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Growing closer to home

Memorial's community garden: Sustainability from the ground up

special feature: Sustainable World

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial’s leadership and expertise in a more sustainable Newfoundland and Labrador, with a particular focus on economic and social sustainability.

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Historically, Newfoundland and Labrador’s geographic isolation meant the residents of this province had no choice but to grow and gather their fresh food.

Not anymore. Today, the vast majority of our food is shipped a great distance, sometimes thousands of kilometres, from off the island. Transporting food comes with a high environmental and financial cost, not to mention a negative impact on its quality.

“Many people are turning their efforts to growing food closer to home,” said Toby Rowe, sustainability co-ordinator at Memorial. “In doing so, gardeners are reducing their carbon footprint and creating more sustainable access to their produce.”

From left, Toby Rowe and Tim Walsh shovel compost at the community garden.
From left, Toby Rowe and Tim Walsh shovel compost at the community garden.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Since its launch in 2010, Memorial’s community garden, located behind Queen’s College on the St. John’s campus, has been providing a way for students, faculty and staff to get back to their roots, live more sustainably and benefit from the fresh produce they grow.

The campus-wide initiative came together with the help of more than 80 student, staff and faculty volunteers, mostly during Make Midterm Matter events.

In the past eight years, the number of plots has increased from 35 to 65. The garden expansion has encouraged more participation, which has since doubled. Last year, 132 people from the Memorial community grew produce in the garden.

Food security

Last June, Dr. April Manuel, a professor in the School of Nursing, began growing produce in the community garden. She says she had great results with root vegetables, including beets, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Harvesting vegetables from Memorial's community garden
From left, Dr. April Manuel and one of her nursing students harvest their crop in the community garden.
Photo: Submitted

It was such a positive experience, she decided to use her experience in her nursing curriculum. Dr. Manuel stresses to her students that food security is a real concern in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“As nurses, we are committed to fostering healthy living and access to resources for vulnerable populations,” she said. “Food is a basic resource that all people should have access to. The community garden allowed me to expose students to issues surrounding food security within the province and the role of nurses. It captured the essence of health promotion at a grassroots level.”

Through Dr. Manuel’s efforts, she was able to donate produce grown in her plot at the community garden to The Gathering Place. Another grower donated produce to the Campus Food Bank, thus sharing the benefits of fresh produce with individuals who may not be able to afford these items.

Trash to treasure

As part of its life cycle, the garden benefits from nutrient-rich compost produced from campus waste. Two programs are diverting a significant amount of waste from the landfill each week.

Composting at the Botanical Garden.
Photo: Submitted

Composting at the Main Dining Hall began in 2015 and has continued in partnership with Aramark, Facilities Management and Memorial’s Botanical Garden.

Diverted waste totalling about 18,000 pounds annually is sent to the Botanical Garden to be composted into rich growing soil.

A new composting project at Bitters Pub, sponsored by the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), began in May 2017, collecting the organic waste that the pub produces. Since then, they have diverted approximately 1,550 pounds of waste.

large composter behind bitters
The composter used at Bitters is much larger than regular backyard composters
Photo: Submitted

“The composter requires a different approach from a small backyard composter, and it’s been an interesting experience learning the ins and outs of the machine,” said Liang Zhu, director, GSU.

The GSU has reached out to the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, which uses the same model of composter at the society’s restaurant, The Pantry, to gain insights from their experience to improve the methods used at Bitters.

Apply now

Applications for the community garden are being accepted until Friday, March 23. To apply for a plot in the garden for the summer of 2018, please visit the garden website.

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