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Campus Crops envisions a university that grows its own food

Picture this: beans and tomatoes scaling the walls of Burnside, Leacock, Otto Maass, and McConnell; the perimeter of Lower Field transformed into vegetable plots and pumpkin patches; tame decorative flower beds filled with edibles like kale and chard and even fiddleheads; and the Farmers’ Market sporting a stall of campus-only veggies. Wouldn’t life on campus be far more vibrant? Filling McGill’s space with plants that bear food and not just flowers would imbue more colour into our concrete campus, nourishing our creative minds and feeling our hungry stomachs.

At McGill, we’re lucky to have such an expansive and well-used green space in the centre of our campus, not to mention the plants we see in other places. Even now, flowers creep out of sidewalk cracks and mint invades unattended plots of grass tucked between buildings. But we could have so much more.

Urban spaces’ ability to provide food is often vastly underestimated. But issues of food security are becoming more pressing with the onset of climate change, our fragile dependence on oil, and the breakdown of global commodity chains.

McGill is brimming with opportunities for crop growth, but is marred by a lack of action. The Edible Campus Garden is an amazing example of student initiative, but there is literally so much more room to grow. Think of new green space between Leacock and Morrice Hall, outside the Law building, and near the fences along Sherbrooke, or the terraces outside of Otto Maass, Leacock, Redpath, Bronfman, and Trottier.

The results would be more than tasty. With so much growing on campus, McGill could well become the first university in Montreal to start an urban agriculture course. Although McGill, Concordia, and UQAM all have student gardening groups, no university has yet taken it a step further by institutionalizing these spaces as sites of academic, hands-on learning. Research projects could easily sprout from these gardens, and agriculture courses would no longer be limited to the Macdonald campus. What if McGill’s architecture and engineering students designed the physical spaces on campus? What if our science and environment students maintained our green spaces? There is learning that could come from such close interaction with our physical environment. We feel that, given those responsibilities, students could foster a sense of collective ownership of campus spaces, and from that could develop the skills needed to build communities where people take care of each other and their physical surroundings.

With so many environmentally focused groups on campus – Organic Campus, Greening McGill, and Gorilla Composting, to name a few – and more and more sustainability measures being passed by SSMU, the student backing is obviously present. Currently, Campus Crops runs a small garden behind the School of Environment building. Over the summer, our produce is split between volunteers, and – in the fall – everything we grow goes straight to Midnight Kitchen in an attempt to create the smallest food chain possible: planted, grown, and eaten by students, all on campus.

The possibility of changing a significant amount of campus space into sources of food is not that far fetched. We have the space, the motivation and with the new Sustainability Project Fund, we certainly have the money. Directly empowering students in local food production will not only make campus a little more delicious and nutritious, it will provide the campus with a better sense of place and community. And come on, everybody likes getting their hands and feet a little dirty, right?