Centre Research | Ontario Agricultural College

Centre Research

A woman harvests potatoes from the ground.

The Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF) was created in 2008 at the University of Guelph. The vision was of a one-hectare farm that would provide hands-on learning for students interested in planting, tending and harvesting crops manually using organic principles. It is also the living laboratory for research. Students from across disciplines come to the farm to learn about sustainable urban food production, heritage seed production, permaculture, food security, fair trade and year-round food production. 

Students and faculty interested in all aspects of permaculture, organic food and produce production, spray-free zones for insects, etc, should consider the GCUOF as a possible field site for their research.

Here are just a few of the research projects that have taken place on the GCUOF.

Food Forests: The Future of Agriculture

This research project was completed by master's student Paul Wartman with the purpose of determining the effects of perennial polyculture forest gardens on soil fungal and bacterial communities and apple tree growth.

Current food production systems are heavily dependent on fossil fuel-based inputs, which contribute to environmental degradation. Forest gardens are perennial polycultures designed to create self-supporting systems for increased productivity and biodiversity.

What is being done?
This study is measuring the effects that functionally diverse, perennial polycultures have on the soil fungal and bacterial communities, as well as apple tree growth. Four understory treatments—(1) mowed-sod, (2) mowed-sod with compost, (3) forest garden, and (4) forest garden with compost—have been applied in three newly established apple orchards. The forest garden treatments consist of 10 functional species, including nitrogen fixers, dynamic nutrient accumulators, secondary human-edible crops, and season-long nectar sources. Measurements will be taken on soil mycorrhizal and bacterial communities, soil physical and chemical properties, and apple tree growth.

Increased diversity of functional perennial plants provides great opportunity to reduce the amount of external inputs, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and mechanization, required for food production management, which means climate change mitigation and environmental regeneration. Mixed markets of high-yielding perennial crops provide economic resiliency for farmers, as well as a local, sustainable choice for consumers.

The Good Season: Easy recipes for wild edibles

During the summer of 2013, the authors of a cookbook for edible wild plants were harvesting wild plants at the GCUOF.  Michelle Arseneault was identifying plant features and taking photographs, while Michelle Carkner was dreaming up recipes and harvesting the ingredients.  The book was released as an eBook in the spring of 2014.  The creative project was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph.

Why is it a Good Season? With wild edibles growing everywhere, there is always something to harvest!  Are the recipes delicious? Absolutely.  As you turn the pages you can almost hear the food sizzling and smell the wonderful aromas. We couldn’t stop eating. We share in the excitement of lamb’s-quarters beef burgers, dandelion fettucine, and chickweed tart. These are just some of the dishes with which you’ll enjoy with your friends and family.

We’ll introduce these new wild edibles using clear, colourful photos. We’ll show you how to identify, tell you when to pick, and how to harvest.

Click here to visit The Good Season website for more information

The wonders of worms: Vermicomposting

The vermicomposting initiative collaborative, wasa hands-on research and learning initiative by the Guelph Worm Composting Network (GWCN). The GWCN was a local group looking to increase collective knowledge about vermicomposting through knowledge sharing and community research projects, and to remove barriers to vermicomposting.

Buckets of food scraps are collected from the UC Level 0 cafeteria and the McLaughlin Library Williams Coffee Pub once a week and carted to the on-campus organic farm, where they are fed to a trench full of red wiggler worms. Vermicomposting trenches are said to be low maintenance, low risk (of nuisances or worm deaths) and unobtrusive relative to other common designs. The group hopes to use the experiences gained this summer to help design and operate future systems. The high-quality compost will be used by the GCUOF to grow food, and the worms can be used to start new vermicomposting systems.

University of Guelph composts coffee grinds: Thanks to students

The coffee composting program is a student led initiative, supported by the Sustainability Office and local Guelph coffee shops.

Student volunteers walk the green carts full of grounds to a special storage room on campus. Every week students transport the grounds to the GCUOF. Since last summer we've collected 4.5 tones of filters and grounds. With 2.4 tones being collected this past winter semester from Williams in the library, Pages above the bookstore and Second Cup in the science complex. We've recently started collecting the grounds from the Bullring and are planning to expand to the Macks in Mackinnon.

So if you see someone walking a green cart across campus give them a smile and please to hold the door. For more information contact recycle@pr.uoguelph.ca