In 2009, Martha Gay Scroggins initiated the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF) on undeveloped land at the edge of the University of Guelph Arboretum. Ten years later, GCUOF is completely off-grid with a solar energy system that pumps water from an on-site well. As a certified organic farm and research facility, GCUOF is committed to avoiding all oils and plastics (including farm tools such as tractors) as well as any artificial fertilizers.
“I love when students come in with a curiosity and compassion about the growing of food,” she said. “Everyone has something to learn from an organic farm like GCUOF.”
In 2013, one of Scroggins’ students approached a campus café for coffee grounds to turn into compost at the farm as part of a research project. The student later connected with the Sustainability Office to expand her efforts to collect coffee grounds from other campus coffee shops. As time went on, a small but mighty composting volunteer group took form.
In the last few years, the composting program has come full circle. Connections have been made with four on-campus kitchens to collect their organic waste to go to GCUOF in addition to the coffee grounds still being collected from cafés. In turn, Hospitality Services purchases fresh, home-grown produce and flowers from the farm, creating a sustainable, circular food system at the university.
Scroggins says that the most surprising thing to come out of the composting program is the effect the coffee grounds have had on the soil. “The addition of coffee grounds to our usual compost has helped to decrease insect pressure, increasing the chance of growing much better vegetables,” she said. “Our seeds get better and better every year.”
Not many universities can say that they serve food grown on their own campuses. It takes a dedicated group of individuals to keep all of the parts of this food system running.
Natalie Vasilivetsky, Composting Coordinator in the University’s Sustainability Office, says it’s truly an interdepartmental effort.
“This is an amazing collaboration between the Sustainability Office, Hospitality, and the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming,” said Vasilivetsky. “The bees from our own apiary also help pollinate the plants.”
It’s also the personal connections that really make the difference. “People are more likely to be careful about what they’re putting in the compost if they know where it’s going and who will have to deal with it on the other end,” she says.
To taste organic produce farmed by this hard-working team, community members are encouraged to stop by GCUOF’s weekly market during harvesting season. All proceeds are put back into the farm or into the community through seedling donations to local neighbourhood garden groups, food banks, and a women’s shelter.