A garden of knowledge

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The RPIRG Green Patch provides a wealth of educational opportunities

Dietrich Neu

Editor-in-Chief


The Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) has announced they have begun work on the third on-campus community garden at the University of Regina. The new project will be called the RPIRG Green Patch, and with the help of volunteers and student RPIRG employees, the project has already begun planting in a massive area located in the university green. Along with gardens on both the FNUniv campus, and the Institut français, the three community gardens are part of an umbrella project titled Regina Edible Campus, which aims to provide education about food sustainability and engage students and volunteers in community projects.

 

Jenn Brgen, executive director of RPIRG, has worked on the RPRIG Green Patch since the idea first started flying around last year. Brgen was approached by Frédéric Dupré, who started the garden at Institut français called La Portager, about the possibility of starting a third community garden on campus.

 

“He said that the first year of La Portager went well,” Brgen said. “And Frédéric told me that Facilities Management said that they could free up more land if there was a desire on campus for more urban gardening. He wanted to know if RPRIG would be able to do that, and we said yes.”

 

By January, RPRIG was ready to approach the President’s Advisory Committee for Sustainability with a proposal for the Green Patch. The committee approved the proposal, and from there the project never looked back.

 

The Green Patch currently occupies 5,500 square ft. of space just south of the Archer library. While some crops are already in the ground, the majority of the space is still being tilled in preparation for planting.

 

Although, to some, the idea of a community garden can sound like an oversized edition of their mother’s backyard, the goals and purposes of the Green Patch cover a wide range of educational uses. In addition, people who volunteer for the project will have the opportunity to take home a third of the food they work with on site, while the majority of it is contributed to the Carmichael Outreach Centre.

 

“There is broader educational mandate to this as well,” Said Naomi Beingessner, a master’s student in justice studies who is responsible for coordinating several aspects of the project. Beingessner has begun work with professors in both biology and engineering to create opportunities for U of R students to incorporate work in the Green Patch into their classroom studies.

 

“There are two [engineering] students who are doing a project on sustainable irrigation,” Beingessner said. “They are looking at the feasibility of using Wascana marsh to irrigate the garden, among other places.”

 

By allowing classes to take advantage of the massive garden for educational purposes, both Beingessner and Brgen hope that students and faculty members at the U of R will begin to see the project as an educational resource that can provide opportunities for learning. Furthermore, with growing interest from students and an ever-increasing potential for education, the Green Patch has the opportunity to receive increased funding, which the two members of RPRIG agreed would allow them to “give back.”

 

RPRIG’s educational mandate doesn’t simply end at the university level. They are planning to work with several youth environmental groups from around the city at a high school level as well.

 

“We want to provide a lauch pad for educational programming,” Brgen added.



“It is a physical manifestation of the beliefs that we stand for as an organization, both environmentally and socially.” – Jenn Brgren


While the RPRIG says it is open for a variety of educational uses for the garden, they also have another, more focused educational goal.

“I guess one of the second goals is to connect people to process of growing their own food,” said Brgen. “We want to show them what that means, for individuals, for communities, like the U of R, and for Regina society on a larger scale. “

 

Volunteers at the site “earn” one third of the food that they grow; the other third is donated to the Carmichael Outreach Centre, who take it in mass quantities and turn it into meals that are used to feed families who are struggling to come up with food of their own.

 

“Unfortunately, [Carmichael Outreach] usually doesn’t get fresh fruits and vegetables,” Brgen noted. “So we trying to make that connection and fill that need. We as a city have to power to grow and feed populations that don’t have the facilities to do that.”

 

“I think it is going to be pretty impressive too,” Beingessner added. “Frédéric [Dupré] was saying that he was hauling something like a couple hundred pounds of potatoes out of it. Ours is going to be twenty times that, minimum. It’s just a huge space.”

 

The project clearly has upside. The potential for both food production and educational benefits has sparked belief in the project from outside sources. Both the University of Regina and Wascana Center Authority have both pitched in a considerable funds to the project; providing funds for tools, seedlings, hiring labourers to till the land, and altering the universities underground irrigation system to accommodate the garden.

 

The RPIRG Green Patch is in its “pilot year,” meaning that the success of this season will impact the potential for future years of funding. However, both Brgen and Beingessner are optimistic that the project will not only be a success, but could grow into something much larger.

“I think that the idea of this is something that people have been waiting a long time,” Brgen said. “We have received so much interest about that space on this campus, and in the future I would like to see that grow; to have classes that do programming year-over-year and get education value from it. We are a bit worried because we only having funding for this year and we are not sure where funding is going to come from next year, but I’m confident that the garden will continue to exist because there is so much outward demand for it.”

“It is an interesting question to figure out what niche we are going to fit it,” Beingessner added. “I think the focus has to be on education. It will be exciting to see how far this thing can go.”

 

The Green Patch is an amalgamation of several causes wrapped up under the same banner. RPIRG and the other members of the Regina Edible Campus are providing education about sustainable food practices, opportunities for university and high school students to utilize the garden for classroom work, and providing food for the less fortunate members of the Regina community.

 

It is a source of pride for the members of RPIRG.

 

“It is a physical manifestation of the beliefs that we stand for as an organization,” Brgen said. “That is why I was personally excited to do it. It is a display of what our organization stands for, both environmentally and socially.”

 

“I think that this can be a nice little step towards getting people to think about the food system,” Beingessner added. “Get them in with something tasty, and see where the conversation goes from there.”

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