McMaster community helps the garden grow

A bumper crop of basil has taken over a section of the McMaster Teaching and Community Garden. There is so much, in fact, that student volunteers talk about organizing a pesto-making workshop to make sure none of the fragrant herb goes to waste.

Funded in part by a Forward with Integrity grant, the McMaster Teaching and Community Garden is a collaborative initiative* meant to promote local food production and provide teaching and learning opportunities for the McMaster community.

A basil plant takes over a section of the McMaster Teaching and Community Garden.

A basil plant takes over a section of the McMaster Teaching and Community Garden.

Volunteers meet regularly to weed and maintain the garden as well as harvest ripe produce which is then distributed between the Mac Farmstand, Bridges and members of the broader McMaster community.

“It’s a good opportunity to get people outside, helping out,” says garden coordinator, Christina Monachino. “There are a lot of people who are interested in different aspects of gardening. Volunteers talk about different practices that they use.  We also talk to people that are new to gardening- it’s an open dialogue.”

Chad Harvey, Assistant Professor of Biology in the Integrated Science program, was involved in the creation of the McMaster Teaching and Community Garden. He says it can help students gain a better understanding of what it takes to grow the food we eat.

“It’s something that’s visible to the students- they can see how it’s progressing,” says Harvey. “They can see the vegetables growing and get that hands-on sense of where their food comes from. They can see the blood, sweat and tears that go into growing a carrot or some peppers or a tomato and then see where the food goes.”

Harvey says the project also provides valuable experiential learning opportunities for students.  He brings his second year biology course to the garden to illustrate the science behind food production.

“Students have a chance to see the interactions between the soil and the plants and the exchange of nutrients. Here’s this thing we call a garden, but when we look closer, there are all these creepy crawlies and organisms in there. Some are helping and some are hindering- how do we control them? You can take that information back into the classroom and get into the ecology of that, the chemistry of that. So it gives a hands-on application of interdisciplinary science.”

Biology, Earth Science, Arts and Science and Integrated Sciences have all designed courses that integrate the experiential learning opportunities that the garden provides, but Harvey encourages instructors from all faculties to look at ways to incorporate the garden into their course plans. Instructors can even book the garden for use in their courses.

Christina in garden

Garden coordinator, Christina Monachino, weeds the garden with the help of a student volunteer.

In fact, anyone can access the garden. According to Anna D’Angela, Vice-President, Administration at the McMaster Student Union, the garden is never locked and members of the McMaster and broader community are free to pick a tomato or grab some lettuce or herbs on their way past.

There are also a number of public workshops planned that will run throughout the fall and are tentatively scheduled for the winter covering a range of topics like harvesting, seed collection,  planting and even pesto-making.

D’Angela says attending a workshop or getting into the garden as a volunteer is a great way for anyone in the McMaster community to learn about sustainable food production.

“We’re very fortunate to have something like this on our campus that not only allows people to connect with the environment, but also allows people to connect with local healthy eating.  We don’t always think about where our food comes from, but when you see a garden right in your back yard, literally, and you can eat the lettuce that’s coming from that garden, I think it gives people a unique appreciation for the world around us.”


*The planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance of the MTCG is the result of continuous collaboration between the Office of Sustainability, the MSU, Facilities Services and the Integrated Science (iSci) program.