"No one thing here does just one thing." These are words Mark Bomford says often about UBC Farm. The more the director of UBC’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems talks about its cultivated fields, teaching gardens, forest stands, hedgerows and orchard plantings, the more you realize: he’s not kidding.

By Basil Waugh | Photo by Javier Landaeta
UBC Reports | Vol. 56 | No. 10 | Oct. 7, 2010

UBC students learn sustainable farming while growing fruits and vegetables for the popular farmers’ market. K-12 students on school trips learn basic science while reconnecting with nature. The covercrops that protect soil from erosion will become biofuel. Even the honeybees are research subjects, as scientists try to understand their mysterious global disappearing act.

Last year was a banner year at the Farm, Bomford says. Attendance was through the roof with 40,000 visitors and 500 volunteers. Students grew a record 250 types of crops, plants and animals, and more than 150 academic projects across six faculties took place. By popular demand, the farmers’ market runs twice weekly.

But ironically, the Farm’s two most important recent milestones happened away from its fertile soil, says Bomford.

The first was a commitment by UBC’s Board of Governors’ in Nov. 2008 that no family housing be built on the Farm, provided that the housing density previously allotted to the Farm can be moved elsewhere on campus. The second—also requested by the Board—is a new “globally significant, academically rigorous” plan that will ensure the Farm is world-class hub for sustainability research for years to come.

Back in 1997, before its 2001 re-invention, the Farm was designated as a “future housing reserve” during the Metro Vancouver-led Official Community Plan, which has guided UBC’s development as a model sustainable university community. However, the possibility of housing on the Farm raised concern for many in recent years.

“Sustainability and food security have grown exponentially as issues of absolute everyday importance to people over the last decade,” says Bomford. “The way the university and community have embraced the Farm over this period feels very special, and reflects this larger picture.”

In UBC’s current Land Use Plan consultations (see below for details), the university is seeking to re-designate the Farm—along with other green areas, including botanical gardens and athletic fields—as “green academic,” meaning academic lands that support land-based teaching, research, community engagement and athletics.

Other goals of the Land Use Plan consultations include: identifying where the housing density allotted to the Farm will be moved, and increasing campus housing options and affordability. The growth of housing at UBC is part of a long-term strategy to transform the university from a commuter campus into a model sustainable community.

With the Farm’s future secure, Bomford and his team are ready to hit the ground running with the new academic plan, Cultivating Place, which will transform the Farm into a world-class academic resource and a core part of UBC’s sustainability strategy.

The centrepiece of the plan includes the creation of a small residential college and micro-lab. To be built to the highest green standards using existing building footprints, these new facilities will bring students, faculty and world experts together into an immersive environment for globally significant research on key sustainability issues, says Prof. Andrew Riseman, UBC Faculty of Land of Food Systems, who co-chaired the creation of Cultivating Place with Bomford.

Other highlights of the five-year plan include: green technology innovation, innovation grants, visiting sustainability laureates, sustainability dialogues, practicum courses, faculty memberships and farm-branded organic deliveries to campus homes and local restaurants.

“UBC Farm will be a living laboratory where students and researchers explore the major sustainability issues facing society, including food, energy, waste and greenhouse gas,” says Bomford. “We want to develop global best practices in the microcosm of UBC, and then share these broadly as an agent for positive social change.”

“No campus farm that I know of is attempting the level of integration between learning, teaching, research and operations, or the breadth of crucial issues that we are working to address at the UBC Farm,” says Riseman.

As Bomford likes to say, no one thing does just one thing.

Cultivating Place website:

Participate in UBC Land Use Plan consultations online or in person. Learn more at planning.ubc.ca

Learn how UBC will reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 at sustain.ubc.ca