Field to Fork | Assiniboine Community College

Field to Fork

field to fork logo for researchField to Fork is a collection of Assiniboine Community College initiatives dedicated to strengthening the local food chain through education, research, and outreach. We work passionately to increase food security, and that helps build stronger communities.

Locally grown food is as close to home as it gets for some students at Assiniboine Community College. At the college’s North Hill Campus in Brandon, they can stroll over to the 3.2-acre plot or 2,800 square foot sustainable greenhouse to check out what’s growing, even in the coldest winter months. Many of the fruits, veggies, herbs and sprouts will make their way to a dinner plate, but not before being part of exceptional learning opportunities along the way.

Through a combination of education, research, and outreach, Assiniboine is finding new ways to improve food security at various socio-economic levels and do its part to help build healthier and stronger communities—an approach the college has dubbed ‘field to fork’. That’s an ambitious goal, but the concept has already taken root in the curriculum for students in horticulture and hospitality programs.

Faculty and their students in the college's Horticultural Production and Food Sustainability programs investigate energy use and productivity inside different types of greenhouse models, use fertilizers to extend the shelf life of onions, and determine best practices in composting and compost use in various food production systems. 

Their findings are published and presented at workshops and seminars, providing valuable information and guidelines for other growers. These will soon be extended to include northern Manitoba communities where there are more limitations on the growing season. This information helps to strengthen food security, allowing farmers and gardeners to have more control over the crops they grow and better understand environmental variables and the effects they have on crop production.

Potatoes are big business in Manitoba; according to a 2014 report by Statistics Canada, the province has the second highest land coverage of the crop next to Prince Edward Island. In recent years, Manitoba potato growers have turned their attention to sweet potatoes, which have high nutritional value and growing consumer demand. While the sweet potato is only distantly related to a regular russet potato, there are similarities between the two including their benefits in crop rotation and the production practices used.

Dr. Sajjad Rao is leading a multi-year project that will examine varieties of sweet potatoes to grow on the Prairies. Currently, there are ten kinds being studied inside Assiniboine’s sustainable greenhouse. By 2016 he hopes to be partnering with a local farmer, growing the crop on their farm.

Applied research projects like these provide students in the Horticultural Production and Sustainable Food Systems programs with hands-on experience in research methods and help deepen their understanding of food security and sustainability.

But the payoff doesn’t end with the growing season. When harvest rolls around, the local community gets to enjoy the fruits of the students’ labour. Assiniboine hosts a number of food and beverage events throughout the year and tickets to these events sell out in a matter of hours. 

Harvested foods make their way to the kitchen where Culinary Arts students and their instructors turn them into spectacular dishes. This past fall they had fresh ingredients like tomatoes, baby greens, sweet corn, fennel, onions, and beans. What they can’t use right away is canned and preserved, allowing them to extend the nutrition and flavour over the winter months for other events. Hotel and Restaurant Management students pair dishes with the perfect beers and wines, heightening the overall experience for patrons.

The college is committed to developing their field to fork approach even more in the future, creating new learning opportunities for students and continuing to build stronger ties with the larger community. 

 

Good things are growing at Assiniboine

One of our original goals with the Sustainable Greenhouse was to explore how low-capital-cost facilities could help produce fresh fruits and vegetables without intensive energy costs. 

Assiniboine faculty researcher Sajjad Rao has started a long–term research project that explores greenhouse production and the impact on food security in northern climates. 

This field to fork project will be ongoing until 2018 and will study the production of food in three different greenhouse models. 

Students in our Horticultural Production and Sustainable Food Systems programs work alongside instructors on this research, which is intended to identify best practices for extending growing seasons, even into the winter months. 

Harvest Unleashed

Assiniboine's North Hill Campus is home to a bountiful harvest every year thanks to the hard work of students and faculty. Each fall, the college harvests over 2,500 kilograms from our grow plots, orchard and sustainable greenhouse. These yields included sweet corn, sweet peppers, snap beans, onions, tomatoes, crab apples, fennel, mini potatoes, sweet potatoes, baby greens, culinary herbs and even tomatillos!

Items grown at Assiniboine follow a true field to fork life cycle. From seeding to harvesting they are the focus of research and education projects for Horticultural Production and Sustainable Food Systems students. 

Crops are picked from late August to September and make their way to the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts. It's here that Culinary Arts students dream up delicious dishes along their chef instructors. The recipes are featured at college events throughout the year where Hotel and Restaurant Management students pair dishes with the perfect beers and wines for a superb culinary experience.

What isn’t used in the fall is canned or pickled and stored for later use. For example, at our annual Grey Owl restaurant pickled beans and peppers are featured in an antipasto platter.

 

Sweet Research

The sweet potato is a delicious root vegetable native to Central and South America. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in growing this crop in Canada, largely because of its nutritional value.

Assiniboine instructor Sajjad Rao has embarked on a multi-year research project that will examine the best varieties of sweet potatoes to grow in Manitoba’s dynamic climate. He plans to develop guidelines to help vegetable growers and gardeners produce this crop under the right conditions and to identify efficient, affordable ways to produce them commercially.

Sajjad’s field to fork research will also provide enhanced education for students in the college’s Horticultural Production, Sustainable Food Systems and Agribusiness programs. Horticultural students work alongside him on the research project, involving vegetable producers and local companies.

Now that’s research you can sink your teeth into!

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) projects

Research on behalf of MAFRD continues as the second summer growing season is now complete. 

  • Snap beans – planting and harvesting data is being collected as planting dates versus crop yield are compared. 
  • Sweet peppers – effects of weed control on sweet pepper harvest is being analysed. Hand weeding versus mulch is the area of study. 
  • New research project – this year, early maturing tomato varieties for the Manitoba climate are being tested.

 

 

Weed Identification Garden

A $57,000 gift from the Manitoba Zero Tillage Research Association to the Assiniboine Community College Foundation has been used to create a weed identification garden at the site of our sustainable greenhouse. 

With construction and planting finishing in the summer of 2016, the garden now serves as an outdoor classroom and includes educational signage and supplemental materials to accompany more than 80 annual and perennial weed species. 

The garden provides students in agriculture and environment programs with tangible and real learning opportunities. Farm retailers, researchers, and interested visitors will be welcome to examine the weed specimens throughout the growing season. 

A common definition of a weed is “a plant in the wrong place”, but these plants will be a welcome addition on campus.