Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

To conduct land use planning and education activities associated with the integration of UBC farm with the surrounding Vancouver community.

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UBC Farm: Model for Urban Agriculture

In mid-July 2010, UBC Farm’s program coordinator, Mark Bomford, gave a group of Real Estate Foundation staff a tour to show off some of the innovative projects undertaken by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm. Driving along Wesbrook Mall, a main campus road lined with new condominium developments, the only evidence of Vancouver’s last working farm is a small sign that reads “UBC Farm.” The strip of old coastal hemlock forest bordering the 24-hectare farm protects the rural landscape from the noise of the city--it made us quickly forget that we were still on the busy UBC campus, and just a short distance from the centre of BC’s largest metropolis.

While UBC Farm seems to be tucked away into a quiet corner of Vancouver, it is actually a living example of how a farm can be  integrated into an urban centre and contributes to a sustainable city. Its fresh produce plays a significant role in Vancouver’s local food system through the weekly Garden Market and by supplying local food establishments. UBC Farm is instrumental in enabling people to consume locally, organically, and sustainably.

However, unlike traditional farms whose main objective is growing food, UBC Farm aims to create a meaningful appreciation of “rural concerns” by urban dwellers. One way the farm personalizes these issues is by helping people understand the amount of resources that are required to produce food for a person. “It takes a huge piece of farmland to feed a city,” explained Bomford. “At the UBC Farm we can show people firsthand their footprint in terms of land.”

Since UBC Farm’s overarching goal is to demonstrate the connection between land, food, and community, every aspect of the farm is a living model of these interdependent relationships. “Nothing on the farm just does one thing,” Bomford pointed out. Rather, each one of the 150 projects brings together various combinations of the wider Vancouver community, UBC students, faculty, and staff for the purposes of research, education, ecology, and community building.

One such project that embodies these interlocking relationships is the Land Learning Project run in conjunction with the Faculty of Education at UBC. This project brings children to the farm for school programs and summer camps so they can plant and harvest fruits and vegetables. Retired farmers teach the children organic farming techniques and the various natural processes involved in growing food. By understanding where food comes from, children are more empowered to make healthier food choices. At the same time, this interactive ‘classroom’ allows UBC’s Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy to research how children learn.

Given that UBC Farm deals with the global concern of food security, is located in a city centre, and is connected to a leading research university, it can facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration unmatched by any other initiative in Vancouver. The farm is a living laboratory for the various UBC faculties. For example, the Department of Botany manages the medicinal garden; the Department of Food and Nutrition develops recipes for the website; and the Department of Forest Sciences is responsible for the forest surrounding the farm. Food planners, engineers, architects, and land use planners share their expertise with the UBC Farm staff. UBC Farm is demonstrating how an agricultural site and a major urban area are mutually beneficial.

The Foundation staff came away from the tour with a much better understanding of the prominent role an urban farm can play in connecting and enriching a community. UBC Farm is leveraging nature’s power to meet the various inherent needs of the city, namely education, research, food security, balanced ecology, and community building. As we navigated our way through city traffic back into the busy downtown core, we had a deeper appreciation for how agro-ecosystems support our urban society.

UBC Farm embodies the values of leadership, innovation and collaboration and is an upstanding model for urban agriculture. By going far beyond the conventional standards for organic farming, the UBC Farm is proving that sustainable agricultural practices are not only possible but that they could become the norm, integrated into cities like Vancouver.

- Elysha Ames