STUDENTS HAVE always eaten plenty of beans, but at Loughborough, it may well be that more of the green, rather than the baked, variety are on the menu. The Eat Your Campus project, which began in May 2012 as an extension of the university's existing Fruit Routes initiative, had the aim of making more productive use of the campus's green spaces as a food resource.
Realising that the Fruit Routes project – which encouraged the planting of fruiting trees and plants along footpaths and cycle ways on the Loughborough campus to enrich the environment for people, insects and animals - was resulting in an abundance of produce, those involved decided a way had to be found to use the harvest.
The result – Eat Your Campus – is now a collaboration between the university, Loughborough students' union landscaping and gardening society and the local community.
In just over 18 months, Eat Your Campus has transformed parts of the campus into an edible landscape from which food is harvested and where students, lecturers, local families, food projects and regional artists both organise and participate in activities that reinforce our relationship with the land.
It has also motivated the local community group Transition Loughborough to set up its own food growing project. "Their involvement in the venture has helped to extend the reach of the project into the Loughborough community and open up the university campus to greater numbers of local people," said sustainability manager Jo Shields. "We were particularly thrilled that over half of the 300 people who came to the Eat Your Campus autumn harvest event were from the local community."
The harvest however is just one opportunity for people to take part: there have also been seed exchanges, apple pressing sessions and skill-sharing workshops as well as planting weekends and jam- and chutney-making cookery workshops. These food-oriented events are supplemented by periodic arts activities that promote the sustainability and food foraging themes that underpin the project concept.
Local artist and resident Peter Conneally said that participation in Eat Your Campus was "the first time" in 25 years he had felt any true connection to the campus. "I've felt encouraged to test bed artistic and poetic works on site and just enjoy the campus without feeling I wasn't supposed to be there. It's made a fantastic green space accessible to us as a family."
The concept may well be replicated at other institutions: Manchester and Exeter universities are holding talks with the Loughborough gardening group about how EYC might translate to their campuses.
Costs to date have been around £20,000, with ongoing costs equating to around £4,000 per annum. It's intended that in the longer term, EYC will save money as the expansion of planting leads to greater production of fruit and vegetables - as well as honey from the new apiary – which will be used in on-campus catering.