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UofT’s Garden in the Sky

July 3, 2018

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Bees are dying. 

It is a difficult concept, and the truth of it appears unfounded in our everyday experience. After all, bees are all around us—honey is still commercially available, and so is the produce that they pollinate. How then, are bees dying?

But bees are dying. In fact, on January 10th, 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service added the first bumblebee species, the rusty-patched bumble bee, to the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumblebee was once a common sight in Eastern United States, Ontario, and Quebec, but the species is “now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction.”

IMG-1899How do we deal with the large and abstract implications of endangered and extinction? The initial response is always a refusal and a dismissal. After all, a single person cannot alone save a species.

Bees are endangered because of colony collapse disorder, which is caused by habitat destruction, pesticides, etc, etc. These are problems that exist beyond the control of a single person.

But I find that tackling the problem of dead bees is more tangible once you break the problem down to the local, or even to the household.

What can a person do that is minimal effort, but makes a big difference?

For one, plant more flowers!

Contrary to popular belief, cities are not the enemies of bees. Actually, cities have the potential to be the most bee-friendly places on earth! While the countryside is dominated by commercial agriculture (corn monoculture and pesticides galore) cities are actually surprising spheres of biodiversity! Houses and their seasonal landscaping provides urban bees with a consistent food source, as are office buildings and public parks. Rooftops especially are spaces of possibility, for example, the Fort York Hotel, 401 Richmond, Sky Garden, and now Faculty Club!

These are incredible local spaces within very tangible neighborhoods. Local efforts like these show that nature and the urban are not, in fact, mortal enemies. 

One of UofT BEES‘s goals for the next academic year is to make the campus more pollinator friendly, and so, on June 22nd, we teamed up with Dig In! Campus Agriculture, Urban Harvest, and Young Urban Farmers to bring six planters filled with edible flowers to the roof of Faculty Club (where three of our hives are located). A pollinator garden in the sky!

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These flowers were not planted for consumption, although many are medicinal and culinary herbs. But we emphasize the edible nature of these plants in order to open a conversation about food across species.

 

 

Food for one species is simultaneously food for another, like apples or honey. The choice of edible flowers is an attempt to show that literal “food” could be beautiful landscaping. The dual utility of these edible, pollinator-friendly flowers challenges us to rethink how we could approach garden design. By choosing flowers that are pollinator-friendly and native to Southern Ontario, we are catering to pollinators that work so hard to bring us the food we eat. Planting flowers, I think, is a very real solution to dying bees.

IMG-2401But it is important to note, before you run out and buy pots and pots of lavender, be sure that you ask questions about the flower’s origin. UofT BEES greatly appreciate the work of Urban Harvest, precisely because they are a business that focuses on organic seeds and seedlings. All of the flowers grown in the planters came from organic, non-neonicotinoid, and pesticides free, seeds. The focus on organic seeds is not a hippy preoccupation. It is very important to the conversation on dying bees. Yes, flowers grown in greenhouses (sprayed with pesticides? Are the seeds coated in neonicotinoids?) is just as pretty as an organic flower, and much cheaper. But the organic flower is a guaranteed safe food source for bees and humans alike.

In making this project possible, we would also like to thank Dig-In! for helping us along the way, generously providing seedlings, soil, time, and their expertise. We could not have realized this project without their help.

As well we would like to thank Young Urban Farmers for their very generous donation of the six planters. It meant a lot for a local organization to believe in, and support, our cause.

Thank you Faculty Club for allowing us to make use of the rooftop space in so many ways!

And finally, we would like to thank the volunteers for coming out and taking the time to help out. Without them, we could not have carried six heavy planters up three stories, nor found the motivation to continue with the project.

-Corals Zheng, Sustainability Officer, UofT BEES. 

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Spring of Productivity!

May 23, 2018
Compost delivery

Organic compost delivered from Homeland Garden Centre

Dig In! has accomplished so much in the last four weeks! We kicked off our work day season on Monday, April 30 when we had Homeland Garden Centre deliver three cubic metres of organic compost to the Huron-Sussex Community Garden. Volunteers, which included enthusiastic Japanese students on campus for the Anthropology Osaka University RESPECT Summer Exchange Program, came out to help us amend our garden beds.

Faculty Club work day

Faculty Club roof garden installation, May 2

On May 2 we set up a roof garden on top of the Faculty Club, using the same sub-irrigated planters used by Sky Garden. We are currently in discussions to obtain more planters, donated by Toronto Urban Farmers, so we can expand this project to include a pollinator garden with U of T Bees. We were a little nervous about the giant wind storm that swept through the city on May 4, but amazingly our little Faculty Club garden, including the delicate seedlings, escaped the winds unscathed.

On May 3, we officially announced our merger with Regenesis. With chapters at universities across Ontario, Regenesis aims to empower students to address environmental issues. At U of T, they run programs around sustainable food, waste diversion, and are working on establishing a Youth Food Centre in collaboration with Campus Co-op. Dig In! is now officially a Regenesis initiative, and we are so excited to work alongside them and other allies across campus to expand our garden network.

Sign making

Sign painting work day on May 7

On Monday, May 7, we gathered at Campus Co-op to paint new garden signs. It’s important to have visibly appealing signage at our gardens so passers-by who wish to get involved know how to reach us.

On May 9, we planted kale, brussel sprouts, zucchini, and various herb seedlings in our new Human Biology garden at New College. We also had volunteers simultaneously plant kale and zucchini seedlings at our Sid Smith plot. Due to past challenges of squirrels (and people!) stealing our harvest from Sid Smith, we’ve surrounded the garden with green netting to deter thieves.

HB seedlings

Seedlings from the Anthropology Greenhouse planted during our May 9 work day in our Human Biology and Sid Smith gardens

May 14 we were back at the Human Biology plot digging out deep roots with shovels so we could sow some radish seeds. Prof. William Ju came out and gave us some black currant, Nanking cherry and goji berry seedlings. We planted the black currants at the HB garden since they should thrive in the relatively shady garden. Since the cherries and gojis require more sun, we gave the Nanking cherries to our friends at the Huron-Sussex Community Garden to complete their recently added fruit hedge. The gojis will live in the Anthropology Greenhouse until we can identify a suitable home for them on campus next year.

On May 16 we attempted to construct two raised bed gardens behind Campus Co-op with funding received from the U of T Centre for Community Partnerships Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant.  Unfortunately, we neglected to make arrangements for a power saw. So instead, we retrieved our recently painted garden signs from Campus Co-op and placed them around our gardens, putting up posters soliciting garden volunteers and weeding our gardens along the way.

We skipped the May 21 work day due to the stat holiday, and on May 23 we were back at Campus Co-op, this time with a power saw, to finally build those raised beds!

UTSU rhubarb

Rhubarb, strawberries, and new signs at our UTSU Equity Garden

The garlic, rhubarb and strawberries at our UTSU Equity Garden are looking great! We’ll kick off our May 28 work day there for weeding and other maintenance (*note our start time will be 3pm instead of our regular 4pm start on May 29). On May 30, we will return to Campus Co-op to fill our raised beds with soil and transplant some seedlings into them.

We hope you can join us at a future work day! Our regular work days are every Monday and Wednesday from 4-6pm. Meeting locations vary, so stay tuned via our listserv for meeting locations, and variances in start times. Subscribe to our listserv here.

We’ve started lots of great projects this spring, but we rely on volunteers like you to ensure these gardens are well maintained. The better we care for our gardens, and the more we can show students care about growing food on campus, the more likely we will be able to expand with more projects in future years. A special thanks to all the volunteers who have helped ensure a very successful spring planting season!

~Kristy Bard, Dig In! Campus Agriculture Co-ordinator

Dig In With Regenesis – We’ve Merged!

May 3, 2018

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Toronto, ON: Dig In! UofT Campus Agriculture encourages the growth and development of urban agriculture projects on campus and seeks to educate students on growing food. They believe that gardening is a great way to build community, and they have recently merged with an organization that has similar values – Regenesis.

Regenesis is a Canadian community environmental organization, with chapters on various universities in Ontario. They believe in empowering students as initiators of change in addressing today’s social and environmental concerns, through advocacy and service in local chapters. Their Regenesis UofT chapter runs programming around sustainable food and waste diversion, and they will be opening a Youth Food Centre in the upcoming school year.

Regenesis UofT has adopted Dig In as an initiative and aims to help expand the work that is being done across the gardens at UTSU, Sid Smith, and the Anthropology Garden & Greenhouse operated by Samantha Lucchetta and Kristy Bard. Jessica Viau, Co-President of Regenesis UofT, says “Regenesis is a grassroots platform for student-driven environmental projects. We are excited to have Dig In join our growing family.”

Both groups aim to work together to secure better funding for their gardens. They plan on utilizing the new Youth Food Centre as the perfect space to host workshops and teach-ins. In addition, they hope to integrate their gardening projects into the academic curriculum of the New College Food Equity program.

Up and coming gardens are on the horizon for Dig In, such as re-installing a semi-hydroponic herb garden on the Faculty Club roof. They also have plans to collaborate with New College to garden a small walled courtyard off the Human Biology department, as well as establishing a garden at Wilson Hall.

But to do this, they need more people getting their hands dirty! Volunteers are at the core of what both Regenesis and Dig In do. “The more student volunteers we have, the more capacity we’ll have to grow.” Says Bard, “We envision a campus where food grows organically in every garden, and are tended and harvested by students and staff, with the food served in campus cafeterias and restaurants.” Dig In hosts growing sessions every Monday and Wednesday. Get involved here: http://utoronto.us1.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=0e25ea64adfa7891685aee73d&id=1c7ac8d26b

 

Website:

https://campusagriculture.wordpress.com/

http://www.regenesis.eco

Facebook:

www.facebook.com/campusagriculture/

https://www.facebook.com/regenesistoronto/

Twitter:

@diginuoft

@Regenesiscanada

Dig In! Celebrates ECOFEST with seed planting

March 18, 2018
Mar.12.18 soil block workshop

Lots of busy bees planting seeds in the Anthropology Greenhouse. Photo by Sam Lucchetta.

Spring is just around the corner, which means Dig In! has already kicked off this year’s growing season with a Seed Planting Workshop generously sponsored by UTERN (University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network) in the Anthropology Greenhouse on March 12th. Scheduled to coincide with this year’s ECOFEST, participants got their hands dirty with an introduction to soil blocking, which is a more eco-friendly way to start seedlings that reduces shock to fragile root systems during transplanting. Dig In! volunteers had the opportunity to plant some of this year’s crops that benefit from early seed-starting, such as an array of peppers, kale, basil, parsley, rhubarb, onions, leeks, and lettuce.  Some of the kale has already sprouted less than a week later!

Soil block, rhubarb

Planting rhubarb seeds in soil blocks. Photo by Sam Lucchetta.

As April rolls in, we look forward to the first signs of spring as more seeds begin to sprout. We’re planning a second seed planting workshop on Wednesday, April 11, when we’ll plant more fast growing crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.

We’re in the process of scheduling our regular work days, to commence in mid April. One of our first work day tasks will be distributing compost to our gardens, and direct seeding crops that fare best when they are direct sown, such as carrots, beans, peas and radishes. More information will go out on our email list, so be sure to join our listserv here.

Interested in doing your own soil blocking, or learning more? You can find a photo of the soil block recipe we use, as well as links to other online resources, at a previous blog post here.

ECOFEST 2018 continues until March 23, 2018. Check out what other great events are happening at https://www.facebook.com/uoftecofest/

seeds, Mar. 12, 2018 workshop

Choosing what seeds to plant next. Photo by Sam Lucchetta.

Infectious Viral Fun!

February 6, 2018

Lana Tran twitter postOn January 24, we had 30 participants come out for our Permaculture 101 and Garden Planning Workshop at OISE. Ivan Chan from Eden in Season kicked things off with a one-hour lesson on some of the core principles of permaculture, such as integration, diversity and resilience. Before planning a garden, it’s important to first start with observation of the site you wish to transform, and then design based on your observations in order to achieve your garden planning goals. Taking into consideration the various characteristics of the site is key. What can be changed, and what must we figure out how to incorporate into our design? Soil for example can be improved over time through the addition of organic matter like compost, whereas the topography, surrounding buildings, and climate are not easily modified – particularly by students whose gardening is subject to the approval of the University administration. We can only use land that University Grounds (Facilities and Services) permits us to use, frequently in collaboration with other relevant departments. For our context, we must learn to work with the university bureaucracy if we want to garden on university property.

Once you’ve observed a site and come up with a design, you need to consider the resources that will need to go into making the garden a reality, such as seeds, compost, water, sun, and labour. Over the years, we’ve found that our best gardens are those located near already existing sprinkler systems, thereby limiting the labour required for manual irrigation.

Ivan also had us thinking about the shapes we find occurring in nature, such as spirals, snowflakes, or the way branches and roots grow. In nature, we rarely encounter straight gridlines or triangles. Instead, there are more complicated, interconnected patterns and undulations. Finally, Ivan encouraged us to introduce another core principle to our gardening ethic: stimulating infectious viral fun! Labour is one of the most important resources we rely upon to start and maintain any garden, so making the work fun and rewarding is key to ensuring volunteers continue to stay involved.

Charles, Jan. 24 workshop

Charles presenting his group’s ideas for the Anthropology Greenhouse

After our introduction to permaculture, we broke into four groups to brainstorm ideas for our different projects this season: the UTSU Gardens, the Sid Smith Plot, the Anthropology Garden and Greenhouse, and the hope of establishing a spiral herb mound at Hart House post ramp construction (the ramp will be built on top of our previous garden in front of the building.) Each group was provided with some background for their relevant site to inform their plans, and after 20 minutes they presented their ideas to the larger group.

Some of the ideas involved the importance of rotating crops to ensure soil health, and the need to avoid soil compaction. Others came up with ways to integrate vertical systems to make better use of the limited space, or how to tap into various funding sources to buy any required materials. It was wonderful to sense the excitement in the air at all the possibilities of what we could achieve through working together collaboratively. It was also great to meet so many people with different backgrounds and skill sets, eager to share their knowledge.

A special thank you to Ivan Chan for facilitating this workshop for us, and to UTSU for contributing an honorarium. Thanks as well to all of those who came out and contributed to such a successful planning exercise!

Kristy Bard
Coordinator, Dig In! Campus Agriculture

Permaculture 101 with Ivan Chan & 2018 Garden Planning Workshop

January 7, 2018

Dig In! Campus Agriculture Presents

PERMACULTURE 101 with Ivan Chan, followed by a 2018 Garden Planning Workshop

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2018, 3:00-5:00PM, OISE ROOM 2205

Toronto native Ivan Chan received his Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, and has since established Eden in Season in Meaford, where he designs edible gardens, supplies and harvests from a diversity of perennial crops. At this workshop, Ivan will present how permaculture ideas can be applied to urban gardens, and then we’ll break out into discussion groups to brainstorm and plan out Dig In!’s 2018 growing season.  View a summary of our campus agriculture projects here

Please RSVP at https://www.facebook.com/events/160218841274491/

Click here to view the pdf event poster. Jan. 24 Permaculture 101 poster

Salad Fest Hosted by Dig In! and UC Lit Sustainability Commission

December 10, 2017
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Salad Fest, photo by Samantha Lucchetta

The sky is grey, the trees are bare, and the city is very, very cold. Winter is here. Although harvest time is now behind us, the last of the campus’s veggies were able to make a colourful, final appearance at Salad Fest on November 29th.

Salad Fest was a collaboration between Dig In! and the University College Literary & Athletic Society’s Sustainability Commission. The University College Commuter Student Centre was the cozy venue for the event, from noon until two. A small crowd of students had trickled in just in time for lunch to take a small break during this stressful time of year. The menu consisted of salad made of various herbs and leafy greens from the Anthropology Greenhouse and the Huron Sussex Community Garden, such as kale, collards, sorrel, chives, spinach, and arugula. Garlic and onions were sourced from Dig In! Coordinator Kristy Bard’s Pomona Farm, and some pickled radishes grown near Meaford at Eden in Season was an excellent addition. We also had various dried and fresh herbs on hand, such as mint, lemon balm, golden rod, yarrow, lilac, catnip, pennyroyal tea and stinging nettle for concocting medicinal teas.

To kick off the event, cutlery courtesy of the Sustainability Office were given out as prizes for correctly answering agriculture-related trivia questions. The reusable cutlery consisted of a set of chopsticks, a fork, and a spoon conveniently packaged in a small carrying case. After the trivia session, Salad Fest participants tucked into platefuls of salad with their new, reusable utensils.

As people ate their salad and sipped their tea, the kitchen area of the Commuter Student Centre buzzed with conversation. Overheard were discussions on campus spaces available for gardening, how to get university students and staff more involved in sustainability initiatives, and a permaculture workshop Dig In! is planning for scheduled for early 2018.

Although this is a listless time of year, Dig In! will continue to host activities and prep for planting season. As an increasing number of people at U of T become interested in urban agriculture and sustainability, we look forward to an exciting growing season this coming spring and summer!

~Sam Lucchetta, Dig In! volunteer