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An Agent of Change

An Agent of Change

An Agent of Change

Find out the most intimate way we consciously interact with the environment.

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Find out the most intimate way we consciously interact with the environment.

Earth is no longer the Edenic image of unfettered bounty it once was. As populations continue to soar, urban development voraciously eats up precious cropland and climate change continues to violently disrupt our planet’s fragile ecosystems, our once assumed subjugation of the environment is now a long lost memory.

The security of our food — and by extension, its future sustainability — is at a critical crossroads in human history.

The challenge with the staggering pace of human industrialization and our seemingly limitless ability to develop new technologies, conquer harsh terrains, develop mega-cities, and hijack nature’s ancient cycles to increase ‘convenience’, is that we have also surpassed our ability to solve many of the problems now associated with this surplus of shining industrious know-how and development.

Our future relationship with the environment — how we live within it and take sustenance from it — greatly depends upon whether we can think differently about how we grow and distribute our food.

It isn’t a question for some communities and not others — food security affects everyone. The solutions are not simple and finding ones that work on a global scale is daunting. However, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, headed by Director Hannah Wittman, is leading research, education and community initiatives that she believes will help create healthier and more sustainable food systems for the entire planet.

“We want people to understand they have options for how they’re going to eat in the future and to learn more about the people who grow and process food,” explains Wittman. “Ideally, we’d like people to understand their relationship not only to their food but also to the land.”

Wittman is passionate about educating people about ecologically sustainable and socially just food systems as a viable alternative to the current model. “To be sustainable, we need to consider the whole suite of social and ecological processes that have to be cultivated, maintained and protected to ensure food security.”

To me, climate change is the challenge of the day. We, as a species, are going to have a very hard time unless we deal with climate change. And agriculture is on the front line of the battle that is coming. Agriculture is a big contributor to climate change and it is going to be the hardest hit by it. So, a big part of my lab’s focus is on how we reduce emissions and how we can help farmers adapt to what is happening.
— Sean Smukler

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Land and Food Systems

Global Challenges

Increasing yield and improving production models — including new irrigation methods — to address global risks to food systems are only possible through significant investments in agricultural research and new food production techniques.


9 Billion

By 2050, the human population is forecast to surpass 9 billion people, and global food demand will increase by 70% if current consumption trajectories continue.


All aspects of food security are affected by climate change. Heat and water stress could reduce crop yields by 25% between 2030 and 2049.


Nearly 24% of global land area is undergoing degradation. Almost one fifth of degrading land is arable cropland — more than 20% of all cultivated areas.


Local Challenges

Agricultural land conversion for residential development, an aging farming demographic, and economic barriers facing new farmers and home-grown food entrepreneurs are local trends both at home and internationally.


2.6 Million

Currently only 2.6 million of the 4.7 million hectares of Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia is actively farmed.


The average age for farmers in British Columbia is 56 years of age.


In a UBC study, nearly 82% of prospective local farmers were not from a farming background. Study participants identified the high cost of agricultural land as the biggest barrier to entering farming.

Few of us think about the quality of our soil, the decreasing number of small-scale farmers, or the type of seed our produce comes from. Typical urban dwellers may have a general awareness about organic food and perhaps shop at their local farmers’ market but when they do, it’s mostly for their personal health. Wittman says there are greater — and more global — questions and issues to consider.

“What about ecological health? What about social justice? What about living wages for farmers and farm workers? What about Indigenous food and traditions? How are we preserving biodiversity which we are in danger of losing?”

In other words, what begins in the soil is hugely influential on our wellbeing as a species. Ryan Weemhoff, sales coordinator for the UBC Farm, explains it in simple and somewhat binary terms: “Good soil makes good humans.”

The UBC Farm, which was certified organic in May 2016, strives to be a model for a sustainable food system not only for production purposes but as an agent for social change so that real-world problems affecting the entire planet can be addressed.

With the recent donation of $2 million in 2015 from the co-founders Arran and Ratana Stephens of Nature’s Path Foods, as well as significant donations of $1 million each from the Royal Bank of Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the vision for new state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories and community spaces will exponentially grow the farm’s capacity to be an agent for change. “Having a new, community embedded, ‘field to fork’ facility helps our students to become more literate about the ways that all parts of the food system work together, from community gardens to global agricultural trade regulations,” explains Wittman.

Wittman places a high-priority on igniting interdisciplinary conversations where “critical thinking and action towards socially and ecologically-just food security from the local to the global” can — and must — be explored. In a world increasingly desperate for solutions to its food system challenges, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the UBC Farm offers a near-ideal laboratory for innovation, discovery and lasting change.

Top Ten Things You Can Do to be more Sustainable About Your Food

Discover top tips from the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems to increase your food sustainability today.

Eat seasonally

We are lucky to live in BC with a long growing season and fresh local food available most of the year (PDF, 5.6MB).

Visit a market

Visit your local farmer’s market to see what’s in season and support local farmers.

Be part of a CSA

Consider joining a community-supported agriculture program.

Think about what you drink

Drink water instead of soda or other sugary beverages — our tap water in Metro Vancouver comes from the pristine Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam watersheds.

Stay in to eat

Plan to cook at home more often — make double the quantity so you can eat leftovers the next day.

Buy less, waste less

Avoid impulse shopping by making a list and sticking to it.

Go organic and fair trade

Choose organic and fair trade certified foods when possible — support healthy food for people and environment.

Use every scrap

Use up food scraps to make this soup stock recipe and then compost the rest.

Choose your seafood with care

Choose OceanWise certified fish and seafood to support sustainable fisheries.

Visit the UBC Farm

Procure fresh organic vegetables from our farmers market, learn how to cook and preserve them with our food skills workshops, and explore our innovative food system sustainability education and research projects.

Story Credits

Special thanks to all of our story partners:

Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm: Hannah Wittman, Academic Director; Ryan Weemhoff, Sales Manager; Véronik Campbell, Academic Programs Manager; Shannon Lambie, former Communications Coordinator; Hannah Lewis, Community Education Coordinator; Jaylin Melnichuk, former Feast Bowl Intern; Clare Cullen, Operations Director; Sarah Clements, Flower Intern and Practicum Field Mentor.

Faculty of Land and Food Systems: Jennifer Honeybourn, Director, Communications; Sean Smukler, Assistant Professor; students of APBI 260 Food & Environment 1; Gabriel Maltais-Landry, Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

Other: Leonard Foster, Professor, Faculty of Medicine; Stacy Friedman, Program Manager, Intergenerational Landed Learning Project, Faculty of Education; Steve Golob, Chef, Place Vanier Residence.

Special thanks to the entire staff at the UBC Farm who have appeared in any of our photographs — thank you!

Story team: UBC Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, Online Producer; Martin Dee, UBC Photographer; Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Paul Joseph, UBC Photographer; Michael Kam, Web Developer; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Laura Stobbe, Communication Designer; Mark Pilon, Communication Designer; Jamil Rhajiak, Photographer; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer; Matt Warburton, Manager, Graphic Design; Mormei Zanke, Assistant Writer. Additional copywriting — David Leidl, Copy Editor. Additional video direction and editing — Lu Zhang, Editor, Video Director; Lucas Hrubizna, Editor.

Thank you: The University of British Columbia Archives