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Edging into urban agriculture

By: Stephanie Taylor-Baptiste

The horticulture program at Algonquin has sprouted new blooms.

In a marked contrast from its previous florist-oriented leaning, the program has introduced a condensed 16-month curriculum with new focus.

The focus is now squarely on teaching more practical aspects such as urban agriculture, green technology, and nursery management, rather than ornamental.

According to Tommy Wingreen, Algonquin’s Horticulture program co-ordinator and professor, urban agriculture has been a rising priority in Ottawa given the ever-increasing costs of operating greenhouses. Depending on their size, a fully operational greenhouse can cost upwards of six figures per year.

While the course did have some aspects of urban agriculture and green technology, greenhouse technician was the focus.
According to Wingreen, under the program’s previous structure, students would leave campus for the summer and miss a crucial season of a plant’s continuous life cycle.

Now, with program spanning from September to the following year’s December, it allows students to experience the industry’s prime production period from spring to fall.

“I had been looking at the program for a long time but didn’t take it before because it was too ornamental. Now that the focus is urban agriculture I was much more interested,” said Jeff Menzies, a first-year horticulture student.

“I’m glad this program came about. It’s practical.”

The urban agriculture element of the program also puts an emphasis on educating students on not only the growth, but also the distribution of food.

“Food scarcity will hit the North strongly, especially over the next 25 years,” said Menzies.

The program also has a landscaping component.

“What’s under the brick is important to ensure what’s on top of it lasts,” said Wingreen. “The program also does woodworking for structures and steps.”

The course has now partnered up with Landscape Ontario in order to prepare students for the Landscape Industry Certification designation.

“Landscapers needs to understand safety issues, so we’re looking to educate people in the industry,” said Wingreen. “It’s easy to call yourself a landscaper. We’re trying to put quality and qualified people out there for companies.”

An obvious advantage of the new edition of the program is the focus on green energy and the benefits of green spaces.

Algonquin itself has made a conscious effort to include green spaces, for example the new Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence building’s green roof and indoor living wall. Plants, indoors or out, are widely thought to have universal benefits.

Algonquin horticulture students have installed all the impressive walkways, complex water fixtures, wooden arches and lush gardens over the past two decades.

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