Feeding the future: RRU researchers explore uncertainty in food supply

The Farm at RRU helps address food insecurity in our region. RRU professors are helping communities like ours research options for stable food sources. Below is one example of our faculty sharing their expertise with other British Columbians.

The future is uncertain, so how do you plan for it? For example, what would you do if your local grocery store suddenly had a shortage of produce? What if that shortage continued for months?

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainability Rob Newell and collaborator Professor Leslie King aim to answer these questions.

Rob and Leslie

The duo received a $25,000 Partnership Engage Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to work on the project Food Systems Scenarios in an Uncertain Future.

Many Canadians already experience food insecurity. That trend is likely to continue rising amid challenges such as extreme weather due to climate change, the knock-on effects of another global pandemic or supply chain issues caused by conflicts in other parts of the world. All of these factors affect governance and food security.

Partnering with the Community Connections (Revelstoke) Society (CCRS), Newell and King will work with community stakeholders in Revelstoke, BC to identify a future scenario that represents an equitable and resilient local food system – the ‘dream scenario’ if you will. Once identified, they will then explore alternative scenarios that respond to external pressures and shocks — such as extreme effects of climate change or impacts from global conflicts. The final stage of their research will be to identify interventions needed to achieve the dream scenario and chart the actions required to make progress toward the future ideal.

Local government, non-government organizations, community organizations and other stakeholders will take part in a series of workshops to help researchers identify the elements needed for an equitable and resilient local food system. One way they’ll examine possible scenarios and experience what food futures could look like in Revelstoke is by using an online visualization tool developed using 3D game-development software.

Users of the visualization tool can navigate various scenarios through the first-person perspective, and walk-through, for example, a virtual community farm. Their 3D explorations might reveal the need to build in more plant shelters to adapt to increases in extreme heat events. Other examinations of food supply would include the need to consider opportunities for people to have traditional or culturally preferred foods.

Screen shot of a future community

“In some ways, you’re dealing with these multiverse elements,” Newell says, the project’s principal investigator. “But that’s just reality. Certain disturbances, certain trends are going to shape where we go and what the world looks like.”

The work is the continuation of another research project with CCRS, says Newell, whose Canada Research Chair work carries a focus on improving social justice and equity in local food systems through long-term planning that looks ahead all the way to the year 2100.

“Our future deals with a lot of uncertainty. Given world trends, how might this scenario change, how might it look different? What sort of interventions, what sort of strategies do we need to have a resilient, livable food future?

“It’s a new way of being able to do scenario analysis that doesn’t keep you so locked and fixated on one particular future and helps you understand that there are multiple pathways, and it’s good to be prepared for multiple futures.”

Indigenous Medicine Garden takes root

Our recently established Indigenous Medicine Garden is now home to dozens of native plants, thanks to the guidance of Indigenous Elders, ethnobotanists, staff, volunteers and donors.

Watch the first planting session of many to come below:

Growing a community: The Farm at RRU celebrates successful harvest

Today Royal Roads University celebrated another successful year at The Farm at RRU, hosting a fall harvest event for donors, staff, students, volunteers and community members.

The gathering was an opportunity to share in The Farm’s harvest with activity stations, tours of the expanding food gardens and speeches from Susan Gee, vice-president of communications and advancement at RRU, and representatives from partner organizations.

Thanks to support from volunteers and donors, The Farm doubled crop production from the previous year, and provided more than 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to community partners like Our Place SocietyIyé Creative, the Victoria Community Fridge and the RRU community fridge.

“It’s such a joy to see this space on campus grow into a community gathering place,” says Philip Steenkamp, RRU’s president and vice-chancellor. “Thanks to the work of many hands, we’ve expanded our harvest and were able to support local food production that directly benefits organizations right here in the Greater Victoria Area, as well as stock our own RRU community fridge for students who may face food insecurity.”

Providing for the community — helping to tackle hunger — is important and necessary given what we’re facing on a local and global scale, says Steenkamp. “Our faculty, staff, students and garden volunteers truly care about our community, and this is an incredible way of showing it.”

The fall harvest of The Farm is possible thanks in part to the university’s annual Vision in Bloom fundraising appeal, which brought in more than $250,000 this year, to support ongoing work to restore, reimagine and sustain the university’s century-old gardens and ancient landscapes. This Spring, TD Bank Group announced a generous donation of $196,000 donation in support of this work.

“We’re grateful by the support for The Farm,” says Solara Goldwynn, RRU food systems manager. “Donors, volunteers and partners have made this idea a reality and I look forward to seeing its continued success.”

The next phase of The Farm at RRU will feature the creation of an Indigenous Medicine Garden, expanding food growing space to integrate a Market Garden and a Polyculture Orchard all located close to the ever-expanding Giving Garden.

Learn more:

A Vision in Bloom

The Farm at Royal Roads

Royal Roads University

Growing resilience and cultural exchange

Three people pose for a picture in a garden holding collard greens in a basket.

Some people enjoy them with mashed potatoes, smoked meat or even mac and cheese.

But Anna Maria Stone says collard greens are best enjoyed with a healthy side of stories and laughter.

“The health of people and the land thrive when we grow, harvest, share and cook together,” says Stone, who is the program coordinator for Iyé Creative Collective, a grassroots organization that, in part, teaches people to grow their own food.

In partnership with the City of Victoria and Royal Roads University’s Farm at RRU, Iyé Creative Collective organized a collard greens workshop – to teach people not only how to grow and cook the leafy green, but also about the cultural significance of the nutritious and hearty plant.

People cooking in a kitchen

“The health of people and the land thrive when we grow, harvest, share and cook together,” says Anna Maria Stone, Iyé Creative Collective program coordinator. Photo: Mohanned Ghadban

“Part of our work over the last two years has been bringing more culturally relevant foods to the table and introducing crops that can thrive in this ecosystem,” Stone says. “Collards love these lands, and our communities love collards.”

Royal Roads University Food Systems Manager, Solara Goldwynn couldn’t agree more.

Climate change means there’s growing importance in diversifying the crops we grow, Goldwynn says, who led the first part of the workshop in Royal Roads University’s Giving Garden as part of the Farm at RRU.

“Collards are a super resilient plant and they grow really well in our climate.”

People learn about collard greens in a garden

Climate change means there’s growing importance in diversifying the crops we grow, Goldwynn says, who led the first part of the workshop in Royal Roads University’s Giving Garden as part of the Farm at RRU. Photo: Mohanned Ghadban

Goldwynn has been growing collards in the Giving Garden for well over a year, along with other veggies including summer squash, tomatoes and beans. Harvests are distributed to recipients including students, seniors, single parents and new immigrants via weekly box programs and community fridges both on and off campus.

“Food insecurity rates are increasing everyday with inflation, economic downturn, and the fundamental lack of connection to the lands and waters we reside on,” Stone says. “Our intention was to bridge the gap between communities while highlighting the significance of this valuable food plant.”

Why the humble collard?

Collards not only grow well here, but they also have a fascinating history that spans different cultures and communities around the globe, Stone says.

In addition to the collard greens, curried dahl and roti on the menu, was a communal culinary experience led by Chef Natalie Justin, workshop co-facilitator and owner of Stir it Up Caribbean restaurant in downtown Victoria.

Two people cooking collard greens.

Chef Natalie Justin, right, is pictured alongside Iyé Creative co-founder Jess Barton. Workshop participants learned how to prepare and serve the leafy greens harvested from Royal Roads. Photo: Mohanned Ghadban

As Justin taught participants how to prepare and serve the leafy greens harvested from Royal Roads, she also spoke to the significance of collards in the African diaspora and their journey through generations to the Americas in the braids of ancestors, says Ariel Reyes Antuan, who co-founded Iyé Creative alongside his partner Jess Barton.

“Collards really are a symbol of resilience and cultural identity,” Reyes Antuan says. “We also talked about the close relations of African descendants in the diaspora and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, as they have historically shared and exchanged seeds, fostering cultural exchange, resilience, and a shared commitment to sustainable agriculture.”

So you want to grow collards? Here are Goldwynn’s top tips.

People plant collard greens in a garden.

Collards are not only nutrient-dense and tasty, they grow well in the pacific northwest, Goldwynn says. Photo: Mohanned Ghadban

  • Start from seed now and you will have collards all winter and next spring.
  • Collards are heavy feeders. Give them plenty of manure and plant in rich soil fortified with compost. Use organic fertilizer throughout the growing season as needed. Fish or kelp fertilizer are great options.
  • Already got collards on the go? Are they infested with aphids? Don’t give up on your plants. They love the cold and once fall arrives, they’ll recover.
  • Save your own seed – and plant free food every year.

Ready to cook with collards? 

Try these Callaloo Collard Greens from The Black Foodie

1 Smoked turkey leg chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 lb Collard greens
1 Carton of Chicken broth
½ cup Coconut milk powder
7 Okra
1 Onion
8 Cloves of garlic
1 Scotch bonnet pepper
3 Sprigs of thyme
1 Chicken bouillon cube
1 tbsp Paprika
4 Green onions
2 tbsp Olive oil

In a large pressure cooker on medium heat, cook the olive oil, garlic, green onions, and okra over medium heat until fragrant.
To the pot, add the chopped turkey leg and sauté it, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the collard greens, chicken broth, coconut milk powder, thyme, chicken bouillon cube, paprika, and scotch bonnet pepper*.
*To increase the heat of the dish, crush the scotch bonnet pepper into the mixture. If you like it mild, leave the pepper to rest on top of mixture as it cooks.
Cover, and let it cook down for 30 minutes.
Season to taste and serve.

Learn more about Iyé Creative Collective and the City of Victoria’s Get Growing Program

The Farm at RRU is supported by TD Bank Group. For more information on how your donation in support of the gardens at Royal Roads University can help tackle food insecurity, act on reconciliation, establish community spaces and create biodiversity, donate to Vision in Bloom today. 

The Farm at Royal Roads blooms bigger with TD Bank Group support

The sunshine – and a generous gift from TD Bank Group – is growing the Farm at Royal Roads University (RRU).

Today, TD announced a $196,000 donation to RRU’s annual grounds and gardens fundraising appeal, A Vision in Bloom, which focuses on further developing the campus grounds to help tackle food insecurity, act on reconciliation, restore and preserve cultural heritage, and create biodiversity on the West Shore.

The Farm at Royal Roads, a reimagining of the former 5.26 acre walled Edwardian kitchen garden situated near Hatley Castle, produced more than 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables during its first growing year in 2022. Dubbed the Giving Garden, the produce was provided to food-insecure seniors, single parents, newcomers to Canada and placed in an on-campus community fridge for students.

This year, through the generous donation from TD and further support from the community, RRU will focus on expanding the Giving Garden, as well as establishing a Market Garden, which will sell produce to partners and the public at a campus farm stand with revenue reinvested into the Farm. Other plans include the establishment of an irrigated Indigenous Medicine Garden and Polyculture Orchard. The number of trees and biodiversity of plants will increase by 100 per cent over the next two years and the Farm will offer learning opportunities for community members, staff, faculty and students.

“With support from TD, our efforts to address food security, climate adaptation and reconciliation on the Farm will help us transform the space and become home to an expanded, diverse, community-based resource in the years to come,” says Royal Roads University President Philip Steenkamp.

“We’re so proud to help The Farm at RRU with their critical work to tackle food insecurity, advance reconciliation and increase climate resiliency,” says Bruce Gray, Vancouver Island District Vice President, TD Bank Group. “Through the TD Ready Commitment, our corporate citizenship platform, we’re supporting organizations focused on enhancing and activating green spaces that help build stronger, more resilient communities.”

The Farm serves as a learning and research space for faculty, students and community members, providing hands-on educational experiences focusing on agricultural approaches that incorporate climate adaptation strategies and Indigenous ways of knowing. Garden volunteers are also welcome throughout the year to help with food production in the Giving Garden. Volunteer sessions are held biweekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the lunch hour.

“The opportunity to learn wise practices and try new ways of growing food – from sowing cover crops in the winter to creating spots in the garden that welcome pollinators – to try to adapt to our changing climate is invaluable to have first-hand experience with,” says Nancy Prevost-Maurice, a student in the university’s Master of Arts in Climate Action Leadership. “It’s been a life-changing experience to integrate this learning and participate in the co-creation of plans for an Indigenous Medicine Garden.”

Community donations to A Vision in Bloom – Royal Roads’ annual fundraising appeal – supports further development of the gardens, including the revitalization of the Japanese Gardens and the construction of a traditional Japanese teahouse on the grounds. Visit www.rruinbloom.ca to donate.

Learn more:


Local food leaves little carbon footprint

Solara Goldwynn, food systems manager for Royal Roads University’s Giving Garden, speaks on Conversations Live with Stuart McNish about the university’s local solution to address food insecurity.

In an excerpt from her interview, she shares a garden update:

“The garden was created with a sheet mulch, so that means we do not do any digging or tilling. So, this method of gardening helps to keep the carbon in the ground and keep the weeds in the ground. It’s a really good demonstration of how to do low-impact agriculture.

“This past year, we produced over 1,000 lb. [of produce], which is quite a lot for a small garden. The Giving Garden model is just a small example of what you can do when you turn a lawn into a productive food garden.”

Watch the full Conversations Live panel featuring President Philip Steenkamp on the topic of food security and climate-smart agriculture. 

Growing kindness: RRU’s community fridge

It’s been a year since the start of the Royal Roads University Giving Garden. Now there’s a new addition: the RRU community fridge.

The initiative is a partnership between the Giving Garden and Student Food Bank.

Education Specialist and Master of Arts in Climate Action Leadership student Nancy Prévost-Maurice collaborated with Food Systems Manager Solara Goldwynn to bring this idea forward to student services. From there, everything fell into place quite quickly.

The community fridge is modelled after other local initiatives like the Victoria community fridge in Rock Bay, says Goldwynn. “It’s a place to provide fresh, nutritious produce to students in need, like the rapini we picked today.”

Kale plant

Student Success Manager Gwen Campden says that “[t]raditionally, RRU’s foodbank has been primarily non-perishable food due to logistics. This cooperation with the Giving Garden provides fresh, locally grown food.”

Both Goldwynn and Campden emphasize the importance of students approaching the community fridge resource with respect and courtesy:

  • Only take what’s needed to make sure others can benefit
  • Make sure to only take food that’s clearly labelled as part of the program

You can find the RRU Community Fridge on the main floor of the Sequoia Building around the corner from the Welcome Desk.

Interested in digging in and supporting a growing cause? Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Giving Garden as a volunteer, donor or visitor. Volunteer shifts are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Email Goldwynn’s team to get involved.

From no-dig to pollinator plants, try this at home

Solara Goldwynn, Royal Roads University’s food systems manager took staff on a tour of the Giving Garden as part of the university’s celebrations for Earth Week hosted by the Climate and Sustainability team.

Goldwynn had these tips from the Giving Garden that will work for any home gardener as well.

Kale plant

Sweet greens year round

Kale and collard plants are their sweetest-tasting after a frost. Harvests from the large plants pictured fill food boxes, are donated to local partners, and most recently, were included in weekly deliveries to our on-campus community fridge for those in need to take home and enjoy.

Close up of shoes standing on wood mulch. Person is wearing Royal Roads socks.

Do you dig not digging?

The no-dig garden relies on permanent beds and wood mulch pathways to help with water management, compaction, and keeping crops happy and healthy. As the wood chips in the pathways break down into soil over the years, it can be added to garden beds. Wood chips help prevent weeds from growing in garden paths, and help keep gardening shoes mud-free by creating a soft, spongy path to walk on. 

Group of people standing at the edge of a garden row looking at a woman speaking to them.

Use the chop and drop approach

Crop cover plants, like the ones pictured above, help to rejuvenate the soil over the winter while their blooms in the spring attract pollinators to the area. When it comes time to plant in your garden, you simply “chop and drop” the plant cuttings on the garden row so that the newly added plants can enjoy the nutrients as the plants return to the earth. Examples of great cover crop plants are annual clover, winter pea, fava beans, and phacelia.

Three people crouched down, planting seedlings into a garden row.

Include pollinator plants in your garden

Planting a pollinator garden close to your veggie garden helps attract bees and other pollinators. The Giving Garden features mugwort, fireweed, goldenrod, shooting stars, douglas aster, nodding onion, which do double duty as sources for food and medicine in addition to attracting pollinators. Make sure to do your research to ensure you are selecting plants appropriate to your location, and only eat something if you know it’s edible.

Woman standing in front of a large cedar compost box.

Don’t forget about compost!

The Giving Garden at RRU is beginning to use compost made from the garden waste , turning it into a rich soil booster for the next planting. If you’re keen to try at-home composting, be sure to turn the compost regularly and be patient. Goldwynn says after several months you’ll have a nutrient-rich material for your seeds to grow in.

New to gardening and not sure where to start?

Here are some great planting resources highlighted by Goldwynn:
•    The free West Coast Seeds catalogue planting calendar available at most gardening stores.
•    Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples by Nancy Turner.
•    The Compost Education Centre many fact sheets on composting, food growing and more.
•    For more information on no-dig gardening check out books, and youtube videos by Charles Downing.

1,000 pounds and growing: RRU Garden helps feed community

Royal Roads University’s Giving Garden, part of A Vision in Bloom, is helping fight food insecurity on Vancouver Island

Royal Roads’ kitchen garden is producing

Right now we are giving the community 120 pounds of organic produce a week, grown right here on campus in our Giving Garden, funded by your donations to A Vision in Bloom.