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Gzowski College on Trent's Symons Campus. Image courtesy of Rick Harris on Flickr.

On Trent Land: An Alternative Plan

Written by
Francene Francis
and
and
April 15, 2021
On Trent Land: An Alternative Plan
Gzowski College on Trent's Symons Campus. Image courtesy of Rick Harris on Flickr.

As a part of Michael Classens’ Ecological Design course, Trent students, Carolina Engering and Connor McCaskill are aiming to better the Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan (TLNAP), specifically Cleantech Commons’ imminent destruction of the Trent Vegetable Garden (TVG). They have vested interests in the TVG as Connor is in his penultimate year of a double major in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS) and Environmental and Resource Studies while Carolina is in her final year of obtaining a double major in Business Administration and Environmental and Resource Studies. For their final project for the course, Connor proposed they change an aspect of the Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan. They chose Cleantech Commons with the charge to “pick one space and create a design to make it effective.” The project then transformed into solving the relocation of farm and garden spaces as it was the most contentious issue identified among non-Trent stakeholders. The biggest proponent to the relocation of Trent’s farm and garden spaces? Cleantech Commons and its encroachment on the TVG with plans to construct a road that would bisect the plot. 

Currently, the TVG is a farm plot where food is grown for the Seasoned Spoon Cafe, it also functions as a teaching tool. Upon conceptualization of their plan, Connor realized that due to a planned road development, the TVG may be forced to move from its current location. To remedy this, Connor and Carolina are proposing to incorporate the TVG into a multi-use plot that can coexist with other elements of the Lands Plan and campus. As Trent is seeking to further commercialize their property and seek alternate modes of income, they believe that Trent should utilize resources we have and develop sustainable and commercial farming systems as a business model by including vertical gardens, hydroponics, and other sustainable farming methods. Adding these features to our current farm and garden spaces will also give Trent a competitive advantage against other universities incorporating farms onto their campus and providing sustainable local food to their communities.

During their consultation process, Carolina and Connor aimed to be as inclusive as possible, using a bottom-up design where they gather stakeholder information before they design their spaces. They realized that there are stakeholders more knowledgeable about the Lands Plan and Trent lands than they are and they encouraged community engagement and support as they compiled knowledge to make their plan as inclusive as possible, this consultation involves professors, agricultural and student groups, as well as community and Indigenous engagement. Trying to cover all their bases proved to be somewhat of an issue with the lack of transparency of recent plans and the deep history of Trent’s land use planning, after the original 1964 Lands Master Plan, there have been five Lands Plans all related to different functions and structures on campus. For Carolina and Connor, “… it isn’t a matter of this leg of the project, it’s a matter of looking back at the history of it as well, and how we got to this point.”

Connor believes that the industries that will be located at Cleantech have the potential to be of benefit so long as they consider the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social, and environmental). His concern is Trent’s laser focus on the economics aspects will neglect focus on the others pillars. Simply put “It’s not good news.” He feels that Cleantech can be a positive for the campus, as long as there’s collaboration to achieve the other pillars of sustainability and Trent fully considers the impacts and consequences of its design. He charges Trent to “look at [their] values as a university. What [they] stand for, what they believe in and make sure [they] don’t start chipping away at the very values [they] market [them]selves with.” He continues by elaborating that from the conversations he’s had, he’s gathered that people come to Trent because of it’s small and green campus, not realizing just how much land Trent owns. One of Trent’s strengths is their small campus and class sizes, Carolina and Connor believe that Trent should play to their strengths and have a plan that retains their fundamental and ecological ideologies and the niche that they have carved for themselves as a world leader located in rural Peterborough. Hiring consultants from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is not the way to do that, they say.

In their plan, the TVG remains in its current location. On a plot with close proximity to the campus that fosters a sense of connection between the farm, students and the Peterborough community. Connor and Carolina point out that the relocation of the farms to the Nature Area plots south of Pioneer Road will sever that connection, as the plots will be located too far from campus for a simple walk in a free session. Moving the gardens from a site that already has the ideal soil for agriculture to a forested Nature Area, is impractical. During our interview, Carolina mentioned that the relocation of the TVG may also cause the farm to be forgotten and moving the farm to the new location is essentially “throwing away the historical aspect of the [current] location that has been rooted at Trent as an important pioneer site.” Connor and Carolina plan to use this “pioneer site” to their advantage and convert the plot using regenerative designs that ensure that the farm will be adaptable for the oncoming needs of future generations. This regenerative design includes consolidating all Trent’s farm and garden plots at the current site of the TVG. 

In this, the TVG, the Trent Market Garden, the apiary, and a potential new native species nursery will be consolidated in an open-access area that students can access year-round. They also plan to convert the space into a “Green Academic'' area along with a 100-bed graduate student residence equipped with a new daycare facility, cafe, pavilion and other alternate working spaces tailored to different groups and courses. Their plan will also incorporate a greenhouse with dedicated spaces for student planters and will also serve as a refuge from the stress of being in university. As they're still early in the design process, the sketch shown is just an idea of what the space could be transformed into. With further community consultation and stakeholder feedback, the sketch and plans can be revised into an inclusive final product.

Mockup design by Carolina Engering. This design is a preliminary draft, pending consultations with all the groups involved to figure out the best design plan for the space.

Connor also identified that as Cleantech Commons is primarily science based, they miss the Arts angle of sustainability and current climate issues. They overlook the practical solutions of our current climate situation that cannot be fixed in the lab. 

“They miss the other dimensions of the field. It’s not always about science, and when there’s a heavy science bias we may overlook other aspects of the field. Talking about the environment and farming practices incorporates human beliefs and philosophies about the answer. Some may believe that science is the answer, some may believe that we should use the landscape we have and improve it instead of a band-aid solution after we’ve ruined the land.” 

Carolina and Connor believe in a proactive approach to regenerate and improve the land, over an approach that degrades it. They say that Trent is viewing the land as being “problematic” by implementing new infrastructure and relocating their problems instead of proposing solutions that involve students and the community.

Speaking of relocation, what happens to the proposed road that began this feud? The current ‘Street B’ plan is a 2-way road between Cleantech Commons and campus, the alternate plan proposes the 2-way street be converted to a one-way to campus and be diverted around the farms rather than through. Diverting the road around the farm also allows for potential northward expansion without destroying more of the campus’ natural heritage. The connecting road to Cleantech would be Pioneer Road, which Cleantech plans to develop as an entrance to the property. The reality is that Cleantech is located so close to campus that driving times are almost negligible -- driving from campus to Pioneer Road, then to Cleantech won’t change that. Their plan still creates a loop between Cleantech and campus and doesn’t destroy agricultural land.

The deliverables of this project are a draft plan, a final paper, and a presentation to the board. The tangible deliverables are due April 6, 2021. I conducted this interview on March 24 and Connor and Carolina still didn’t have a set date on when they would present to the Board of Governors. When they do eventually present to the Board, they hope their alternate plan will be listened to and considered, but their opinions differ on whether the Board will consider it seriously. Carolina, the optimist, responded with a resounding “Yeah.” She believes that their alternate plan is “not only profitable for Trent but ensures the proper engagement of the community and students and ensures the experiential learning of the agriculture courses that Trent offers.” While Connor, the realist, responded that he’s hopeful that they’ll genuinely listen and consider their plan. He knows their plan will have to have an exceptional presentation for the Board to make last minute changes such as this. Their plan isn’t just relocating a road, he acknowledges that there will be servicing issues and other infrastructural changes their plan will engage that may cause the Board to turn a blind eye to their plan. Is it even possible? They don’t know yet, but they remain hopeful that the Board will realize there are alternatives to relocating the TVG.

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