Collaboration Works! at Trent University
Seasoned Spoon, the co-op café at Trent University, was under renovation this summer when we toured in July, but it was still a lovely space. Huge windows opening out into the view over rolling hills and forest, cozy sitting areas are fitted in all around, and the tiny kitchen turns out 150-200 meals each day during the school year. The members of the co-op are the students who eat there.
New kitchen space and a better cash register area are going in to manage traffic flow at this well-established café, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. It currently provides work for four core staff and thirty volunteers; Aimee Blyth is the manager, and was kind enough to provide a tour during the off-season. Thanks to the university partnership, they also have sixteen paid work-study student positions. They serve breakfast and lunch daily during the school year from September to April. Students can eat there on their menu plan; the focus is vegetarian meals, sourced as locally as possible.
Seasoned Spoon is much more than a café though; they provide weekly skill-building workshops, and Pay What You Can community meals with a speaker or video presentation. There is no locked in contract with a food service company like Sysco (as is often required at universities), so they can prioritize local food. And local for them is very local; the Trent Vegetable Gardens provided 7000 lbs. of food to the café last year, and the gardens are just a short walk from the café.
Of course, the major harvest is in the summer holidays, so they also have created storage solutions. In the summer they freeze everything they can, including spinach and other greens.
They can also boast of a magnificent root cellar, built as a rammed earth bag structure in partnership with the natural building experts at the Endeavour Centre and the Trent Community Research Centre. They got a zero interest loan from the student union to build it into a hill (see photo). It has a solar panel on top, and temperature sensors to maintain a stable climate.
They also buy a lot of ingredients from over twenty local suppliers; they focus on farmers with winter storage to balance the produce they have from the garden in season.
The gardens have been there since 2006 and reflect a social purpose and co-operative framework as well. Emma Macdonald (on the left in photo) is currently the Farm Manager of the ¼ acre market garden. Local community groups can have their own plot there in the community quadrant; OxFam has a garden for low income people in the area, and a Three Sisters (corn/ bean/ squash) garden is managed by the Flint Corn Community Project in partnership with Farms At Work. The greenhouse is shared with the Environmental Science program. An impressive pile of compost is courtesy of the university’s green bin program, and accepts also several bags of trimmings each day from the café. There is more produce than the café can handle, so the gardens also donate to other community organizations. They work with the Seasoned Spoon Café to deliver workshops like canning, seed-saving, bee-keeping.
You can learn more at Seasoned Spoon website: http://www.seasonedspoon.ca/.