While nature connectedness is a strong predictor of pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors, generations of individuals living in cities like Montreal have limited experience and connection with the natural world and little to no contact with the way their food grows, little knowledge about what goes into the food they consume every day, and little understanding, or care, about whether the few companies that control the world’s food systems are concerned about anything but the profits they make year after year. mind.heart.mouth combines experiential learning in garden-based pedagogy and sensory experience theories to create workshops and spaces designed to increase awareness and greater connections with our natural environments and with the ways, our food is produced.
In 2019, as part of my MA in Media Studies, I launched the mind.heart.mouth garden on the Loyola campus with a vision of one day seeing the expansive lawns transformed into a living lab where regenerative agriculture promotes sustainable practices at Concordia University and in the wider community.
With a purposeful humble start and a goal to bring attention to our need for ecological and societal resilience, mind.heart.mouth has shown how it can improve food security in the community. Designed to offer experiential learning through nature-based solutions accessible to all members of the Concordia community, the garden serves as a model for sustainable urban farming on university campuses.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted social inequalities and dire needs common to social, economic, and environmental crises. As I started my PhD, in 2021, I understood how the garden could be used to explore ways to better support marginalized communities, which are at greater risk in times of crises. As a result, part of the big picture now includes the community connections and partnerships that were made and grown during the pandemic, which highlighted powerful possibilities for collaboration, support, and knowledge sharing between academia and the wider community. This orientation gives students more chances to learn how the community sectors of our society work and what problems they face. Through a collaboration with New Hope Senior Citizens’ Centre, students can now participate in the full process, from growing to harvesting and processing, to getting food in the hands of individuals in need.
I will continue to actively seek faculty collaboration as a short-term goal essential to the mid- and long-term goals. Including volunteering in community work and visits to the garden, faculty members from various disciplines have highlighted the role that mind.heart.mouth can play in teaching sustainability across disciplines and supporting the Living Lab’s objectives. I also hope to continue to offer the Loyola College for Sustainability and Diversity Internship for credits.
During the summer months, most university students need to earn money and/or attend summer courses. Offering positions in the garden for credits or for pay presents a great incentive to retain dedicated students, who in turn invite friends and classmates to volunteer and learn in the garden. This objective relates to the long-term goal of creating student jobs in sustainability.
Collaborating with other Concordia initiatives and research centers to best support the Sustainability Action Plan is at the core of mind.heart.mouth’s long-term vision, and I am proud to be a member of the first Garden group led by Jackie Martin, Urban Agriculture & Biodiversity Coordinator Facilities Management. In addition, as one of the first initiatives of its kind on the Loyola campus, I want mind.heart.mouth to embody best practices and share what we've learned with future projects and stakeholders. A manual will be created to support this long-term objective.
The long-term plan also includes the intergenerational aspect of the garden, which gives students and older people the chance to work together and build caring relationships while giving food to people in our community who are struggling. Over the past four years, I have seen how this garden model can help those who are food insecure while also offering a pedagogical forum for multigenerational interaction and building community resilience.
Growing Care in Community
What has emerged over the past 4 years is how a single idea expanded into multifunctional internal and external opportunities for the Concordia community through exemplary practices that contribute to the goals and targets proposed in Concordia’s Sustainability Action Plan.
(1.4) mind.heart.mouth supports food security in ways that are empowering for volunteers. Any member of the Concordia community can work in the garden for as little as one hour per week to benefit from the fresh, healthy, in season and local harvest. Participants are learning to grow their own food, and share ways to prepare the food as well. Food insecurity is not only about access to food; it is also about knowing how to prepare food.
(1.2 & 1.6) One of the biggest takeaways determined by the research conducted in the garden thus far is the social, community-building aspect that the space naturally provides. By involving staff and students alike, we are expanding the educational benefits of urban agriculture projects on campus. Another takeaway is how faculty can use the garden to get their students involved in urban agriculture-based experiential learning opportunities. Over the past few years, I have worked with Professors Satoshi Ikeda and Erik Chevrier to plan curriculum collaborations involving the mind.heart.mouth space for their summer and fall courses. And I also plan to offer again the 120 hours internship in collaboration with the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability, and I hope to work again with the Sustainability Ambassadors program to encourage more students to participate in the garden activities and create awareness.
We see approximately 30 to 40 student volunteers and about 20 older adults over the season in the garden.
Working within a food system that holds environmental and social sustainability at its core is an integral part of mind.heart.mouth’s model. As a space where members of the community can learn about food, from seed to plate, and benefit from experiential learning opportunities mind.heart.mouth enhances the campus food system. When people learn how food grows through experiential learning and conscious awareness, they see how long it takes to grow food and the care that is required. The learning acquired also serves as training for further participation in the broader social and economic forum.
(1.1 & 1.3) By virtue of its bold location in an open space, right at the entrance to the campus, the garden inspires everyone passing through. Our presence not only promotes urban agriculture but also the adoption of healthy, plant-based, organic, and culturally inclusive food choices on campus. Furthermore, the Loyola campus is located in an area that is considered a food desert, especially when it comes to fresh, healthy foods. We are hoping to open a small food stand so that students and staff can purchase fresh foods on their way to and from class or work.
(4.1) mind.heart.mouth is at the centre of my doctoral research. For the past 2 summers, I have worked with New Hope Senior Citizens’ Centre, exploring ways to include sustainable practices that can improve resilience for community organizations. This makes my work as a doctoral researcher at Concordia stronger and more visible, and it also helps the local community. I am hoping that my analysis will have an impact on other Canadian and international communities.
Doctoral Research Focus
Centered on environmental justice, my doctoral research uses mind.heart.mouth as a nature-based social and community lab to explore ways to increase resilience in marginalized communities in times of climate, health, and environmental crises. Sharing the Concordia community’s vision of sustainability as a way of doing and thinking, the mind.heart.mouth garden offers hands-on learning opportunities for students to learn how to grow their own food and to understand the labor-intensive aspects of this life-sustaining work. This is essential to supporting current and future generations’ stewardship.
How people have engaged with the space has also informed its processes. In particular, a partnership with the Concordia Perform Centre was established in 2019, and elderly people and cancer patients who were food insecure were given the chance to work in the garden as volunteers. This helped shape the key intergenerational and accessibility parts of the mind.heart.mouth model, with the idea that bringing together students and older adults, who might not normally work together, was an important step toward building resilient and sustainable communities through diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Since that first year, throughout the summer and fall, student and older adult volunteers, students, people working on campus, and campus neighbours always talk about how they enjoy walking through the garden. They say that it is peaceful and relaxing while also enhancing the appearance of the area.
The mind.heart.mouth garden inspires everyone who passes by. Our work not only promotes the consumption of local and seasonal produce in ways that reduce our environmental impact but also facilitates the adoption of healthy, plant-based, organic, and culturally inclusive food choices among the volunteers, both on campus and in the wider community.
As people learn how to grow their own food, they proudly share their knowledge with passersby and invite friends to join them to work and learn in the garden. Students and older people are both very proud to be helping to make their community a better place.
What started as an individual project in support of an MA in media studies has grown organically to become a place of community and an actual practice in the meaning of omnichannel sustainable processes. As such, mind.heart.mouth is an active participant in the culture of sustainability at Concordia University, and we collaborate with other agricultural projects on campus, including the Hive, the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability, through a three-credit internship, with multiple faculty members who integrated community hours into their curriculum, with SUCCR, where we acquire containers and various materials each season, the Sustainability Ambassador program, and more.
At this stage of my research, I will also start presenting at various upcoming conferences at Concordia and elsewhere, showcasing the work that is being done at our university.
I am a doctoral student in the INDI program at Concordia University. I hold a BA in French Literature from the University of Montreal, a Graduate Diploma in Communications, and an MA in Media Studies from Concordia University.
My research aims to explore urban agriculture’s potential to create opportunities for intergenerational vulnerable communities to develop connections to natural elements and to build sustainable care practices that promote resiliency and food security in times of societal, health, and climate crisis.
During my MA, I used research-creation as a methodology to design and create the mind.heart.mouth intergenerational garden on the Loyola campus of Concordia University. This garden presents opportunities for all members of the Concordia community to engage in hands-on urban agriculture practices through experiential learning and to benefit from healthy organic produce. I am passionate for this research work that drives the development of my expertise in relation to sustainability, urban agriculture, vulnerable communities, food insecurity, and food systems from a feminist materialist perspective.