Eating local in the downtown core

MacEwan University creates a culture of sustainability on campus

By Anna McMillan

Welcome to Pillars: the sustainability website that features stories for all walks of life. Here, we talk culture, economics, and environment.

Because we’re based out of MacEwan University, we figured it would be fitting to launch our website with a story about how our downtown university is creating a culture of sustainability through something that everybody loves: food.

100-foot diet

Over the past couple of years, Campus Services has been growing its local food efforts on campus. Instead of using the 100-mile diet, Food Services has been trying to achieve the 100-foot diet, meaning a significant amount of the food on campus will be grown inside or within 100 feet of the university.

Director of Campus Services Kris Bruckmann has spearheaded most of the food security projects at MacEwan. Those projects include urban beekeeping, and the establishment of aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics systems (we’ll share more on what those projects are all about soon).

Room for improvement

While MacEwan’s starting to make a name for itself in terms of sustainability, the university hasn’t always been a trailblazer when it comes to environmental conservation.

“This is the sixth university I’ve worked at, and I think we’re the farthest behind when it comes to sustainability,” said Bruckmann. “It’s brutal.”

“We’re still kicking around little tiny blue boxes everywhere and pretending that we’re recycling.”

Time for change

In 2014, Bruckmann decided it was time for the university to stop pretending to care about the environment. He developed the Green Towers project as a result.

The Green Towers grow produce without soil by using aeroponics technology. The plants grow upward in pillars where they are sprayed with a nutrient solution.

Bruckmann highlighted how traditional farming practices are often inefficient. Aeroponics uses 95 per cent less water and 90 per cent less land than traditional farming methods, according to Bruckmann.

“One of the biggest goals we have on this campus within my department right now is changing food on campus,” he said. “We want to move that to where we’re leading the industry, and we’re becoming very innovative and very creative in the way that we’re doing things.”

Opportunity is out there

The innovation Bruckmann highlights started with the Tower Gardens, but MacEwan’s portfolio of local food initiatives expanded quickly after this initial instalment.

Now, the university boasts beehives, urban cultivators for growing greens, and outdoor gardens in the childcare centre — and Bruckmann said MacEwan’s going to keep trailblazing.

“The one thing with sustainability is opportunity is always there,” he said.

It looks like that opportunity has been seized.

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