For more information:

Poppy  Innovations:

Calgary  Farmers’  Market:

Holly Quan adores fresh peas, baby carrots and tomatoes warm from the vine, among other home-raised summer treats. However, she describes herself as “the world’s worst gardener.” Fortunately, there are lots of great farmers’ markets.