York students dig into experiential education

Students working in the Maloca Community Garden

York University students from the Faculties of Environmental Studies, Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Health and the Schulich School of Business weren’t afraid to be outside getting their hands dirty this summer at the Maloca Community Garden on York’s Keele Campus.

Students from across York University work in the Maloca Community Garden

In 2019, the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) held a community-focused experiential education course, Urban Gardening and Sustainability (ENVS 3800D), where students completed fieldwork and participatory research in urban community gardening. Students had the opportunity to set up their own plots in the garden and, as part of the course, they reflected on growing and harvesting food through the lenses of food security, biodiversity, community engagement and sustainability.

The course is part of a joint effort involving FES and the Finding Flowers project, led by environmental studies assistant professors Lisa Myers and Sheila Colla, which is focused on developing a long-term plan for the Maloca Community Garden. The plan will consider the historical, ecological, social, cultural, and artistic research and practice happening within the garden and will explore ways to open it up to York University’s surrounding communities.

One of the garden plots planted by students in the Maloca Community Garden

Judy Oduro, a student pursuing a double major in environmental studies and health sciences, said her experience working in the garden was life-changing. “I came into this course wanting to develop my gardening skills,” she said. “While I learned a lot about gardening in such a short period of time, I feel this course has brought radical change to my life overall. ENVS 3800D gave me the opportunity to understand food injustices that occur within our own communities and seek out new and innovative solutions.

“It was amazing getting to bond with dynamic and creative students outside,” Oduro continued. “I am so glad to be at a university that not only aims to foster informed citizens, but provides opportunities for us to make the world a better place for today and tomorrow. Spending time at Maloca felt meaningful and practical. I wouldn’t want to spend my summer any other way.” 

Students working in the Maloca Community Garden learn about the importance of urban community gardens

The Maloca Community Garden at York University was established in 1999 for the purpose of promoting and fostering the environmental, educational and social benefits of community gardening while creating a rare meditative space for the co-operative growing according to the principles of organic gardening. Since then, Maloca has provided students and faculty, neighbours and friends of the garden with a unique opportunity to grow and harvest food, while building relationships and learning in a community that cares about nature.

Tasnuva Maniza, a student enrolled in the International Bachelor of Business Administration program at the Schulich School of Business, said the course helped her discover the urban farmer within herself. “It gave me an opportunity to play around and apply concepts like food security, food sovereignty and planning to an actual community garden on York’s Keele Campus,” she said. “After working at Maloca, I believe that urban agriculture – in all of its forms – has a lot of potential to both feed people and empower people to feed themselves. I’m looking forward to continuing to study urban farms and community gardens and seeing how it transforms our needs in the 21st century.”

Lisa Myers

On Oct. 1, Finding Flowers, with the support of FES, celebrated the success of Maloca’s harvest and the coming together of past and present collaborators with a feast that offered a variety of foods, many of them made with produce harvested from the Maloca Community Garden. Corn, squash, leeks, peppermint, chili peppers, tomatoes, beans and sunchokes from the garden were included in the feast. In addition to the delicious organic feast, attendees participated in a panel and open discussion about the historical and present memory of Maloca and the Finding Flowers project that was led by Myers and Colla.

Sheila Colla

To learn more about the Finding Flowers project, or to be added to the project’s volunteer mailing list, email findingflowersmedia@gmail.com.

There’s still some harvesting to complete and gardeners will soon be putting Maloca to sleep for the winter months.

For more information, follow the garden on Twitter @finding_flowers.

By Rosanna Chowdhury, Silvia Vasquez-Olguin and Dana Prieto