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Edible Campus

By Gwendolyn MuirOpinions Contributor

The local food movement in Halifax is on the rise. Animated market-goers crowd Saturday buses and sidewalks around Hollis Street at sunrise. Students in Halifax rally for more local, ethically-sourced food, and seeds are sowed for the coming summer’s urban gardens. Yet there may not be enough home-grown handouts to meet demand.
On bleak January mornings, Saturday market stands are often emptied well before noon. Exclusive contracts at Dalhousie and SMU allow corporations such as Sodexo and Aramark to dish out food sourced from across the globe, supplanting local production while student gardeners are confined to a few raised beds. In a world of growing food insecurity and environmental degradation, the importance of local food is taking on new dimensions. Not only is locally-sourced food often healthier and more ecologically sound, it’s accessible too; when the weather is right it can be grown in backyards and even on our own university campuses.
According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, at least half of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (350 million tonnes) are under the jurisdiction of municipal governments. Sourcing food locally comes hand in hand with the needed ‘greening’ of our own urban campus and consumer habits: local agriculture means reducing waste, packaging, food miles, salvaging reusable plastic containers, promoting composting, and minimizing the “heat island” of hot concrete spaces. Urban gardening allows us to be a part of the food process, while making use of underutilized, neglected or leftover spaces in urban areas. In addition, gardening fosters a sense of community. Gardens provide an opportunity for people to come together and share in what they’ve helped to create, promoting active community and social cohesion. Maybe above all, gardens teach their growers hands-on skills and can alter lifestyle choices for coming generations.
In the past few years, Canadian universities have begun successful urban agriculture initiatives, including at UQAM (Université de Québec à Montréal), the University of Toronto, and McGill University. McGill University’s “Edible Campus” is one that has made headlines across Canada and internationally and was featured by the BBC as the winner of the 2008 National Urban Design Award. It is a partnered initiative between the McGill School of Architecture’s Minimum Cost Housing Group and two Montreal NGOs, Alternatives and Santropol Roulant.
The project site is not that of a typical garden: a concrete-covered courtyard surrounds a 13-storey building, with the whir of Sherbrooke Street traffic only a few metres away. In 2008, the project consisted of 123 large plastic containers that produced 177 kilograms of produce. Last summer, the number grew to 225 containers, and a 100-square-metre raised garden bed was set up on a concrete rooftop, yielding an even greater harvest.  All the vegetables and fruits produced in the garden are used by Santropol Roulant, a local food-focused group that helps to maintain the garden as well as cook and deliver meals to community members with a limited mobility.
Christopher DeWolf from Spacing Toronto writes: “The Edible Campus has given a real sense of place to what was previously an empty space. Put a bunch of plants in some boxes on a concrete tarmac, it seems, and you’ll not only grow a large volume of healthy fruits and vegetables, you will create a spot where people can meet, mingle and interact with food they might otherwise find, processed and packaged, on supermarket shelves.”
This coming spring a new student group, Campus Action on Food (CAF), hopes to be a part of a similar initiative here on campus along with other supportive societies. The containerized garden model as developed at McGill is easily adaptable, made from mostly recycled materials such as large buckets, election signs, yogurt containers, tubing, pop bottles and tie wraps. Food would be grown by and for the community in container gardens situated on the unused, open concrete spaces here at Dalhousie, transforming the university into an edible campus.
The group hopes that this project would provide students and community members with nutritious and ethically-sourced food, while challenging the corporate food monopoly that exists on campus.

I volunteered for Santropol Roulant last summer and worked at the Edible Campus at McGill, and now am also a part of Campus Action on Food. So yep, pretty involved with the subject matter… whatever you decide is OK with me.

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