Roger Graves thinks of his Writing Studies 302 class as “a course with consequences,” and for his most recent group of students, one of those consequences was helping a community garden secure a $5,000 grant to build a greenhouse.
The 10 students enrolled in Graves’ class last fall learned the ins and outs of proposal writing through firsthand experience, thanks to a Community Service-Learning component that put them in direct collaboration with local organizations in need of funding.
“You teach students to do this kind of writing, which is really important to them later on, but in the context of actually doing it for a group that otherwise doesn’t have the skills to [write the applications],” says Graves, Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program and a professor in the Department of English & Film Studies.
One of the organizations the class worked with was the Edmonton Organic Growers Guild (EOGG). The group of 100 volunteers runs a community garden at UAlberta’s South Campus, on four acres provided by the Department of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. The fruits and vegetables they grow each season are shared among the gardeners, with the remainder donated to Edmonton food banks.
While EOGG president Travis Kennedy says they had applied for small grants in the past to cover the cost of seeds and other growing materials, they had no experience tackling the more complex process of researching and applying for larger grants.
That’s where the students stepped in, working through a three-stage process under the guidance of Graves. First, they literally got their hands dirty alongside Kennedy and other members of the EOGG as they focused on learning as much as they could about the organization.
“They soaked it up and tried to figure out who we are and what we do, and what grants we had the best chance of getting,” says Kennedy. “A lot of the students came out three or four times and picked our brains as we worked together. They all took away different things that we do or contribute – from the fact that we contribute to the greater Edmonton community through food banks, to the fact that we’re teaching people to grow their own food.”
Next, with a firm grasp of the EOGG’s needs and objectives, the students went into research mode, scouring the Internet to eventually identify the Government of Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program (CIP), which allocates funds from the Alberta Lottery Fund, as a likely funder. The students then set about individually drafting applications, which were compiled and sent to the EOGG for their input and evaluation before the final application was submitted.
When Graves received word earlier this month that the EOGG had been awarded $5,000 thanks in part to his students’ efforts, he was thrilled. “It’s funny because I got a $62,000 TLEF [Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund] grant and a $115,000 SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] grant, but this $5,000 grant gave me more of a charge because we were able to help that organization and the students really saw the success of their work,” he says.
That success will take the form of a 30 by 50 foot greenhouse soon to be in place at the garden, funded by the CIP grant as well as $2,500 from the Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG). “As we’ve been getting bigger and having more and more people, we wanted to extend our season a little bit,” explains Kennedy. “The greenhouse will give us a shoulder season in March and in October and November.”
“With the greenhouse, they can do more educational things, they can get started earlier, they can grow their own seedlings so they don’t have to purchase plants,” adds Graves. “There are so many good reasons for it.”
Edmonton Organic Growers Guild
Photo: WRS 302 students learn about the community garden from EOGG president Travis Kennedy (left)