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.