The corner of Grant Avenue and Shaftesbury Boulevard isn’t the first place you might expect to find a farm in Manitoba.
But a group of staff, students and alumni from Canadian Mennonite University have just finished a two-year trial period of running a full-fledged organic vegetable farm on the CMU campus.
"I would say we’ve been successful," said Kenton Lobe, a CMU instructor who was involved in the farm project. "We’ve met our marketing objective, so we’ve been successful in that way."
The CMU Farm practices something known as community shared agriculture. CSA offers people in the community an opportunity to buy a share in the farm at the beginning of the growing season, entitling them to a weekly share in whatever the farm produces.
"The trick is to always make sure there’s something coming at different times of the year — you’re not going to get tomatoes in June, for example," Lobe said.
"We grew about 60 different types of seeds — everything from different types of heirloom tomatoes, beets, kale, lettuce, three or four varieties of peppers and summer squash, corn, potatoes, beans and beats."
But teaching students to grow food isn’t the main objective of the farm, which was started by two student alumni who spent their summers working on sustainable farms in other parts of the country.
"Here at the university, we teach international development studies, which sets up our students to work in the global south, in countries like Kenya and Cambodia," Lobe explained.
One of the primary ways people living in those countries earn an income is through farming small plots of land, about one or two acres in size — or about the same size as the CMU Farm.
Matt Dueck is a member of the CMU Farmers’ Co-operative studying social sciences at CMU with a focus on international development studies. He chose to do his practicum, a short-term component to all degrees at CMU, at the farm.
"I was fascinated by what was going on there," he said.
"I learned about restoration of nutrients and soil, and producing good food. I applied different manures and composts."
Dueck grew up in rural Manitoba, and although his family had a large garden, it didn’t prepare him for working on a farm.
"What was surprising was the sheer amount of time farming takes," he said.
However, as someone studying international development, the experience helped shed some light on what life is like for people in other parts of the world.
"Around the world, food is a major issue," he said.
"There are farmers in almost every country of the world who are barely growing enough just to survive or get by, or maybe grow enough to bring to market.
"So, what I learn here is very applicable to understanding people in other parts of the world."
This past season, shares of the CMU Farm cost $475 each.
For more information, calling Lobe at 204-487-3300, or visit www.facebook.com/cmufarm.