New Brunswick

University of Guelph students help chart a sustainable future for Campobello Island

Business students from the University of Guelph are working with Campobello Island residents to come up with ways to address some of the unique challenges they face.

Business students propose hydroponic greenhouse as way to improve food security for Bay of Fundy island

Students from the University of Guelph in Ontario were first invited to Campobello Island last year to engage with the community and suggest ideas for how it can sustain itself. (Submitted by Shoshanah Jacobs)

Business students from the University of Guelph are working with Campobello Island residents to come up with ways to address some of the unique challenges they face.

One of the biggest ones right now is limited access to certain foods, such as fresh produce, said Ayla Thompson, one of the senior undergraduates from Ontario, whose group focused on food security.

There isn't a year-round ferry service from the mainland to the Bay of Fundy island, so businesses have to truck food across the U.S. border via the bridge from Lubec, Maine.

That can take at least an hour, not including time spent at the border. Plus there may be restrictions of certain foods, said Thompson.

Some of the ideas proposed by the students include building a hydroponic greenhouse, particularly for leafy greens, and developing an agriculture program at the local school.

"The residents really enjoyed that idea, so hopefully it will be explored further," she said.

Year 2

This is the second year the Guelph students have been working with Campobello Island, said Ruben Burgha, an assistant professor in the Department of Management.

It's part of an experiential learning course in business consulting.

"It's really a pretty exciting project," said Burgha. "We take [the students] into a real life environment and get them engaged with the community to try and discover solutions that are mutually acceptable and realistic to help the community move along."

Last year's cohort spent two weeks on the island, trying to identify the issues and complexities involved, he said.

For a second year, business students from the University of Guelph are working with residents to create a sustainable future for the island. Ayla Thompson is one of those students. Ruben Burgha teaches in the department of management at the University of Guelph. 9:35

The students then apply their expertise — whether it's in management, marketing or food and agriculture —  and work on team-based problem solving.

"Undergraduate students have a lot of passion, a lot of imagination," said Burgha.

This year's group came armed with "plenty of ideas," which also include boosting ecotourism and tapping into funding opportunities to create some sustainable funds for investment to increase development.

"But one of the key parts was prioritorizing according to what the community actually felt was important," Burgha said.

So they met with council members, business owners, teachers, students and other community members — "to make sure what we were thinking about made sense."

Island future is 'shaky'

Thompson and her fellow students are now putting together final reports, based on the feedback they received from islanders.

Those reports will serve as the foundation for the next cohort of students to take on some of the ideas, and delve deeper into implementing them, she said.

"Hopefully next year [they will] get some of them up and running."

Outgoing Campobello Mayor Stephen Smart has described the future of the island community as "a little shaky" because of the heavy dependence on the seasonal industries of fishing and tourism.

Over the past 15 years, the population has dwindled to about 800 people, and he hopes some of the students' ideas will provide more opportunities for islanders and reasons for them to stay.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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