Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming Tour with Slow Food

On Thursday October 6, Slow Food hosted a tour of the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming (GCUOF). Slow Food is an international organization whose goal is to encourage and educate students about the importance of good, clean, and fair food. When we arrived at the centre we were still a bit early for our tour so we took  advantage of our spare time and used it to do some shopping at the organic market located right in front of the farm. I purchased some delicious produce including a head of butter lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, and a little pumpkin (which I turned into pie over the weekend).

Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming
Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming

After we had all made our purchases, we met Martin who gave us a tour of the facilities. At one hectare, the centre was bigger than I had anticipated for an on campus farm. Martin told us that the GCUOF is used to give students a hands on, in the field learning experience. It is primarily used as a lab experience for students studying plants and agriculture and as a place for research projects to be performed. As it is a centre for learning and research, the farm contains a wide range of edible plants.  It ranges from typical produce like lettuce, tomatoes, and garlic, to more unique foods like bitter melons, litchi tomatoes (like cherry tomatoes but encased in a spiky leaf like shell), herbs, and even edible flowers! I got to taste one of the edible flowers called a nasturtium flower and surprisingly it tasted slightly spicy!

Martin giving us a tour
Getting a tour!

One of the things I learned on the tour is that organic farming involves a lot of trial and error (like so many things in life). Growing a good size crop organically can be difficult, and challenges such as the weather and pests can vary from day-to-day and year to year. Organic farmers have to find effective ways to deal with pests and fertilization, while still meeting organic standards. This means they are always coming up with new and innovative ways to improve the productivity of their farm. Martin told us that some of these innovations and ideas work well and inevitably, others do not. For example, Martin decided that he wanted to convert the back stretch of land into a lawn. He decided to just start cutting back the overgrowth and after a while only grass and clovers grew, forming a lovely green lawn. On the other hand,  a student tried adding fertilizer to the water in the irrigation system. While it seemed like a great way to improve the farm’s efficiency,  it turned out that animals such as raccoons were intrigued by the scent of fertilizer and they actually ended up eating through the irrigation lines!

Martin showing us around

Visiting the GCUOF was an eye-opening experience that made me appreciate my food more. Seeing how much Martin and the other people at the centre care for and love growing food was amazing. I hadn’t realized that someone could have such a passion for plants and the way they’re grown. In many ways these people reminded me of Laurie from Braiding Sweetgrass, and how she put so much care into her research, as well as how she found herself learning from the grass. The gardeners, students, and researchers are doing that right here on campus. They are taking the time to learn from and listen to nature, trying to understand how plants grow, what affects them most, and how they can help each other to thrive. As we have discussed throughout this class, these ideas of learning and listening are critical steps in the process of developing a positive relationship with nature.

The Green House

Touring the farm and engaging in conversations with Martin and other Slow Food members has made me realize that organic farming, like many other activities we talked about in class, is a way in which we interact with nature. Also, if farming is a way in which we interact with nature then I believe that eating is as well. Eating food is a way of enjoying, discovering, and sharing creation. I think it is important to take the time to learn about where your food is coming from and the impact that its production has on the environment. If we don’t take the time, it is easy to view food as something that just comes from a store or a fast food restaurant. This prevents us from understanding how food can offer us a better connection with nature. Alexander Wilson discusses this idea in The Culture of Nature when he mentions that we often let new technologies and innovations, such as televisions and camera lenses, prevent us from truly connecting with and understanding nature.

The flower garden

So to wrap up, if you haven’t been to see the farm or the organic market yet, I highly recommend that you check it out! Also of note, the path to the market is marked with painted carrots starting near the J.T. Powell building, so you can’t get lost 😉 The market takes place on Thursday’s from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm. If you interested in learning about, or volunteering at the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming, check out their website here!

For information about Slow Food and our events, feel free to come ask me or find us on Facebook. Slow Food has an annual meeting and runs 1 or more public events every month with the goal of encouraging students to take the time to slow down and think about their food and where it came from. I attended October’s event, the tour of the GCUOF, and November’s event, a vegan cooking class, and had a great time at both! The next event coming up is a restaurant tour downtown on November 26! The cost is $5 for non-members and you can check out the details here if you are interested! 

~ Nicole VanderWindt

Tulsi or Holy Basil

I’ve been purchasing Holy Basil or Tulsi from the organic market on campus for a few years. After Andrew and I visited the Organic Farm on campus for our club research and we were able to help harvest and prep produce for the market, we decided to make some Tulsi tea with fresh herbs sourced on campus to share with the outdoor school class. A number of students enjoyed and were interested in the healing properties of Tulsi or Holy Basil – so here’s some information:

holy basil1
tulsi or holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)

While basil is found on every continent, tulsi or holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It is a bushy shrub that grows to about 18 inches in height. Its leaves are oval and serrated, with colors ranging from light green to dark purple, depending on the variety. In the wild, tulsi is an annual, but it can be kept as a perennial by trimming it before it forms seeds. The plant has delicate lavender-colored flowers, and its fruit consists of tiny rust-colored nuts.

Often referred to as holy basil, Tulsi is a potent herb that has been used in India for thousands of years to treat colds, coughs, and flu. According to Ayurveda**, tulsi promotes purity and lightness in the body, cleansing the respiratory tract of toxins and relieving digestive gas and bloating. Tulsi leaves offer a rich source of essential oil, containing eugenol, nerol, camphor, and a variety of terpenes and flavonoids. The oil is a strong antiseptic against many kinds of disease-causing organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
In terms of the Ayurvedic doshas, tulsi carries the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes and generates a warming influence on the physiology. The herb is predominantly Kapha-reducing, but it can also be used to pacify Vata and Pitta. However, it can have a mildly Pitta-aggravating effect in individuals who are severely overheated.

Tulsi has spiritual as well as medicinal significance in Ayurveda. In Hindu mythology, the plant is an incarnation of the goddess Tulsi, offering divine protection. Many Indian families keep a living Tulsi plant in their homes – tending to it with great care and reverence. The plant’s woody stalks are often made into beads used in meditation malas or rosaries.

Tulsi Tea:

If you are looking for Tulsi as a pre-packaged tea it can be found in tea bags in a number of stores in Guelph. A good place to start would be the Stone Store or to visit New Age. If you would like the plant fresh – visit the Orangic Market Thursdays on campus (while there is still harvest) 3-6pm near Rozanski and purchase a bunch for $1.50. I ‘process’ the herbs by separating the flowers and leaves and drying them in baskets. I use the leaves for cooking and the flowers for tea. Alternatively you can hang the whole bunch upside down in your kitchen and just break off what you need.

tulsi tea

** For anyone unfamiliar with Ayurveda – it is is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India.

Farmers Market – Organic Produce

The farmers market at The University of Guelph sells fresh, local, organic produce that was grown either on campus or sourced from local fruit farms. By visiting the farmers market I was able to talk to some knowledgeable students and representatives from the HORT 3510 Vegetable Production course, who are also the ones that created this campus farmers market along with the Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming. After speaking with a couple of representatives, not only did it inspire my final assignment but I learned the benefits of certain produce and what makes it organic.





I asked Pat (a student and representative of the farmers market) several questions:

What makes vegetables organic? It is certified and it must be certified in Canada in order for it to be called organic. It is not about the food you provide to people but more about the way you grow the food. Organic is about knowing what is happening to the land and having a general knowledge of it. To be organic you can’t use synthetic sprays, for the most part you can’t use organic sprays either and you must have a lot of care for the soil. If you go to a conventional farm you will notice that the soil they use are terrible quality, the top soil layer is super thin, has no nutrient content, no bacteria, and no fungus.

If you go to the farm that grows the organic produce at the University, you will notice that they have a huge top soil layer, have a whole bunch of organic matter in the soil because they are putting back the organic matter in to the soil, have a huge cross section of different bacteria and funguses in order to have a proper environment.

For organic farmers it is about putting back in to the environment or integrating in the environment while conventional farms are more about taking things out of the environment.



A general description of how the vegetables are grown:

The way that they are grown or the process behind it is that the University of Guelph buys their own seeds, put the seeds in to a small seed tray and grow them out. In the beginning of the year they put it in the greenhouse and let it grow there for the year. Once it gets to a certain size they pot it up or put it in a bigger spot or put it directly out in to the field (called transplant). Once it is planted out in the field they hand water it over irrigation, pay attention to it and let it grow out. If it is a fruit they try to protect its colony and if it is lettuce they attempt to protect it from pests and animals that come in and wait until it is ready and then harvest it.


Which types of vegetables are beneficial to the body?

All of them! Certain vegetables like the bitter melons (pictured above) are good for the digestive system and it keeps your digestive system working properly. Eating tomatoes is supposed to help you deal with sun burns. Herbs like cilantro or parsley have a very high nutritional value. Herbs are extremely beneficial to the body because they are nutritionally dense and minerally dense thus, eating small amounts of them will do the job.

Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming

The Guelph centre for Urban Organic Farming consists of one hectare of research and teaching land and was established by the Ontario Agriculture College and the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph. Through the center, students take courses focused on food production, food security and environmental health and so much more. Volunteers are welcome to lend a hand and learn a little bit about urban organic farming. Each Thursday the farm hosts an organic market where they sell organic produce grown on campus to students and the community 3-6pm near Rozanski Hall.  Outdoor-schooler-s Andrew and Sonali joined the food production course in the harvest frenzy last thursday before the market.They jived with lady bugs for some of the last sweet raspberries of the season.


Sonali is interested in our connections to the processes which nourish us and keep us alive. She feels that food production, particularly small scale organic food production is the answer to how we can feed ourselves and each other. As artists interested in process she found the farm a great place of inspiration as her hands moved and the wheels in her brain turned on topics of consumption, accessibility, education, and labour.


Andrew found that farming really gave him the opportunity to learn what it’s like to grow and collect your own food. Through this experience he learned a lot about how much minuet detail goes into the collection and possessing of natural homegrown foods. This showed him how it takes a team effort to accomplish such a wonderful goal.




They ate some of their rewards and finished the day with bunching shallots and ripping up tomato plants.

Wellington Woods Spider Plant Giveaway and Social

This past Wednesday I had the privilege of volunteering at the Wellington Woods Community Centre with the University of Guelph Horticulture Club. The event was advertised to the residents of Wellington Woods, which is a university residence for families with young kids and upper year students who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The event was geared toward social interactions, plants, and arts and crafts.

The Horticulture club provided spider plants grown earlier in the year along with mason jars, soil, and gravel to pot and decorate the plants. This event was directed by Lissa Schoot Uiterkamp of the Horiculture Club and RES Life.


Spider Plant = Chlorophytum comosum. A hardy flowering perennial herb.


People of all ages arrived at the community centre from 5pm through 7pm on Wednesday October 14th. Many people from different backgrounds came together to pot their spider plants.



The plants ranged from the common all-green variety to other modified versions with white or red sections in the leaves. The mature plants had small white flowers. Spider plants are easy to grow as house plants. They will survive in less than perfect conditions although they thrive in direct sunlight. These plants are perfect for introducing children to plant care as they are able to grow in shady environments with partial sun, as well as they are very easy to propagate without damaging. If you obtain your own spider plant, be sure to water it daily, ensuring damp soil!


Spider plants have large white fleshy roots


I learned how to propagate the larger plants to fit into the mason jars.

We encouraged the residents to decorate their mason jars with ribbon, stickers, and drawings. The children were very excited to personalize their chosen plant. Many children were also fascinated with how large the plants will grow, as the baby plants were 1 to 3 inches tall (Ageing plants grow ~ 3 feet tall).


It was refreshing to witness a community of many languages and ages come together to learn, pot plants, decorate their jars, and drink hot chocolate.


This next photo series was my favourite. This young boy’s mother told him to show me the plant so I could take a picture of him. He gladly shoved his spider plant into my camera for a quality photograph.





A resident taught us how to make hanging water bottle pots to encourage recycling. It was a very enlightening experience for me to participate in this event. Some children were so excited that they volunteered to search the area to promote the event. All this, despite it pouring outside!


More about the Horticulture Club

The goal of the Horticulture Club is to bring people together across many different disciplines to share their love for plants. It originated in 1908 with the intent to provide a means of discussing content not covered in class. Today their objective is to “enhance the educational experience of any University of Guelph student with an interest in horticulture”.


-The art/practice of garden cultivation and management

-The cultivation of a garden, orchard, or nursery 

-The cultivation of flowers, fruits, vegetables, or ornamental plants

Meetings for the Horticulture Club are held at the Bovey Tropical Greenhouse in Edmund C. Bovey Building every other Wednesday.


Bird Banding with Chris Earley

Bird Banding is the practice of capturing birds in order to attach bands to their legs for identification purposes, recording data, and then releasing the bird back to the wild.


On Thursday October 8th, I had the privilege of joining Chris Earley and the Lab Studies in Ornithology class for a morning of bird banding! The first thing I got to see was Chris surrounded by ornithology students as he pulled birds out of small, cloth bags for data collection. For each one, he identified (if possible) and recorded the date, the bird’s ID, specie, sex, age, weight, and fat level, as well as any unusual characteristics.


Before you get ahead of yourself, you must record the identification numbers and letters if the bird is a re-capture and give it a new one if it does not have one already. These are read from a silver aluminium band. The date and time of capture must also be recorded. You also must initial your name, so that people know who made a mistake (probably YOU).

In order to band a bird, you must first measure it’s leg size. Chris has a handy dandy measuring device to help him give the bird the right sized band so that it is not too tight, nor too loose. You don’t want it to hurt the bird, but you also don’t want it too fall right off!

IMG_6943  IMG_6935

Bird banding pliers are used to open the band enough to attach around the leg, and then tightened shut.


Here, Chris is banding a White Throated Sparrow, who has a cute little white patch under his “chin” and a yellow mark between his eye and beak. This bird can have either brown, grey-brown, or red-brown eyes. This species has a light band above the eye which is either white or tan coloured, the white band being more dominant.

The Chickadees, which are a resident bird here at the Arboretum get coloured bands in order for easy identification through binoculars. On this occasion, we skipped identifying the bird’s sex and fat level because you cannot tell what sex a chickadee is unless they are breeding, and the fat level is skipped because they live here and are sufficiently fed (they don’t have to store fat for later!)


This beautiful Chickadee gets some lovely bright coloured bands. The pattern or combination of the bands are marked down on record, reading from top left to bottom right (by left, Chris means the bird’s right leg, so that when it’s standing facing you on a branch, you read it like a book).This may vary depending on the the place it is banded.


Keeping track of all these Chickadees is useful for knowing how old some of them are, which is often difficult to tell. The oldest Chickadee at the Arboretum is at least 7 years old, which is fantastic for a bird that has an average life expectancy of less than 2 years.


Sometimes you can tell how old a bird is by subtle differences in colour or feather quality. Above, Chris is looking at the tail feathers of the White Throated Sparrow to see if they are abraded or not. So, if they look scruffy we can guess the bird’s hatch year: the age of the bird based on the year they were hatched. Another example is in the Hermit Thrush, who’s hatch year is based on plumage:


The wing chord is usually measured to determine if the bird is male or female. For White Throated Sparrows, a wing chord or 60mm or fewer is a female, and 74mm or greater is male.

Here, the wing chord of a Mourning Dove is measured in order to determine it’s sex. However, if this measurement isn’t outside of the unknown interval, Mourning Doves who are male have more blue coloured feathers on their head. (This one is female!)


Look how big it is compared to the tiny Red Breasted Nut Hatch. *simultaneous aww*


Next, in order to check the birds Fat Level, you must blow on the birds chest, belly, and under his wing to see the amount of fat it has – then he gets a number according to a fat level chart.

Here, the lovely Mourning Dove we saw earlier looks slightly embarrassingly at the camera as Chris checks how fat she is:


Finally, the birds are put back into their cloth bags in order to properly weigh them on a digital scale.

Then, they are released! I got to hold and release a White Throated Sparrow, making me the happiest ornithologist ever.


To release the bird, you hold it in one hand using what is called a Bander’s Grip. The other hand is held flat underneath the bird’s feet (NOT shown above…) so that the bird can stand on your hand, then you let go of the bird with your first hand and voila, the bird takes off faster than lightning and flies away.

There are two common ways to hold a bird:

The first is called Bander’s Grip, where two fingers are positioned on either side on it’s head, not too tight, but tightly enough so that the tips of your fingers are close to touch. The bird rests belly up in the palm of your hand, excellent for identification and comfortable handling.


The second is called Photographer’s Grip, where three fingers are used to hold his legs and feet. This is useful to get a beautiful photo of you and your bird as it sits up naturally (shown below). Below is a beautiful Dark Eyed Junco who’s colour ranges from dark grey to black and who’s eye colour varies from redish brown to dark red.


Just when you think you’ve gotten through all the birds, you’re happily mistaken. You go on a couple net runs to check if more birds have been caught in the Mist Net. These are long nets made up of  very light, fine mesh that pockets birds that fly into it.


The birds kind of just hang out there until somebody comes to free them, which, depending on how tangled up the bird got, may take quite a while. Although it’s funny when just as your trying to help them out of their tangled mess, they start to chirp at you and move around more! This Ruby Crowned Kinglet awaits assistance. Only males have the red crown, so this one is female!


Not sure if this Hermit Thrush is screaming help me, or don’t help me….


When you untangle a bird, you carefully place it into a cloth pouch using a bander’s grip, then carefully sliding your hand out so that the bird does not find it’s way out following your arm. You then wrap the tie around once, through the loop, and secure.


This takes a lot of concentration and great care to make sure you don’t hurt the bird. Sometimes the bird will get itself caught in many layers of the mesh, just like this Chickadee did.


Just for fun, some ornithologists are holding up bird seed to see if any will land on their hand….none did.


Overall, it was a fantastic morning, even though I had to sprint to my class right after. If you are interested in birds (which you should be), Chris Earley may still be doing weekly bird banding. The Wildlife Club also has bird watching in the morning at the Arboretum, who you can e-mail at

Sorry for the long post, here is a confused Northern Cardinal: