There are lots of fresh things to eat around SMU in the summer and spring (Photo courtesy of SMU Garden Action Group)

Student food movements growing on campus

University students across the city are making sure their classmates have nutritious, local and sustainable food

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Adjala Thomson-Kurz's kitchen is probably the place to be in the summer. That's because the environmental studies student is president of the Garden Action Group at Saint Mary's University, a society that grows fresh produce on campus.

"We tried to grow as many heritage seeds as possible from local sources," Thomson-Kurz said in an email. "We also planted gooseberry and currant bush transplants, rhubarb transplants, strawberry transplants, and even inoculated a couple logs with mushroom spore!"

Student food movements are growing on campuses across the city - Thomson-Kurz sees the interest first hand. Right now the group has about 15 or 25 volunteers, and they've received more than 200 emails from interested students, faculty and staff.

The student group has 32 garden plots, each measuring two and a half feet by four feet.

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A few members of the Loaded Ladle stop cooking in order to explain what they do at the Ladle, and what inspires them to do it. (Video: Marie Hanifen)

"About half of them we rented to SMU students, departments within the university, SMU staff, and neighbours of the university," she says. "The other half were used as communal plots that were tended to by myself and our summer volunteers."

But it's not just good food that Thomson-Kurz and the other volunteers are after.

"I think that the hands-on experience of gardening and growing your own food reveals the relationship between people and their environment. And the sense of responsibility that we should feel for members of our community and the land base that supports us," she says.

The Garden Action Group isn't the only student group in Halifax with an interest in where our food comes from. Dalhousie is home to both the Loaded Ladle and the Campus Action on Food. The Loaded Ladle was founded about two years ago and provides free, mostly vegan meals made with ingredients sourced from local farmers. The Campus Action Group fights exclusionary food contracts that they say limits food diversity on campus.

Founded around the same time as the Loaded Ladle, the King's Alternative Food Cooperative Association is run by students at King's. The group is interested in providing fresh, local food alternatives to students on campus, while also providing a way for students on residence to learn how to cook healthy meals.


Increasing interest

Claire Campbell teaches three programs at Dalhousie - history, Canadian history and sustainability. This combination gives her an unique perspective on these types of movements.

Campbell explains that the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, arriving a decade or more after the environmentalism movement had begun to go mainstream. National parks and conservation movements had been mainstream for more than a century already, she says.

"So, while it takes society a long time to mobilize or to normalize certain ways of thinking. This isn't a fad. This is something that the students who are in university now have grown up knowing nothing but a language of environmental awareness and environmental concern," she says. "This is something that is really part of the modern age and isn't going to go anywhere."

The College of Sustainability at Dalhousie is a recent creation. The program tackles issues in "water and energy security, climate change (and) environmental degradation," and attempts to find solutions to these issues. In the fall of 2009, the program began taking its first students - and the numbers have been steadily growing ever since. In the first year 288 students enrolled in the programs introductory course. The next year, 330 enrolled, and this year the total was 345. But it's not just the numbers that impress Campbell, it's the integrity of the students involved.

"I teach some of the most inspired and inspiring students I've ever met," she says. "They're really using school to broaden their knowledge of the world and how society might be. That, as a teacher, is incredibly rewarding."

Cooking on Campus

Rebecca Hoffer, one of the co-founders of the Loaded Ladle, wasn't always political about food. In fact, it took a tour across the country for her to begin to fall in love with it.

"Before then I'd been a vegetarian who didn't like vegetables," she says. "I just didn't like food."

Between Hoffer's first and second year at the University of King's College, she went WWOOFing. WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a loosely connected international organization that gives participants firsthand experience producing food.
Over the course of the summer, Hoffer fell in love with eating food as soon as it was grown.

To Hoffer and other members of the Loaded Ladle, food is something that should be celebrated.

"Food can either just be this thing that you have to do three times a day, or it can be something that builds community and engagement," she says.

The next crop

Bert Tulk sees the interest students have for food and sustainability personally. His own two sons, who are both attending Memorial University in Newfoundland, are taking part.

"They are extremely... concerned and involved in questions of sustainability and environmental education," he says.

Tulk is a director at Sustainability Frontiers, an environmental group located both in the United Kingdom and Canada. He also teaches graduate courses at Mount Saint Vincent that deal with issues of sustainability.

Tulk has a hand in raising the next crop of eco-minded students. Currently, he is assisting public school teachers understand sustainability issues, in order for them to turn around and teach the same lessons to their students. Tulk says it's also important for students, whether they be children in elementary or grad students in university, to be involved with food and sustainability initiatives.

"There has to be an opportunity for students to see that whatever change he or she might make as an individual will and does have an impact on the global situation," he says.

Comments

Don't forget the See More (Seymour) Green Collective Garden (http://seemoregreen.wordpress.com/) managed by the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) at Dalhousie since 1996. The garden is currently being relocated under new management conditions to make way for a new parking lot, and because it's structures built of recycled materials are not deemed aesthetically pleasing by the administration who just took notice of it after 15 years. It's also important to note that most of the student projects mentioned in this article were either spearheaded or put in place with the assistance of NSPIRG - which has been a resource centre for students wanting to take on food and environmental issues since 1990. (http://nspirg.org/)

Posted by Sebastien Labelle | Jan 27, 2022 7:05 AM AT

Thanks for the tip Sebastien! Sorry that I missed it. I'm always checking out the upcoming events on the NSPIRG website. They do a lot of great work, and make a lot of great information available too.

Posted by Marie Hanifen | Jan 27, 2022 10:10 AM AT

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