A bountiful harvest: RPIRG Green Patch Garden puts nutritious food on the table for all

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 12, 2020 1:00 p.m.

The RPIRG Green Patch - a 5,400 square-foot vegetable garden - provides a source of food and beauty to the U of R community.
The RPIRG Green Patch - a 5,400 square-foot vegetable garden - provides a source of food and beauty to the U of R community. Photo: Tayef Ahmed

Tayef Ahmed cares - a lot - about the health and well-being of his fellow students at the University of Regina, with food security at the top of his list. As garden coordinator for the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG), he manages the Green Patch - a 5,400 square-foot vegetable garden adjacent to the Dr. Lloyd Barber Academic Green at the heart of the U of R campus.

RPIRG is a student-funded resource centre at the University of Regina whose members and partners are committed to social and environmental justice. With financial support from the U of R and RPIRG, the Green Patch supplies fresh produce free to those in need.  

"This year has been very difficult for many students in terms of having food on their tables," says Ahmed, who is in his second year studying Human Justice at the U of R this Fall. "Right now, we have far more interested students than vegetables in the garden. At times, I've had to split among three people the vegetables that were intended for one person."

Passionate, dedicated, ambitious,
RPIRG Green Patch garden coordinator
Tayef Ahmed strives to alleviate food
insecurity for #URegina students
and educate students about the
benefits of gardening.
Photo: Neil Petrich/URSU

Ahmed doesn't just talk about the need to alleviate food insecurity and eliminate food poverty, he's been putting concrete plans into action throughout the Summer: increasing the production of the Green Patch, offering online gardening workshops, and connecting with the University of Regina Students Union (URSU), as well as Carmichael Outreach and Soul's Harbour Rescue Mission to distribute the produce grown.

"The RPIRG garden is completely free to anyone," explains Ahmed "In previous years, anyone could just come by and pick vegetables, no permission required. That was our main purpose. At the same time, RPIRG focused on social justice and we'd talk to students about food insecurity."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, things at the Green Patch looked very different this year. Normally supported by approximately 200 student volunteers throughout the gardening season, the Green Patch had to start the 2020 growing season without volunteers, but their absence doesn't appear to have slowed down Ahmed. With occasional assistance from the executive director of RPIRG, and the help of a Summer student who took care of the new University orchard for six weeks, Ahmed has been single-handedly planting, weeding, and harvesting the garden.

"This is Tayef's second year as Green Patch Coordinator and we are so happy to be working with him again," says Krystal Lewis, executive director of RPIRG. "He is a skilled gardener who manages the garden and orchard with great care. He is also dedicated to addressing food insecurity and other social justice issues, and has shown great leadership in building connections and relationships between students, staff, and other organizations to do so."

"This year has been tough," says Ahmed, looking out over the garden filled to capacity with ripe produce. "But at the same time I made it tough because I wanted to grow as many vegetables as I could so that we can feed a lot more students and community members. I don't have any space left to grow anything."

To ensure the garden is operating at optimum levels, when Admed is done harvesting one plant bed, he'll reseed it with something else, keeping a continuous supply of new vegetables. 

"For example, I'll be harvesting some of the beets leaving a bed free," he says. "Then, I'll try growing some leafy greens. If we have time and seeds, why not!"

RPIRG's goal is to produce 2,000 pounds of vegetables
at the Green Patch by the end of the season.
U of R summer student Annie Pham helps harvest at the Green Patch. Pham was hired this Summer to manage the University orchard. 225 pounds of produce was distributed to 34 students on harvest day, August 7.
Photos: Tayef Ahmed

This Summer he has already harvested more than 500 pounds of vegetables, with a goal of 2,000 by the end of the harvest. Every Friday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. from August 7 to September 18 is harvest day. Students can drop by the garden and pick up a bag or two of fresh produce, while following appropriate social distancing precautions. More details about the weekly pickup, including safety guidelines, can be found on the Green Patch webpage.

RPIRG uses their active social media presence and mailing list to reach out to students in need and has connected with URSU to supply produce for the URSU Cares Pantry, which offers food and other necessities to help more than 100 U of R students who face food insecurity.

"For nine years, the Green Patch has been a place where students can connect and learn, but it's also been a source of free quality produce for people navigating rising tuition and other costs of living," adds Lewis.

After getting healthy food into the hands of students, RPIRG will provide any remaining food to their partners at Carmichael Outreach - which has worked with them since 2012 - and Soul's Harbour Rescue Mission.

"Gardening is very important for food security," stresses Ahmed, who knows first-hand the pain of not having enough food to eat. "I can teach people how to grow their own food and then they can feed themselves. Knowing that some people may not have food on the table is something that bothers me all the time."

"I want to make sure that none - I mean none - of our students are going hungry," Ahmed continues. "There are still students who are going through this, but they're not talking about it. I want to find those students and help them in whatever way we can."

With very limited resources and budget, RPIRG knows that partnerships are key and is reaching out to more and more people and organizations to address food insecurity.

"We can start from a very small project and then focus on creating a larger project," explains Ahmed, as he describes his vision for expanding gardening projects on and off campus. "I'm talking with many non-profit organizations to advise them in creating a large vegetable farm in Regina so that we can grow a lot of vegetables for charity organizations and for our students."

At the same time, Ahmed hopes to create another larger garden at the University. 

"We have a lot of space where you could start a garden completely led by students, giving them a chance to grow food and help others," says Ahmed. "I'm going to work on this until graduating. I just completed my first year so I have lots of time left," he laughs.

As an international student, Ahmed will be taking a full-course load this Fall semester at the U of R and plans to enrol in the Master Gardener Certificate Program at the U of S next Spring. Eventually, he wants to apply his interest in human justice and the environment to studying law.