By Jim Hynes
For most McGill students this time of year means midterms, when the intellectual seeds sown earlier in the semester hopefully bear fruit. For Matthew Hawco and his fellow volunteers at McGill’s Organic Campus, it also means harvest time of the most literal kind, when the organic farm they work yields an abundance of fresh produce for them to share with the McGill community.
Organic Campus is a non-profit, student run organization bringing fresh, organic produce directly from farmers to the McGill community at cost. After existing in different forms since it was formed as the McGill Food Co-op in 2001, it became a Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) service in 2006.
“Because we sell at cost, it actually works out to less than what people would pay for non-organic produce in stores,” said Hawco (U3 English), General Coordinator at Organic Campus. “That’s the great thing about it. Not only is it a smarter choice financially for students, it’s a healthier choice. It’s also a more
ethical choice, if you will, when it comes to the environment. And it assists local farmers.”
The group, which is made up of approximately 10 student volunteers, currently buys exclusively from True Food Ecosterre, a certified organic farm in Glen Roberston, Ont. The group sells the farm’s produce and other goods at their tent in front of the Student Union (Shatner) Building every Tuesday.
Organic Campus’ wide range of produce becomes even more varied at harvest time, a particularly exciting season for those on the lookout for fresh fruits and veggies. This year, they also participated in the McGill Farmer’s Market, which Hawco says provided more much-needed exposure for the group.
“Right now we have loads of greens, apples, squashes, and even cantaloupes, plus beets, kale, spinach, radishes. That’s one thing I like about it, you can actually eat with the season,” said Hawco. “When you are eating locally you are eating in a way that is more in tune with your actual environment.”
Hawco, who hails from the Halifax area but came to McGill from Newfoundland’s Memorial University, has been interested in food politics for some time. A vegetarian for nearly a decade now, he says he never had the opportunity to get really involved in until he came to McGill in 2006.
“In St. John’s, it was difficult enough to get fresh produce at reasonable prices, let alone organic produce,” Hawco said. “When I came to McGill, I started as a client and then a volunteer. At least on a superficial level I knew it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t up on the specifics, but I knew it was a better alternative.”
Although students with an interest in cooking, food politics and healthy eating still make up the majority of Organic Campus’ customers, Hawco says that the group welcomes all new customers and encourages participation from staff and faculty.
“We have faculty members who stop by at lunch and other people will stop by for their office, picking up bread and other items to share with their co-workers. We get great responses from certain groups who do that.”
According to Hawco, the expanding customer base is having a welcome effect on the group’s finances. And he should know, since his many tasks include balancing the books.
“Right now, it’s pretty overwhelming and I feel really grateful for the amount of attention we’ve received this semester. Judging by our financial records, we’re doing quite well. Numbers like that, sales figures I mean, normally wouldn’t mean all that much to a non-profit organization, and we don’t dwell on that part of it, but it gives us some concrete feedback…let’s us know how we’re doing.”
Apart from its produce sales, Organic Campus also takes part in other McGill initiatives like the Greening McGill dinner and other “green” activities. It also puts on cooking workshops, including one later this fall. This year, the group also hopes to help raise funds for True Food Ecosterre owner Barranhu Wassihun’s charity. The organic farmer, an Ethiopian who moved to Canada in 1990, wants to build a school in his homeland to teach sustainable agricultural practices.
You can buy produce from Organic Campus every Tuesday from 2-6 in front of the Student Union Building. At the end of October or early November they move upstairs in the “Organic Corner” of the 2nd Floor Shatner Cafeteria. For more information on Organic Campus and its activities, visit www.organiccampus.blogspot.com