Growing up I was always surrounded by nature and my own homegrown produce. I remember helping my mom plant peppers and tomatoes in the back yard, pulling weeds for hours and watering the garden for her before she got home from work in the evening. For our family, getting dirty to grow our own food was second nature. One of the things I love most about going to Trent University is having the amazing opportunity to get back to those my roots and connect with people working at the Trent Vegetable Gardens who are doing just that.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Caitlin Bragg, the coordinator for the Trent Vegetable Gardens. We met at Natas Café to have a chat about her work in the garden, how much goes into producing such great-tasting vegetables, and how she deals with roadblocks (as any small-scale farmer does).
The Trent Vegetable Gardens all began when founder Tom Hutchinson, a professor at Trent University, decided to utilize the roof of the Environmental Sciences Building for its true purpose, a green roof. When the building was first designed in 1964 there were allowances made for extended development. In later years, the green roof grew. Graduate students began to use the space as a research site, which then lead to the creation of the Trent Vegetable Gardens, a separate site located north of the DNA Building on campus in 2011. It’s an alternative space where student and the community can learn and connect to the food they are growing.
The Trent Vegetable Gardens is a student levy group at Trent University, meaning that their primary source of funding comes directly from the students. Thanks to countless volunteers and the staff at the Seasoned Spoon, a vegetarian café on campus, the garden can operate and provide wholesome food and a reasonable cost.
At the garden, they practice small-scale ecological agriculture and are in the process of transitioning to a low-till operation on the field. Tilling is an agricultural practice of turning over the soil by means of mechanical movement or by hand. This method of ecological agriculture means no pesticides or herbicides are added to the vegetables, staying true to organic methods. When it comes to adding nutrients back to the soil, their inputs come directly from Trent’s compost, creating a closed-loop system. For irrigation, out at the field there is a well, however a generator is required to power the pump to get the water from the well. All this hard work goes into to produce some of the best-tasting food for the Seasoned Spoon.
We are living in a time where food is becoming increasingly expensive. Food is being imported from all over the world, and our livestock are being injected with growth hormones and antibiotics to grow faster and to produce more. Do we ever stop to think what steps we can make to reduce our carbon footprint?
Canada has some of the best agricultural lands in the world (namely underneath Toronto). However, due to urban sprawl and urbanization these lands are being developed at a fast rate. In an effort to curb the destruction of these prime agricultural lands, most new high-rise developments in Toronto and many urban areas have green roof programs. These serve two unique purposes. They act as an air-conditioning unit, keeping the temperature inside the building down by absorbing solar radiation from the sun. As well, they engage the community by allowing gardening opportunities and even the chance to plant your own vegetation.
This gives people in the community the opportunity to learn methods of farming that may not be familiar to them and helps connects them to their food systems at the root level.
If you are at all interested in small scale ecological agriculture, or just want to learn more and get involved, Trent Gardens offers plots are available for cultivation by Trent students and by people in the city. This gives people in the community the opportunity to learn methods of farming that may not be familiar to them and helps connects them to their food systems at the root level. There are 20 plots that are made available to community members, which can be rented by contacting the Trent Vegetable Gardens. These spaces go quick, so if you are interested be sure to contact Caitlin at the beginning of March.
This idea of community farming really gets me excited. Maybe it’s because I love agriculture and the environment or because I enjoy eating. Either way, sitting down with Caitlin and hearing how excited she gets seeing how these programs offered through the gardens are getting students inspired about food systems and agriculture, which brings more volunteers to work in the field, proves to me that sustainable farming is worth it.
Photos by Chanté White.