A Day at the GCUOF with Paul Wartman


Clod hoppers on, Sam Cooke in the head, and scythe in hand I meandered down the squishy path past the pond on my way to my food forest research plot. The Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming was bursting at the seams with life as usual. The GCUOF is where I got my roots in sustainable vegetable production and permaculture. It’s a beautiful site that has a market-garden production system that integrates biodiversity, community, and organic practices.  As I got to work with some plot maintenance I bumped into two classmates.

Ali and Sonhita, fellow master students with Rene Van Acker in Plant Agriculture and statistics team extraordinaire, were on site looking at their research plots, too.

Sonhita Chakraborty

Photo: Paul Wartman


Sonhita is researching the penology and weed biology of oilseed crops Euphorbia lagascae and Centrapalus pauciflorus in Southern Ontario, prior to cultivation as commercial crops.


Both these species of oilseed crops produce a valuable industrial acid (vernolic acid), that is a greener alternative to using fossil fuel and other oilseed crops as a source of plasticiser. So, we are trying to understand how different agronomic factors (like seeding date, location, ecotype) can affect plant growth and ultimately oil production. Due to their propensity to grow as weeds in their native countries of origin, trials on the ability of these seeds to persist in the soil through winter, establish at different environmental conditions and compete with other commercial crops will also be examined.


Ali is researching the germination of russian dandelion under different mulching and watering regimes. The roots of russian dandelion offer a potential rubber substitution to existing imported sources.

Alireza Rahemi

Photo: Paul Wartman


I am researching a production design system called “Food Forests” in temperate climates. It’s very similar to agroforestry, which integrates tree or shrub crops into the agroecosystem, but food forests consist primarily of perennial plants (i.e., trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, etc.) and self-renewing annuals. The goals of these systems are to mimic the principles of local natural systems and integrate them into food production systems to increase overall resiliency. Specifically, I’m looking at how consciously designed diverse plant systems can support soil microbial communities in apple orchards. My role models include other perennial polyculture enthusiasts, such as Mark Shepard from New Forest Farm, Geoff Lawton, Bill Mollison, and David Holmgren, who are some of the original Permaculture teachers, as well as the indigenous peoples who survived on forest and grassland ecosystems for all their needs for the hundreds of thousands of years before annual agriculture was invented.


Paul Wartman

Photo: Paul Wartman


So, after chatting about the cool stuff we were doing we snapped a photo and went on about our research.


Ali, Sonhita and Paul in the fields

Photo: Paul Wartman


If you find yourself with some time I strongly recommend taking a quick walk over to the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming, which resides just beyond East Residences on College Ave. Here’s the website for more information. http://gcuof.wordpress.com/about/. See you in the gardens!



Written by Paul Wartman