Overcoming challenges to complete a group project
In fall 2017, 11 University of Ottawa students had the opportunity to take part in a TD Environmental Leaders project with partner Just Food. Three of the students completed this placement as part of a course in their program covering areas related to the project, such as natural resource management (GEG3302) and food security (DVM3135). Just Food has a farm in the Ottawa region and is involved in advocacy and awareness-raising to improve food security* locally. Moe Garahan, executive director of Just Food, gave students some alarming statistics during a training session on the topic:
- Fewer than 1% of Canadians are farmers.
- Nearly 40,000 people, including a high proportion of children, use one or more food banks each month in Ottawa.
- If all food deliveries to Toronto were held up, that city would only have enough food stocks to meet its residents’ needs for three days.
The uOttawa students had to carry out five sub-projects to address these issues: running a campaign on social media to promote coming events on the farm; working on planting and descriptive signs for a food forest; helping develop a stewardship program; developing a guide on care for fruit trees; and helping promote and care for a maple grove. As well, the students had to work on two major events: opening the Just Food Farm to the public and the planting day for the food forest, when many key community stakeholders were going to be in attendance.
The project was not without its pitfalls, however, for participants, who had to be very flexible and able to adapt. First, the group lost its team leader one week into the project. Participants showed their leadership skills by forming sub-groups, each with a leader. Dividing up into these sub-groups was difficult, given the diverse experience and education of the students. Areas of study represented included international development, finance, nutrition, environmental studies and biology. Separating students while ensuring balance in each sub-project was challenge, as was finding the most effective way for the groups to communicate. Finally, communication with the partner was difficult at the outset. The students quickly understood that it was always more productive to make an on-site visit to get an idea of the work environment and to speak face to face with the partner.
The TD Environmental Leaders project with Just Food is not officially over, but we can already state that the students have made a real success of it. For Just Food, having 11 students giving 30 hours each of their time has been of vital assistance, especially with the new farm projects, not to mention the fresh points of view on many farm-related issues that the students have brought. For students, it has been a chance to apply concepts seen in class in a real project and to gain field experience right in their community. None of this would have been possible without the students’ ability to continually take on new challenges or their impressive leadership skills.
*“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (World Food Summit, Rome, 1996)