Nurturing Communities, Through Nurturing Gardens
Growing with the Campus Community Garden
The campus community gardens (CCG) mission, as per theirUWindsor website, http://www.uwindsor.ca/campuscommunitygarden/311/vision-and-mission, states,
“The Campus Community Garden is dedicated to building healthy, interactive urban communities through the collective production of locally grown, organic food. Drawing on the varied expertise at the University and within the local community, this garden emphasizes education and sustainability.
We believe in promoting positive interaction between the campus and the local community. We support and encourage community building and beautification, garden-based education and urban agriculture as a means to improve food security in Windsor while fostering a sense of environmental stewardship.”
What does this mean in practice for the campus community garden? Well, I have spoken to founder Professor Rita Haase, and current coordinator Professor Tanya Basok to find that out.
Formed in 2010, founder Professor Rita Haase states that in creating the garden she had three goals in mind: to create a sustainability project on campus, to teach students and community members how to grow their own food, and to bridge the gap between the university campus and the surrounding community.
As the prospective lot was University land, Prof. Haase had to put forth a strong proposal to gain permission to use it for the planned garden. Although the University was a bit skeptical the land had no foreseeable use and ‘this’, the potential campus community garden, might be better that what it was at the time, an empty lot covered in weeds and litter. Once the land was secured, potential gardeners and committee members needed to be found, so promotions for the garden were distributed through social media, newspapers, radio, and television. Once the team was assembled the first meeting was dedicated to establishing common goals, i.e. the vision and mission; making this part of the process a group effort would begin the legacy of the garden as a community run initiative by using democratic approaches to make decisions and run operations.
The emphasis on food security is what lead current coordinator Professor Tanya Basok to the garden. As she was teaching a course on food sustainability, she wanted her students to get involved in projects that promote food sustainability, and the campus community garden provided her students with one of them. She has been with the garden, growing from volunteer to coordinator, ever since.
The area around the university is a food desert with fresh produce being difficult to come by on campus. The garden is here to fill that need as a source of organically grown food, as well as passing on the knowledge needed to be self-sufficient. The ability to grow one’s own food is empower, states Prof Haase, to be able to provide for yourself and your family is a valuable and important skill to have; a skill that has been lost in this age of industrial farming. Indeed, the yield from personal plots subsidizes many volunteers’ grocery bills in the summer and fall months.
Another important reason for to the garden is sustainability, and the CCG supports this through its use of permaculture as a gardening model. Permaculture is the practice of creating agricultural ecosystems that are sustainable and self-sufficient. In this case, self-sufficient means that outside components such as pesticides and fertilizer that are not needed because the ecosystem is able to meet those needs itself. For example, rather than use fertilizer, the garden will use self-provided compost to create its own fertilizer, as well as planting nitrogen fixing plants, such as beans, clover, or peas, to enrich the soil. This strategic planting can be used to fulfill a multitude of needs, such as planting radish or dandelion for aeration, fennel or lavender to attract predator insects in place of insecticide, and purple coneflower or common milkweed to attract pollinator insects such as bees and butterflies. The garden also dedicates a plot to local wildlife; these plants provide a home for wildlife such as birds and butterflies, supporting biodiversity.
Another one of the key motivators behind creating the garden was to beautify the area, and the garden has achieved this goal. While the University has recently been dedicating projects to beautifying the campus, such as adding a basketball court and various green spaces, I believe it is safe to attribute this trend to the precedent set by the CCG. The beauty of the natural world can be difficult to experience as the land is continually built up and urbanized, and Prof. Haase believes that “It is important that we rediscover our relationship to nature.” The CCG helps to forge a unique bond with nature; because rather than just passively witnessing the wildlife volunteers build up and nurture the garden, according to Prof. Basok, “Seeing things grow is fulfilling; like your child you take care of it, and when it succeeds you’re proud.”
The CCG puts the community in community garden, with volunteers that consist of university students, staff, and residents living in the surrounding area. The garden is open to everyone, whether they’re there to garden or just enjoy nature. The connections to the community do not end with the garden premise however; fresh produce grown in the garden are donated to local food drives including the Women’s Shelter, as well as hosting off campus groups such as YMCA youth, WEST (a group for immigrant women), and high school classes.
So how do you join the community?
The campus community garden offers individual plots, where volunteers can plant and tend to their own gardens, as well as community plots in which gardeners can work together to grow food for local food banks. If you do not have much of green thumb there is no need to worry; the garden also hosts workdays were volunteers can help tend to the garden under the guidance of seasoned volunteers and coordinators, as well as host workshops on various gardening practices such as seed collection, and sharing knowledge to build community and food accessibility. However you decide to get involved, Prof. Basok wants you to know that everyone is welcome: “Sometimes students feel intimidated, they don’t have the knowledge,” but there will be coordinators and other volunteers to help you along the way.
To quote Professor Rita Haase, “Community is often lost in urban society, and students are sold this promise of an experience, an experience they do not often receive. The demands and stress of school isolating them from the campus community, community gets lost.” The campus community garden is a place where you can grow that community.