Saving the Farm (round 2): The Farm Reinvented
A farm of some description has been a part of UBC’s Vancouver campus since the establishment of the university site on Point Grey. However, the farm’s size, location, purpose, and operations have all seen many changes over the years.
In the decades following the Second World War, the diminishing socioeconomic importance of agriculture in the province was mirrored in campus growth patterns, as new athletics fields, parking lots, and academic buildings displaced former farmland.
Eventually, the second-growth forest on the far south of campus was cleared to make way for new agricultural facilities, but by the late 1990s, activity had declined significantly – some operations having moved to new locations in Agassiz, BC. By 1997 the farm had been earmarked as a “Future Housing Reserve” in UBC’s Official Community Plan.
In 1999, however, students enrolled in the new Agroecology and Global Resource Systems programs “re-discovered” the south campus field areas. They envisioned the land as an integrated farm system, which would provide a practical, experiential complement to the sustainability theory being taught in the classroom. It was a vision that conflicted with the Official Community Plan, and it sparked a decade of discussion about the future uses of the land.
Meanwhile, after the publication in 2000 of a vision document entitled “Reinventing the UBC Farm,” faculty, staff, students, and community members worked together to bring previously fragmented field areas together into a single working farm and forest system that delivered a growing number of programs to students and researchers in many different disciplines.
Despite this, by the summer of 2008 there was great concern among the farm’s users and supporters that it would be replaced by market housing. A “Save the Farm” campaign mobilized significant support, culminating in a petition with 16,000 signatures and a Great Farm Trek on April 7, 2009, when 2,000 people marched from the Student Union Building to the farm, to show their support for retaining its existing size and location.
Later that year, the UBC Board of Governors stated that there would be no market housing on the farm provided that “the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals could be met through transferring density to other parts of campus.” The board also called for an academic plan for South Campus to advance “academically rigorous and globally significant” teaching and research around issues of sustainability.
By winter this plan – Cultivating Place – was in place and in 2011, following public consultation, the farm was re-zoned “Green Academic” in UBC’s Land Use Plan.
As a result, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems was soon established at the farm. It is a unique research centre that aims to understand and fundamentally transform local and global food systems towards a more sustainable, food-secure future. There have been approximately 10-15 active research projects on site every year since 2011.