Juxtapose what pops to mind when you think of:
1. UBC administration’s main prerogatives.
2. UBC’s only broad, encompassing mission statement, trek 2010.

For me, it goes something like this for the former, “Martha Piper-endowment-development-endowment-ivory tower-endowment-elite research-endowment-ivy league-endowment”
and something like this for the latter: “complete community-global citizenship-sustainability-global citizenship-community outreach-global citizenship-public responsibility-global citizenship-innovation-global citizenship.

Now why is this? Why is there such an enormous (at least at the dubious level of free association) gulf between the university’s professed goals and vision, and the visceral sense students seem to have that it is being dishonest about them? I’d like to take the case of the UBC Farm, especially in the context of the Campus Plan and Official Community Plan to think about this.

I’ll start with a little summary: UBC, *shock* extends beyond 16th avenue. It has sizable land holdings in the South Campus area, which contain some national research facilities, an animal research centre, the UBC Botanical Garden’s nursery, some forest, and an agricultural area: the UBC Farm. The land where the farm sits was once used exclusively for research purposes by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. Since 2001 though, with the student-initiated, faculty-supported document “Re-Inventing the UBC Farm” the land has been used as a functioning student- and volunteer-run organic farm, and a centre for wider community participation and education in urban agriculture, in conjunction to it’s continued use as a site for academic research.

Currently, the farm has loosely ambiguous status as a a protectorate (for lack of a better term – since there isn’t any formalized language) of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, though technically it also belongs to Forestry and Science for research. It does not get core funding from the faculties, however. Mark Bomford says the farm received about $300,000 in its early years of operation from the faculty of L&F Systems. It now receives no core funding from the university, but is supported with administration and communication by the faculty, whose past and present Deans have been very supportive. Many project grants, as well as individual student project budgets, and revenue from the summer markets support it’s current programs and staff. Essentially, the Farm is a cost-recovery operation that strives to be self-sufficient through the sales of its products, and grants.

As we all see, smell, and (gross) taste, every day, UBC’s Point Grey campus is undergoing a bit of an overhaul physically. There are nine major construction sites on campus now. This of course, is just the beginning. The UBC Campus Plan, which you may have heard of, is in the process of creating a comprehensive plan for the “academic” needs of UBC’s campus core (CORRECTION: not including the much-maligned University Boulevard project). This plan is governed under BC’s University Act, which designates the framework for the construction of university premises. By contrast, “non-academic” buildings and neighborhoods being developed on the university’s property are governed by the Official Community Plan (OCP) which is a municipal bylaw passed by the GVRD in 1997 outlining the land uses for all of UBC’s holdings, particularly its non-institutional areas. These include the Hawthorn place, Hampton place, and Wesbrook neighborhoods, that are intended for the general public as opposed to student populations. By deciding which areas of the UBC campus are needed for the university’s “academic” (ie, university-related) uses, the administration has been able to contract off swaths of the “extra” land for development under the guidelines of the OCP (not the University Act), in return for wads of cash for the endowment. The endowment is a large bulk sum of money that sits in a bank and collects interest that is then theoretically used to reinvest in the university’s academic programs, scholarships, innovation, and so forth.

More riveting analysis behind the jump, yo.

The problem with these two governance systems is that juggling and trading between them requires the delineation of academic vs. non-academic value, need, and use. In the case of an interdisciplinary place like the Farm, (and I would argue, a variety of other places on campus) that have a diverse array of community and university stakeholders, this is not only impractical (as I will presently evidence), but distinctly backward and utterly against the spirit of UBC’s mission in Trek 2010.

I sat down with Mark Bomford, farm head-honcho, to talk about the UBC farm’s quest for legitimacy in the face of virtually non-existent monetary support and ambivalent moral support from the university administration. I started by asking him about the recent addition to the name: the farm has recently been illustriously re-christened The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the UBC Farm. According to Bomford, the new name “better represents the diversity and breadth of the program”. Indeed, by checking the CSFS at UBC Farm’s (to be called the Farm henceforth for expedience and sanity purposes) program listing for 2006, about sixty diverse programs were active, from graduate student projects on market crops, to elementary school agriculture mentorship, to faculty-led research on yeast enhancement of organic fertilizer, to a community garden for aboriginals from the Downtown Eastside. Some of the impetus for the name change, (much like the change in the name of the former Faculty of Agriculture, to Agricultural Sciences, to the current “Land and Food Systems”) comes from the desire to move beyond the negative backward connotations associated with farming and promoting food systems as legitimate, progressive, and indeed essential academic fields of study.

Bomford emphasized that the Farm’s raison d’etre is, and will always be primarily as an academic resource: both in teaching and research. These activities though, take place in a functioning economic food-production model system, enabling an experiential system for research and learning that has access to integrative subject matter and resources. The diversity of programs represent an academic resource that is both unique, extremely current, and utterly non-reproducible in a traditional research plot or laboratory, he says. Instead of diminishing it’s academic value, the community aspects and external partners in such a system are the very things that make the system such an academic and educational boon.
Bomford highlights that the Farm’s activities are synergistic with the university’s goals:
“In Trek 2010, the great university picture tends to be a lot friendlier [than big endowment, big name] – it tends to focus on people, sustainability, community. Assumptions about what striving to be a great university is are often at odds with the vision of trek 2010, which outlines a progressive community, not a picture of a highly-funded, highly-exclusive institution […] If UBC has an interest in positioning itself at the forefront of socio-economic, ecological, and food system sustainability, this is a godsend.”

What, then, is the big deal? The Farm, with its integ
ration of research, community, and education in a working model system, perhaps like no other place at UBC seems to fulfill the very essence of what the University’s stated mission calls for. To answer this, let’s think back to those two governing structures, the University Act (and the Campus Plan that is governed by it) and the municipal bylaw, the OCP. What in tarnation do you do with a piece of land, and a group of people, that though they belong undeniably to the university, shamelessly mix academic and non-academic “uses” of a very valuable piece of land? Do you integrate it into the faculty structure officially and support it as an academic facility? Or sign it away into sole OCP jurisdiction (that still has the area listed as “future housing reserve”), lease it to a developer and wash your hands?

To address this sticky mess of “uses,” the Campus and Community Planning office has requested that the academic and non-academic/community land-use of the Farm be compartmentalized and clearly delineated (specifically I’ve heard and read communications to this effect from Nancy Knight and Jim Charlebois). How to do this practically is any one’s guess: for example, is a plot of land that was used by graduate student Tara Moreau for a study on the use of eggplant as a trap-crop for a common greenhouse pest, the whitefly, in planting of peppers, that were then tended by Agsci student volunteers, and then eaten by a family of Point Grey yuppies, academic or non-academic? What about the the land on which the farm’s flock of organic chickens roamed; they were being studied as a means for wireworm control by graduate student Amanda Brown – but the eggs were sometimes used as part of a community kitchen with residents of the downtown east side. Or how would the land that faculty-member Anthony Lau used for his study of yeast in organic fertilizer be designated if the crops grown there were sold to PiR^2 as pizza ingredients? As Bomford says, “The most interesting projects here are a tangled web of community values and research.” Compartmentalizing these diverse and integrative aspects of the farm’s activities is not only absurd, but hearkens back to a vision we have outgrown.

Despite this somewhat dangerous confusion, the Farm is steadily gaining the legitimacy and support it so richly deserves. Volunteer participation has climbed steadily over the last five years. Both AMS president Jeff Friedrich and newly-elected GSS president Matt Fillipiak are enthusiastic advocates. A study, to be published next month, is to examine how much, and what sort of land is necessary to maintain the vision of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm. This study, which is being conducted by an external consultant named Erik Lees was prompted by the ongoing questions of involved people, including students, but supported and commissioned by The VP Academic and Provost’s office, Treasury office, and L&F Systems Dean’s office. It represents a serious step in formalizing the Farm’s position within the university. If the report has the wide buy-in expected, the administration should look at investing in the Farm and it’s unique opportunities, not de-vesting itself of them.

UBC has adopted an official sustainability strategy that is in sync with it’s Trek 2010 goals. It should likewise create an official, BoG-vetted Sustainable Food Strategy, and catch it’s actions up with its vision. The Farm, for one, doesn’t need reminding. It is fulfilling the University’s vision with every student volunteer, grad student, faculty member, and community member that benefits from and contributes to its programs. And by that I mean, walks through the gate, gets her hands dirty, knees soaked, arms sore from moving rocks, and stomach full of awesome farm produce.


8 Comments so far

  1. Alex Lougheed on March 26, 2007 1:45 am

    My one beef with the farm is that it has stolen the spotlight as a ‘token student politician issue’ when there are others just as if not more important to the student body as a whole.

    Like land claims.

  2. Gina Eom on March 26, 2007 2:20 am

    Please elaborate beyond “land claims”?

    What is the issue and what is your stance?

  3. Fire Hydrant on March 26, 2007 7:14 am

    One minor quibble with the post: U Blvd (and the plaza/knoll area) lives under the OCP, and is excluded from the Campus Plan. Much to my consternation.

    And to translate Alex’s comment for Gina’s benefit: “The Farm is currently the trendy issue on which student politicians like to take strong, hollow, and utterly meaningless (i.e. symbolic) stances.” I tend to categorize this one a bit differently, myself.

  4. Gina Eom on March 26, 2007 7:20 am

    I’m asking what Lougheed means with “more important issues” like “land claims”.

    I want him to elaborate on this and what his stance is.

  5. Tim Louman-Gardiner on March 26, 2007 7:52 am

    Alex, you’re generally right. Student politicians often use it as the token and easy issue.

    My beef with it is the people who use it ignorantly. There are those who just mindlessly scream “save the Farm”; I’d lump them in with the “reduce tuition now” drones.

    But for the people who engage with the Farm and its mission, power to them.

  6. Maayan Kreitzman on March 26, 2007 3:04 pm

    Darren – so the same people (in the Campus and Community Planning office) deal with both the “Campus plan” and “neighborhoods”? Why would U-boulevard not be included in the former, if the campus plan is supposed to adress the “academic core” of the campus? What is inculded in the former?

    Apropos of the political token thing: yes, some people use to fill up space, I suppose. But there is a VERY high level of engagement with the farm from students. A lot, probably most of it’s growth and development over the years have stemmed from student projects and initiatives (including the market garden). That’s partly what makes it such a great place to volunteer (for me).

  7. Fire Hydrant on March 27, 2007 7:15 am

    The neighbourhoods have basically already been planned. With one or two exceptions, their neighbourhood plans have been written, consulted on (meaningfully or otherwise) and passed by Board and the GVRD. UBC considers them dealt with, and has no interest in reopening them.

    As campus’ intended social heart and main entranceway, it would make some degree of sense to include U Blvd in the campus planning exercise. The excuse here is that its design is about 4-5 years beyond the stage the campus plan is now at. I’m not emperor.

    As for what falls under the campus plan, basically it’s UBC’s entire campus, minus the neighbourhoods (Hampton Place, mid campus/Hawthorn, Theology/Chancellor, U Blvd, East Campus, North Campus (President’s house and Museum of Anthropology), and South Campus’ “northeast subarea”). It does deal with the future housing reserves (UBC Research/Vizon Scitech, UBC Farm, and Totem Field). Two other neighbourhoods do not have plans in place yet, and might be covered in this plan as well — Gage South (diesel loop) and Thunderbird (new empty parkade and surroundings). The latter will be used for institutional purposes, and Gage South’s future is up in the air.

  8. Matthew Naylor on March 27, 2007 4:54 pm

    Wow, Gina, you really missed the humour in this, eh? Chill.

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