Student researchers bring findings to community
By Jenn Watt
Published March 21, 2017
The Haliburton County Farmers’ Market Association is constantly growing – expanding into new markets and finding new ways to present local food to eager patrons. Research has been a part of their success; little is done without great care and thought.
About a year and a half ago, the association connected with U-Links Centre for Community Based Research and master’s candidate Melissa Johnston to conduct a thorough evaluation of governance, consumer relationships and vendor relationships at farmers’ markets across the province.
The association wanted to know what other groups were doing and what issues came up around such decisions as whether to allow produce from out of the region into the market or what kind of demand was necessary to expand to new locations.
“It will help us both to understand where we fit, how we are different, and our commonalities,” says Angel Taylor, chair of the farmers’ market board.
“It will provide ideas for how we might modify our work. We tried to focus on rural areas and areas that were somewhat challenged agriculturally.”
When the final report is presented to the board, they will be evaluating whether Haliburton’s markets should be making changes in their policies and practices.
Taylor says the work U-Links does to support organizations like the farmers’ market is invaluable.
“I just think U-Links is a treasure,” she says. Taylor is also involved with U-Links on another project examining garlic pests and searching for non-chemical deterrents. The work done on stem and bulb nematode and leek moths (which eat the greenery of the plant) has advanced understanding about how to better protect the crop.
Some of the research has been written up in periodicals such as the Garlic News.
“Growers were treated with respect, with dignity and in partnership with the scientists,” Taylor says.
U-Links is a Minden-based organization that connects students from Trent University with Haliburton County groups that need their assistance. This event has been running for 27 years, starting with bioregionalism course and expanding to the Celebration of Research.
On Saturday, March 25, U-Links will be holding its annual Celebration of Research event at Fleming College in Haliburton, which allows the public to learn about the research being done in the local community. The student researchers along with the host organization will be available to talk about their projects and findings and there will be a guest speaker as well.
“It’s open to the public to see what kinds of projects are in the works,” says Sonja Addison, projects co-ordinator at U-Links.
This year, 15 local projects have been underway, digging up information on subjects as varied as the creation of a “pre-kinder” garden at Abbey Gardens for pre-schoolers to traffic calming using art.
Research is driven by the desires of the community hosts. For example, the Haliburton County Heat Bank wanted to know what they could do with donations of softwood, which isn’t particularly good for burning.
The Heat Bank asked the students to do research into other ways to use these donations to create revenue and provide jobs, Addison says.
Saturday’s event has benefits to the community and to the students; interested individuals can come to the college to find out more about what’s happening in the community and the students gain the valuable experience of presenting their findings.
Melissa Johnston will be a familiar face to many. Besides being the researcher on the farmers’ market project, she has worked at the farmers’ market and Abbey Gardens in the past and will be working in the Highlands again this summer.
Johnston says working with U-Links was fulfilling.
“I wanted to do a project that was really applicable and tangibly useful for a community,” she says.
Her work compared farmers’ markets from across the province “to see how the type of community that the market is in impacts the way the market is run,” she says. Rural versus urban markets have different challenges. For example, the length of the growing season.
“You want to have a long season. You do have to find a way to allow for some local importation … which means bringing food, bringing produce, in from farther away than you might want to [and] finding a way to make that agreeable to the local producers.”
In Peterborough, for example, the market agreed to bring in peaches from another location because they aren’t grown locally.
Johnston isn’t yet at the recommendation stage of her work, but she says by the end of her time with the farmers’ market she will be presenting them some options to take into consideration.
This year’s Celebration of Research is Saturday, March 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Haliburton campus of Fleming College. Guest speaker is Ken Doherty, director of the community services department of the City of Peterborough. There will be free refreshments. There is no cost to attend.