The Garden Project: Student innovation, concentrated on ecological, sustainable goals

Living Lab intern Hayden Costello updates the campus community on recent experiments, in collaboration with the Students’ Union, in creating a student-led café – including a takeover of St Crux Hall in the city centre on 1st February.

What is The Garden?

The Garden is a student-led project created to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and provide fresh, quality food to all students, regardless of dietary requirements. Our aim is to eventually establish a permanent presence on campus, providing a beautiful outdoor seating area, and a seasonal variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, cakes, and more. So far, we’ve held successful food stalls both on campus and in town, all receiving rave reviews! Donna Smith, Chief Executive of the Student Union said: ‘The Garden Café is a wonderful way to bring staff, students and the local community together in an innovative, enterprising and sustainable way. The St Crux Sale took the Garden Café into the heart of York to showcase the best of what the Living Lab Project can offer.’

Why do we need a new food space?

Student research has revealed a high demand for greater food variety, particularly that of vegan, gluten-free and world food options. In an effort to improve the sustainability of our food systems, and support the brilliant canteen staff, the Living Lab working group came together to find a solution. This is how the Garden Cafe was born. Kamil Lawal, Student Union Education president, said: ‘I wanted to express my sincere appreciation for your efforts and contributions to the recent Garden I held at St. Crux. It was truly a valuable experience to participate in such an impactful event. The initiative exemplified the positive impact that student-led activities can have on the community, particularly in fostering a more sustainable and inclusive food system. Dedication and hard work were instrumental in making this event a success.’

Who would be involved?

The Garden project is a café grown from students. We are working towards growing, collecting, baking and selling all of our own products, ensuring we support local, ethical and healthy producers (including our own university allotment!) So far we have received overwhelming support from multiple departments, including the Students Union, the Catering team, the Grounds team, and the Living Lab. Mario Owiriwa, Students Union Wellbeing & Diversity president, said: ‘I was quite sceptical about cakes and sweets generally, but I decided to try out the St Crux Garden Cafe, and I strongly believe this new venture has great potential and have successfully gained a loyal customer to the brand, from the warm smile to the warm reception, affordable prices and mouth-watering taste and I particularly loved the coffee cake so much.’

How would it work?

To meet student demand for fresh accessible food, our sandwiches, soups, and salads will all be prepared on the spot to your preference! With an adaptive menu, our products will regularly change to fit the season, and bring a bit of nature back home to you. It is the hope that we can eventually provide a wider service across campus, from pre-orders for those jam-packed days, to providing vegan and gluten-free pizza bases, and perhaps even fresh seasonal mocktails for the SU bar! The potential for the project is limitless. Matt Blackstock, our SU president said: ‘I think with more investment, time and a more permanent venue, I could see how the Garden Cafe could come to life with further assets needed like decor, more produce and improved signage! Overall, I enjoyed the experience and seeing the potential of the Garden Cafe come to life!’

So what’s next?

After overcoming the practical hurdles of venue and legal permissions, we believe this project could become viable by 2025, establishing a permanent presence on campus. Where would you like to see us? This passion project has received overwhelming support so far, but we still have quite a way to go.  My belief is that something beautiful can grow in the oddest of places with a little love and determination. With your support, this project could truly come to life. If you have any questions about the project, how to get involved, or just to get updates, email