Between the grey and rain of this time of year, we are treated to an odd day of sun. It is this kind of rare sun that turns puddles into little glittering ponds, and the fresh buds and leaves of spring into shimmering beacons of new life. No place on campus showcases that new life better than the Campus Community Garden.
Amongst the odds and ends, a cob bench, 90 or so garden plots, and a greenhouse, Campus Community Garden co-ordinator Matthew Morrison shared the ins and outs of the garden. “You can grow year-round here,” said Morrison. A variety of hardy vegetables are currently calling the soil home. Kale, carrots, chard, and parsnips, to name a few, and there is lettuce and mustard greens in the greenhouse. “We just harvested brussels sprouts,” Morrison adds.
Of the 90 plots at the garden, four or so are used as “giving gardens.” These plots are communally cared for. “Those are designed for volunteers,” said Morrison, “to come and get involved with the garden so they can actually get their hands in the dirt.” These giving gardens do more than just give green growers a shot at the soil. “We plan our crop to produce the most over winter and in the fall and spring, when students are around,” said Morrison, “so we can donate a good portion of the crop to the food bank.” The remaining crop goes to the hard-working volunteers. So how does someone get the opportunity to get a little dirt under his or her nails? “We meet once a week,” said Morrison. “Right now, it’s Fridays at around noon. We do all kinds of stuff.” Whether it’s building a gazebo, pruning, constructing some raised beds, or harvesting the produce. “It’s just whatever needs doing.” He shrugged.
“I started farming when my sister started farming,” said Morrison, “she got into it in Metchosin, sort of subsistence farming with her community out there. I’d go and visit and get my hands in the dirt and get a sense of what food from soil really tasted like and the potential of it. I just became infatuated with the process, and basically just started volunteering with the community garden in my first year, coming out to work parties.” From there, Morrison eventually applied for the job of co-ordinator. “I applied after Andrea, the first co-ordinator left,” said Morrison, “I applied and got the job, and so I had the job in 2012-2013 and then I was re-hired.”
Although the garden has only been in its current location since 2011, campus food production gardens have been around UVic since 1998. Originally by the TEF (Technology Enterprise Facility) building, the old plot is now being paved into a parking lot. Morrison described it as “basically just a patch of grass that some Environmental Studies students went out and claimed.” And from there, “It kind of built up and established itself.” By 2004 the Campus Community Garden grew into a recognized club with 35 plots. In 2010, there was concern for the future of the self-claimed land, and the possibility of gardening on the current plot was still in negotiation. Small patches of guerilla gardening appeared around campus, most notably in front of the library. “The community garden didn’t initiate,” said Morrison, “but I think there was a threat to food production on campus and I think students responded.” Later, the club got its new stretch of land.
Although the new patch has double the plots of the last garden, the club isn’t out of the weeds yet. “The garden isn’t permanent, so we’re under this agreement that at any given moment, the university reserves the right to relocate us,” said Morrison. “So that’s a challenge ‘cause it takes a lot of time and energy and money and building up our soil over years to create a functional garden…. It’s an interesting reality that, while the university supports a community garden on campus, the garden isn’t permanent. So I guess if folks want a permanent site, then the more people that advocate for that the better.” If you think the garden should be a permanent site, Morrison suggested “people lend their voice to the importance of space for food production on campus, either by participating in it or communicating that to the administration.”
Back in the community garden’s office, the staff were abuzz with the news of bringing a hive of honeybees to the gardens. It certainly seems like a logical step; what are plants without pollination? Morrison concluded with talking about the many workshops offered by the club. Since 72 cents from each full-time student’s fees go toward the Campus Community Garden, Morrison said that they try and offer workshops for free or by donations.
“Because students are already paying into it,” said Morrison. “We’re given these resources, so we want to give back as much as we can with education and food and skills.” They’ve hosted canning, seed starting, and fresh apple pie making workshops in the past. They also throw a harvest party at the end of summer. Morrison said the harvest party is “to celebrate the end of the harvest, celebrate being back in school, and the end of summer.” The Campus Community Garden hosts a band, a big meal, a dance, and even some crafts. “It’s a really good time,” said Morrison. For more information on the club’s upcoming workshops, or how to get involved, visit web.uvic.ca/~ccgarden.