The Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF or The Farm) is a one hectare hidden gem on the University of Guelph (U of G) campus created in 2008 that grows food and flowers, and offers experiential learning and research opportunities in a supervised educational facility to explore urban organic food production on a year-round basis.
Currently a part of the Department of Plant Agriculture within the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), The Farm offers experiential, research, and wellness opportunities for the entire University, Guelph and Wellington County, and beyond.
Over eleven years as a working, certified organic farm, outdoor classroom, and hands-on living laboratory, The Farm has exceeded its initial mandate for what The Farm would offer the University of Guelph.
More than 90% of production (food, herbs, flowers) goes to Hospitality Services and the Cutten Club. The rest is available at a weekly Thursday Market 12:30-4:30, and donated to community organizations.
Farm Overview by Kalev Andres, Sept 2019
Living the UofG vision
As a model of sustainability and a hub of community connectivity, The Farm deeply manifests the U of G vision in the new Strategic Framework, as Canada’s Food University:
Stewarding Valued Resources
The U of G aspires to “lead in advancing environmental sustainability” and all future plans will include a test of “how will they address sustainability and offer opportunities to show leadership in environmental and strategic stewardship?”
Biodiversity | The most biodiverse hectare on campus, home to an incredible range of plants, animals, and insects especially many native pollinators.
Soil | A living collective being, not a resource, nurtured for 11 years to produce food bounty and support rich biodiversity. More soil organic matter is critical to counter the climate crisis.
Circular Food Economy | Core to the campus circular food economy, producing food for Hospitality Services and creating compost from food scraps to feed future production.
Wild pollinators | Bee City Canada certified to recognize our vast diversity of pollinators.
Inspiring Learning and Inquiry | the U of G seeks to “advance experiential learning”.
Research | Students and Faculty conduct projects for coursework and academic publication
- Field studies of wild pollinators
- Analysis of food growing conditions in High Tunnels.
Learning | Many classes, coursework, seminars and more across many Colleges and Departments have involved The Farm, such as:
- Seminars in Environmental Ethics, Dept of Philosophy
- Frequent Child Care and Learning Centre tours, plantings, workshops
- Partnership with Guelph Food Innovation Centre to develop campus-created commercial food products
- Food growing workshops with Hospitality Services staff
The U of G wants to continue to “build knowledge-sharing partnerships” and “provide vibrant campuses that are inclusive and respectful, where everyone is valued”
Bridges across disciplines | Connect diverse skills and interests on campus in research, learning, and sustainability initiatives.
Bridges off campus | Partner with or support dozens of local and regional organizations from neighbourhood food banks and health care providers to schools, governments, other Universities, and health care services.
Support food cultures | Partner with new Canadian and cultural diversity orgs, including the Student Life Cultural Diversity Program, to grow hard-to-find food identified as in-demand.
Catalyzing Discovery and Change
A U of G stated goal is to “attract funding and other resources to support research and knowledge mobilization.”
New student appeal | A catalyst for Admissions Services, The Farm helps attract high quality students, are prominent in Hospitality’s top rated food offerings, and are regularly covered in media such as Maclean’s.
Systems approach | The complex interplay of the ecosystem, planting schedule, farm infrastructure, and much human activity is a big catalyst for learnings across dozens of disciplines such as Engineering, Integrative Biology, Philosophy, Hotel & Food Admin, Soil Science.
New farmer skills and mentorship | Supported hundreds of students who are the next generation of farmers.
Model for others | The small farm holding model, gaining increased recognition internationally, has brought increased regional and international attention to The Farm as an expert source of learnings to inform similar projects on other campuses in particular. The Farm is also the model for scale-up throughout the City of Guelph and Wellington County in the Smart Cities Challenge prize.
Nurturing a Distinctive University Culture
The U of G strives to “recognize the importance of our campuses, facilities and services in supporting our academic mission and building communities where people thrive”.
The Farm is a unique campus facility that nurtures (literally and figuratively) a distinctive university culture through diverse offerings, collaborations, and synergies.
Stewards of the soil
For 11 years, all farm practices (and in partnerships across campus and county) have focused on caring for, and supporting, the soil.
The Farm thinks of their role as stewards of the Earth to mean growing the soil.
The soil is not a ‘resource’: it is a living being whose life also needs to be improved rather than diminished.
This includes, but is not limited to: No soil compaction, established beds and paths, permaculture principles, winter cover crops, crop rotation, constant use of compost generated from campus organic waste, and little to no usage of plastics.
The soil at The Farm has been actively built, or rather cared for, for 11 years, and now, because it is so healthy, supports not only incredible food production but also a small but vital ecosystem of biodiversity: mycelia, vertebrate and invertebrate insects, birds, small rodents, amphibians, snakes.
Neither The Farm nor the soil can simply be dug up and moved to a new location, or partly transplanted onto the roof of the proposed new HBRC building, as suggested by one of the design proposals. The Farm, and its soil in particular, is an integral component of the U of G’s multifaceted effort to combat climate change by maintaining soil organic matter. This means respecting it deeply, leaving it intact, and supporting it, and those who support it.
Circular Food Economy, and the Smart Cities Challenge $10 million prize
There is no circular food economy on campus without The Farm. The campus compost program takes coffee grounds and food scraps from all UofG Hospitality Services locations, and over two years is turned into compost by The Farm to grow food mostly sold back to Hospitality Services – links food production (GCUOF), food preparation and consumption (Hospitality; Food Science), food waste reduction (Sustainability Office), and compost production (GCUOF and Grounds Dept).
The compost program and the GCUOF were instrumental components of Guelph–Wellington’s successful $10 million bid for Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, Our Food Future, Canada’s first circular food economy. The Farm is the model for scale-up throughout the City of Guelph and Wellington County, and have been regularly learning with the GCUOF.
The UofG Sustainability Office considers the GCUOF (and its partnership with Composting and Hospitality) to be the most significant campus sustainability initiative.