David Greig Compost Guru & Employment Enabler
Wander up to the greenhouses at Interurban campus and you will likely meet David Greig. He offers visitors a warm handshake, and exudes a passion, enthusiasm and positivity for working with students and the earth. David blends his knowledge and expertise of horticulture, with a unique approach, empowering students for future employment. The result has been positive change on campus as well as providing a stepping stone for future life success of students.
"Gardening is a wellness activity and there is a connection in the plant and people relationship. In our program, we are able to teach complex topics using hands-on materials with experiential activities."
"Hello. My name is David Greig. My background is Scotch, Irish and French Canadian. I've been a visitor on this territory of the Lkwungen, Saanich and Esquimalt peoples since 1994. I feel honoured and blessed to have the opportunity to raise my family, to teach and to be living on these territories."
Who are you and what do you do on campus?
I have been teaching at Camosun since 1996. I teach the Customer Service Training and the EARTH Gardening Programs as part of the Employment Training and Preparation programs. I am a registered horticulture therapist, a certified organic landscape professional, and a worm farmer.
What positive outcomes have you seen coming out of the Employment Training and Preparation (ETP) program? How does composting and working with worms meld with teaching employment skills?
The ETP program is for non-traditional learners or for students who have had barriers to learning and who may be unable to access regular academic programs. It provides a learning opportunity for those who otherwise wouldn't have one at a post-secondary level. For some, it is a step on the road to gaining employment. For others, it helps to integrate them into a more normalized existence where there are regular schedules, time management expectations, and they have to use communications skills to complete tasks in the classroom, gardens and greenhouse. Some students haven't had the opportunities to learn, are simply lacking the confidence to put their skills to use or have had a gap in their learning. Some of our graduates have since moved on to other post-secondary programs. For others it's a stepping stone – some have started community gardens, or have gone on to work for landscapers, in nurseries or have opened up small businesses of their own.
Gardening is a wellness activity and there is a connection in the plant and people relationship. In our program, we are able to teach complex topics using hands-on materials with experiential activities. These hands-on-learning experiences translate into skills that they can apply to the workplace. Office composting, for example, is done by the customer service students in the ETP program. Students develop such skill as to follow schedules, solve problems, weigh, measure and record the amounts of office compost collected, care for worms and learn how to be entry level workers in a green industry. Using compost as the medium, they learn about customer service skills and revenue generation. Learning about composting is just one of the learning outcomes for the students of our program.
How did you become known as the "Worm Guru" of Victoria?
Thank you as this is rather high praise warranted or not. I am a master composter through the Compost Education Centre, I run the vermi-compost program at Camosun, and I have my own small worm business.
For over 25 years I have raised worms: when we moved south from the Yukon to do our masters degrees at UVic, I left our canoe up north and brought my worms in its place. My partner still reminds me of this decision as it was hard to conceive rowing a worm bin instead of canoe. I have also proudly informed my daughters that the worms will be their inheritance!
How can composting/organic gardening save the world?
What we call organic waste (and I try to avoid using that term waste) is really an untapped resource. Compost and organic gardening help to replenish the soil and there is a complex and intricate relationship between what lives beneath the earth and the plants that grow from it. There is a lot to be learned about micro-organisms and the biology of soil – the truth is that we know more about the heavens than we do about the earth beneath our feet.
If someone is new to composting/organic gardening – what tips would you give them?
Just start! Composting can be thought of as two streams converging into a finished soil amendment. The first is the garden materials that can be recycled. There are recipes for this with green and brown material piled together and letting nature do the rest. As long as you are aware of combining carbon ingredients and nitrogen-rich ingredients – the "browns" and the "greens"– you can avoid many of the problems associated with composting: simply put, pile it together and let it sit. Whereas many people are dissuaded from composting food "leftovers" because of where they live, the work involved and the thoughts about rodents and smells. Using worms to digest discarded food takes more thought as one is using "livestock" to help breakdown the food into an amendment that will benefit the soil and the plants. If done properly, there should be few problems as there are ways and bins/containers that deter rodents and smells. Whatever way you compost, and there are many, all we're trying to do is what nature does naturally but help speed up the process.
What is the biggest challenge preventing Camosun staff/students from becoming more sustainable?
Using compost as an example, people think that composting is hard to do as they would rather maintain the status quo, even if they think composting is the right thing to do. Hopefully, it is just a matter of introducing people to how they can be part of the compost process at the college. Composting is a mindset. Fortunately, Camosun has implemented a compost collection throughout the college. Again it is educating people about what to do with organic material, and other recyclable material for that matter. As an example, the ETP department began an office compost collection program through the generous support from a successful President's Fund proposal. For the past two years, we have collected office compost throughout the Interurban Campus. The staff and faculty engaged in this composting have committed to composting process. It appears the key to this is that we pick up what they recycle, so we are all part of a loop and have a role in this process. If we can understand how everyone at Camosun can be part of the sustainability loop(s), then Camosun will become even more sustainable.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me sustainability means leaving something for my kids. First Nations tend to think seven generations ahead, but in our society, we tend to have difficulty thinking about the impact our actions will have in the long term. Sustainability means that I am taking responsibility for my footprint on this Earth and that I am not going to tread on someone else's foot.
What advice would you give the sustainability leaders of the future?
Don't give up! Change takes time. People need to be taught to change and led to change. If you can bring people to make the decision to change, they will feel part of the process and will take ownership. The urban food movement is a good example of change ownership. People have decided that they want better and healthier food and they are taking responsibility for their choices, and an entire movement has grown from that thinking.
Where would you like to see Camosun go in terms of becoming a leader in environmental sustainability?
I would like to see Camosun continue to seek out ideas so that new initiatives can be brought forth, and to create more awareness around those initiatives. Get students involved! Sustainability needs a community to grow and to succeed.
I would also really love to see allotment gardens created for students, faculty and staff, and for the college to continue planting more edible landscaping, as the grounds department has done, and gardens, and experimenting with rain catchment gardens. There is a lot of interesting work being done right now in the area of vertical gardens and urban development. As there is a lot of concrete at Camosun, it would be great to see that space used to grow gardens vertically.
What is on the horizon for you?
Entrenching the worm composting program here at Camosun and enhancing the EARTH Gardening program.
I want to continue to learn. I want to continue to find ways to acknowledge and show appreciation for the wonderful students, staff and faculty of the ETP Department. I also want to give back to the staff and faculty of Camosun College for all that they have provided to us! I see us all as a community, and that we are all working in partnership to create something very special called Camosun College.