Digging Into the Out of the Garden Project

The Out of the Garden Project serves delicious, local and affordable meals at to students and staff at Macdonald Campus.

The Out of the Garden Project (OGP) is a student-run café serving healthy and affordable meals at Macdonald Campus. The café prioritizes local sourcing with a focus on sourcing from on-campus farms, the Macdonald Student-Run Ecological Gardens (MSEG) and the McGill Horticultural Center.

The project was conceived in Winter 2011, when a group of students performed an extensive analysis to determine the interest and feasibility of providing alternative affordable and sustainable food options on Mac Campus. The students held a series of public forums to engage the campus community in discussing potential ideas that could improve the sustainability of the food system at Macdonald Campus. Current food services on campus were interested in the ideas proposed by the group, but they were unable to adopt the students’ ideas due to contracts with current suppliers. Thus, the student group took it upon themselves to research sources of sustainable food in the interest of establishing their own alternative food location.

"We wanted to open the café for two main reasons. One, there is lots of produce grown on campus, from the Mac Farm and the student-run farm, that was largely inaccessible to Mac students. We thought a café would be a great way to get students eating campus produce. The café could also bring visibility to these local farms as well,” explained Anna Kusmer, co-founder of OGP. “Secondly, given that Mac is the home to dietetics and food science programs, the café could be a great place for students to learn catering and business skills in a hands on way. The café had lots of side benefits as well. It brought together a community of food lovers on campus and connected those who liked to grow food in the ground to those who liked to put it on a plate."

With financial support from the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), the student group developed a business plan for the café and a feasibility study of the physical space required to launch the operation. Throughout 2012-2013, further feedback was collected from the student body as the group awaited major renovation to the proposed cafe space. With a second round of funding from the SPF, the Out of the Garden Project established its café in the Ceilidh Pub in the Centennial Centre. Kitchen equipment was also purchased so that the café could begin to offer meals once a week. Partnerships with established with food producers and other campus groups.

In Fall 2013, the café served over 800 customers delicious, nutritious, and locally sourced meals. Since then, OGP has expanded its administrative team to eighteen people with over thirty volunteers in order to accommodate its growing clientele. They currently serve approximately 80 full-meals a week, as well as breakfasts and desserts. The menu has also expanded to include dollar breakfasts, new lunch items, and dessert boxes.

Six years since the project was launched, OGP has increasingly focused its attention on prioritizing food accessibility as a core tenet of food sustainability. “As fellow students, we understand the struggles to find nutritious and affordable food on campus. Through our evolution, we have come to emphasize the value of accessibility and affordability by ensuring our meals are priced at face-value, said Isabelle Lam, OGP Co-President. Over the years, the project has become a special place on campus for students and staff alike to bond over food made with care. “What makes OGP special is that it is run by students and their passion for food shows in the fantastic lunches the produce,” expressed Caroline Begg, Faculty Lecturer in the Department of Plant Science.

Having a dedicated team of volunteers and a strong support network has been key to the project’s success. “Throughout the years, we've been fortunate enough to have passionate and determined people running the project, growing and advocating for its sustainability on Mac Campus,” said Lam. “We've also been lucky enough to have a strong support network from not only the students, but the staff and local initiatives, such as the Mac Market. One of the main reasons we've been able to continue to run this project is honestly the students and volunteers who dedicate their time and share the passion in the OGP spirit.”

To stay up to date with OGP’s hours of service, menu specials and events, please follow the project’s Facebook page.

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