Jacob Kearey-Moreland was contributing to campus life long before he was a Lakehead University student.
This year’s recipient of the Lloyd Dennis Award for outstanding citizenship, Kearey-Moreland has been a driving force behind local community gardening initiatives for over a decade – from Toronto during his undergraduate degree, through community advocacy in Orillia, and now as a graduate student at Lakehead.
A grassroots champion for social and ecological justice, he’s helping secure people’s right to collectively produce and access food, while also preserving public, multi-generational spaces to gather, learn, exercise, and interact.
“Community gardening is as much about growing a community as it is producing food,” says Kearey-Moreland, who grew up on a farm in Simcoe County and now co-owns Bass Lake Farms in Oro-Medonte. “It’s like a communal outlet people can plug into, where social and ecological action can happen together.”
On the Orillia campus, a number of community efforts Kearey-Moreland has helped bring to life are easily spotted: the butterfly garden, the traditional Three Sisters garden, the Four Directions teaching garden, and the community and allotment vegetable gardens are all in view from the large windows of the central Learning Commons. In the background, he also dedicates countless hours to fundraising, event planning, public speaking, advocacy, and outreach. Making good use of social media, strategic networking, and farming-based puns, he’s adept at rallying volunteers with enthusiasm, humour, and information.
And the benefit to students, faculty, staff, and the wider community is clear: university classes, Indigenous ceremonies, and community tours all regularly take place in the gardens, food is produced all summer, and the seeds generated are made freely available in the library. The Lakehead Farm Club Kearey-Moreland founded is now one of the largest student clubs on campus, which he says speaks to gardening’s broad appeal.
“A lot of students face food insecurity, isolation and poverty, and they want a more sustainable campus with more recreation opportunities – gathering outside to socialize and produce your own food solves all those problems.”
Kearey-Moreland’s current focus is his Master of Education – a program with online, flexible formats that allow him to continue farming. His thesis on garden-based learning complements the ideas he pilots on his farm, including hosting school groups and creating youth employment opportunities.
“I want to be part of the societal shift where we teach kids about climate change and food insecurity but also give them the tools to feed their families and communities and work together to sustain life and ecosystems.”
Looking ahead, Kearey-Moreland hopes to translate his degree and community service into making the Lakehead Orillia campus an influential hub for garden-based learning. In the meantime, his initiatives are in even higher demand in the new reality created by COVID-19.
“Community gardening certainly isn’t new – it’s something humans have been doing for 10,000 years or longer. But this pandemic has been an opportunity for many of us to reflect on what is important to healthy societies, ecosystems and economies, and ultimately how we want to be able to grow and access our food.”
Lakehead University’s Lloyd Dennis Award for outstanding citizenship is presented annually to a full-time student at the Orillia campus in recognition of their contributions to the welfare of the university through their student activities. The award is named in honour of the late Lloyd Dennis, an Officer of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario. He was a highly respected educator and author, best remembered for the 1968 landmark report that shaped the future of education in Ontario – Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, known as the Hall-Dennis Report. An enthusiastic proponent of the Lakehead Orillia campus, in 2009 Dennis was honoured with Lakehead’s Civitas Award and then in 2012 with a Doctor of Laws (posthumously).