DC Student's small farm has big ambitions

In 2015, Durham College (DC) Horticulture – Food and Farming first-year student Alisha Kingsley found a job on Kijiji. Hoping to earn some experience in her chosen field before starting at DC, she connected with Jason Atkins and Brenda Brown, two Whitby residents who wanted to grow and enjoy home-grown food with friends and family throughout the year. The duo planned to build a greenhouse that utilized a 760-gallon aquaponics system to feed crops placed in raised beds, and Kingsley was brought in to ensure its success.

She was appointed to supervise every aspect of the project including construction operations and material, installation of the water and feeding systems and daily maintenance and care of each crop. It was a task she happily accepted and one that has proven to be an ongoing challenge, making it the perfect way for her to hone her skills and master her trade. Kingsley has faced a number of setbacks that only a project like this could present – excavating the pit where the greenhouse now stands took 100 hours alone – but she views every one of these experiences as an opportunity to learn.

“My DC education has run parallel with the practical experience from the ‘mini farm’, and my main goal in both is to learn,” said Kingsley. “I’ve learned about the families of crops, their needs, and what I need to do to grow delicious food.”

Construction of the greenhouse was completed some time ago, but Kingsley’s work hasn’t finished. Troubleshooting occupies a large portion of her time as she cares for each individual crop, monitoring its needs and special nutrition requirements and maintaining the aquaponics system that feeds the greenhouse. As the warm weather begins to arrive, Kingsley must be on the lookout for pests and disease that could damage the crops, while her upcoming summer project with Atkins and Brown will shortly bring the added challenge of leaving the greenhouse and growing plants outdoors.

“Alisha was the best thing that could have happened to this project. We all underestimated what it would take to build a greenhouse,” remarked Brown. “One scoop of dirt, one piece of wood, one pane of glass at a time, it came together. Alisha’s ability to problem solve has proven to be invaluable in the flexibility required to get it done.”

Using all the knowledge she gained through this project and her first year of studies, Kingsley is working with Atkins and Brown to create a permaculture garden complete with fruit trees and perennial crops, doing so in such a way that ensures the plants grow harmoniously and no materials are wasted.

“After finishing my first year I now understand all aspects of my due diligence as a farmer and I can make educated decisions building a business of my own. Making the decision to attend DC has set my farming plans in motion,” she said.