Published in the Toronto Star – October 14, 2017
It’s the time of year when senior high school students across Canada are thinking about plans for next year. Applications for College and University programs are around the corner. The experience can be both exciting and daunting. Ben is quick to point out the many ways that gardening is changing, with the caveat, “People will always have to eat, Dad.” A great reminder of how much ‘gardening’ and ‘food’ are interwoven.
As students prepare for their future in education they often ask, ‘Can I study something I enjoy?’, and ‘Will my path of study lead me towards a career?’ Mark has lived his passion every day of his working life, and cannot say enough for the opportunities within the horticultural professions: the original “green industry”.
For prospective horticulture students, schools such as University of Guelph, Niagara Parks School of Horticulture in Ontario, Dalhousie in Halifax, Olds College in Alberta and UBC in British Columbia have turned out many of the best graduates over the decades and continue to do so with each graduating class. In addition, there are a growing number of post-secondary programs that have taken advantage of the changing landscape in the landscaping industry in recent years.
Centre for Food
Durham College is one school that has dialed into the latest trends- particularly those which are bringing food and horticulture together. At the W. Galen Weston Centre for Food, Shane Jones works as the Program Co-ordinator for Horticulture – Food and Farming programs. Shane was called upon by College President Don Lovisa when he first had the vision for farm-to-fork teaching 7 years ago, which lead to the establishment of the Centre for Food in 2013. Shane was chosen for his experience in agriculture, most recently with the Toronto District School Board bringing food gardens to schools.
“We’re working with blasted earth, which is the most challenging to start with when trying to grow”, Shane told us, referring to the former Hershey plant east of Toronto where 60 students from the two horticulture programs oversee the on-campus market garden. “Blasted earth” was certainly not what we saw when we dropped by recently, but rather a flourishing market garden which supplies fresh produce to Bistro ’67, the on-campus restaurant where students from the college’s established culinary program turn it into top-notch seasonal dishes.
Farm to Fork Education
At the G. Galen Weston Centre for Food there is an eye towards the outside community: Bistro ’67 is open to the public. Shane’s hope for the Centre’s campus garden is to someday start selling fresh produce direct to the community as well.
“Students come from a broad range of backgrounds, city and rural, some are right out of high school and others are mature”, and Shane explained that many graduates go on to a range of future careers: “greenhouses, golf courses, landscaping, as well as food production, processing and quality control”. For those who graduate to become farmers or market gardeners, the school has allotted property to incubate graduate businesses.
The Future of Gardening
In British Columbia, the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been making a name for itself since 2004, when it was established to confront the environmental challenges of our green profession. Some of the research happening at the Institute includes new microbial biocontrol products for insects and disease in horticultural crops, clean energy options for greenhouse production, sustainable cropping systems for food and horticultural crops as well as – our personal favorite – “Bug Gardens” which promote habitats for beneficial insects.
“My bar for our research is, ‘will it help the horticulture and agriculture industries be more sustainable?’” says Deborah Henderson, who joined the Institute 10 years ago as its Director after 20 years in private industry.
There are 5 educational programs at Kwantlen which are touched by the Institute. They run the gamut of green professions: Environmental Protection Technology, Horticulture, Plant Health, Sustainable Agriculture and Urban Ecosystems.
In-course capstone projects, internships and co-op terms are a handful of ways that students from the various programs can be directly involved in the Institute’s leading-edge research.
“My biggest problem is that our students keep getting hired away by our industry partners”, Deborah laughed.
Industry and academia have taken note: there has never been a generation so concerned with balancing their conscience with life and career goals. With serious environmental challenges in their future there are many opportunities to get involved through post secondary education. And, ultimately, to make a positive difference.