Not paving, but paradise — creating an organic garden

White Oaks Resort and Spa in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, wanted to convert 1,152 square feet of its property from grass into a sustainable garden. The area abuts a road and is exposed to high winds, car residue and pollution.

Michael Wakil, White Oaks’s chief development officer, said the original plan was to extend the resort’s parking lot but he just couldn’t go through with it. “I realized when you look out, it would just be asphalt. There’s the parking that’s already here, then a roadway and then [another] parking lot. That’s a lot of asphalt,” he said. “It’s been a dream and a vision for about three years, and finally we’ve started developing it,” he added.

Because White Oaks did not have the expertise to convert the neglected lawn, the key to taking action was to form a partnership with Niagara College’s Research and Innovation team. The college team consisted of a faculty research lead, a graduate student on the CICan Clean Tech internship program, and a junior co-op student. The project started in June and ended the following November.

The team began by exploring the best methods to build soil structure, converted the area from grass to an organic garden using sheet mulch and researched plant selections that would thrive in the roadside conditions. But it didn’t end there. The team also provided a plan for maintaining a healthy garden in the harsh conditions. As well, the hotel now grows its own produce that it uses in its restaurants and can showcase sustainable food and property use for its clients.

The partnership between Niagara College and White Oaks continued when the resort teamed up with the food and beverage innovation division to test different methods of preserving the garden’s produce for use year-round in a new White Oaks restaurant. Several jobs were created there, which takes the impact of the project even further.
At the conclusion of the project the graduate student was hired by Niagara College’s greenhouse as a technician to oversee greenhouse operations.

Funded by: CICan Careerlauncher Internships, Environment and Climate Change Canada

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