Sustainable Food Systems Research Group

The Trinity Sustainable Food Systems Research Group (SFSRG) is a passionate and dedicated group of students and faculty focused on expanding Trinity’s urban agriculture network. Our work-study, ROP, and Trinity One internship students conduct multidisciplinary research projects around sustainable growing, food policy, and urban agriculture, using Trinity’s growing spaces on the Munk North rooftop and the St. Hilda’s College backyard. 

Our current projects are focused on expanding our growing season, by converting unused areas at Trinity College into indoor protected growing spaces. The SFSRG is also undertaking a partnership with Feeding the City at University of Toronto Scarborough, where current ROP students are examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food system. Stay tuned for more information about our current projects, and ways to get involved.

Rooftop biotop planters     Students on rooftop garden     St Hilda's Backyard
Munk North rooftop garden (left), students at Munk North rooftop garden (centre), and St. Hilda’s College backyard (right).

Our Goals

  1. Engaging the student and campus community with the food system.The SFSRG aims to bring the general public closer to food production by providing an accessible space to actively practice and interact with food growing, and a quality education around the importance of sustainability in our food system.
  2. Undertaking multidisciplinary, student-led research.The SFSRG currently engages with the student population through undergraduate research programs, work-study positions, and internship opportunities. We aim to continue facilitating student-led research by providing indoor growing spaces for research, and expanding the breadth of our departmental and organizational partnerships.
  3. Supporting the Trinity College food supply.

Harvest     Student food event     Rooftop Biotop Planters
Harvested produce (left), students at a harvest meal (centre), the Munk North rooftop garden (right).

Our History

In summer 2017, Trinity student Mbonella Phiri-Nkomo grew pots of tomatoes and peppers on the rooftop of St. Hilda’s College. That same year, in the fall semester, a group of students in Professor John Robinson’s ENV461 class built on Mbonella’s work to design a rooftop urban agriculture project for Trinity College. Nathan Postma, Emily Shaw and Emily Neeson worked together with Trinity’s Assistant Provost Dr. Jonathan Steels to design the Trinity College Rooftop Garden, and secure $5,000 from the Compass Canada’s Chartwells Campus Projects grant. The grant was used to fund the first twenty Biotop planters, allowing for a successful first summer season of growing. The following year, in fall 2018, another group of ENV461 students designed a rainwater harvesting and irrigation system for the rooftop garden. Their work was used to obtain $33,000 from Trinity’s internal capital projects committee.

The work of these ENV461 cohorts has attracted support from like-minded University of Toronto alumni, who have contributed substantial donations in pursuit of sustainability at Trinity College. In February 2018, George and Martha Butterfield, founders of Butterfield & Robinson, donated $1.25 million, allowing the rooftop gardens to expand to eighty Biotop planters. The Butterfield donation also established the Butterfield Environment and Sustainability stream of the Trinity One program, to allow for further curricular integration and student engagement with sustainability projects at Trinity. 

In October 2019, Brian and Johanna Lawson donated $10 million to the Integrated Sustainability Initiative, which will support construction of a new Trinity building. This new building, the Lawson Centre for Sustainability, will include a rooftop farm, in addition to residences, classrooms, and common areas. The raised beds behind St. Hilda’s College were initiated as a pilot project in preparation for the new rooftop farm, with near-future plans to construct a greenhouse in that same space. 

Today, Trinity students and alumni participate in the cultivation and maintenance of garden spaces around the College, with ROP students, work-study students, and Trinity One interns supported by the generous Butterfield and Lawson donations. The present-day Sustainable Food Systems Research Group strives to continue expanding urban agriculture at Trinity College and the University of Toronto campus, as part of a broader mission to inspire food system awareness in the student population, and establish Trinity College as a leader in sustainability.