Cultivating minds and growing food

The Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming is located on-site of the University of Guelph. The farm provides a place for students from the university and the local school board to obtain practical experience in learning how to grow food. It is intended to be a trial garden for urban food production. Martha Gay Scroggins oversees this initiative. A few years ago, Dr. Ann Clark and a number of others on campus decided that they wanted an organic farm on campus. The university donated the northwest corner of the University of Guelph Arboretum for this project.

Four years ago Scroggins started the planning process and volunteered two years of her time in organizing and implementing the garden design. During the last two years she has worked as the GCUOF Coordinator organizing volunteers and building the infrastructure of the site. She is the primary contact person in liaising with the campus and outreach to the Guelph community as a whole. In the past, Scroggins worked on larger scale community food programs across the country dealing with issues of food security and food sovereignty.

The farm depends greatly on volunteers. Last year students and some members of the community donated 4,000 volunteer hours. Two students from the Organic Major at the U of G were hired to work at the farm. Next year interns may become part of the farm staff. Numerous relationships with other departments have been created as the majority of volunteers are from faculties including Environmental Science, Environmental Biology, International Development, Plant Agriculture, and Engineering. Ultimately, Scroggins wants students to become involved in operating the farm, including planning the farm design and crop rotation.

Planting was done later than usual this year so there would be more food available to U of G community in the Fall Semester. Squash, pie pumpkins, beans, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, celery, kohlrabi, and lots of herbs were some of the crops grown this year. During the summer available produce was sold on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on-site of the farm. A final market was held by the famous U of G cannon during the first week of October which was the first time they sold produce on the centre of campus. I don’t know of too many post-secondary institutions that have a farmer’s market right in the middle of campus. The sale was highly lucrative and Scroggins intends to continue with this next year. Trent University has a small-scale garden that supplies their kitchen. There is a connection from the land to their café.

One of the striking aspects of the GCUOF is the season extension project which is part of the greenhouse production. The GCUOF operated the greenhouse all winter last year without heat and without one side inflated. This year both sides were inflated. The outside hoop was just put in. The greenhouse could be in production all winter. Scroggins plans to work with Pollination Guelph and Seeds of Diversity. This year the butternuts and spaghetti squashes were all open pollinated.

The GCUOF has experienced great success in working with the local school board with e students of different ages. This season alone, 20 different school groups came to the farm. Scroggins has worked with Bruce MacAdams as part of Hospitality and Tourism program to create the Garden2Table program, linking elementary school students with work in the garden. The children from the university day care also participate and think that the garden is theirs.

The GCUOF faces several challenges. Water availability is the primary concern. Previously, water was hauled from the creek to keep seedlings alive. A well has been drilled but is not yet functional. The farm will have a washing facility next year so that produce can be cleaned before sale. The lack of place to work makes it difficult. At present there is no infrastructure for a classroom or building. Workshops could be run in the winter if the GCUOF had a building. Workshops can’t be offered in the on-site greenhouse. The farm had to turn down several workshops as last year as they did not have an outbuilding. Seed saving cannot be done on-site of the farm; seeds are currently saved in Martha’s office. Scroggins wants seed saving to become a part of the farm in order for it to be more sustainable.

The GCUOF will need more funding to take it to a production level scale.  Scroggins wants the GCUOF to be treated as a research project. Scroggins would like researchers at Guelph to compare the nutrient-dense foods from local farmers with organic produce from California. She wonders why more is not being done to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of organic and locally-produced food. Studies that show the same Brix level in organic carrots vs. conventionally-grown carrots don’t reflect that chemicals have been added to the soil to raise that Brix level. As Scroggins states, we can have food security if we work hard enough.

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