Bountiful harvest for BU fresh food initiative

November 24, 2016

People at work in a dirt garden box
Volunteers out digging in one of the gardens.

Green Futures, a pilot project to help grow fresh food on the Brandon University (BU) campus for a food security initiative in our community (the good food box) and the BU student food bank, has harvested huge success in its first year.

“We were astounded by the volume of produce that we were able to grow!” says Dr. Serena Petrella, chair of the BU Sociology department and a sustainability and food security researcher who helped organize and start the project.

Working with Enactus, a non-profit organization of business students engaged in green activism, Petrella scouted out underused green space on campus and recruited staff, faculty and student volunteers to turn it into a community garden.

“Our volunteers planted, weeded and watered the crops throughout the summer, they were wonderful,” she said. “And a shout-out to George Manby in Physical Plant for all his help this season. He helped us keep things sustainable by composting all our green waste. We couldn’t have done it without him.”

The gardens, in existing concrete planter boxes between the John R. Brodie Science Centre and the Rural Development Institute in McMaster Hall, were completely re-tilled and re-fertilized.

“We chose vegetables that were well suited for the space and grew well in areas of partial and full sun exposure,” Dr. Petrella said. “I am very happy to report that we were wildly successful!”

From June through September, the Green Futures BU gardens produced 150 heads of romaine lettuce, 70 heads of red romaine lettuce, 51.5 kg of zucchini, patti pan squashes and summer squashes, 66 bundles of Swiss chard, 2 kg of peas, 36 bundles of beet greens, 16 kg of beets, 40 kg of potatoes, 12.5 kg of wax and green beans, 20 kg cucumbers, 4 kg carrots, 8 kg tomatoes and a bag of spinach.

“I have to confess that our tomatoes and spinach did not do as well as we had hoped,” Dr. Petrella said. “The tomato varieties competed with other crops and did not yield enough fruit; the spinach bolted on us between harvest times, and most of the crop was lost. We will adopt different growing methods next year!”

It was more than enough to supply the Good Food Box program run by the Canadian Mental Health Association with produce through the summer at their Global Market in downtown Brandon. Those boxes, filled with fresh produce from the BU gardens and other local producers, were then brought back to the Brandon University Students’ Union food bank so that students could access fresh produce, for free.

“During the summer months, our students’ need for good food boxes fluctuated; it was high in July, and our PENT students took advantage of the fresh veggies, but it slowed down in August. By September, demand rose sharply again. Over the fall and winter, we’ll continue to take delivery of Good Food Boxes to the BUSU food bank,” Dr. Petrella explains. “We e have upped the number of ordered boxes. We have established that the optimal number for orders is five boxes bi-weekly: this provides enough produce to supply demand, and minimizes spoilage.”

Start-up funding helped with the initial transformation of the green space and has guaranteed a supply of Good Food Boxes through June 2017. A grant of $2,000 was awarded by the Brandon Neighborhood Renewal Corporation, and additional funds were secured by Enactus Students.

Selling veggies at cost to the Good Food Box program brought in a modest amount of revenue.

“We were one of the most successful local supplies to the Good Food Boxes program this year and I am very happy to say that our project is economically viable and sustainable,” Dr. Petrella says. “We’ll be able to buy new seeds and seedlings for next summer, and continue running the gardens into the future.”

Along with planting, watering, weeding — and harvesting — Green Futures BU also linked up with summer programs on campus to provide learning experiences for Mini U students. Dr. Petrella says that they’ll continue to expand those programs, and are also lining up research opportunities for BU students next year.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Serena Petrella
Chair, Sociology
204.727.7412
PetrellaS@BrandonU.ca

Grant Hamilton
Marketing Communications Officer
204.571.8542
HamiltonG@BrandonU.ca