Due to a hole in WordPress, this post’s author is misattributed. The follow was written by AMS VP Academic ’07-’08 Brendon Goodmurphy.

Most students know by now that the future of the UBC Farm is shrouded in uncertainty and controversy. This year strong student supporters of the Farm (particularly Friends of the Farm), wanted to hold a referendum question asking students to increase their student fees to support the farm’s programs and development. The hope was that a passed referendum would show UBC just how much the community supports the farm, and would help secure the farm’s future. But the current political situation within UBC and the region has made some supporters of the referendum question if now is really the right time.

Find out why behind the jump…

A brief history of the UBC Farm:

When UBC first decided to build market housing on campus, they ran into some concerns and push-back from the community (students, faculty, staff, residents in Vancouver and the UEL). So, the GVRD stepped in and said that there would be some regulations and guidelines for how UBC could develop that market housing community. Those rules were all outlined in the Official Community Plan (OCP). Of course, the Farm sits in the middle of prime land that the University ultimately wants to sell to developers. After public outcry over the farm in the development of the OCP, the farm was slated for “future housing reserves” – meaning that they weren’t going to develop housing there right away, but it would be set aside, and we would come back to it later to make a decision (that date is supposed to be 2012).

Of course, this stamp of “future housing reserves” also gave UBC an excuse to not invest in the Farm, and refuse to help build its research capacity and refuse to see its value as a community amenity. In fact, when some market housing residents worked with the farm to create a community garden, UBC denied the proposal and said it wasn’t allowed! UBC has been actively impeding any development of the farm for many years, so that they can more easily deny the farm’s importance in 2012 when the issue is up for consideration.

The current situation:

To understand the current situation, you have to understand some local politics. UBC would like to make changes to the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan – they would like to densify the neighbourhood (add more units, make more money). This requires a change to the OCP, which requires approval from the GVRD.

However, the community has some allies in the GVRD who have an interest in a) preserving the farm, and b) seeing UBC become part of the City of Vancouver. Both of these fit into policies that the GVRD already has (for the farm, they are worried about food security and how quickly farmland in the region is being depleted, for governance, they GVRD would like all electoral areas to become part of a municipality). Therefore, some elected officials at the GVRD were saying to UBC: “We’ll let you densify the South Campus Neighbourhood, if you promise to deal with the farm issue and do a governance review.”

Well, UBC doesn’t really like the prospect of being told what to do by the GVRD when it comes to the Farm or governance, so at the most recent Board of Governors meeting, UBC decided not to pursue the South Campus Neighbourhood densification – for now…

But to appease the GVRD, UBC also said that they are going to deal with the farm issue and the governance review right now. I told the GVRD at a recent meeting that I didn’t really believe UBC’s commitment to dealing with the governance issue – I genuinely believe they are dragging their feet, they have no interest . And the farm issue is going to be dealt with through the Vancouver Campus Plan…this is where the concerns from Friends of the Farm comes from.

Hidden motives:

Nancy Knight, UBC’s Associate VP Campus & Community Planning, has decided to ‘deal with the farm issue’ through the Vancouver Campus Planning process. That may sound like a good idea at first, but its much more complex than it seems.

The Campus Plan process is an institutional planning process, meaning UBC has complete control over that process, meaning the GVRD has no say in what decisions are made. Thus, when the farm gets addressed through the Campus Plan, we lose some really powerful allies in the GVRD who could put a lot more public pressure on UBC to “do the right thing.” For now, we as students and as members of the University community have to flood the Campus Planning process in order to save the farm. Of course, we all know that UBC isn’t that great at listening to students, and is quite selective about what it hears in consultation processes.

The point is that if the farm review is part of any OCP changes, then the broader community, including the GVRD, and the UNA residents have some sort of say in what happens to the farm. If it’s a Campus Plan process, then UBC gets the ultimate say, and the GVRD really has power to interfere. The Campus Plan is about institutional spaces – aka, learning and research spaces. Taking care of the farm through the campus plan process conveniently means that UBC can look at it primarily for its research value, and thus it’s easier justifying that it move to the bio sciences research area – the same amount of research can occur no matter where its located.

Now add to this the fact that Nancy Knight and the team at Campus & Community Planning have gotten external consultants to come in and review the “potential” of the farm. These consultants were chosen without letting the farm or the faculty of Land and Food Systems know, and it has mostly been all behind closed doors. Nancy Knight wants to have these consultants come back and say: “the Farm is very valuable, but they only need half the land and could probably move to the Bio-Sciences research area and still do the same great work.” Perhaps she sees this as some sort of compromise between the Board’s agenda to maximize the $250 million that can be made off of that area, while still preserving some sense of a farm for the community.

As long as the Farm issue is dealt with through the Campus Plan, the result is going to be cutting the area by at least half, or moving it way down to the bottom of campus in a very remote and inconvenient location, or both.

The other thing to consider, is this process to deal with the farm through the Campus Plan is only looking at the farm from a research-value standpoint, and not from a community amenity standpoint. The Farm is so much more than a research facility, it’s a place that brings students and residents and researchers and learning all together in one place. This is more than just an institutional facility, it’s a community facility, and the community should have a much greater say about its future.

Canceling the Farm Referendum

I told the Friends of the Farm that it was a big mistake to back down from the referendum now. The concern is that the political situation is too tense right now to take the risk. I say that a referendum is always going to be extremely risky. The only reason there are more backroom deals being made about the farm right now is because UBC is facing a lot of pressure from the GVRD, students and the community-at-large to save the farm. As long as UBC is facing pressure on the Farm, they are going to push back, and push back hard. The farm lands are worth over $250 million dollars in Endowment revenue. We’re up against a huge beast, and that is never going to change.

But, if we as students could come to the table and say “students care about the farm so much that we are willing
to pay out of our own pockets to develop the farm’s capacity” then we’re in a really strong negotiating position. Don’t forget, it’s UBC who has been financially neglecting and starving the farm for years, and its students who are stepping up and footing the bill.

If the referendum were to fail, then it would be a tragedy. But, as far as I’m concerned, certain people within the University are always going to misconstrue the evidence and use any referendum outcome against us. But there are also a significant number of people in the University who will take a passed referendum seriously, and that will be way more powerful than the few who discredit it.

The Farm needs a student movement behind it right now, and there is nothing better to get a student movement started than through a “Save the Farm referendum campaign.” Getting hundreds of students around campus, handing out pamphlets and saying “UBC is trying to take away our farm, we can’t let that happen” – what better way to start a genuine student-movement. That’s something almost all students can say yes to.


20 Comments so far

  1. Fire Hydrant on March 2, 2008 10:13 am

    As someone who’s pushed fairly consistently for UBC to come up with a plan for the academic side of campus before we divest ourselves of key pieces of it, it would be rather hypocritical of me to complain about us dealing with this through internal processes.

    My suspicion is that a Farm referendum would do better on its own than with the UPass, due to the very high turnout of people who may not have heard that items other than the UPass were on the ballot.

  2. Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes on March 2, 2008 5:55 pm

    There are currently 2 UBC students on the Campus Plan Steering Committee, chaired by Nancy Knight. Mike Duncan will be substituting Friedrich, and I have been elected by the GSS to substitute Filipiak.

    I hope to be voicing student concerns and keeping a close watch on the committee’s rhetoric, plans and decisions, and to relay my comments to the wider community through public forums for discussion. I invite everyone to communicate with us and to propose possibilities for responsible and meaningful development on campus.

    The newly elected BoG Rep Tim Blair is involved with the UBC farm community, and has come to many AMS meetings to speak on behalf of the farm. He told me he wanted to get on a Campus Plan committee if he could, and I think it is a great idea. When I told him about GSS, he said he doesn’t know how that works. I told him to begin being involved with the Graduate Student Society ASAP to communicate his issues, especially since he is a graduate student! I believe that an elected governor who is a graduate student MUST be involved with the GSS (this is the case for both new governors and we are hoping to see them in every GSS meeting). I am still hoping to see Tim at the GSS AGM within 2 weeks…maybe he could address Council on behalf of the farm – communication is now essential if we wish to keep the farm or improve it without having it cut to pieces by the administration. It would also be quite possible for Tim to get in important committees as soon as an opportunity arises through the GSS.

    Yes, we need a social movement behind the farm, but most importantly, we need to get out there and communicate with students, have a campus-wide information campaign, events, etc. As soon as I take office, I will be conducting an extensive direct communications campaign, and hopefully establishing a collaborative student media soon.

    Since last year with the election of Filipiak, the farm has been one of the priorities for UBC Graduate Students; this will NOT change.


  3. maayan kreitzman on March 3, 2008 3:33 am

    Ideally UBC would deal with it through both.

    First, student/faculty input during the campus plan process would ensure that the Farm is very clearly supported in its curent location and programming breadth.

    Then, when the OCP comes up for renewal, it would be obvious how to designate the area.

  4. Brendon Goodmurphy on March 4, 2008 2:55 am

    I guess people care more about gossip (re: current VP Academic debacle) than real issues.

    that’s too bad, I was really hoping more people would have something to say about this…

    Here’s a question: If the farm had gone through with a referendum, would you have supported it?

  5. Patrick on March 4, 2008 5:17 am

    lol, Id like to respond, but I cant:P

  6. Anonymous on March 4, 2008 6:12 am

    Yes, I certainly would have supported it.

    – Sonja

  7. Anonymous on March 4, 2008 6:53 am

    It wasn’t a farm referendum though, it was a eco-student jobs referendum..

  8. Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes on March 4, 2008 10:27 am

    …too bad indeed…

  9. Tahara on March 4, 2008 10:13 pm

    Ouch Brendon,

    Okay point taken (hence me actually posting instead of just reading) – I would have loved to see the farm question on the ballot, and honestly, while the reasons presented for keeping it off the ballot do make sense, if the choice was up to me, I don’t think I would have made the same one, as I think running the referenda is worth the risk, especially because, if the campaign is run properly, I can’t see how it would fail. And with all due respect to Darren, I think if you have a high turnout of people just for the UPass, and put the farm question beside it with appropriate background info readily available, I think the farm referendum would benefit from being on the same ballot as the UPass, simply because the UPass is going to bring (hopefully) quite a high turnout.

    I thought the matter was closed for discussion, but if something can be done in the next week to bring the farm people on board, I would for sure support adding the question to the referendum, and would happily endorse it at council

    PS: If we’re still talking about the bylaw question on March 12, is there anything timeline wise that prohibits council from adding the farm question?

  10. Tahara on March 4, 2008 10:14 pm

    wow – reading over that post, 3 cheers for run on sentences huh ;)

  11. Anonymous on March 4, 2008 10:28 pm

    I agree- I was under the impression that taking the Farm question off the ballot was a done deal by the Farm people and Exec, but if it’s not I would certainly support bringing it back onto the ballot.


  12. Alfie on March 4, 2008 10:32 pm

    I heard there’s still a possibility to add the farm question on the next council meeting and make it to meet the timeline. Is that right?

    I would also like to see the farm question being attached to the referendum as well. A strong student support can be a great piece of stat to support students’ stance and a good starting place for a successful media campaign, which the Friends of the Farm try to do now.

    Also, a strong student support may bring more awareness and hopefully, more student and faculty would bring their classes there to do more self-directed seminars so that more academic work can be done to refute the claim of the administration that the Farm is inefficient at serving the academia.

  13. Anonymous on March 4, 2008 11:45 pm

    If voting is March 24-31, referendum questions need to either be approved by Council or submitted to the VP Academic with a petition containing 1000 signatures of current students (plus names and student numbers).

  14. Alfie on March 5, 2008 6:15 am

    I think both criteria can be handily met by the dedicated Friends of the Farm. I, for one, support the referendum question.

  15. Anonymous on March 5, 2008 6:36 am

    I just realized I didn’t complete my thought earlier… they have to do either of those things by the 14th since a vote cannot be sooner than 10 days after receipt of petition or vote.

  16. Anonymous on March 5, 2008 6:20 pm

    The AMS has consistently stated,that it is a lobbying entity for student issues, and that it is not responsible for providing services that UBC should be providing anyways.
    i.e. the AMS wont hire consultants on transportation to help build their argument against the bus loop.
    How does a student fee going towards the farm, not go against the above position.

  17. Anonymous on March 5, 2008 6:29 pm

    It could be a funding partnership with the University, like it was for the childcare project or SUB Renew.


  18. Anonymous on March 5, 2008 7:00 pm

    Anon 10:20 –

    That position has everything to do with a lack of money on the part of the AMS to fund those kinds of activities. In the 1960s (when the AMS was the richest student society in the world, I shit you not) that is exactly what they would do whenever they disagreed with the administration – hire their own experts, buying authority for their stances.

  19. Fire Hydrant on March 5, 2008 9:09 pm

    Actually, the AMS provides quite a few services that UBC should and doesn’t. Sexual assault support services, student aid bursaries and the Ombuds office come to mind. AMS services have been folded because UBC was convinced to provide them and the AMS no longer needed to.

    If the AMS had the money, a very persuasive form of lobbying around campus development would be to hire better consultants, planners, architects, etc. than UBC could. We’d basically do better consultation, come up with better plans from bigger-name sources, and ask that they replace UBC’s. It’s almost impossible to say No to.

  20. Shagufta on March 6, 2008 5:50 am

    Do I hear student services mentioned? Pretty much all the Services the AMS offers (and there are eight of them) were created due to a realisation on the part of the AMS that particular services were needed/would be lovely and didn’t exist. When a services gap ceases to exist though, the AMS doesn’t duplicate services. Case in point:last year Joblink closed because there was a duplication of services offered through the University.
    The above not entirely related to the farm, but you can never know too much about how the AMS Services work.

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