To create a sustainable world, we must first look locally

Berta Briggs received the 2019 Alumni Citation Award for deepening Augustana Campus’ commitment to sustainability through the Sustainable Food Endowment. The Alumni Citation Award recognizes the contributions of a non-alumnus/a to the life of Augustana.

Sydney Tancowny - 18 September 2020

“If you have enough then you always have surplus, and you can always give it away,” said Berta Briggs. “If everyone did that there would be enough for everybody.”

Growing up on the farm, Berta learned first-hand where her food came from and had a part in creating it. Ideas of sustainability and being self-sustainable were constant companions for a family which lived off their farm in addition to the food they produced for others. 

When we think of being self-sustainable, we often think of the first part—the “self”. However, after graduating from the University of Alberta and working in Australia for three years before travelling for two, Berta came to understand that the ability to be self-sustaining is a privilege. It was her farm upbringing that highlighted the differences in people’s relationships with food during her travels, and it is also what showed her that food production is a cycle that involves everyone.

“We are so very privileged here in Canada. I believe that with this privilege comes the responsibility to deepen our relationship with food production, both locally and globally,” Berta Briggs explains. “My vision for the food endowment has been to build a practical resource to spur the academic potential of students at Augustana University. Fostering our own self-sufficiency goes hand-in-hand with fostering the self-sufficiency of communities across the world.”

It is this interest in the systems that bring food from fields to our homes, and the ways we can be more locally sustainable to impact others on a global scale, that played a role in Berta Briggs creating the Sustainable Food Endowment at Augustana Campus.

Since its creation in 2008, the Sustainable Food Endowment has transformed Augustana’s approach to sustainable food practices through a number of initiatives—from sourcing a portion of cafeteria food from local suppliers, to funding various faculty-led research projects and community presentations, to creating opportunities for undergraduate research and Community Service-Learning courses. This past year, the fund supported faculty research on local food forests and ecology and in analyzing the demand for organic and locally sourced food in Camrose.

Of course, a necessary aspect of creating sustainable food practices is sustaining the communities in which that food is produced—something Berta hopes the studies at Augustana will help support. “I think Camrose is a microcosm of rural Alberta and the way people look at their food production and food consumption,” said Berta. “For a sense of community and quality of life, we need these communities to thrive—and food sustainability plays an important part in this.”

For over a decade, Berta’s generosity has provided opportunities for faculty and students to study local contexts of food production to better understand our relationships with food in hopes of becoming truly self-sustaining. It is her commitment to how we can live and learn sustainably that has made her the deserving recipient of the Alumni Citation Award.

With student wellness at the forefront of the goals we have set for student experience, the lasting impact of Berta’s generosity is significant—both meaningful and beneficial,” said Dean Tryphonopoulos.

A group of volunteers joined us on September 18 to help with laying down cardboard for sheet mulching, shovelling and spreading cedar chip mulch, and planting two Nanking cherry bushes.
A group of volunteers joined us on September 18 to help with laying down cardboard for sheet mulching, shovelling and spreading cedar chip mulch, and planting two Nanking cherry bushes.

This September, a micro-orchard was created at Augustana Campus using funds from the Sustainable Food Endowment. This micro-orchard incorporates local food production into the campus landscaping to create a new type of public outdoor space for the Augustana and wider Camrose community to enjoy, while also diversifying the learning environments the campus provides. As a public micro-orchard, staff, students and community members are free to share the harvest once the orchard begins to produce fruit.

Currently, the Augustana micro-orchard includes three apple trees, two Nanking cherry bushes and a small gathering area. In the spring, a few haskap bushes and a variety of edible and landscaping perennials will be added.

If you visit the micro-orchard this spring—when the weather starts to warm and the trees and bushes start to bud—you will find a small plaque inset into the ground that honours Berta and the impact she has made on our campus and community, and reads, “The Augustana micro-orchard recognizes Berta Briggs as the 2019 Alumni Citation Award recipient, for her long-time support of food sustainability projects and research at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta.”