Apple and Cucumber
Seed to Plate

Seed to Plate

Seed to Plate

What happens when the community connects with something larger at UBC Farm?

Discover the UBC Farm market.

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What happens when the community connects with something larger at UBC Farm?

Discover the UBC Farm market.

When the Fields Sleep

As with any working farm, there is a lot of work to do all year round at the UBC Farm. During the fall months, staff is busy planting cover crops to ensure as many nutrients as possible are absorbed and trapped in the plant biomass over winter for tilling in the springtime. With Vancouver’s dependably rainy climate, the cover crop — typically grasses and legumes — are a vital added layer that prevents precious nutrients from leaching out of the soil while providing a natural nitrogen fertilizer for the soil.

While the farm may seem like it is in a kind of sleepy torpor in the deepest part of winter, there’s important work being done above ground by students and staff who are busy planning for what will be grown and sold at the farm markets (which run from beginning of June to the end of October). In addition to the markets, UBC Farm serves the Vancouver community with healthy, organic produce through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that promises its members (some as far away as the suburb of Burnaby) a weekly box of fresh, organic produce. Many award-winning local restaurants, such as Hawksworth Restaurant (multiple winner of ‘Best Upscale Restaurant’ in Vancouver Magazine’s annual Restaurant Awards), partner with the farm to ensure only the highest-quality organic ingredients make their menus.

But it all begins with good soil: “If you’re trying to farm well and ecologically, what you’re really doing is you’re farming soil and letting the soil grow your crops for you,” says Ryan Weemhoff, Sales Manager, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm. During the quieter winter months, the logistics get mapped out on paper first: “At this point, we’re planning where everything is getting planted, what is getting planted, the date it’s getting planted, and the approximate date it’s going to get harvested.”

The crop production (certified organic in May 2016) and yield is part of a virtuous cycle that produces outstanding quality and diversity which, in many respects, is due to it being grown in what is arguably one of the most vibrant ‘labs’ at UBC. Fought for and saved from ‘development’ in 2009 by concerned community members and students, the 24-hectare parcel of land is one of the most unique learning spaces at UBC and exemplifies UBC’s philosophy of the campus as a living lab.

Spring Shoots

In the spring, the farm shrugs off the wet poultice of the west coast winter when the cover crop is tilled to reveal fertile soil rich with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Planting begins and the farm starts to hum with new growth as plants from the seeding house are transplanted and direct seeds begin to shoot up. To accommodate the growing cycle, additional staff (including practicum students) is hired and internships, offering abundant hands-on learning and the opportunity to work on a wide variety of agroecological research projects, are filled by students eager to learn and work on the farm over the summer months.

In early June, the months of planning and hard work pay off when the farm markets open for business and the “energy of production meets the energy of the individuals in the community,” observes Weemhoff. After the long months of planning, growing, and nurturing the crops, he is delighted when the carefully cultivated harvest finally makes its way into the hands of local customers and onto their plates mere hours after it has been picked.

“That’s when you feel like you’re hitting the sweet spot here at the farm,” Weemhoff says with a smile that belies all the hard work he and the farm production staff have put in to make it all happen.

If you’re trying to farm well and ecologically, what you’re really doing is you’re farming soil and letting the soil grow your crops for you.
— Ryan Weemhoff

Sales Manager, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

Kale in hand

What’s Growing at the Farm

UBC Farm has extraordinary plant diversity. With over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, the farm is an active ‘living’ lab for researchers, students and faculty whilst providing a rich source of natural abundance for farm markets. Discover more for yourself at UBC Farm markets on Saturdays (9 am–1 pm) and Tuesdays (4 pm–6 pm) between June and the end of October. For more information, see the UBC Farm website.

Plants illustration

Produce Stars

  • Kale
  • Heirloom carrots
  • Garlic scapes
  • Padron pepper

Traditional Use

  • Kinnikinnick
  • Tobacco
  • Labrador Tea
  • Oregon Grape

Herbaceous Heroes

  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sorrel
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Chives

Bounty of the Harvest

Although the city has grown up around it, you can still walk the farm and feel very far away from the cosmopolitan landscape that encircles it. If you are lucky enough to visit in the summer, you will experience, at every turn, nature showing off her brightest colours, biggest blooms and abundant display of rich biodiversity. You’ll also notice your heart rate slowing down, the giddy sound of songbirds, suddenly bell-like and clear, nudging you awake after the long grey days of Vancouver winter. Eagles dip and swoop along the edge of the hemlock forest that borders the farm and row upon row of kale, carrots, fennel and beets spring up in what seems like an ebullient testimony to the farm’s agroecology.

During its Saturday public markets in the summer, what with the amateur musicians playing under a tent, children cartwheeling in the fields, fresh squeezed lemonade, food trucks and freshly picked bounty from the fields below, it is impossible to escape the farm’s bucolic charm. It tugs at you long after you’ve munched your last carrot or inhaled a perfect mix of wild herbs. It equally woos UBC staff, faculty, students and the local community; many are return customers and avid market fans because shopping is much more than a transaction at a cash register. Most would agree there is a wholesome contentment to participating in a food system that brings you so close to your food source and allows you to get to know the farmers who have worked so hard to grow it for you.

But the organic bounty of UBC Farm is not limited to its markets and successful CSA program. It is also an active partner in providing fresh, locally grown produce to UBC Food Services and Catering by Westcadia. Steve Golob, affable chef at Place Vanier student residence, has been at UBC for 19 years and is passionate about what the farm brings to his menu. From Swiss chard to carrots and potatoes, the opportunity to introduce campus-grown, organic produce means young minds are getting the very best.

“It’s like a candy store, the farm,” enthuses Golob. “Why wouldn’t I go to the candy store?” He also notes that increasingly, students are asking Is it local? Is it fresh? “The awareness of fresh, healthy food has gone way up in the last several years,” although the amount of UBC Farm produce he can bring into his kitchen depends upon availability, kale is a favourite with students, along with the heirloom carrots and Swiss chard.

The type and quality of food that students load onto their plates at the student residences can be credited to the conscious choices made by UBC Vancouver Food Services about sustainability, health and food. From free-run poultry to locally sourced food products (60 percent comes from within 240 kilometers or 150 miles of the campus) to Ocean Wise-approved fresh seafood to 100-percent fair-trade coffee (in 2008 UBC became the first ‘fair trade’ campus in Canada) brewed up for thousands of students every morning, good food (and where it comes from) is more than lip service at UBC.

It doesn’t get any more ‘locally sourced’ than with seeds started in the fields of UBC Farm filling the plates of students from around the world, sharing meals with one another. As one of Canada’s Greenest Employers (five years in a row), UBC is committed to sustainability in all aspects, from infrastructure to research to learning — it’s a university-wide strategic priority that encompasses social, economic and environmental sustainability. It’s also a ripple that is increasingly creating a wave of behaviour change with UBC students, staff, faculty and the broader community.

In Canada, the average age of farmers is now 57 years old and aging fast; we can only hope that some of the bright young students that UBC Farm currently feeds, teaches, or provides lab space for, will return to the land — to the soil with all of its rich potential for life — and help solve some of the urgent challenges the planet and the human species as a whole is facing.

The seeds only need to be planted.

Summer Bean Apple Salad

Savour this refreshing salad from UBC Chef Steve Golob at your next picnic or simply enjoy as a tasty mid-week lunch. For the best results, use organic fruits and vegetables from the UBC Farm or from your local farm market.


3 cups green/yellow beans (trimmed and cleaned)
½ cup red onion (thin slices)
⅓ cup green onions (chopped)
3 tbsp fresh basil (chopped)
1 cup fennel (sliced in thin strips)
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley (chopped)
1½ cups BC Gala apples (thin slices)
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 lemons (juice and zest)
pinch salt/cracked black pepper (to taste)
¾ cup feta or goat cheese (crumbled)


Place beans into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about five minutes until beans start to soften. Drain water and let beans cool.

In medium bowl, add beans, red onions, green onions, basil, fennel and parsley. Toss lightly.

Add apple slices, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and zest. Season with salt and pepper. Add feta or goat cheese and toss lightly.

Chill the salad in the fridge for one hour. Serve in a chilled bowl, or arrange sliced heirloom tomatoes (that are seasoned with salt and pepper) on a platter and place the bean salad on top. If desired, sprinkle the top of the salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or hazelnuts. Serves four.

Get social with the farm!

Come out to UBC Farm and tag yourself at either a Saturday or Tuesday farm market between July 1 and August 31st, 2016 with #goodsoilgoodhumans to be entered into a draw for a $100 gift certificate for the UBC Farm Market. With nearly eight weeks left of markets (farm markets close end of October), you’ll be able to eat well right into the fall!

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