An afternoon with U of T Dig In!

Ever walk around campus and think that you might like to swap out your textbooks and pencils for some dirt and gardening tools? If you’ve got the urge to get your hands dirty in between summer classes, you should get in touch with U of T Dig In!

Dig In operates four gardens on the downtown campus at Hart House, Sidney Smith Hall, and the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Through the Campus Agriculture Network, they also support several other gardens around campus, such as the Native Students’ Association medicinal garden behind Hart House and the herb garden at Victoria College. Each campus garden is managed by a volunteer.

Elspeth and Anna in front of the garden at Sammy's.
Elspeth and Anna, Dig In interns & garden enthusiasts!

Elspeth and Anna run U of T Dig In and you can often see them around U of T’s food gardens planting, working with volunteers and talking to passers by about what they’re up to. Both fourth year students, Elspeth studies environmental studies while Anna takes English. Both are passionate about gardening, getting students outside, bringing people together, local food sources, and raising awareness about food sustainability.

The food from the gardens goes to volunteers and to the U of T Food Bank. Some also goes to the Faculty Club, and Elspeth and Anna mentioned they may have a farmer’s market at the end of the summer for the community as well (fingers crossed!). Among other delicious things, they grow potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, lemon balm, kale, lettuce, sage, leeks and dill. There are lots of little flowers, as well as a tall sunflower with huge leaves right by the main theatre entrance. Elspeth and Anna were totally surprised by it because they didn’t plant it — it just sprouted up on its own!

Yellow flowers in the garden in front of Sammy's with the kale.
Pretty yellow flowers in the garden with the kale.

Dig In volunteers are students and community members. Elspeth and Anna emphasized that you don’t have to have any experience to come out and volunteer. You just have to have a desire to learn! Both of them are also learning on the job and are eager to get advice from others.

“Some people know what they want to do and take on certain tasks or suggest improvements to the garden,” says Elspeth. “It’s about hands-on learning. You start small and you learn how to contribute more.” Volunteers typically commit for shifts once or twice a week and there are always lots of new faces around.

Me in the garden at Hart House.
Not exactly in appropriate volunteer gear but at least I was enthusiastic!

Dig In also hosts events around environmental sustainability and particularly food. In the past, they’ve held workshops on mushroom growing and jam-making and retreats to the Hart House Farm. “It’s not just about growing,” says Elspeth, “but also about the steps of sustainability.”

Want to get involved with Dig In? Get in touch with them via Facebook, email, or just drop by the garden in front of Sammy’s at Hart House to say hello during the day!

“Don’t be afraid!” says Anna. “If you like food and plants, then this is for you! Everyone is here to learn!”

Check out more pics from my garden tour with Dig In!: 

Questions about Dig In? What are your thoughts on campus agriculture? Chat with me in the comments below or tweet me at @lifeatuoft!


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