By Sarah Nathanson
Catch some sun, get your hands dirty and cultivate growth and life — it’s good for the soul! After spending an evening with Dig In!, an organization that tends to the pocket vegetable gardens around campus (yes, they exist), I was ready to invest in 300 acres of farmland and spend my days growing sustainable produce. Have you ever sautéed kale harvested before your eyes, after helping push a wheelbarrow filled with soil from Huron Street to the UTSU (University of Toronto Students’ Union) building? I certainly hadn’t, but it was extremely satisfying to do so after taking part in this biweekly ritual in the past week. In the light of day, I’m unfortunately reminded that I’m a novice apartment gardener who likes her hands clean. Despite this, dipping my toes into the sphere of urban gardening reminded me that it’s not impossible to grow my own fresh food in the city, and that’s exactly what Dig In! wants.
In the Garden
Here’s what went down: Last Wednesday at 5 PM, we began in the New College Human Biology Garden, which is secreted away in a courtyard I hadn’t noticed before. Everybody has passed that brick structure by Classic Avenue and Huron Street, the one with the ivy on it. I always thought it was part of a building, but it’s a beautiful open-air garden, chock full of fresh vegetables and herbs. I entered this little haven and was immediately struck by how everybody existed together — this is a small community composed of different generations, who all work together seamlessly and cheerfully.
It was in this atmosphere, hoses spraying around me and soft conversation filling the sunlit air, that I interviewed Kristy Bard, the coordinator of Dig In! and an Anthropology teaching assistant (TA) who began her journey in the Anthropology Greenhouse and now owns a small plot of farmland. Dig In!, she says, is a volunteer-based organization that relies on the community in and around U of T. It’s gotten smaller since its birth in 2008, as it recently lost Hart House funding for a paid coordinator. Yet Kristy and her team have worked to keep Dig In! afloat, as they believe that urban farms around U of T are important — both to support mental health through the outdoors and because empowering people to grow their own food leads to food security and more sustainable farming.
Dig In! is an organization with goals, and Kristy (along with her successor, Sam Lucchetta) plans to expand through a partnership with Regenesis, a company that marries technology and the environment. She hopes that in the future there will be more campus gardens, a larger volunteer base, an on-campus farmers’ market and campus-grown produce in the cafeterias. She even mentioned a New College–based agriculture club that hopes to provide co-curricular (CCR) credit to students. So: pack up your gloves and a water bottles, people, take a deep breath and connect with the campus — and yourself — in the most innovative way. Dig In!
How to Get Involved
- Adopt a garden on campus that you tend to on your own time by contacting Dig In!.
- Look out for information about New Roots, an up-and-coming New College urban agriculture club.
- Attend biweekly Dig In! meetings, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 PM to 7 PM, in which you can tend to gardens with the group. Get information about meetings by subscribing to their mailing list or by following them on Facebook.