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The geothermal field and LEED gold-certified Centre for Collaborative Education at Durham College.Provided

Green can mean many things to a lot of organizations, but it has a more literal meaning for Oshawa and Whitby, Ont.-based Durham College of Applied Arts and Technology. It operates a sustainable agriculture program that educates and supports its employees and students.

The college’s W. Galen Weston Centre for Food (Weston Centre), part of the Faculty of Hospitality & Horticultural Science, grows greens and much more on a one-acre farm; prepares and serves it at the award-winning Bistro ‘67 restaurant and Pantry retail store; and develops ways to responsibly reuse, recycle and compost the waste products.

At Pantry, technician Anna Mae Baksh makes and sells prepared foods, baked goods, preserves, salads and ready-to-make meals. She also invents new ways to use the farm’s products and keep any excess from being wasted.

“We really try to reduce our food waste,” she says. “The farmers grow ingredients for the culinary programs, and sometimes there’s a surplus, which is where I come in. One year there was a lot of zucchini, so I made a crumble, and when we had a surplus of cucumbers I made a bunch of relishes. We’re also getting a bio-digester, which turns food waste into compost for the farm.”

The Weston Centre uses compostable and recyclable packaging and materials, and works to source suppliers that do the same, while the Barrett Centre of Innovation in Sustainable Urban Agriculture addresses challenges including food insecurity, access to fresh food and regeneration of land for local food production. “If we don’t grow what we need on the farm, we buy local whenever possible, and most of our wines are from Ontario,” Baksh says. “We even have fish tanks at the farm.”

According to president Don Lovisa, the sustainable food program is just one of many green initiatives at Durham College. The organization has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, for example, through the installation of geothermal fields, green roofs and solar panels.

“For many years we’ve had conversations about sustainability, and they’ve resulted in great programs,” he says. “A few years ago, there were incentives like selling energy to the grid and buying it back at a lower price, and Durham College was pleased to get involved and challenge our facilities professionals to find better, more sustainable ways of operating our campuses.

“We achieved this through a series of initiatives, such as changing the lighting in buildings and installing different control systems to reduce energy consumption. Those programs helped get us started, and inspired us to keep going as we recognized the benefits.”

Lovisa stresses the importance of motivating the entire organization to get involved in the transition to greener operations, from senior executives and building maintenance employees to faculty members and students.

“People know that at a leadership level, we’re receptive to ideas to improve our operations from a green perspective,” he says. “We encourage everyone to share their ideas and join the conversation so we can continue to find innovative solutions.”

Now, the whole college has adopted green thinking. “Sustainability is part of our culture, and an important factor in how we plan and execute projects,” Lovisa says. “We’ve opened our first LEED Gold building on campus, and the geothermal plant we installed supports one of our oldest buildings and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re always updating our campus buildings, installing new mechanical systems that are more efficient and using less electricity, so we save money too. This collective effort demonstrates how we’re leading the way to a greener and brighter future.”

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