The Lancaster University Students’ Union supermarket has been regularly stocked with a supply of fresh produce this summer thanks to the green fingers and quick-thinking of the campus EcoHub team.
Everything from purple sprouting broccoli and cabbage to climbing beans and courgettes have, in the face of lockdown and other adversities, been delivered to Central Stores.
The EcoHub, home for environmental sustainability on campus, houses a large-scale sustainable agriculture system for growing fresh fruit and vegetables, an enclosure for a flock of former battery hens and the Lancaster University Bee Keepers (LUBK).
Faced with hefty complications prompted by the coronavirus lockdown, the Green Lancaster EcoHub projects committee immediately rallied, planning and implementing a safe maintenance system enabling the continuation of sowing and transplanting work and care for the chickens by a team of dedicated volunteers, working in isolation.
The EcoHub’s four ‘Grow Plan Coordinators’, responsible for determining which crops are grown, site layout and crop location, ensured the plan continued through April, May and June with significant efforts across the whole team.
Hundreds of seedlings were nurtured in a poly-tunnel, before being moved outside in late spring.
Even the incredibly dry spring weather during April and May did not deter or hinder the efforts of the lockdown volunteer team, who took to regular and extensive full-site watering to ensure the crops would survive and thrive later in the season.
By early June there was such an abundance of fresh produce prompting the distribution to Central Stores on campus.
Since then there have been six deliveries to the supermarket raising £195 which will be re-invested into the site and next year’s ‘grow plan’.
Produce harvesting will continue throughout the summer and autumn and the Grow Plan coordinators are already working on the winter 2020-21 Grow Plan, with the aim of maintaining a year-round output of produce from the site.
Edible Campus Grow Plan Coordinators Marta Cattin and Emanuelle Paulson said: “It was hard at the beginning. When the lockdown happened and the crops were just beginning to grow healthy and strong, we didn’t want them to die. Thus, we acted very quickly, creating a rota with the volunteers and we kept the EcoHub alive.”
“It is a real satisfaction now that we have a surplus of produce! Starting to sell them to Central made us realise the invaluable work we have been doing so far and gives us a spring in our step.”
Lancaster University Development Manager (Environmental Sustainability) Darren Axe said: “It is fantastic that we have been able to secure the EcoHub as a safe space for our team of dedicated volunteers to maintain the site and produce throughout the lockdown, with everyone observing strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place for accessing the campus.
“The results have been tremendous in terms of the diversity and quality of the produce that has been grown – a real credit to the volunteers involved.”
Vegetables have been grown on campus since 2009 as part of the Edible Campus scheme which aims to encourage food sustainability amongst staff and students.
This year the Edible Campus society has 97 members and, before the lockdown, volunteer action days were running every Wednesday during term-time throughout the Michaelmas and Lent terms.
A new greenhouse is currently being constructed on site to provide facilities for growing crops all the year round. This will include a seed propagator, to assist with seeing up germination.