Flexible Learning: A Final Reflection

Group 13 members with all smiles at the poster session.

Coming back from the Reading Break at the end of February, our group launched into our interview phase; the hands-on community engagement piece many of us had been longing to start. What we were not prepared for, however; was the month-long debacle of tracking down business owners and securing interview times. While we had collaboratively written a template email to send out to businesses, we found positive responses few and far in between. Despite persisting with follow-up emails and cold calls, by the 2nd week of the month we had only managed to secure half our intended number of interviews. With mild panic settling in with the lack of responses from the businesses we had contacted, we reached out to our community partner for help.

Throughout this process, Kevin was able to connect us to businesses through his personal connections. Interviews seemed to magically fall into our lap after Kevin reached into his network. With his aid, we were able to get three additional interviews to the ones we managed to secure. While our personal efforts felt like pulling teeth, we were amazed by the time and energy Kevin’s contacts were willing to take to participate in our research project.

Our experiences engaging with community members in Chinatown revealed the importance of a liaison in asset-based community development. Not only was Kevin able to secure interviews for us, but his personal connections with our interviewees made for enriching conversations that provided key information. We found his presence, as well as Christina’s, reassuring and instructive. It was fascinating to watch how easily Kevin’s personal contacts would open up, sharing key information that our individual group members would have much more difficulty capturing on our own.

The title of our “Flexible Learning” days resonated more and more as we realized the importance of embodying flexible learning. While we had created a tidy timeline for how we imagined our project would unfold, few if any of the deadlines we had previously set were met in reality. We found ourselves feeling uncomfortable with the uncertain future as the days went by with what seemed to be little to no progress. The lack of security about the future of our project was challenging to deal with, but somewhere along the way, it became inherent that embracing this factor was the pathway to our success.

Becoming “flexible learners” for us meant being nervous during our first interviews, but improving from our mistakes. It meant going out of our way to reschedule our activities for a last minute interview. It meant going off-script during the interviews to ask bold questions. It meant challenging our ideas of what was the “right” or “proper” way to do things and finding alternatives. As Shulman highlights: “without a certain amount of anxiety and risk, there’s a limit to how much learning occurs” (2005, p. 18). This became apparent as we embarked on our interviews since most of us held little to no experience conducting interviews prior to this project. As we observed Kevin and Christina’s ways of engaging with interviewees, we found ourselves learning important interview skills and applying them when we had the chance. While we had moments of anxiety and regret, (i.e. not having the boldness to probe deeper with certain interviewees), we were able to take our experience in stride and improve upon in consequent opportunities. We found that our collective confidence grew through the interview process.

The interviews were also an excellent opportunity to apply the concept of “asset-based community learning” which has been an ongoing theme throughout our course and project. Community projects, while well-intentioned can veer towards a “needs-based approach” where outside experts “play up the severity of problems” and “[present] a one-sided negative view” in order to extract results that are needed for the purpose of the study (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003, p. 476). Going into the interviews, we kept this in mind and maintained an open-minded approach, remembering that our role as outsiders was to listen and learn from the members of the community – the true experts in this scenario. Ultimately, this approach paid off well as we not only learned about inter-business relations which was the focus of our interviews, but we also gained invaluable insight into the personal growth stories of each business, and the ideals each business owner had for their community. This not only made the interviews more interesting but also gave us more insight into opportunities that utilize the community’s assets and benefit its members as a whole; something to consider as we make suggestions in our final report.  

         Infographic of our study’s findings.

Lastly, our experiences have allowed us to reflect on our own learning. Shulman (2005) asks, “are there signature pedagogies in undergraduate liberal education?”. (Signature pedagogies being distinctive teaching practices) He argues that lecture-style courses often foster environments where students are “disengaged, invisible, unaccountable, and emotionally disconnected”. However, we were able to see how the LFS 350 course and community projects reflect features of certain “signature pedagogies”. For example, Shulman (2005) notes that a universal feature of signature pedagogies is that they make students feel deeply engaged, highly visible and potentially even vulnerable. According to the article, learning requires that students feel visible and accountable – signature pedagogies tend to be interactive, so students feel accountable to instructors, as well as to fellow students. Shulman’s observations resonated with our group – we felt that the LFS 350 learning environment exemplified these aspects of the signature pedagogies through the smaller tutorial discussions, group work, and interactions with our community partners.

In our collaboration with the hua foundation, we felt connected and engaged with the work we were doing because it was a real-life application of the topics we have been learning in class. Working with the organization and conducting interviews also put us out of our comfort zones (as Shulman noted, making us feel “vulnerable”) and challenged us to develop new skills. This course made us feel visible in comparison to a typical lecture-style course – we felt more deeply involved in the course and the learning materials because of the class structure and community partner project. 

In preparing for the final report, we know that there will likely be roadblocks along the way. The questions our research project asks do not have simple answers and will require wrestling with complex ideas and concepts. Especially as the end of the term increases in workload for all of us, we will need to continue to be “flexible learners” and embrace the uncertainty of what this project entails.

We will be able to take the skills we gained throughout the interview process and apply them to future interviews and similar situations. While Kevin and Christina’s expertise helped us probe deeper during our research phase, it also introduced a certain amount of bias to the answers through leading questions, which will be acknowledged in our final report. Additionally, of the seven interviews we conducted, many had prior connections to the hua foundation or a personal connection to Kevin. As a result, the data collected may not be representative of all new Chinatown businesses and may be biased towards values of the hua foundation.

As highlighted in the “Writing Up Science-Based Practical Reports” (Harper Adams University, n.d.) guide, we must write objectively, removing bias, emotions and subjective writing.  In future interviews, we will not have the luxury of having someone with a wealth of knowledge present. However, this highlights the need for having an in-depth understanding of the local history and context of wherever our projects may take place. Furthermore, the essence of asset-based community development involves the mobilization of community members and their assets (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003), and it will be our duty to empower community members and aid them in building on their current strengths. It will be a lengthy and potentially unsmooth process, as cooperation requires mutual trust, and trust requires time, commitment and mutual understanding. Hopefully, in future situations, we will have more time to gain this understanding by connecting with local stakeholders and community members.

Where we were this week and where we will go next week


Harper Adams University. (n.d.). Guide to Essay Writing 2017/18. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://cdn.harper-adams.ac.uk/document/page/127_Guide-to-Essay-Writing.pdf

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based Community Development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474–486

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Pedagogies of uncertainty. Liberal Education, 91(2), 18–25. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ697350.pdf

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Project Updates and the Graceful Dismount!


For the past few weeks, we have become a lot more engaged in our project. We’ve started conducting interviews and working on our analysis and final project report. The interviews in particular, have been a great achievement for us as they have pushed us out of our comfort zones, allowing us to be more actively involved in the project and community, as well as helping us work on our communication skills!   

Recently, we were given the opportunity to reflect on our project progress using “Moments of Significant Change” graphs. These provided insight into how our group felt, both individually and collectively, at varying times throughout the project. Graph 1 described whether we were feeling more positive or negative, while Graph 2 described how we felt our knowledge and skill levels were changing. These will be discussed in more detail below!

We’ve set an updated timeline of objectives for the remainder of the project and identified strategies  to complete the rest of our objectives. We have also divided up the remaining work to be completed, including interview analyses and final report sections. To hold each other accountable, we have also set deadlines after figuring out what timing and sections work best for everyone.

Weekly Objectives and Achievements

Dates Objectives
March 5-11
  • Conduct interviews
  • Begin interview analysis
  • Begin final project report
  • Post Blog post 3
March 12-18
  • Finish interviews
  • Analyze interview results
  • Work on report
  • Begin infographic
March 19-25
  • Work on report + infographic
  • Prepare for final project presentation
March 26 – April 1
  • Post Blog post 4
  • Presentation
April 2- April 9
  • Copy edit final project report




The “Moments of Significant Change” graphs were useful tools that provided an opportunity to reflect and share our initial project goals and expectations (Dring, Lim, & Mendes, 2018). We were able to map out a collective story based on the experiences of each group member using graphs describing our emotions and skills/knowledge gained over the duration of our project. For our two graphs, the significant events we chose include:“finding out our project”, “first meeting with Kevin”, “writing blog post 1”, “2nd meeting with Kevin”, “contacting businesses for interviews”, and “blog post 2”. Upon completion, we were able to compare and contrast how different moments affected us individually and as a group.   


Graph 1: Emotions graph. “Moments of Significant Change” on the the y-axis, positive emotions above the x-axis, and negative emotions below the x-axis.


On the first graph, we had “emotions” on the y-axis and “Moments of Significant Change” on the x-axis. Emotions above the x-axis were considered positive while emotions below the x-axis were deemed negative. For example, all group members noted that they felt negative emotions such as stress or disappointment during the process of writing and submitting our project proposal. During our group conversation, we found that this stemmed from individuals holding different ideas of how to navigate the process, due to lack of communication between members. Some project updates could not get everyone in the loop in time. We felt it challenging to write cohesively and in a coherent manner. Moreover, the slope steepness and direction also indicated overall group feeling. Generally, we all followed a similar upward or downward trend, however some members emotions plummeted depending on their role or how they perceived the situation.

On the other hand, both meetings with Kevin and the hua foundation were positive events for group members because he was able to provide personal insight on the dynamics of businesses in Chinatown as a community member. The interview recruitment process proved to be more challenging than anticipated: at first, the lack of responses from the businesses we contacted made us feel somewhat helpless, and made us question the plausibility of our entire project. However, we strategized by using more direct ways of contact such as phone-calls and in-person visits, and even enlisted the help of our community partner Kevin Huang and his connections with local businesses. Eventually, we secured interviews with seven businesses, exceeding our proposed goal and giving us a renewed sense of hope and optimism. Overall, our group felt most positive when we initially found out about our project and after both meetings with Kevin. Morale decreased but was still positive during the writing of our first blog post, but then further dropped into the negative emotions zone as we worked on the project proposal. The group also felt positive during the first few interviews and writing of our second blog post.


Graph 2: Knowledge and skills graph. “Moments of Significant Change” on the the y-axis and level of skills and knowledge on the y-axis.


For the second graph, we had “levels of skills and knowledge” on the y-axis and “moments of significant change” on the x-axis. Overall our group showed a general pattern of increasing knowledge and skill levels over the duration of our project. We discussed how we felt our communication and listening skills improved throughout our conversations with the hua foundation and the interviews with local businesses. Additionally, our knowledge base on the connections between race, ethnicity, and food broadened substantially since starting the project. Both the hua foundation and the Session 8 lecture (Dring, C., Lim, S. & Mendes, 2018) challenged us to think critically about inequalities in the food system. We expect our collective knowledge to continue increasing as we conduct interviews with businesses. We hope to also improve our analytical and information synthesis skills after gathering data from the interviews. 



We found the exercise insightful as it provided a way to visually display our growth, both as individuals and as a team. The “moment of significant change graphs” activity was an important process and will continue contributing more towards them throughout the rest of our project. Referring back to the graphs provides insight as to how our group experiences and functions during different stages of our project – this will help us learn from our mistakes and better manage the project in future.

Graph 1 indicated that the project proposal was a low point for our team, partly due to the disappointment we felt in the feedback we received despite the time and energy we put into it. However, learning often requires that we experience feelings of anxiety and take risks in order to grow from our challenges (Shulman, 2005). In response to the feedback on the proposal, we will take steps to improve the “Introduction” and “Methods” section of our final report. By embracing the messy problems we encounter, we can find creative solutions and grow from places of discomfort (Harford, 2016). Rather than avoiding conflict and struggle, and stigmatizing failure, we can use it to our benefit to understand our weaknesses and areas of improvement (Cohn, 2015).

We noticed that we had a more positive outlook on our project after our meetings with Kevin and other members of the hua foundation. During these moments we also found that our knowledge and skill sets increased. Our discussions with Kevin were particularly valuable as he provided us with in-depth information about the Chinatown food systems – including background and historical information, factors involved in the changing foodscape, and contact information for business. This indicates that some of our most positive and valued interactions were those where we strengthened our knowledge base of the Chinatown food system and racialized food issues.

The course material during Session 8 complemented the issues we are discussing in our project (Dring, C., Lim, S. & Mendes, 2018). Diving into the intersections between food, race and justice, Session 8 solidified our understanding of cultural food assets (Dring, C., Lim, S. & Mendes, 2018). It was noted that the piece by Gibb & Wittman (2013) which we read in our first week (when we were assigned hua foundation as our community partner) is a rather seminal work linking race and food systems. While important, the point that this paper is one of the few of its kind tackling food systems inequalities is indicative of the lack of concerning the importance of cultivating a just food system, where academia should work towards exposing the injustices within our present food system.



As the University of Memphis Module on Capacity Building for Sustained Change taught us, being sensitive to the differences between group members allows us cooperate and work together in an effective manner (University of Memphis, 2018). Facilitating an activity such as the “Moments of Significant Change” at multiple times throughout a project provides an opportunity for group members to check-in and revise goals and expectations if needed. As many of us are in organizations, student clubs and other community groups, we will take this activity with us to facilitate in other team settings in the future.

Many of us were caught off guard by Session 8 (Dring, C., Lim, S. & Mendes, 2018). We learned much about the racialized structures that can occur in food systems, as well as how race and ethnicity are linked to food. As Malik Yakini noted in his TED Talk (2014), people of colour are often burdened by internalized racial oppression that suggest their history, culture, and bodies have less value. This is a challenge for collective problem solving of community issues, as individuals face a diminished view of the self (TED, 2014). Moving forward, we will also consider how we can better support marginalized communities and provide individuals with the “agency to change the conditions in their communities, rather than be subjects who are acted upon by others” (TED, 2014). This relates to our asset-based community development approach where our role as student researchers from an institution such as UBC is to serve the communities in which we operate (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003). 

The Graceful Dismount




Our Strategy for Successful Project Completion

  • Conduct interviews and finish write ups (re-listening to the interview recordings and noting the most important/relevant points)
  • Analyze the interview data, focusing on presenting key points that are relevant to our project
  • Ensure pre-established deadlines are met and follow the calendar for meetings
  • Use our interview data, data from the hua foundation Chinatown Food Security Report, and other academic sources to complete our infographic
  • Write a rough draft of the paper in time for copy-editing
  • Check in with Kevin as interviews are conducted and as the infographic/report are completed
  • Reflect on the limitations of our project and consider how our project will move forward (seeing as the hua foundation will be doing a large-scale version of our project, so we will be able to provide some of our findings and give feedback/recommendations) 

With less than four weeks left in the term, we are reaching a critical point for our project, which is conducting the interviews and analyzing the responses we receive. We are also looking forward to compiling our data into an infographic and resource for new businesses as we wrap up this rewarding project.


Cohn, G. (Producer) (2015, May 20). Failure Is Your Friend: A Freakonomics Radio Rebroadcast. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://freakonomics.com/podcast/failure-is-your-friend-a-freakonomics-radio-rebroadcast/

Dring, C., Lim, S. & Mendes, W. (2018, February). Session 8: Race and food systems. Lecture presented in LFS350, UBC, Vancouver BC.

Gibb, N., & Wittman, H. (2013). Parallel alternatives: Chinese-Canadian Farmers and the Metro Vancouver Local Food Movement. Local Environment. 18(1), 1-19

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based Community Development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474–486.

TED. (2016) Tim Harford: How messy problems can inspire creativity. Retrieved from https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd_j_kw_jZQ&time_continue=331

TED. (2014, December). Malik Yankini: Food, race, and justice. Retrieved from from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miukaKDL-Cs

The University of Memphis. (2018). Module 5 – Engaged Scholarship. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from http://www.memphis.edu/ess/module5/index.php

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Pedagogies of uncertainty. Liberal Education, 91(2), 18–25. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ697350.pdf


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Progress Update!

The past few weeks have been filled with a lot of learning and growing moments, and significant progress has been made on our project! We’ve set a timeline of objectives for the remainder of the project, met with our community partner and had our first impromptu interview (featured later in this post!) and identified strategies to complete the rest of our objectives.

For an in-depth summary of our project, including the background information and rationale, please see our Proposal Report.

Weekly Objectives:



  • Submitted Project Proposal, met with our community partner to articulate next steps
  • Responded effectively to community partner’s feedback on email and interview questions for new restaurant owners
  • Secured three interviews so far, looking to secure three more

What, So What, Now What

This framework serves as a valuable mode of reflection on a significant moment that has happened so far in our work.

Chinatown has historically been a place of discrimination where Chinese migrants were not allowed to live or work outside its boundaries. As noted in Session 8 of the lectures series, these strict spatial lines drawn by White settlers created an ethnic enclave where the Chinese population would grow a strong community, albeit not without challenges (Dring, C., Lim, S. & M. Wilson, 2018). We have learned from our community partner that the dismantling of these oppressive structures can be addressed through the emergence of new business in the area: in how they can collaboratively acknowledge the sensitivity of working in a neighborhood with residents of lower incomes and ethnic minorities, and how businesses can play a role in providing key partnerships between new and traditional food businesses.

Our interview with a member of a business association was a significant experience that alluded to some of the information we may uncover in our upcoming interviews. At our last community partner meeting, we conducted an impromptu group interview in order to find out what services the business association currently offers, as well as to get a feel for what services and resources they would be able to offer (if we were to recommend it). More importantly, we discovered some parallels to the struggles that currently exist between new and traditional businesses. The division between the old and the young paralleled the division between some of the perceived divisions between the newer and older businesses, as there are fundamentally different ways of thinking about and addressing problems. They are the youngest member by far and having recently joined the association is bringing new ideas, values and ways of thinking that are not shared with the other members of the association. 

This has great relevance to the interviews we will be conducting, and the potential gaps we may uncover. While there is intergenerational work being done in the area, there is still more to be done to bridge the different age groups. Furthermore, the culture clash from groups of various racial and ethnic backgrounds has brought about a more recent fragmented neighbourhood. Part of our job is to start to chip away at barriers and find ways to encourage social cohesion between businesses by laying the groundwork for more research in this area.

Although they expressed frustration about being only one out of nine members that felt passionate about spearheading environmental initiatives, he also pointed out the importance of respecting the older business’ wisdom in order to move forward. When we contact these newer businesses, it is important to keep in mind that not all businesses may not be aware of these cultural values of elders’ wisdom and understand the history of the community they are conducting business in. Thus, there are many complexities and nuances that businesses may not be prepared to navigate on their own. It is our job then to make sure our questions are unbiased in order to confirm or deny if these values exist beyond our own experiences and assumptions.

As we move forward into our interviews and analysis we should keep in mind the complexities of the relationships between businesses and different ways of thinking. Although it is easy to come in with preconceived ideas of what the situation will be like (ie. new businesses will automatically not want to collaborate with existing suppliers, the resources they need will be unable to be provided), we must throw those ideas to the side. Since there is little information regarding the situation, we must go in open to all options, while maintaining respect for both new and traditional ways of conducting business and running restaurants. We must keep in mind the points highlighted at our orientation with the Learning Exchange regarding the DTES, including not be extractive and to really examine the assets of the community and find out how we can strengthen those. For example, in A Warm Meal and a Bed: Intersections of Housing and Food Security in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Miewald et al. (2014), found that the inexpensive produce stands and restaurants of Chinatown were an important resource for the DTES community, particularly for sourcing affordable, fresh food. These assets should also be considered when studying the changing foodscape and socioeconomic profile of Chinatown. Finally, as we proceed with the interviews with current business owners we will do our best to “shut up and listen” (to yet again quote from Ernesto Sirolli’s TED talk) – to be there for our interviewees and listen to the lived experiences and insights they have to offer us.

For our project, we will also be contributing to a larger research project on social cohesion, conducted by Christina Lee.Christina is a hua foundation staff member who works on special projects.  We are placed in a unique position by contributing to this larger project, are stand alone as many of the LFS projects are standalone, or will not be continued after the class is done. The Module on Capacity Building for Sustained Change (University of Memphis) our team members participated in highlights the goals for community service learning to be “reciprocal and generative [in] nature” as well as allow the community partner to “increase their own knowledge” and “expand their own resources”. We were required to complete it by LFS350 in order to identify how building upon the existing capacity of a community can be used to create sustained change. This places greater pressure on us to make sure we take into consideration the differing perspectives, as our work will contribute to the larger discourse surrounding social cohesion and resiliency in the Chinatown business network.

Chinatown Green Grocer, Credit: Jimmy Hu

Reflections on Lecture Content

Despite the differences in our group members’ backgrounds and experiences, we are all able to appreciate the role of race in the power relations within the food system in B.C. Specifically, we found the course reading by Gibb and Wittman (2013) to be an interesting read, with many points of intersection with our project. Chinatown was first established as a means by white people in power to segregate and restrict Chinese immigrants (Dring, C., Lim, S. & M. Wilson, 2018); even then, the Chinese held on to their cultural assets, and developed a strong network of support and community for each other. That is a remarkable endeavour we as students in the modern day may not be able to imagine.

Gibb and Wittman’s study (2013) focused on the notion of “parallel food systems” – that is, a situation where two local food networks exist together but with “few points of intentional connection and collaboration” (Gibb & Wittman, 2013). Our work with the hua foundation in Chinatown explores exactly that: the network of Chinese-owned stores and greengrocers supported by Chinese farmers, which seems to exist in parallel with the network of farmer’s markets and food initiatives supported by the City of Vancouver. We have mentioned in our first blog post that we were appalled by the number of Chinese-owned greengrocers, butcher shops and fishmongers that had gone out of business in recent years. Seeing these key players in the local food network diminish while similar businesses in other areas continue to receive guidance and support programs from the City, really drives home the reality that the Chinatown food system is very distinct from the food system in the rest of Vancouver, and gets treated very differently too.

Upcoming Objectives and Strategies

Strategies to Analyze the Results

In order to analyze the interviews, we will compare their responses to our initial research questions:

  • What are existing social and professional connections between food assets in Chinatown?
  • How can these connections be strengthened?
  • What are the major barriers for creating connections between food assets/businesses in Chinatown?

Each interview will be roughly transcribed (key sections) by one of the interviewers. The other interviewer will perform the analysis. In order to not overload those who are conducting more than one interview, a group member who was not present may perform either the analysis or transcription for one interview.  To analyze each interview, the transcription will be re-read to increase familiarity then the text will be labelled with recurring themes ie resources, diversity, suppliers. From this coding, larger themes will be drawn and defined. At the end of the analysis, the research questions will be answered and a short summary of other interesting findings will be provided. These individual analyses will be included as an appendix in our final report.  After each interview has been analyzed a meta-analysis will be conducted to identify overarching themes and what resources are needed. Future research questions will also be identified.

We will also ask for all interviewees consent in order to publish their name and business name. Businesses are also welcome to stay anonymous.

After all of this preparatory work, we are excited to dive in and see what sorts of responses we will get from our interviews. Will they match our current expectations? Will we uncover new information? How will this be valuable to the hua foundation and the Chinatown community as a whole? These are all questions we anticipate uncovering in the next few weeks!


Gibb, N., & Wittman, H. (2013). Parallel alternatives: Chinese-Canadian farmers and the Metro Vancouver local food movement. Local Environment, 18(1), 1–19.

Miewald, C. & Ostry, A. (2014) A Warm Meal and a Bed: Intersections of Housing and Food Security in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Housing Studies, 29(6), 709-729, DOI: 10.1080/02673037.2014.920769

MODULE: Capacity Building for Sustained Change. Engaged Scholarship. University of Memphis.

Sirolli, E. (2012, August). Retrieved January 26, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen






Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hello from hua!

Hello! Welcome to our LFS350 Blog! Team 13 is comprised of Jimmy, Farron, Chloe, Joyce, Jianru, and Meryn. This semester, we will be working with the hua foundation on “Food Access Issues in Vancouver’s Chinatown”. Follow along as our project unfolds!

First, a little bit about us:

Jimmy: I am a third-year Nutritional Sciences major. As someone with strong ties to both Canada and Asia, I have great confidence in communicating with locals from both sides and have always been interested in opportunities to connect the two backgrounds. I look forward to working with more people with different backgrounds and stories this term on this project. I also enjoy eating international foods and marvelling at old buildings.

Farron: I am a third-year Global Resource Systems major! As a fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian whose family was impacted by the Japanese internment, I am interested in the intersections of space and identity – in particular how food systems and cultural food assets can help strengthen communities. I am looking forward to working with the hua foundation, Chinese community members and businesses, and incoming businesses. I hope to learn more about facilitating social cohesion – I would love to use the “Asset-Based Community Development” approach in order to pinpoint the strengths and unique skill sets of the community that can contribute to this project.

Chloe: I’m a third-year Nutritional Science major! As a Chinese immigrant,  it warms my heart to walk through Chinatown, a place with so much Chinese culture. However, it seems difficult when two different cultures try to get along with each other; one of the most significant sign is when it comes to food security. I see this project as an opportunity to join hua foundation to investigate the ongoing conflicts in Chinatown, with the emergence of new businesses in the area. Also, as LFS students, my hope is that we are not only learning about ways we can combine in-class knowledge with real-life issues, but also how we can look for solutions that may improve food security in Chinatown in the process.

Joyce: I’m a third year Global Resource Systems student, studying “food systems planning”. The focus of my studies has been on the intersection between food and urban systems and investigating the areas of overlap through a social justice lens. I have a strong interest in pursuing social planning which has led me to investigate topics of spatial equity, universal design and more recently, the role youth play in shaping civic discourse. I find Chinatown a fascinating place of community activism and hope as it has shown continued resistance to encroaching development (albeit small resistance). I hope to learn more about bridging the chasms between formal and informal planning, and how they inform one another in the creation of social ties. In my spare time, you can find me biking around the city, drawing, and thinking deep thoughts about how to make happy, healthy cities.


Jianru: I am majoring in Food Science. When I was walking along the Chinatown, I was surprised by its traditional style as I am used to a modern style of Chinese architecture. I was shocked by the severity of drug issues in the area, but also am interested in the innovations in the Downtown Eastside, such as InSite.  I am also interested in the stories about the first wave of Chinese-Canadian immigrants that call Chinatown home. In my spare time, you’ll find me reading, meeting with friends, painting and learning new languages!

Meryn: I am a third-year student in the Global Resources Program focusing on food systems sustainability from the background of nutrition and sustainable agriculture. The more I’ve learnt about food security, the more I’ve realized the subtleties and different aspects of it. I am excited to learn more about cultural food security and Asset Based Community Development; although I acknowledge I have a lot to learn in these subjects, I hope my experience from on-campus initiatives will transfer over smoothly.  I enjoy running up and down mountains, bad jokes and eating good food!


About Our Community Partner–Hua Foundation

For this project, we will be working with the hua foundation. Kevin Huang, the co-founder, will be our community liaison and insider/in-sighter while we develop our research focus throughout the course of the semester. Since 2009, the hua foundation has been working at the “intersection of where environmental issues and cultural traditions meet” (hua foundation, n.d.). The hua foundation began working in an advocacy role regarding the issue of shark fin soup but have since transitioned to focusing on work with Asian youth and policy change promotion. The hua foundation’s mission statement to “empower youth in the Asian diaspora to fully participate in advancing social change through exploring […] racialized identities and building resilience in communities” (hua foundation, n.d.) is embodied in their various initiatives such as the Choi Project, a program designed to empower Chinese families toparticipate in their local food system through vegetable guides, cooking workshops and market signage. Another initiative they support include Chinatown Today, a local publication that shares stories of Chinatown heritage and community knowledge.

Kevin Huang, hua foundation co-founder,

Photo from hua foundation website 

Most recently, the hua foundation published a report titled the Vancouver Chinatown Food Security Report that outlined the food landscape in Chinatown, highlighting the the loss of 50% of food assets in Chinatown since 2009 (Ho & Chen, 2017). Many of the terms we have become familiar with in LFS 250 and 350 have renewed meanings to us now, such as “food assets” and “food security”. After reading the hua foundation’s report we have seen the importance of expanding our knowledge of “cultural food assets” and “cultural food sovereignty” for discussions about food systems. The Vancouver Food Strategy defines food assets as “resources, facilities, services or spaces that are available to Vancouver residents, and which are used to support the local food system” (City of Vancouver, 2013 in Ho & Chen, 2017). Cultural food assets build on this by providing “spaces that support the maintenance and transmission of culture. In the case of Chinatown, this includes greengrocers, fishmongers, barbecue meat stores, butcher shops, dry goods stores, and traditional Cantonese bakeries and restaurants (Ho & Chen, 2017).

LFS students are very familiar with the standard definition of food security – however, “cultural” food security emphasizes it being a state where “people are able to acquire food in ways that are culturally acceptable, empowering, and personally dignifying” (Ho & Chen, 2017). The findings of this report led to the hua foundation’s contribution to reshaping municipal definition of food assets to be more holistic. We are excited at the prospect of contributing to the conversation of food access in Chinatown, a topic that is largely undocumented in academia.

Vancouver Chinatown Food Security Report (Ho & Chen, 2017).

Our interests and why we chose this project:

  • A desire to expand our understanding of food security and learn about the implications of cultural food literacy and cultural food assets
  • The ability to situate ourselves as youth from the Chinese diaspora to have a better understanding of personal and collective identity
  • An interest in the different factors and dynamics that shape the current food system landscape in the Chinatown area (eg. language, taste preference, storefront look etc)

This opportunity provides a space for us to expand our existing skill sets. We hope to gain skills and knowledge related to:

  • Interview, communication skills
  • Greater understanding of some of the socioeconomic, policy, cultural and language-related barriers to food access
  • Improved cross-cultural dialogue skills
  • Better understanding of the Chinese parallel food system in Vancouver
  • Appreciative inquisition and developing an “asset-focused” approach to addressing food system issues
  • Assessment and evaluation of social value

E Keefer North, Photo: Jimmy Hu 

Project Description

Acknowledging the current dynamic nature of Chinatown’s food assets, there is an apparent opportunity to foster partnerships within the neighbourhood’s various food suppliers to facilitate points of connection between new and old businesses. The goal of our research project is to investigate current examples of social cohesion between Chinatown food assets. This will provide insight on the connectedness of the Chinatown food system and increase understanding of parallel food systems and their manifestation in the business landscape of Chinatown.

Our main objectives:

  1. Identify what new businesses have already established connections with existing distributors and greengrocers.
  2. Interview key business owners.
  3. Analyse results from interviews to establish what methods work for business owners, and identify challenges and next steps.
  4. Create document/infographic to share our findings.

The outcomes of our project include creating a resource for new businesses in Chinatown based off of the needs identified through interviews. We will also create a map of connections between businesses and distributors.

First impressions on the process to date

For some of us, it was the first time setting foot in Chinatown, or even the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES). The UBC Learning Exchange workshop helped to contextualize the neighbourhood and its key features. A presentation video on the importance of asset-based community development (ABCD) addressed some of our worries about working in a sensitive environment, such as the DTES. An ABCD approach recognizes that community members have existing, unique skill sets to contribute to the project (Mathie and Cunningham, 2003). In the paper by Wittman and Gibb (2013) we were assigned, one of the key insights on the Chinese-Canadian community was the ingenuity of the Chinese distribution network born out of a system of oppression; a parallel food system that operates in conjunction, but separate from the mainstream local food system.

The UBC Learning Exchange workshop was particularly helpful in positioning our role as external researchers. We acknowledge that there is no such thing as a neutral space and that the neighbourhood of Chinatown is set within a greater narrative of historical, collective, and social trauma. Within these histories, structural inequalities of race and class have been embedded and now inherited by the present. We must recognize that citizens of the community are at the centre of development and meaningful engagement with the community occurs through dialogue and active listening (Mathie and Cunningham, 2003; Sirolli, 2012). After the presentation, we felt more at ease about the area we would be working in, but still held questions about the realities of working with vulnerable communities.

East Pender, Near the Northern Border of Chinatown; Photo: Jimmy Hu

Kevin, our community partner, was able to provide more insight as he toured the group around Chinatown. While it was brief, we found his insider knowledge eye-opening and nuanced. We were enchanted by the charming mom-and-pop shops and surrounded by the lively activities both inside the shops and on the streets. Stores lined the streets with fresh produce, large signs with Chinese characters donned open containers of herbs and dried goods, much like in Chinatown’s depicted popular media. The traditional stores of the area provide fresh produce, meats and dried goods for residents in the direct periphery and surrounding areas like the Strathcona community and the DTES. We expressed concerns about what food justice in the neighbourhood looks like and how our project could seek to “eliminate disparities and inequities that constrain food choices and access to good food for all” (Gottlieb and Joshi, 2010).This was reflected upon when we observed which goods were offered at a fair and affordable price, and if workers in the local Chinatown food system were being paid living wages.

Greengrocers on E Georgia, Photo: Jimmy Hu

We also noticed an astonishing number of vacant stores that were no longer in business, despite still having signage displayed. Most of these stores had been out of business for upwards of 1 year, due to a compounding of factors such as increasing rent and lack of successors to run the stores. There was a distinct contrast between the newer businesses and the older, traditional Chinese businesses – from the demographics of clientele served to the variety of food options available, ranging in price and cuisine. We left feeling somewhat overwhelmed with the challenges that the area faces, but were also hopeful about what opportunities laid ahead. Regarding the contrast between new and old businesses, we believe there are solutions to be found where the two are compatible, and realistically, the future of the community necessitates their cooperation. New and old, they both have insights to offer the community and do not have to be mutually exclusive.


Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). (2006, June). Policy Brief: Food Security. Retrieved February 8th, 2018 from http://www.fao.org/forestry/13128-0e6f36f27e0091055bec28ebe830f46b3.pdf

Ho, Angela & Chen, Alan. (2017, August). Vancouver Chinatown Food Security Report. Retrieved February 4, 2018, from http://www.huafoundation.org/foodreport/read-vancouver-chinatown-food-security-report/

hua foundation. (n.d.). Our Mission, Vision, and Values. Retrieved January 26, 2018, from http://www.huafoundation.org/our-mission-story/

Gottlieb, R., & Joshi, A. (2010). Food Justice. MIT Press.

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based Community Development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474–486.

Sirolli, E. (2012, August). Ernesto Sirolli at TEDxEQChCh. Retrieved January 26, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized