In the ever-advancing age of ready-made food products, more and more people are wanting to know where all of it actually comes from. Thanks to the Trent Vegetable Gardens (TVG), the answer is simple, at least in their case: the university campus!
Established as a levy group in 2006 with the fourfold principles of innovation, collaboration, sustainability, and experiential learning, the TVG aims to reconnect people with the source of their food by providing the space, tools, and instructions necessary for people to learn how to garden and grow vegetables.
The TVG maintains two gardens: one behind the East Bank’s DNA Building, and the other on the rooftop of the Environmental Science Complex. They offer the bulk of the fruit (rather, the veggies) of their labour to the on-campus cafe The Seasoned Spoon, where students can use their meal plan funds on delicious meals made with these ingredients.
As the primary source of funding for the TVG, their levy fee goes toward two areas: covering a significant portion of their employment costs, and the entirety of the group’s material costs, such as seeds, compost, tools and their repair, as well as any administrative materials.
Aside from these necessary expenses, a portion of this past year’s funding has been set aside for the construction of a new shed in the future.
Like several other levy groups, TVG offers employment opportunities to students, but the ways in which they’re really most poised to benefit are in the realms of gastronomy and experiential education.
As coordinator Emma Macdonald says, the TVG is “one of, if not the only, university farm-to-table food systems in Canada, and our relationship with The Seasoned Spoon is an effective model of how agriculture and food service can work together in a sustainable way.”
A godsend for health-conscious students living in residence, this relationship makes possible delicious and arguably the healthiest meals available on campus, being the only place that serves strictly organic and (incredibly) local dishes. Not only is it fresh, but due to the close proximity of the gardens, it’s cheaper than such food tends to be in restaurants!
For those taking environmental science/studies or agricultural courses, engaging with the TVG is a perfect way to apply what’s been learned in the classroom. And even if you aren’t in these disciplines, through a combination of workshops and volunteer programming, anyone can learn their way around a vegetable garden.
Were the group to lose a great portion of its funding, in the worst case scenario, Macdonald believes the TVG may not be able to operate at all. But even short of that, It’s easy to see the potential for a domino effect of detriment.
Less money means less seeds and tools, which means less to harvest, which means both less land and harvesters required. That would directly hurt both the Seasoned Spoon (as a result of less food to sell, or having to spend more to make it) and those who eat there, as well as those students hoping to work there or gain field experience to supplement their academic learning.
“There’s a limited amount of space and support for agriculture students to gain hands on skills in what they’re learning in class. We provide that space, and by defunding us, it would be undermining a lot of the environmental education that’s happening at Trent.”
These cautionary words from Macdonald could be especially pertinent now, as this year the school has just broken into a sub-list of the nation’s top 20 environmental science programs according to the widely-consulted Maclean’s university rankings.