A student driven movement to build new greenhouses on Symons Campus has been gaining significant momentum within the university community over the past several weeks. The Facebook group for “Greenhousing Trent’s Campus” was created on December 29, just before the New Year, and has already amassed almost 120 members including prominent student groups and community members.
The greenhousing movement is the brainchild of Laurin Fultonn a fourth year Trent student who thought up the idea as part of her coursework. Ms. Fultonn approached Dan Legault, co-ordinator of the Trent Vegetable Gardens, and Aimee Blyth of the Seasoned Spoon café and together they hashed out a rough proposal for the initiative.
“Laurin contacted me wanting to find information about a new project tying in with the Gardens and the Seasoned Spoon,” explains Legault. “It was funny because this September I had the same idea before she contacted me.”
Legault says that he was already thinking about the notion of increasing greenhouse space because there is a current shortage on campus.
“There’s not a lot of space in the greenhouse we currently use and it can be difficult when we have a lot of stuff we need to grow. I was also hoping to get something built for the winter so that we could engage with new students by showing them that we could grow year-round.”
The greenhouses, according to the preliminary planning document drafted by Fultonn, would be used to grow a year-round supply of herbs and greens for the Seasoned Spoon Café as well as a research and teaching space for the Environmental and Sustainable Agriculture programs. Already, according to the document, interest has been expressed by faculty members Dan Longboat of Indigenous Studies and Mehdi Sharifi of Sustainable Agriculture who say that they could use the greenhouse space for academic and research purposes.
Dan Legault is now drafting a more formal proposal that calls for three greenhouses to be constructed on Symons Campus over the course of the next several years as well as one at Traill College in downtown Peterborough. The first greenhouse would be located near the DNA Building on the East Bank of the university’s campus core, a location that would put it in proximity with the existing garden plots and allow Trent Vegetable Gardens to “save seeds, start seedlings, and… make their garden[s] more productive.” Leagault says other locations could include Gzowski College near the Gathering Space and near the Seasoned Spoon Café in Champlain College.
The greenhouses themselves could be built using a number of proven sustainable designs and both Fultonn and Legault emphasize that their plan would be to construct passive solar greenhouses, meaning that they would rely solely on the sun for heat and light.
However, Fultonn’s report notes that there are multiple ways to design such structures, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. One would involve digging the floor of the greenhouses down below the frost line for insulation while another would have rocks, concrete, or open water pools within the greenhousing space that would collect, hold, and redistribute heat.
Legault notes that his personal preference would be for moveable greenhouses on tracks, a design popularized by American organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman. There are numerous advantages to this design, says Legault, including the fact that you could “move [the greenhouse] as the season goes” meaning “you benefit by extending your growing season and you still allow the land to be covered with snow.”
Although Trent’s greenhousing initiative is still in its infancy, it has caught the attention of Sustainable Trent, a student levy organization dedicated to environmental protection and sustainability. Julian Tennent-Riddel, a director with the group, explains that two years ago, Sustainable Trent set aside more than $5700 in funding to be put towards a project in sustainable development on Trent’s campus. He says that the organization is impressed by Fultonn’s preliminary proposal and many be open to using those funds to realize the greenhouse project.
“It’s important that with the Aramark contract ending we see some fundamental changes in [Trent’s] food-services,” he says. “Building [these] greenhouses would mean not just criticizing the current system but also putting forth an alternative to corporate food systems.”
Although the exact cost of the greenhouses would depend on both their design and size, Tennent-Riddel estimates that the money from Sustainable Trent would be enough to fund the construction of at least two greenhouses after which he says that the organization is committed to assisting in finding additional funding streams. Furthermore, the preliminary report calls for a heavy reliance on locally sourced and recycled materials both in an effort to increase sustainability and to curb costs.
Dan Legault says that there has already been in interest expressed from a variety of local tradespeople who are willing to offer their expertise and services in the process. He also notes that several students have come forward with information about the whereabouts of abandoned greenhouses across Ontario, the components of which could be recycled or repurposed here at Trent.
Looking forward over the next semester Legault says that there is still much to do. He explains that already there has been a great response from Trent’s students and during the process of planning the proposal for Sustainable Trent members of Flemming College’s Sustainable Building Design program have also expressed interest in helping to realize the initiative. “It’s been a really positive experience so far,” he says. “Everyone seems to be talking about it already so I think it is going to have a big push.”
He admits that he hasn’t yet heard anything from the university administration but the next step will be to deliver his final proposal to Sustainable Trent before bringing it to administrators and the wider community.