Q&A with the GCUOF Farm Coordinator | Ontario Agricultural College

Q&A with the GCUOF Farm Coordinator

Posted on Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Michael Smith standing in front of one of the fields at the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming.

Michael Smith is the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF) farm coordinator. We chatted with him to learn more about what food means to him, his GCUOF experience and how we can all support local farmers' and locally grown food.

What does food mean to you?

Food brings people together. It is one of the things that fosters my passion for agriculture. Regardless of where you are from, what you believe, what language you speak, we all must eat food.  When we eat together, we can connect with each other. If we know where our food comes from, it opens us up to also connect with the land, water, animals, and the environment where this food grows too. 

What values do you think the GCUOF brings to campus?

Collaboration has been core to GCUOF since its inception in 2008. It has a history of bringing diverse people from many faculties, and the community together to do research, and education on the benefits of organic farming.

What is your favourite part of the role so far?

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to get my hands dirty and to start planning how the GCUOF can come out of the COVID restrictions on the right foot. Plus working with a great hard-working team of people has been a highlight thus far. 

Once we return to campus, how can people on campus get involved with the GCUOF?

When we can have the site reopen, we will have regular volunteer opportunities for members of the university community to learn how to grow organically and to get their hands dirty.  In addition, there are several courses that will have lab components on the GCUOF site this fall, and we regularly hire summer interns too. 

How do you explain organic farming to people?

Organic farming is a series of agricultural practices that follow the Canadian Organic Standard. Generally, it involves building healthy biologically rich soil to grow crops.  It prohibits the use of petrol-chemical based fertilizers and inputs, treated seeds, and genetically modified organisms. With these constraints organic farmers focus on preventive strategies and techniques rather than reactive ones for addressing challenges of growing crops.

What are some activities you have been up to since starting the role?

In the past couple months, the GCUOF team and I have been focusing mostly on planting, weeding, and setting up the space and creating systems so the farm is functional and fully operational. 

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of farming?

The biggest challenge of farming is almost always the weather. As a farmer you can do everything right, but you cannot control the weather, and it doesn’t always cooperate with the needs of your crops.  This seasonal variability impacts the growing conditions that can encourage or discourage particular pests and disease too.

The biggest reward of farming for me is the connection that I gain with the land, the plants, and the people with whom I share the space. 

What’s your favourite crop to grow and why?

Currently I think peppers are my favourite crop to grow. I like the variety of many different shapes, colours and flavours (sweet or hot) that this crop offers. Plus, my son loves peppers, and is the first crop that he is excited to try growing at home on his own.

What is your favourite local food recipe?

I typically eat mostly in season, so the local favouite is usually only available for part of the year.  Currently I am enjoying eating fresh salads with lots of herbs, fresh berries and toasted sunflower seeds.

How can we all support local food and farming in Canada?

Farmers need communities and communities need farmers. Anyone can support local agriculture by purchasing local food in season. Eating fresh food in season not only helps support local famers, farmers’ markets, and restaurants. Local food usually tastes better too as it is picked ripe and is fresh when it gets to your plate.

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