Acadia University is the first university to receive an Organic Campus designation from the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). The program recognizes an institution’s commitment to organic and aims to increase procurement of organic products while cultivating student-led advocacy.
Jodie Noiles, Acadia’s sustainability coordinator, said that when they were approached by COTA about the program, she thought it would build on the institution’s existing food and sustainability initiatives. “It was a great potential partnership opportunity for Acadia,” she said, noting COTA would be “supporting our efforts, helping promote our work and connecting us to new organic suppliers.”
The national program was launched at Acadia in the spring of 2022 and the university received its Organic Campus designation this fall. “We had to meet a number of criteria to qualify for the designation,” said Ms. Noiles. That included a four-step process: the formation of a student-led steering committee, an application form and commitment to the designation requirements, training and a campus assessment, and education and advocacy for organic on campus. Acadia was also required to offer at least five certified organic products, visibly identified as organic. COTA expects to eventually increase that minimum.
The baseline of five products may initially seem low, but Tia Loftsgard, executive director of COTA, said they wanted to start the program slowly. “We really wanted to experiment, to see if it is hard to actually get five distinct products at the campus level,” she said. “As we grow this program, we’re definitely going to be increasing the number of products that are required, but I think it’s really important for us to work on the distributor connection to the food service sector and make sure that there is available product before we start raising those amounts.” Campuses that can commit to offering more organic products will be able to earn a silver or gold designation.
Ms. Loftsgard said that while the model they created could be replicated in various types of institutions, the campus environment made the most sense to start, noting that consumer studies suggest that the 18-to-24-year-old demographic are the largest consumers of organic. “There are already motivated students that are keen on organic and interested in having better food options on campus,” she said. “When you look at the motivations and why people buy organic, it’s a lot because of their friends and word of mouth advertising. Essentially, the younger generation wants real food.”
Max Abu-Laban, a fourth-year student in Acadia’s environmental and sustainability studies program, previously served as the Acadia Students’ Union sustainability officer and was involved in the Organic Campus launch. He hopes to see the program develop further. “What I’d like to see for the Organic Campus, at least at Acadia and maybe as a program, is the continuity and building upon those foundations consistently, and moving up in terms of what kind of ambitions the program has for campuses for organic food,” he said. “The people who are running the dining hall kind of have some authority there, but they often need some encouragement from the community,” said Mr. Abu-Laban.
At Acadia, Ms. Noiles said their partnership with the university’s food service provider was an important factor. “I have a kind of counterpart in our food service provider that’s a manager of health, wellness and sustainability and we worked very closely together to develop this program and support for moving forward,” she said. The university will be subject to an annual review in order to maintain their designation. “They’ll be looking for us to, at the very minimum, maintain our program, but also looking for increases in purchasing over time. That’s our intention as well, to continue to support and expand the program by buying more organic products and supporting organic producers, particularly those in Atlantic Canada,” Ms. Noiles said, “and looking also to develop more programs and events.”
“What we really want to achieve through this program, is not only to create a national student network that we can continue to engage and advocate with, but also to put forth those procurement policies in these institutions to make sure that there’s a long-term commitment to organic,” said Ms. Loftsgard. “We want it to be an audacious program.”