With winter creeping closer every day, most of us are already resigning to a fate of trading in our t-shirts for frumpy winter coats and migrating indoors; the warm, sun-filled days of summer a distant dream. But, some Concordia students will spend those long, cold, winter months planting herbs, harvesting tomatoes, running their hands through warm soil and basking in natural sunlight without the risk of frostbite, at Concordia’s greenhouse.
On the 13th floor of the hall building, the greenhouse comprises several large rooms with diverse plants, a small fishpond and a giant worm composting centre. The greenhouse is completely organic and designed to create a sustainable green space on campus.
While the greenhouse opened 2Â½ years ago, it has spent much of that time under the radar, as organizers worked behind the scenes, navigating through university bureaucracy to secure the space for student use, and seeking necessary funding and resources.
“Any organization struggles in the beginning with the logistics of staying open and being financially sufficient, while still trying to stay true to their vision,” explains Arlene Throness, greenhouse coordinator.
She said part of that vision centres around urban agriculture, a movement which aims to bring food production into urban areas. Their goal is to reduce the distance it takes for food to get from the soil to our plates, by developing smaller scale food networks along with more sustainable practices, which she said will allow us to regain control of what we eat.
“We need to redefine food as a necessity, not an industry,” said Throness. “People need to re-learn how we can grow food in the city, directly for consumption, right where we are going to eat it.” People who live in urban areas face a growing detachment to the food they eat, she said, as we lose touch with the basic knowledge and skills involved with producing it, leaving people vulnerable to instability in the food industry. And with global climate change threatening to make matters even more unpredictable, many people believe now is the time to start focusing on alternatives to industrial food production.
“This year we are really shifting our focus to take on a number of projects based around issues of food security and innovations in urban agriculture that can be accessible to everyone,” said Throness.
The greenhouse is developing a number of different projects to help Concordia students (and the public) to get reacquainted, or freshly acquainted, with their green thumbs.
One such initiative is the Garden Club. The club’s goal is to encourage people to share and practice different urban agriculture techniques. Projects are geared towards finding ways in which we can all bring a little bit of a garden into our homes. Everything from do-it-yourself planter setup, to theory on what to grow and how to grow it will be taught and discussed. Members will also have a chance to contribute to a small communal garden in the greenhouse. It’s open to all, and there will be meetings every Monday starting Oct. 19.
Subject-specific workshops will also be held monthly. Each workshop will tackle one specific theme and will involve group learning and participation under the guidance of an expert. Some upcoming topics include growing medicinal plants and saving seeds.
One project currently underway is to supply the People’s Potato with fresh herbs and greens for their free daily meals. “I’m most excited for the herbs project,” said new volunteer Rose Sylvester, “because I feel like it gives me a chance to contribute to a good cause; one that feeds people good, local food every day.”
Construction of a system of hanging wall planters for the project is already in the works, as volunteer Steven Fuller explains. “There’s been talk of using bamboo, recycled PVC pipe or eavestroughs to bed the herbs, but we are being very careful to make sure none of the materials we use have negative effects on the soil and plants.”
The greenhouse is also home to a well established worm composting center that contains over 24 tons of compost (and the red “wriggler” worms that create it) in giant handmade wood compartments. The program also sells home vermin-composting kits, and holds free monthly workshops on how to use this alternative to outdoor composting inside your home year-round.
Open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (schedule subject to change), the greenhouse is for students who want to learn, volunteer, hang out, study, or simply sit and enjoy the sun and increased oxygen levels.
As volunteer Jordan Loeppky puts it, “it really is significant that we have such a beautiful, interesting space accessible to all of us students; one that is separate from any formal academic obligations where we can all come together.”
It seems the greenhouse is no longer just about researchers growing plants, but rather about building a strong local community around an important global issue.
“My vision is for the greenhouse to become a hub for urban agriculture deeply connected to the greater Montreal community, as well as a place where people feel comfortable to just come, hang out and experiment with all different parts of the process,” says Throness.
For additional information visit: www.greenhouse.concordia.ca. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org