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Why Every University Needs a Food Garden

Roots sprouting up in ground

“Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.”

~ Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, 1207-1273

It might seem strange to be talking food gardens as cold temperatures hover, daylight is slow to return, wintry grey days prevail, and cover crops and straw blanket the new-old Kitchen-Garden at Royal Roads. For now, these no-till soils rest, and so do we, dreaming of new life that will surely come in Spring. Planting a food garden is a gesture of hope in dark times.

As public institutions across the country are being called to examine their complicity in ongoing settler-colonial practices, the Farm at RRU (led by a Guiding Committee and through consultation with the Indigenous-led Heron Peoples Circle, Iyé Creative and other key partners), refers to reimagining a former 5.26 acre walled Edwardian kitchen garden and the surrounding forest into an edible and medicinal landscape to serve both RRU and the surrounding communities. At the turn of the twentieth century, this small farm produced food for aristocrats as well as for Greater Victoria. However, for the last seven decades, the land became more ornamental in nature. Now, as we turn lawns and formal gardens back into food-yielding landscapes, we have an opportunity in this moment to start a different conversation and tell a new story about the appropriate care of the land and our relationship to it as responsible citizens and as an educational institution responding to reconciliation and the climate emergency.

As part of RRU’s 2022 – 2027 Climate Action Plan, the Farm at RRU will provide staff, faculty and students with opportunities for learning and research, to design and test solutions to climate change challenges and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)-related projects. Establishing the Farm at RRU enhances and activates an important, sustainable and regenerative food system across campus that focuses on climate-smart adaptation and cultivation for optimal yields through agroecological, Indigenous and intercultural opportunities for learning and practice. The Farm will also invite community members to climate action and food production focused learning and to volunteer opportunities, while sharing an abundant harvest; helping address food insecurity.

The Giving Garden, our initial modest plot of 6 x 50 ft rows within the walled garden, yielded a whopping 1000 pounds of produce this past growing season which was distributed to various community organizations to help top up local free food box programs and the community fridge. Near-future plans include expanding and growing food for on campus use (in partnership with Truffles) and for those in need in neighbouring communities. In the coming years, this small-scale farm will intentionally create an interactive teaching and learning space; a tangible living laboratory designed to decolonize curriculum through hands-on lived experience and by cultivating many ways of knowing to provide nourishment at the intersection of mind, body and spirit. Here, connections between climate change, reconciliation and agriculture are revealed at the natural confluence of food, water, soil, economic, and social systems, and it becomes clear how food security can move in one generation to food sovereignty if we plan to feed everyone well in the years to come.  

Underneath the soil, there is – as the Rumi quote says – a riot going on. Regenerative agricultural practices of no till, no dig, no pesticides, that includes more pollinator plants, heals the soil, that in turn, heals us. Overwhelming research links the quality of the soil with its health-promoting minerals, fats, and phytochemicals to the quality of foods produced which ultimately, is what we eat. In What Your Food Ate, How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health, authors, Montgomery and Bikle (2022) write, “The way we raise our crops and livestock proves as important as what we choose to eat” (p. 10) due to complex and living connections between soils, crops and what might be called the equivalent ‘soils’ of the microbiome found deep within our bodies that thrive (or die off) in transformative partnership with compounds gleaned from our food. What is true for healthy soil on the farm with its teeming soil bacteria and fungi intelligence in symbiosis, is true for us in terms of what we need in our human bodies, an uninterrupted teeming microbial exchange. Essentially, how we treat the soil, is how we are treating ourselves because “health flows to us from the land” (p. xiii). If we connect the relationship dots of degraded soil and a radical decline of nutrients in food to growing attention deficits and behavioural issues, diet-related illness and dramatic and worrisome health trends, it seems simple. However, as the authors point out, nothing about this equation is simple yet it is worthy of our attention if we are to safeguard the health of the land as well as our own.

Of course, we’re not alone in our endeavour. Other fine university examples include: The Food Systems Lab at SFU, Alice Water’s Institute for Edible Education at UC-Davis, The Farm at UBC, the new farm planned at Bishop’s, and many other campus farms around the world. To help guide our efforts, we have adopted both a living system’s approach and regenerative principles and practices as to how we will govern ourselves in alignment with how we will farm. (Please view the 7 Guiding Principles on our website). What these other farm examples and principles reveal is that a food garden on campus is much more than just a place to grow food.

Dr. Clarence (Butch) Dick, Lekwungen Elder, advocate and artist, Artistic Director and educator at the Songhees Wellness Centre  and beloved member of the Heron People’s Circle at RRU, offers wisdom passed down to him from his father many years ago, “if you take care of the land, it will take care of you.” Seeing the world as intelligent and alive and in reciprocal relationship in this way can help us more wisely shape both our growing practices and our pedagogies.

Standing in the centre of the garden as it rests now under winter skies, we wonder, what new conciliatory epistemes and healthy narratives might arise when landscapes and mindscapes intersect and intertwine at the celebration table of food and thought? How might the land become our beloved teacher? And how might growing and sharing food shape our ways of knowing the places we are guests on and in turn, help us more fully belong to these lands?

Planting a food garden is indeed a gesture of hope, reconciliation and regeneration in dark times.

To connect with the Farm, please on the website look for the tab Ways to Engage.

Co-authored by:

Dr. Hilary Leighton, Ecopsychologist & Associate Professor, Program Head & Research Coordinator for the MA Environmental Education and Communication, School of Environment and Sustainability

Solara Goldwynn, MA Environmental Education and Communication candidate and Food Systems Manager. Please use the contact form below to contact us.


Montgomery, D. & Bikle, A. (2022) What your food ate. How to heal the land and reclaim our health. W.W. Norton & Company.