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:

Thoughtful design and carefully selected wood shapes teahouse

Any construction project is a tightly choreographed dance, with location and design, materials and budget, skills and artistry each playing critical and complementary roles.

In the case of the Japanese teahouse planned as part of the large-scale revitalization of the Japanese gardens on the campus of Royal Roads University, that choreography is notable for an acute level of precision and attention to detail.

The design must fit the environment, a historic location and the BC building code.

The construction process requires months of off-site work to prepare for on-site assembly.

And then there’s the lumber.

Hayato Ogawa, the renowned landscape designer whose Burnaby, BC company, Ogawa Landscape Design, was hired by RRU to design and build the teahouse, says every aspect of the wood used in its construction is considered: the kind of wood, yes, but also its provenance and quality.

Ogawa and associates worked with Canadian Bavarian Millwork & Lumber Ltd. in Chemainus, B.C. to sustainably source Douglas fir from old-or second-growth sources, and never from clearcuts.

“We believe that using local timber is the best way to match the local environment and create a beautiful design,” Ogawa says. “It is important to take care of the environment, so we needed to know where everything came from and where the wood was harvested.”

In addition, the Ogawa team selected each piece looking for “clear” lumber — wood with tight rings, free from defects.

“As no two pieces of wood are the same, each piece is carefully evaluated for its individual qualities and the beauty of its grain, and then used in the right place.” – Hayoto Ogawa

“For example, materials used near the entrance are of fine-grained wood while those used in the teahouse are of wide-grained wood… It is designed to lead people into the interior,” Ogawa explains.

The wood is kiln-dried before it’s transported to Ogawa’s workshop because “if the timber is not dry enough, it will quickly stretch and shrink, warp and crack,” he says, noting, “Teahouse architecture does not use aluminum or steel frames.”

A similar level of care went into the design, which took almost two years to complete and took into consideration the heritage nature of the campus as well as environmental considerations on-site. Ogawa says the initial design included two tearooms in one building but, because of a tree at the teahouse location, he and his team decided to design two structures, with a hiroma (large tearoom) and koma (small tearoom) connected by an exterior passageway.

Currently, Ogawa Landscape Design is in the middle of processing structural timberwork and door creations at its workshop, The next phase, commencing sometime in spring 2024, will take about six months to complete. During this time, half a dozen craftspersons will be working on site at Royal Roads. All woodworking, with the exception of the rough cuts, will be done by hand.

When the teahouse is completed, Royal Roads plans to open it for formal tea ceremonies and other community events on campus. The project has been made possible by private donations. Additional funding is still required to complete the project and bring the vision to life.

Ogawa has some thoughts on how the product of three years of exacting work will be used: “A teahouse is designed to blend into the natural surroundings and become an integral part of the natural surroundings. It would be great if it could be used not only for Japanese culture but, also, for various events. It would be great if people could enjoy a tea while looking at the beautiful garden. After that, each person should feel free to feel the space of the teahouse.”

Join us with a donation to keep good things growing!There are many ways to supportthe gardens at Royal Roads University. 

Read more about the Japanese teahouse project and the Japanese gardens at RRU:  

Garden lessons: planting the seeds of leadership

Large group of students surrounding their teacher, taking a selfie by a large tree trunk.

Students in the Master of Global Management program participated in a special session called “Plant a Seed” led by former RRU head gardener, Paul Allison, that inspires them to approach management, leadership and global business from the lens of nature, science and sustainability.

Students standing in garden, looking at teacher.

Allison began by sharing with students his love of plants, and promising that there would be many things that would wow them on the tour, even designating a few of the students to count the number of ‘wows’ they experienced in the two-hour course and report back at the end.

Before entering the garden, Allison promised the students they would learn about people-plant relationships and experience the landscape. He had just one request: no phones. Instead, he asked them to be in the moment and enjoy the wonder and delight of the gardens.

Students looking at tree trunk, listening to teacher.

Allison engaged his audience by asking students what their national flower was. The exercise helped highlight Allison’s lesson that the entire planet is a garden. People-plant relationships are critical worldwide, and it’s important that we care for them.

Students standing in a garden looking at teacher, who is holding up a flower.

“We live in a world of seeds,” Allison told students as part of a quick economics lessons after polling the students on their breakfast choices that morning and connecting their favourite foods – coffee, tea, cereal, toast, peanut butter – with the plants required to produce them.

Student walking on nature path.

Allison shared the interconnectedness of nature and geopolitical issues using several examples throughout the garden. As students walked along the path to the Langford Aquifer (spring water which helps feed the gardens year-round with fresh water), he shared insights from a conversation with a general from NATO, “We discussed the role of water with security. The Syrian crisis started because of a drought. The Arab Spring started because of a drought. That was the major cause of it and then it rolled into more political things, but it was because people didn’t have enough water.”

Students sitting in open air wooden hut, listening to classmates reading.

The group paused to challenge their perceptions of leadership by examining optical illusions and how individuals can see vastly different things. Allison segued this into a discussion of business, and how commonly held beliefs like “work life balance matters the most” are proving to be inaccurate – studies show that love in work matters the most  – and encouraged the students to look at everything from a fresh perspective.

Students smiling at camera, posting next to a large tree trunk.

At the close of the class, a minor reprieve from Allison’s cell phone ban allowed the whole group to capture a class selfie by one of the garden’s majestic trees.

And the “wow” count by the class? Too many to count.

Learn more:

A Vision in Bloom

Royal Roads University

Master of Global Management program

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. 

RRU gardener Emma Lansdowne digs into history and colonialism

Her PhD research focuses on the “entanglement of gardens and imperial enterprise in the 18th and early 19th centuries.”

How a teahouse is bringing a piece of Japanese culture to Royal Roads

Thanks to a lead donation, a teahouse is part of the plans for RRU’s Japanese gardens

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.