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By Allison Barss

Grace Ashworth says agriculture has always been an important part of her life. Now a third-year international food business student in the Faculty of Agriculture, she has fond memories of following her mother and father — both “Aggies” themselves — around their family farm at a young age, asking lots of questions. She also remembers sitting on milk buckets, playing with the kittens and calves.

It wasn’t until Ashworth was 15 and moved away from home to attend high school that she realized what she was missing. “I quickly realized I wanted agriculture to be a part of my life and took interest in discovering my own role in the industry,” she says.

That’s when her own experiences led her to Dalhousie’s Faculty of Agriculture and back to her roots, helping her discover who she is on — and off — the farm.

Cultiv8-ing from the ground up

During her second year at Dalhousie, Ashworth was introduced to Cultiv8, a donor-supported, student-driven initiative that offered her opportunities, skills and experiences to have an impact in the food and agricultural space.

Members of the Cultiv8 team receive support from the ground up

Grace Ashworth (right) and members of the Cultiv8 team receive support from the ground up. (Nick Pearce photo)

Through the program, she learned about sustainable growing practices working with a vegetable garden and greenhouse, and fine-tuned entrepreneurial and innovation skills. Ultimately, she says the experience bridged the gap between her education and real-world, hands-on work.

Agriculture alum Jason Grant (Class of 2011, MSc’13), manager of Cultiv8, says the program supports students like Ashworth from the ground up. “Cultiv8 lets students explore their interests and their potential,” he says. “It’s an incredible opportunity for them, allowing them to play and experiment in the field, and rub elbows with industry experts.”

Grant also shares that the project has become an essential service for the Agricultural Campus.

“Looking at the state of the world, food security-wise, the food we harvest from the vegetable garden continues to help supply a local food bank, a farm box subscription program, as well as on-campus services. We’re all grateful for that.”

Helping hands from donors

Cultiv8 is one of Dalhousie’s five sandbox programs brought to life as the result of generous donor support — from individuals, community sponsors and large corporations alike. This includes TD Bank and RBC, who have been instrumental in getting Cultiv8 off the ground.

Agriculture student address real world issues through the Sustain by Cultiv8 project.

Cultiv8 allows students to operate a vegetable farm and food stand where they can confront real world issues. (Nick Pearce photo)

Specifically, as part of TD’s Ready Commitment — a funding initiative which supports programs that bring people together, offering resources and providing meaningful solutions for a sustainable and inclusive future — the financial services corporation has committed to a gift of $250,000 over 10 years to help support entrepreneurial programming facilitated by Cultiv8. Its intention is to further inspire students to engage in skills development for the modern-day, agricultural workforce.

“Through the Ready Commitment, TD is proud to support initiatives like Cultiv8 that prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow,” says Jennifer Auld, Vice President, Atlantic Region of TD Canada Trust. “Equipping students with employable skills positions them to succeed in their careers and ultimately address issues we face today and in the future. We are excited to be a part of this program and contribute to a more sustainable tomorrow.”

Community member and Agriculture alum Dale McIsaac (Class of 1973) is also a proud supporter of Cultiv8, and says it was his late son Ben who first encouraged his involvement.

“Ben knew that I had been involved with agriculture my entire life and that I was a believer in ‘local food’, in promoting food security in the Maritimes and Canada, and in learning how to feed the world’s populations,” he says. “Cultiv8 was a natural fit for me, and I am so pleased to have been able to help Dalhousie, the program and the students achieve their goals.”

Reaching goals, together

After months of remote study during the pandemic, Grant says that hands-on learning opportunities — like those offered through Cultiv8 — are more important than ever.

“Thanks to the community’s support, we help students not just create projects, but actually roll them out,” says Grant. “These opportunities bring students, teachers, researchers, industry and the broader community together.”

Ashworth agrees. “The confidence I’ve developed and the growth mindset that I’ve fostered [through Cultiv8] will continue to help me as I pursue my education and career in agriculture,” she says. “I’m grateful for the kindness of Dalhousie’s donors, whose generosity has allowed students like me to partake in these unique, hands-on learning experiences. I’m confident that through this continued generosity, others will be offered similar experiences, helping to build and shape successful futures.”

For more on the Cultiv8, please watch this video:

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