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Students helping food insecure students through the U of C's Science Community Garden

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Science students at the University of Calgary use their roof top greenhouse to conduct all kinds of projects and had a little extra space that wasn't being used. so some of them came up with the idea of growing food for the campus food bank.

"It was sort of a collaboration between a few people," said Allison Guthrie, grad student. "But I was a big part of starting it, the Dean definitely was very supportive right from the very beginning, encouraged me and pointed out ways that we could do it."

Kristin Baetz, the dean of science, says when students have initiatives that it has a big impact in the community.

"We're a research intensive institution," she said. "We do amazing research in this greenhouse, game changing, especially on crops and how are we making them water resistant, pest resistant for Alberta."

Baetz says the Science Community Garden is a big commitment for the students to take on in addition to their studies.

"It shows how talented our students are, how driven our students are and creative," she said. "It's student led, it's developed by students, and the faculty is there helping along the way."

Guthrie hears students talking in the halls about how challenging it is for them to make ends meet and they're forced to make tough decisions between rent, tuition and food.

"I do my own grocery shopping, I have seen the price of bell peppers at $5 a pound right now," she said. "That's not a sustainable thing for students at all and I see how that's affecting their health and even the mental health of students around me."

There are a variety of vegetables being grown in the greenhouse that a core group of four students manage daily.

"The plants grow themselves but I would say just the watering and the harvesting takes a fair bit of time," said Guthrie. "The tomatoes are getting big, we have to hand pollinate them because they're in a greenhouse, they don't have bees to do that pollinating for us."

Michelle Forgeron, the manager of technical support services at the faculty of science, is supporting the students with what they need for the project.

"Everything is a bit staggered in terms of when things will be ready for harvesting," she said. "Then we just gather a group of volunteers set up a little assembly line and then we harvest and package very efficiently and then we just cart food over to the food bank, which is right on campus."

Forgeron also makes sure the food grown in the greenhouse is as safe as it can be for the people who eat it.

"I've consulted with Alberta Health Services, particularly their food safety team," she said. "Just to make sure that we are doing things properly and safely."

The students harvested their first crop of lettuce on April 12.

"We had three different varieties of lettuce," she said. "Each bag contains two to three heads of lettuce so in total, there was over 60 heads of lettuce that were donated to the Campus Food Bank."

Renata Santander, the coordinator for education and engagement for the Campus Food Bank says so far this school year it's provided hampers for 980 people.

"We've seen a lot of increase and also in terms of our expenses compared to last year have increased by almost 86 per cent," she said. "The need as well as the prices of food are going way up so, definitely programs like this help a lot because most of our perishables we buy ourselves, we only accept non perishable donations."

Santander says more students are food insecure because of inflation.

"We see a lot of international and graduate students coming for our services," she said. "A lot of our clients are returning clients, they're not new, they're people who are not finding other solutions for their situation so they have to keep coming back for our services."

The Campus Food Bank is saving valuable funds that it can put towards other food items, thanks to the Science Community Garden.

"This is grown by students, for students," said Santander. "For people in our community, it's organic and run right here on campus, (it is) a really great initiative and something that clients have been really interested in and something that has really helped them and we're very excited about this partnership."

Learn more about how to support the project here.

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