A growing movement for fresh food
Hayley Wasylycia brings a green, open-source innovation to campus.
When Hayley Wasylycia saw the design for Growroom — a giant wooden globe that comfortably seats six inside a canopy of herbs and plants — she immediately wanted to be the first person to build one.
At first, the task seemed impossible — she had only three weeks between the day she saw it and the day it would have to be complete for Urban Week in late March. But she pursued the idea, and she pulled it off in time for the event organized by the Geography and Planning Students’ Society.
It was hard work, but the second-year urban planning student wasn’t put off by the challenge.
“If you don’t try, there are so many opportunities that you miss, if you just say ‘It can’t happen,’” says Wasylycia. “Because more often than not, it actually can.”
An open-source garden
The Growroom’s design, created by Danish group Space10, is open-sourced, which means anyone can freely download and use the blueprints. But since Wasylycia saw the plans after they had only been online for a week, her Growroom is the first one known to be built outside of Copenhagen.
The spherical structure is an innovative take on how to grow hyperlocal food for huge populations of urbanites.
The project fit perfectly with Wasylycia’s passion for sustainable food. She remembers realizing that eating well was key to alleviating the health issues she was experiencing and that she saw in her family.
Then she realized that many people can’t access quality food, even if they want to. In some urban areas, the only way to get fresh food is to drive to a grocery store several kilometres away — a significant challenge if you don’t own a vehicle.
“We’re starting to see more and more of the kind of food deserts where people can’t just drive to where there is food, and that’s a problem,” says Wasylycia.
Alongside community gardens, the Growroom is representative of a movement toward making it easier to grow your own fresh food in an urban setting. The standard-sized structure is less than 10 feet in diameter, but the staggered vertical shelving gave Wasylycia’s Growroom space for 130 plants. It makes efficient use of light and water too, making fresh herbs and greens all the more affordable.
Food has always been a point of connection between people, but nowadays many of us are more disconnected from our food than ever. This estrangement affects the strength of community relationships and our understanding of food at all levels, from agriculture to gardening and cooking.
“In so many cultures, food is what connects people,” says Wasylycia. “It’s funny because I feel like we’re almost missing that here, and then the question is, ‘What do we have that connects everybody?’ And the answer is almost nothing, because we’re missing that central focus.”
The Growroom offers not only a novel way of growing food in urban settings, but also has what Wasylycia refers to as a “placemaking” effect.
“It’s so nice because there’s the gardening aspect of it, but in urban planning and human geography, we call it the placemaking aspect,” she explains. “So you know, turning something useful into something that’s also enjoyable, because then it’s a lot more socially and environmentally sustainable.”
The Growroom is visually striking, and it can be a refuge from the fast pace of urban life — people can sit right inside of the sphere and take a few moments to relax or have a conversation in peace.
Fittingly, the project became a community effort, with sponsorship from Hole’s Greenhouses, Rona, and the University of Alberta’s design labs, where designer Devin Hobbins did the woodcutting. This sponsorship meant that the Growroom cost nothing, which was important for the student group, since they have a low budget for their activities. Wasylycia estimates it would have cost about $1,700, depending on the type of wood used.
After its week on campus, the Growroom was moved to Hole’s Greenhouses, and it will stay there until it moves to its permanent home, which might be the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. “Originally we wanted to have it at the Stollery, but there were issues with soil and cleanliness and sanitation where you have pediatric in-patients,” says Wasylycia.
She’s been approached by many people and groups interested in making their own Growrooms. She’s pleased with the response and the possibility of a growing movement. She’s exploring putting a permanent Growroom on campus, perhaps donating the food to the Campus Food Bank, and she wants to continue getting more involved on campus. The Growroom was a challenging project, but she reflects on the lessons she took from it.
“It was definitely hard, and there were times during those three weeks where I just thought to myself, ‘Man, I don’t know, should I keep doing this? Should I stop?’ But it’s important to kind of piece together when you really should stop, and when you just feel like you want to stop.”
Written by Angela Johnston for the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability.
Photos by Megabyte 125 Photography.