A box of delicious fruits and vegetables at uOttawa as part of their community supported Agriculture project.

For those who have their own small garden plots, me included, the growing season is just getting started. But I want my fruits and veggies now, because I am spoiled and various other reasons that we don't have to get into. So lucky for me, I am signed up for a CSA (community supported Agriculture) at the University of Ottawa.

I've already covered the uOttawa Farm Basket Program in another post but here is a brief summary just in case you missed it. A CSA is at its core a special contract with a farmer. Instead of paying for fruits and vegetables at the market, you pay for them before they are planted and they are delivered to you as they are ready. You share the risk with the farmer, but you also share the savings.

This is the third year that the program will operate at uOttawa with the cooperation of Health Promotions and Food Services. The reason we got involved and brought the program on campus was pure convenience. We figured that if we make healthy food easier for you buy then you might buy more of it. And since we all come to the campus anyways, you can just pick up your basket while you are here.

Weekly Farm Box emails are sent to participants of the program

The farm we work with at uOttawa, Ferme aux pleines saveurs, is really awesome. I am super keen on these guys. Every week they send me a list of all the things I am going to get in my basket. They send me a reminder the day before (so I can remember to bring my reusable bags), and another when my basket has arrived (technically it is the awesome people over at Health Promotions who do this part but it all feels very seamless).

Each week I also get special recipes specifically for the vegetables I am getting, and they tend to focus on the non-conventional vegetables that they offer from time to time (like Kohlrabi or parsnips). And every one and a while they toss in a couple of prepared items (like salsa, zucchini bread, and jams). I have even gotten bags of purposefully grouped items that are basically ready to mix and serve (like make your own pesto or make your own soups).

Aside from the very selfish reasons that I am involved with the uOttawa CSA, there are a couple of reasons why you should get involved and why it is a sustainable choice.
  • It is cheap!
    Of course this is a relative statement but you find find organic vegetables for this price at the stores... in some cases you wouldn't find normal vegetables at the grocery store for this price. Each week, your basket of vegetables comes with a list of the prices of each item.
  • It is organic!
    Farm basket programs aren't hard to find, but this farm is certified organic. They work with Equiterre to ensure that there products meet all the standards of the "Quebec vrai" program.
  • They are local!
    The farm is located exactly 1 hour away from the uOttawa, 90.3 kilometers to be exact. So all the good stuff that comes along with supporting your local economy applies here.
  • The food is fresh!
    It don't just mean fresh, I mean fresh! The vegetables are picked that morning and are in your hands by noon. I don't know if you have had the pleasure of eating something straight from the field but you have to give it a try.
  • It helps combat food deserts!
    You might not be familiar with this term but the concept is simple. Food deserts are urban areas where it's difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. Reducing the barriers to food security make the entire community better.
So if you are interested in joining the program, you can sign up for a basket on the website. You don't have to commit fully to the program, you can grab a couple of baskets and see if they fit your life. Check our their harvest calendar to get an idea of a time that might interest you.
Otherwise, drop by the Health Promotions Office on campus and talk to the staff about the program. 

~jON - campus sustainability manager
uOttawa is piloting a program to use bikes on campus instead of fleet vehicles.

The Office of Campus Sustainability is working to change the story when it comes to campus emissions, especially when it comes to fleet vehicles. So don't be surprised this summer if you notice the staff of uOttawa Facilities zipping around campus on bikes.

I once heard a talk that emphasized the idea that if you want sustainability to stick, you need to make sure that it is making your life better. It may not seem like it a first blush, but that is exactly what this initiative is all about.

So why put people on bikes? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

Employees

First, the employees wanted it. Although the uOttawa campus isn't huge, it is still a bit of a trek to go from one end to the other, even more so to get to the Lees campus. And there are always a few meetings at the hospital or City Hall. Having some bikes to move around more quickly makes everyone's job easier.

uOttawa Facilities logo on the side of their new fleet bikesThe bikes are fixed gear for easy maintenance. They have a wooden box fixed to the back of them to carry some tools. They are simple and sleek with a minimal profile. They look cool and so their riders will look cool too (or at least I think so). And of course, cycling is a much healthier alternative to driving around.

Car-Free

Second, the campus is moving towards having a car-free core. In the latest master plan, the University outlined the desire to remove cars from the centre of the campus, making the space more pedestrian and bike friendly. Add the that, safer, less congested, quieter, calmer, etc...

a coupy of the uOttawa Campus Master Plan on getting cars off campus

If the core of the campus is supposed to become car-free, it would be really inappropriate to have all the Facilities staff moving around on campus in vans and trucks. Therefore service bicycles seemed like the most appropriate way to move around. It would not only save time (instead of trying to navigate through hoards of people walking about), it would also set an example for others by demonstrating that active transportation is a real thing.

Clean Air Community

a line of cars along King Edward creating air pollution and GHG emissions
Cars along King Edward at the University of Ottawa
In 2015, the uOttawa was recognized by the Ontario Minister of the Environment for its Clean Air Community program, an initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Part of this plan was the idea of reducing the number of internal combustion vehicles on campus. This would have the immediate impact of healthier more breathable air and of course long term impacts of better health and fewer GHG emissions (but I will get into that later).

Cost Savings

It's not hard to wrap your head around the idea that it is cheaper to own a bike than a car. Maintaining a fleet of trucks and vans doesn't come cheap and so for every van we take off the road, we could replace it with ten bikes (just based on the annual cost to lease a vehicle). Pile on top of that the operating costs and you've got yourself one hell of a return on investment.

A uOttawa Facilities Fleet Truck

There are also the external costs related to operating a fleet of truck and vans. Requiring more space for parking isn't cheap on a campus that already doesn't have enough space. Or how about insurance costs for running those vehicles? And now we can also add the cost of carbon to that list.

The Planet

I am not going to bore you with a deep dive into all the environmental benefits of a program like this. I will take a moment to mention GHG emissions (Facilites' fleet is responsible for about 79 tonnes of CO2 every year). Also, the leaking of gasoline and particles of rubber from car tires make up the biggest source of contamination in rivers, so there's that. And let's not forget the embodied energy in the materials needed to make a car are ridiculous, especially when compared to a bike.

A uOttawa Facilities Fleet bike

Ultimately, one of the biggest outcomes of a program like this would be a more in-depth understanding of how cyclists see the campus. Since Facilities are responsible for all the cycling infrastructure on campus, it makes sense that if they are using it more often they would have better ideas about how to improve the system.


The 'not so good', the 'bad' and the 'ugly'

I wasn't about to end this post without talking about the downsides and limitations of a program like this. I mean that would be a little disingenuous.

First, we have to consider the fact that this program is primarily meant for the summer time and likely won't fly in the winter time. Similarly, rainy weather and super hot days will likely push users to other forms of transportation.

And of course, these bikes can't be used in every situation. Some times the bikes aren't going to be the right fit for the kind of work that needs to be done. Or, if an employee is injured or tired, they might not want to use the bikes.

Hey, just putting this out there, the possibility exists that the bikes might get stolen or damaged as well. Maybe an employee might fall off too.

All that being said though, the bikes aren't meant to completely replace the fleet vehicles, just offer a viable alternative. You know, take a few more emissions out of the air and be an example to others out there.

In the past 5 years, there has been a remarkable shift in how uOttawa deals with its emissions. The signing of the Montreal Carbon Pledge, the commitment to reduce investment related emissions, and the continued success of the EcoProsperity program are all examples of some pretty bold moves to diminish the campus' carbon footprint. But not every change needs to be colossal in order to have impact. Little actions can also help change the story.

~jON - campus sustainability manager

Dans la Salle à manger 24/7, on entend souvent parler de gaspillage. Comme nous ne produisons aucun déchet, le tout est destiné au compostage, ce qui est quelque peu réconfortant. Dans la foulée de l’événement « J’aime la bouffe, pas le gaspillage » qui a eu lieu le mois dernier, je me suis posé une question bien simple : si nous gaspillons tant à la consommation, à quoi peut ressembler le gaspillage en cuisine?



La Salle à manger se targue d’être un espace sans déchets, mais il me semble que cet exploit s’applique avant tout à l’aire de restauration. On n’y trouve aucune paille, aucun emballage, aucun contenant qui puisse se transformer en déchet. Alors, que se passe-t-il en coulisse, là où l’on prépare la nourriture? Cet espace serait-il lui aussi sans déchet? Pour m’aider à élucider ce mystère, j’ai demandé à Maryann Moffitt, des Services alimentaires, de m’aider à passer de l’autre côté du miroir.

Dès mon arrivée en arrière-scène, je suis immédiatement frappée par le nombre d’ascenseurs et d’escaliers qu’on y trouve. Si ce n’était de l’aide précieuse de Maryann, je me serais assurément perdue! Ma guide et moi entrons tout de suite dans le vif du sujet : or, plutôt que de me faire parcourir moult statistiques dans un tableur, elle m’amène constater de visu le gaspillage généré.


Nous nous rendons d’abord au point de transition, où tout est entreposé avant d’être acheminé sous le Centre universitaire.

Maryann m’indique où sont empilés les composteurs au fur et à mesure qu’ils se remplissent. Chaque jour, on en compte environ une douzaine.



Elle me montre ensuite les boîtes servant au transport des fruits et légumes. Par souci d’espace, ces boîtes sont défaites, puis entreposées dans un conteneur en bois.

Enfin, nous atteignons la destination finale des rebuts générés : là où se rendent les camions pour tout ramasser. Et en toute franchise, je m’avoue franchement surprise par la proportion de compostage, de recyclage et de déchets!



Les bacs rouges sont réservés au recyclage du carton, et c’est ce que l’on retrouve en plus importante quantité. Logique : après tout, la cuisine reçoit chaque jour de la nourriture en abondance, et il faut bien transporter le tout d’une quelconque façon. Il n’y a pas que les fruits et les légumes qui y sont acheminés, mais aussi les conserves de sauce, les bouteilles d’huile et j’en passe – à peu près tout arrive dans des boîtes. Mieux vaut des boîtes de carton recyclable que du plastique jetable, non?



Évidemment, on trouve au sous-sol une tonne de composteurs.



La totalité des déchets générés au cours de la journée ne tient qu’au seul et unique bac bleu que vous voyez. Non, vraiment! Un seul bac de déchets, contre tous ces bacs de recyclage et de compost. Les déchets sont comprimés avant d’être insérés dans le bac. Impressionnant!



Je le confesse : je m’attendais à trouver une cachette secrète où trôneraient pile après pile de détritus. Je me disais que quiconque prépare quelque 6 000 repas par jour ne peut faire autrement que générer une montagne de déchets.

Je m’étais préparée à accompagner la révélation d’un « ah HA! », à demander des comptes. Or, s’il est vrai qu’ils pourraient produire moins de déchets, le ratio recyclage/compost/déchets est absolument renversant. L’étonnement aurait été à son comble s’ils n’avaient produit absolument aucun déchet… mais il faut bien avoir un objectif à long terme, n’est-ce pas?

~clarissa -  stagiaire en communications
Pots and pans in the back of a dining hall

 So in our lovely 24/7 Dining Hall we hear about the waste we produce all the time. I mean it’s not really waste it's all compost for us, not as bad as garbage, right. With the Love Food Not Waste event taking place last week, I asked myself the simple question: if we produce this much waste just eating, how much does the kitchen produce making the food we eat?

Two volunteers for the uOttawa Love Food Not Waste program in the dining hall

You see the Dining Hall is zero waste but that is in the part where you and I eat. There are no straws, no wrappers, no containers, nothing that can become garbage. What about in the "back of house" where all the food is made? Is that also zero waste? Now figuring this out was a little harder than I thought so I got in contact with Maryann Moffitt from Food Services and asked her to show me around.

First there were a lot of elevators and stairs in there, WOW! I would have definitely gotten lost. Luckily I had Maryann to guide me. We went right to the core of the question which meant the she actually took me to see the waste, not just some stats from on a spreadsheet in her office.

First we went to the "halfway point". This is where all waste goes temporarily before being brought down under the UCU to be dealt with.

Compost bins piled one on top of the other at uOttawa
Maryann showed me where the pile of compost bins go as they get filled up. They fill up like a dozen of these every day.

Then she showed me all the boxes that carry the fruits and vegetables. They go into a wooden bin and are "broken down" just so that there is enough room to put them all.

A wooden cardboard recycling bin at the university of Ottawa

Then we headed to the area where the final stage happens, the place where the trucks pick it all up. I was genuinely surprised at the ratio of compost to recycling to actual garbage.

A large red outdoor recycling bin at the University of Ottawa

The red bins are cardboard recycling. There are more of them than anything else. Now this makes sense since the kitchen receives a lot of food everyday and it has to come in somehow. Not just fruits and vegetables, but cans of sauce, bottles of oil... basically everything arrives in a box.
Better that it's in recyclable cardboard than disposable plastic right?



And of course there are also a ton of green compost bins as you can clearly see.

A garbage dumpster at uOttawa

This bin, this blue one here, is the only garbage bin they have. I am serious. One garbage bin, in comparison to the amount of recycling and compost. All the garbage in this bin is compacted first and then put into this one bin. I am truly impressed.

A series of outdoor recycling bins at the University of Ottawa

I will be honest with you. I was kind of expecting to find a secret stash with mountains of garbage. I thought there was no way they couldn’t produce anything but mountains of garbage given the fact that they serve something like 6,000 meals every day.

I was ready for a big exposure moment, like "Gotcha! How do you explain mount Trashmore?"... but the truth is, yes they could produce some garbage, but my word their ratio is amazing! To recycle and compost that much is amazing. Seriously. The only way I could have been more amazed would have been if I found out they had no waste at all, but you know that's why people have long term goals right?

~ clarissa - communications intern
A pile of donations to the uOttawa Free Store

T.S Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month and although for different reasons than his, I couldn’t agree more. Exams are stressful, your thesis might be due, you have to nail down a summer job or maybe even decide what your graduation game plan is. You’re saying goodbye to friends and professors for the summer, or maybe for longer. And on top of all this, you might even have to move out, move in or move home.

I see moving as an opportunity to downsize and declutter. One of the central tenets or zero waste is minimalism, or at least that everything you own serves a purpose and was procured sustainably. But how do you get rid of the big things, like a kitchen table or all your glassware, and not just leave them on the side of the road, or worst, throw them away.

The reuse economy is the best place to get things and give away things when moving. What is the reuse economy? It is so many things! The salvation army, consignment stores, selling clothing in facebook groups or even selling your curtains to a friend for a beer are all resources and options to avoid buying new, perpetuating plastic culture and can save you cash money.

The reuse economy is strong in Ottawa and even on our own campus. If you lived or live in residence, the Dump and Run is a program managed by the Campus Office of Sustainability which collects all the things people leaving residence don’t want anymore and takes them to the Free Store.

A student happily donates a bag of clothing to the uOttawa Free Store using the donation bin

If you now live off-campus, you can still bring your things to the Free Store. The donation bin is just behind the building, which is located on King Edward. The Free Store has many community partners like the Ottawa Mission, St. Joe’s Women’s Center and Operation Come Home with whom they are constantly in discussion, figuring out what their community needs are and allocating stuff accordingly, in order to ensure best use of your donations.

The Free Store accepts things like clothing, textbooks, lamps, small furniture and kitchen supplies (find a full list here). Getting rid of something bigger like a bed or a sofa is a little trickier, particularly if you don’t have a car to bring it to a donation drop-off area. Thankfully, Matthew House Refugee Services, Helping With Furniture, and the Salvation Army all offer pick-up services for large items and are all places looking to give your things to those who need it most. For example, these three organizations have been extremely active in helping the Syrian refugees feel welcome and settled with everything they need. This way you know the things you’re giving away are going to a good home and all you have to arrange is a pick-up time.

A pile of clothing and accessories that are ready to be donated at the uOttawa Free Store

Through Dump and Run, the Free Store is also taking food donations of unspoiled, non-perishables which will then be distributed to various food banks. So instead of throwing out all those extras cans which have been collecting dust in your cupboard since Day 1, you can combat food waste and give to those in need either by donating to a food bank.

If you’re looking to make a little cash money from your stuff, that’s cool too. Plato’s Closet in Barrhaven will give you some money for gently-loved clothing or you could try your luck with the University of Ottawa Clothing Exchange Page on facebook (sometimes you can try selling furniture there too!) A friend also recommended this thing called Bunz to me, which is a way of bartering things for other things. I haven’t tried it out, but it looks easy to use and it could be worth a shot if you wanted to put up some things you didn’t need and see what people in your area would be willing to give you in return.

And this may seem obvious, but I found a good home for many of my things by just getting social and asking friends if they need stuff in exchange for a little cash or even some beer. Speaking of friends, when it comes to the physical moving of moving, friends are a great way to save money, time, your back, renting a truck, energy etc. and all you have to do is ask nicely.

When moving, the more stuff you have, the more energy (manpower and otherwise) it takes to get it from point A to point B. If you downsize in the first place (remember not by throwing away, but giving things to the reuse economy), you are contributing to a better earth environment, but as well your own living environment.

And then if you need things like a kettle, lamps, shoes, chairs, a pot, forks, curtains, whatever, check out places like the Free Store, the Salvation Army, online posts or friends before going to Ikea or Bed Bath and Beyond. By procuring from the reuse economy, you are doing better for the environment, I guarantee you will be saving money and you are directly supporting these resources who exist simply to make the world more sustainable.

A box of kitchen accessories ready to be donated to the uOttawa Free Store

And if you are kicking things to the curb, make sure you follow Ottawa’s recycling policies! Things that are unsorted or improperly set out just end up in landfills! Read up about them here!

Although I am desperately sad to be leaving my wonderful student life in Ottawa (despite being desperately happy to be finished my undergrad), I love the opportunity moving brings to downsize, minimalize and donate. Once again, good luck on exams, good luck on your summers and please don’t leave your perfectly good things to the landfills!


~jennie @trashlesslovemore