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U of Guelph opens organic farming centre

Local organic food production and resource conservation are to be on the curriculum at the new Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming, officially opened at the University of Guelph.

“This innovative centre will provide practical experiential learning opportunities for our students, which, in the long run, will help bring about changes and improvements to our food system,” president Alastair Summerlee said in a release Thursday.

Sited on a hectare of land at the northwest corner of the Arboretum, the farm is also to serve as a community networking centre. Three non-governmental agencies — the Canadian Organic Growers, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and FarmStart — have been involved in both the planning and initial planting, the university said.

“We are not simply operating a market garden but also preparing society for greater self-sufficiency in healthy and nutritious food, with less dependence on fossil fuel energy and scarce water resources,” said Prof. Ann Clark of the university’s department of plant agriculture.

The centre is to be co-ordinated by Martha Gay Scroggins, a commercial organic market gardener, who is to oversee teaching and practical learning opportunities as part of U of G’s major in organic agriculture.

The organic major was introduced by a team led by Clark and Prof. Paul Voroney of the Department of Land Resource Science in 2002. It was the first program of its kind in North America, the university said, and it remains the only such academic organic major offered in Canada.

Students and professors in other programs may also tie the new centre into various courses, Clark said. Students, for example, might monitor trends in vitamin content in produce, determine food pathogen risks on fresh vegetables, study economics of market gardening, or look at ways to improve soil and water use efficiency.

Students at U of G’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management will use produce to prepare meals, the university said, and its Child Care and Learning Centre also plans to integrate food from the garden into meal planning.

Children from the child care centre have already visited the organic farm, near their own building, and have eaten vegetables harvested from their own parallel garden, the university said.

Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge and Robert Gordon, the new dean of the Ontario Agricultural College, also attended Thursday’s opening, the university said.

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