Student environmentalists bring life to the community

The Living Cities company, created in 2008 by Queen’s student Nathan Putnam, aims to bring urban agriculture to the city

Balpreet Kukreja
Balpreet Kukreja

With so much attention focused on green efforts nowadays, it’s no wonder young people are becoming increasingly instrumental in dealing with today’s environmental issues.

In Apr. 2008, Nathan Putnam, ArtSci ’12, started Living Cities, student-driven company aiming to change what people think of as being “green”. The company has taken on a number of initiatives since its creation, with most of them focusing on urban agriculture.

“What I wanted to try and do was make an agricultural system that’s not dependent on energy,” Putnam said.

He saw the current agricultural system being used in Havana, Cuba—a process called urban farming which minimizes fossil fuel usage by keeping all aspects of agriculture, such as the cultivating or processing of food, within the city.

“That’s where I got the inspiration for what we need in the community,” Putnam said.

Living Cities is unique in that it engages students on a level where they can actually make green changes around the community. Most of the students involved in Living Cities are from Queen’s, while others come from schools such as McGill or Waterloo.

Putnam said he hopes to expand the Living Cities program here in Kingston, and launch a new operation in a nearby community.

“Next summer we’re planning to launch a branch in Toronto and in Brockville as well,” Putnam said, adding that a presence in more cities will give more students a chance to get involved.

Being entirely run by university students makes Living Cities unique in how it operates.

“They bring perspective because they’re not burdened by old ways of thinking,” Putnam said.

Living Cities has helped to create many changes in the Kingston community. Providence Care Hospital, for example, has allowed Living Cities to use some of the unused space on their property for their urban farming.

“They’ve been very receptive to our ideas and very supportive of the ideas we’re trying to make [happen],” Putnam said, adding that the overall feedback from the community has been very positive.

According to their website, Living Cities has also taught in schools about green efforts, and has designed and built rooftop gardens for winter use. During the summer, they grow vegetables and pre-sell them offering farmers a secure income and patrons a weekly selection of fresh organic produce. One of the most notable accomplishments of Living Cities was their creation of Canada’s first university-wide vermicomposting program, Worms to the REScue.

Vermicomposting is an innovative way of composting organic materials using earthworms. Personal vermicomposters were available to students in the 2009-2010 year, along with several for common space areas like residence common rooms.

Lauren Long, ArtSci ’13, is this year’s Main Campus Residence Council (MCRC) sustainability coordinator.

She said the in-residence vermicomposting program, Worms to the REScue, started as a joint initiative between the MCRC Composting Crew (led by Trevor Shah, Comm ’12, and two other Queen’s students) and Living Cities. The 11 composters used in common spaces produced at their peakfive kilograms of waste per composter per week.

“[At the end of the year, they] surveyed the dons and the residences [and] got really positive feedback,” Long said.

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