GCUOF brings fresh foods to student body

Monday, October 1, 2012

  • beautiful peppers picked from the GCUOF

    beautiful peppers picked from the GCUOF

Written by Abigel Lemak

Many students don’t know that there is a 2.5 acre farm on campus kept by the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF), whose tasty yields are available every Thursday in front of the Crop Science building. For first-year students too lazy to wake up early for the Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s, GCUOF brings fresh, local, organic foods to campus. Using sustainable techniques, they not only grow local foods, but also provide a space for students to learn hands-on what organic farming entails. 

Ann Clark started GCUOF in 2006, brought Martha Gay Scroggins in 2007 and launched the project the next year.

“We broke ground in the fall of 08 [at GCUOF] with an open house,” said Coordinator of GCUOF, Martha Gay Scroggins. “The ground was broken to begin to build a foundation to have a hands on teaching facility of food production --organic food production-- on campus, that would supplement or augment academics. So it was about a practical, experiential laboratory.” 

Each week, the volunteers at the GCUOF gather their harvest and head over to the Crop Science building where they sell their beautiful yields including heirloom tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mixed greens and even fresh cut flowers. All the money they earn from the on-campus market goes directly back into the program. 

“We’re looking at fundraising opportunities in the next months, to raise some money for operations,” said Gay. “[This is] so that we can have enough people working here to raise the profile [in order to] offer more courses on site.

Besides the hands on learning GCUOF provides for students, they also support community programs like Garden2Table, where young students come and learn to plant, harvest, grow and prepare their own foods. The farm itself has become a centre of learning for the community, depends on the efforts and ingenuity of volunteers.

Erin Richan, a seasoned worker and volunteer for GCUOF, can’t say enough about the program.

“When I first moved to Guelph I was inspired by Ann Clarke's Gateway to Organic Agriculture Course to pursue my passion for eating organic food by considering small-scale ecological farming as a career option,” said Richan. “Shortly after, I discovered the GCUOF which quickly became a place of education and practice throughout my undergrad in Environmental Sciences.”

Richan explains how exciting food becomes when you get the chance to share the crops that you’ve put such effort and time into caring for.

“To pull it fresh from the field, to clean it and then sell it directly to the consumer is a connection that keeps me hooked,” said Richan. “It's easy to lose motivation when the fields are bone dry, the pests are at full-tilt, and the garden is a seemingly bottomless hole of work to maintain. But when you can proudly sell your product to people who appreciate the quality, the positive exchange reminds you of what the work is about.”

One of the most unique aspect of this farm is that they do their own seed saving and growing. 

“It’s all open pollinated, which means that no hybrids have been grown, said Gay.  “It’s hugely risky, but in the long term --if it’s successful-- could be a benefit to this whole area, we could be producing organic seed for local farmers. 

 The farm itself is hidden gem on the north-east side of campus by the Arboretum. With no electricity or running water on site, the people who offer up their time there are truly there for the love of organic food production and farming.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish here on our own [is] totally off the grid,” said Gay. “[The goal] is to see it become a cornerstone of teaching organic agriculture at the University of Guelph.”


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