UBC Farm aerial shot
Then and Now

Then and Now

Then and Now

Meet some of our ‘famous’ cows from over 100 hundred years of dairy farming at UBC.

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Meet some of our ‘famous’ cows from over 100 hundred years of dairy farming at UBC.

Despite being located on the edge of the bustling urban city of Vancouver, entering UBC Farm immediately feels like you’re stepping into a rural setting, the kind most city dwellers refer to wistfully as ‘the country’ where chickens, fresh produce and family-friendly markets abound. It’s a world within itself, drawing on a rich cultural history of the days when people from the Musqueam First Nation community worked the land for sustenance and ceremony.

Located on unceded ancestral Musqueam territory, UBC Farm still provides a place for learning and teaching Indigenous knowledge at the Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden under the direction of Dr. Eduardo Jovel. The garden is guided by the principle that ‘food is medicine’ and abides by an ethical framework of respect, relevance, reciprocity and responsibility. Musqueam Elders such as Jeri Sparrow play an active role in teaching non-traditional ‘ways of knowing’ through the Medicine Collective whose members nurture more than 40 varieties of medicinal plants and welcome more than 300 individual and group visits to the garden each year for medicine walks and public workshops.

The Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden is the only garden of its kind on a university campus in North America and conducts both international and community-based research. It is also a unique source of healing, ceremony, engagement and inspiration for Aboriginal youth and organizations, UBC students, staff, faculty and the broader Vancouver community.

An Outdoor Laboratory

Farming as a UBC research initiative began in earnest in 1914 when Dr. Leonard S. Klinck, professor of cereal husbandry at Macdonald College at McGill University, was appointed UBC’s first dean of agriculture. As one of UBC’s three founding faculties, the Faculty of Agriculture initially consisted of four departments: agronomy, animal husbandry, horticulture, and poultry husbandry. From the beginning, Klinck had a vision for an “outdoor laboratory” for the faculty and its students to teach and learn everything, from soil sciences to the latest innovations in dairy farming.

To ensure the very best breed of cattle was available for the new dairy farm, a Scottish farming couple by the name of John and Mary Young were recruited — along with their majestic 24 Ayreshire heifers and one bull — to help a fledgling university on the rugged west coast of Canada. Although the wilds of British Columbia were entirely unknown to John and Mary (and their six children) when they began their voyage across the Atlantic in 1929, they did know farming and along with their proud Ayreshire herd and a handful of faculty and students, together they set about building a world-class research farm for the university.

Faculty of Agriculture students (proudly known as ‘Aggies’) were immediate fans of the handsome bovines that roamed their campus. Some of the cows’ names were appropriately as grand as their size. Rainton Rosalind V, Ardgowan Gladness II and Lochinch Lassie were all award-winning milkers, with the ‘Lassie’ also producing the famous bull calf Ubyssey White Cockade who would later go on to sire new generations of equally stellar milking cows.

The xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Coast Salish) unceded territories have always been a place of training for leadership and for reciprocal trade. The Indigenous Research Partnerships and the Medicine Collective works respectfully with members of xwməθkwəy̓əm to ensure the Indigenous Health Research Education Garden Initiatives continues to be a place of our growing together.
— Jeri Sparrow

Musqueam Elder

Future of the Farm

Future infographic

The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm is expanding its programming, partnerships and facilities to meet its goal of becoming a change agent. From new outdoor learning spaces and state-of-the-art labs to a community kitchen, UBC Farm is preparing the way for an abundant future.

Learn how the UBC Farm is planning to be a living laboratory for the next hundred years (PDF, 1.1MB).

One by one, new facilities such as the poultry plant, creamery and dairy farm were built for use in learning, teaching and research and prepared the way for the first food science course available to students by the 1930s.

After the Second World War, the province saw a shift in food production from small individual outfits to a larger scale mechanized agricultural industry. Farming moved farther away from the fast-growing urban centres to ever more distant rural areas. This affected the UBC farm operations; much of its land was displaced by the construction of athletic fields, academic building and parking lots necessary to accommodate the surge of post-war students.

However, not all was lost in the expansion of the university we know today — remnants of the original farm infrastructure still exist. The Owl Daycare facility on campus was a horticulture barn back in 1917 and the Landscape Architecture Annex was an agronomy barn in 1925. These two buildings were originally centrally located on the university farmland which stretched from the Nitobe Memorial Garden all the way to Thunderbird Stadium.

In what appeared to be a David and Goliath struggle emerged in 2009 between those who desired to develop the South Campus farmland at UBC and those who wanted it preserved for future academic use, a group of active community members and more than 2,000 students and many other ‘Friends of the Farm’ marched in the historic and aptly titled ‘Save the Farm’ event and persuaded the UBC administration to earmark the 24 hectares as a ‘Green Academic’ zone.

In turn, the UBC Board of Governors mandated the land to be used for “land-based teaching, research and community engagement.” Following the publication of the Cultivating Place plan, the UBC Farm has seen thousands of students, faculty, staff and highly engaged community members share in its official mandate to “integrate interdisciplinary academic, community, and production programs to explore and exemplify healthy and sustainable food systems.”

In a world straining under the weight of human development, UBC has a unique opportunity and a responsibility to model the kind of sustainable communities that we all must urgently adopt. UBC has the resources, both physical and intellectual, to find ways for people and nature to thrive together indefinitely. If humans on the global scale are to reduce our footprint, support the ecosystems that nourish us, and make room for that which is wild, good and sustaining in the natural world, we first have to learn how to do so in microcosm. That microcosm is rooted in the UBC Farm.
Cultivating Place: Academic Plan for South Campus
Preparing at UBC Farm

Future Seeds

“Today, UBC Farm is a vibrant mix of traditional farming and new methodologies, informed by the students, staff and researchers who collaboratively use the land to produce, experiment and discover new ways of meeting the many challenges of running a successful ‘outdoor laboratory.’ As UBC Farm Sales Manager Ryan Weemhoff explains, the production staff at the farm is trying to “re-learn some of the heritage we’ve lost” and put the “culture back in agriculture.”

The work doesn’t always follow a strict academic calendar but rather adheres to the earth’s ageless growing cycles with all of its natural ebb and flow. For staff such as Weemhoff, who works on the land, it feels more like being in a “continuing, long-term relationship” rather than just a 9-to-5 job.

This connection is what the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm is hoping to translate to everyone when it comes to our own relationship with food and its sustainability, both in our lifetime and for future generations to come.

The desire to take the centre’s research out of the fields and into the classrooms and beyond means having the capacity to engage in dialogue on a global scale. The issues of food security, climate change and sustainable food systems are most certainly not limited to the 24 hectares that sit at the southern edge of the UBC Vancouver campus. Therein lies the push to build new state-of-the-art UBC Farm classrooms, laboratories and community spaces that Academic Director Dr. Hannah Wittman says will help “leverage the ethos of the farm out into the broader world” and provide a transdisciplinary place of learning, teaching and research.

Beyond the obvious tall order of contributing to global food security initiatives and repairing our broken food system, Wittman notes there are more nuanced but critical challenges such as how to “sustainably transition” farming in a world that has become reliant on fast, easy, overly packaged food that may be toxically dangerous to the environment.

Wittman affirms there’s still a lot we need to work on beyond technological research alone: “We need better social policies, and to recognize and honor cultural values. Better food literacy programs are needed to help children question where their food is coming from. It’s complex.”

At the Centennial Session on Critical Issues in Land and Food Systems, held in September of UBC’s Centennial year, Dean Rickey Yada from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, along with a panel of UBC experts, collectively celebrated 100 years of farming at UBC while looking ahead to the next century and UBC’s role in solving the many myriad of challenges we will be faced with as a species on this planet. Yada succinctly surmised the important role UBC Farm can play: “By focusing on food production and the stewardship of our land and water, the UBC Farm is a key part of UBC’s emergence as a global leader in sustainability.”

The hope is that future generations who study and learn at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm will equate good soil — and healthy farms — with good humans and thus help evolve more equitable, healthier food systems that could feed the world of the future.

The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems manages and governs the Farm — and we also derive inspiration and meaning from the Farm. But it’s not just about what happens at the farm — as a global institution we link these experiences with challenges and partners from the outside world.
— Dr. Hannah Wittman

Academic Director, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

To help realize the vision for next 100 years at UBC Farm and contribute to the new centre, please visit the UBC Farm website.

Visit the UBC Farm

Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm
Faculty of Land and Food Systems
3461 Ross Drive, BC, Canada V6T 1W5

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