Campus Community Garden: weed it and reap

The UVic Campus Community Garden has an office in the Student Union Building, SUB B118. The organization also receives student funding, $0.76 per student per year. Yet the land of the garden itself has never been incorporated into UVic’s campus plan, and its hold on its soil remains tenuous.

“The university is of the position that they support a community garden on campus, but they haven’t clarified what that looks like,” explains Matt Morrison, the Campus Community Garden co-ordinator. “We operate under the assumption that at any moment, the university reserves the right to relocate us, or to disband the garden and not necessarily install a new one right away.”

Morrison speaks from SUB B118, a room the Garden shares with the UVic Sustainability Project (UVSP). “In the summer and the spring I’d say most of my time is in the garden,” says Morrison. The position of co-ordinator is full year with salary from the UVSS. The Garden’s other paid staff are two work-study assistant co-ordinators during the Winter Session, and one from May to August.

Besides student fees, the Garden is funded by the yearly $30 rental fee of its 85 plots. The plots, each three by four metres, may be rented by any student or faculty member. Half are reserved for each group. Four plots are kept as “giving gardens”: land tended by the Garden staff used to grow food for the UVSS Food Bank, and to provide space for those without their own plot.

Plot renters include the UVSS Pride Collective, the UVSS Women’s Centre, and the UVic Child Care Centre. “We kind of are in communication with them, and have offered support to them,” says Morrison.

The co-ordinator and assistant co-ordinators work in their four plots, oversee the rest of the garden, and generally administer everything garden. “We organize and administer the financial and physical operations of the garden, from budgetary stuff to plot monitoring and then maintaining rentership,” Morrison explains. “We’re responsible for making sure all the plot renters are upkeeping their plots, that they’re actually growing something.” Plot renters must, for example, begin growing plants by a certain time, and maintain a certain tidiness. “You can’t just have giant piles of sticks in your plot,” says Morrison.

Gardeners may, however, grow almost anything, provided that it’s organic. Some grow raspberries and blueberries. A UVic class, ES 321: Ethnoecology, rents a plot and grows camas bulbs. The UVic Restoration Network plans to grow native plants then transplant them to campus ecosystems compromised by invasive ones. The garden’s woodchip paths are inoculated with mushroom spores (Stropharia rugosoannulata). Some gardeners practise permaculture and some practise hugelkultur (burying wood for long-term nutrient release). There are gooseberries, jostaberries, mulberries, figs, apples, aquaponics, bird boxes, and—soon—honeybees.

Yet there are no trees—at least, no large ones. “We can’t actually plant trees because we’re not permanent,” says Morrison. “That’s one thing we’re hoping to achieve.”

The Garden staff also answer questions, administer the rental wait list, organize workshops, and plan events. One recent event was the Deconstructing Dinner film screening in February, co-organized by CFUV Radio, the UVSP, and the UVic Office of Campus Planning and Sustainability. The Garden also has its own board, the Campus Community Gardens Board of Directors, who meet once a month, usually but not always on the second Saturday.

Morrison acknowledges that keeping up can be difficult. “I end up doing a really wide-ranging series of activities, and so I think that it’s hard to do everything justice . . . I find that the hardest thing is not getting to every single thing, and so that’s where it’s really helpful to have the assistants to fill those spaces.” The other challenge is uncertainty. “It’s challenging to kind of work and improve the status of the garden, build up the physical infrastructure, create awareness and accessibility, and all this stuff, when all of that could be for naught.”

The first location of the Campus Community Garden was beyond Ring Road, between McKenzie and Alexander avenues, next to the current Technology Enterprise Facility. “The garden was created in ’98 before any of this was here,” says Morrison. “So this was all grass.”

Morrison says, however, that after Parking Lot 3 was slated to become the CARSA facility, the university “looked to the garden and said, ‘Well, that’s a great place to put a parking lot,’” and so made plans to close the garden’s location in 2011.

“And that’s kind of where the guerilla gardening campaign came out of.” In 2010, students attempted to replace part of the lawn in the UVic Quad with a food garden, removing the grass turf and planting vegetables. The Community Garden was not involved, says Morrison. “But I think the threats to it, when students heard the Garden was going to be destroyed and we were not going to have a space on campus to grow food . . . they resisted that through setting up their guerilla gardening campaign.”

The Community Garden moved in 2011. Its new location is past Centennial Stadium, between McKenzie Avenue and McCoy Road. Although the new site has 85 plots to the former’s 30, Morrison emphasizes the disruption such moves cause. “It takes five years to build up good soil, and if you have to move every five years that means you never have good soil. That’s the overarching most challenging thing.”

Although the Community Garden continues to talk to the university about a more permanent space, says Morrison, “right now they’re unwilling to grant that because they are in a position of being restricted . . . They don’t want to commit to any one thing for fear that it will infringe on some future development plan.”

Morrison says that anyone who wants to rent a plot should email the Garden and ask to join the wait list. “For sure within a year you’d get a plot.” This will probably happen in October, the turnover month for plot tenancy.

Only those with a V-number (students, staff, and faculty) may rent a plot. However, Morrison stresses that there are other ways to become involved, such as working in the four plots kept for non-renters, hence the term “community garden.”

“Take a walk through the garden; it’s always open so people don’t have to have someone show them around.” Morrison suggests people go the Garden’s website and sign up for the weekly newsletter. “We post about lots different things: events in the community and that kind of stuff.” There are also work parties. “We meet once a week. There’s like 10–15 people who come out every week.” These usually take place on Friday at 11:30 a.m. The exact time is posted outside B118 and on the Garden’s website and Facebook group.

“It’s everybody’s,” says Morrison. “We all pay for it. It’s a facility that we all should take advantage of. And I think that the more people who invest in it, the better the chances that it will be protected and enhanced.”

Email the garden at ccgarden@uvic.ca. More information can be found at web.uvic.ca/~ccgarden and the UVic Campus Community Garden Facebook group.

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