A grass-roots student food growing initiative pioneered at Lancaster University has helped inspire a nationwide network of sustainability projects.
Lancaster University Students’ Union was one of the first places to catch onto the rising interest in food production among young people and back in 2009 set out to transform a small patch of land tucked away beside a University playing field into an allotment.
Supported by the National Union of Students’ Student Green Fund, the project has now grown beyond all expectations. Hundreds of volunteers are now involved in maintaining the growing sites across campus, including ten chickens and an orchard of more than 100 native fruit trees.
The NUS is now helping universities across the UK join in Lancaster’s muddy footsteps.
Each week, teams of volunteers put in the graft in order to grow, and eat, their own food - planting, weeding, watering and checking on the chickens.
Breakfasts of hash browns and free range eggs, fresh herbs and salads have become a way of life for the campus community.
Some of the ingredients from the project have even found their way onto university café menus, reducing food miles and bringing new flavours into the mix.
Over the summer when many of the undergraduate students leave campus, the University grounds maintenance team along with a team of dedicated staff and postgraduate students keep things in order and harvest all the goods.
Researchers at the University are monitoring the project which deliberately sets out to get people thinking about their food and where it comes from to find out whether it can have a lasting impact on the community.
And for some volunteers it has become an increasingly important part of their week, providing them with an escape from the pressure of deadlines, a chance to meet students from other parts of the world and to get their hands dirty.
Rob Brooks, a member of the Green Lancaster team described how the project is transforming his knowledge and skills:
“I’ve really enjoyed working on the Green Lancaster project this year. I’ve been involved in producing our widely viewed online video blog and also leading on big planting sessions on campus with volunteers and the University Grounds Team. It’s a great way to get outside with other students and make a lasting difference to the look and feel of campus green spaces.”
Darren Axe, Green Lancaster Coordinator at Lancaster University Students Union, has been with the project since its early days.
He said: “The network of landmark growing sites are deliberately scattered across the University so people really can’t miss what’s going on - we have planted up all sorts of strips of land in and around lecture theatres, squares and offices. Staff and students pass right by the new herb garden on their way to lectures and growing boxes are now available directly outside some of our halls of residence
“We want people to get involved and volunteer and it’s great that so many people do, but more than that we want to encourage everyone to consider where their food comes from so that awareness stays with them wherever they go.”