Change Agent:
20 Years of Sustainability at UBC

Food for Thought

At UBC, we’re working hard to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing the planet by better understanding the complex relationships between ourselves, food systems, climate change, energy and agriculture. With the human population forecast to surpass nine billion people by 2050, the global food demand is set to increase by 70 per cent if current consumption trajectories continue. To help address global challenges such as these, we are committed to better understanding where our food comes from, the methods by which it is grown and how it gets onto our plates more sustainably.

From our Fair Trade Campus offerings to research into the global food-supply chain, discover how the UBC Vancouver campus acts as a living lab for sustainable food systems.

Playing fair

The Fair Trade symbol is a common sight at UBC and that’s no accident: we’re proud to have earned Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus designation in 2011 after decades of work supporting ethically sourced foods. The certification from Fairtrade Canada, the result of a collaboration with UBC Engineers Without Borders, committed UBC to purchasing ethically sourced coffee, tea, chocolate and tropical fruit from producers who guarantee fair social, environmental and pay standards for farmers and workers. Fair Trade works to benefit small-scale farmers and workers, who are amongst the most marginalized groups globally.

The designation was the culmination of years of work in supporting sustainably sourced goods. In 2004, UBC became the first Canadian university to adopt Fair Trade coffee in the Alma Mater Society (AMS) student union eateries and in UBC Food Services outlets in 2006. Next came a code of conduct for suppliers and the creation of a committee to advance fair-trade action and awareness, setting the bar for other universities in Canada.

To date, 24 Canadian universities have followed our lead in being designated and receiving Fairtrade Canada approval.

60% of the food and beverages offered by UBC Food Services are local and/or sustainably sourced.

Food infographics
Food infographics


Green Food

From planting the first campus garden to the creation of a UBC cookbook, the UBC Food System Project (UBCFSP), a unique cross-disciplinary initiative, has been transforming the university’s food system since 2001. Initiated by the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems and the UBC SEEDS Sustainability Program, the UBCFSP works to enhance UBC’s food system by developing projects with a variety of faculties, schools and courses. These projects are developed specifically to address priorities that are identified through an annual SEEDS workshop, and have included UBC Sauder School of Business; the faculties of arts, sciences, and land and food systems; and the School of Community and Regional Planning.

The initiative has resulted in a number of innovative projects, including the UBC Sustainable Campus Food Guide launched in 2013, and the Eco-to-Go Container Exchange program, where members receive food in reusable containers that are returned for sanitation and reuse. The program, began in 2011, is in operation at all our residences.

Sustainability Food. Photo credit: Paul Jospeh

Through the SEEDS program, students, faculty and staff have helped to transform UBC’s food system.
Photo credit: Paul Joseph

Community harvest

You could call it our version of a backyard garden — only our working campus farm stretches to 24 hectares. The certified organic UBC Farm, where more than 250 varieties of crops are grown, encompasses integrated farm and forest lands on UBC’s South Campus and serves as a bridge between rural and urban environments.

It’s also home to the xwc̓ic̓əsəm: Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden, managed by Indigenous Research Partnerships within the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. Under the direction of Professor Eduardo Jovel, who established the garden in 2007, more than 40 varieties of medicinal plants are nurtured here with guidance from the Medicine Collective, a group of Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers. These elders also host public workshops that include Tea Harvesting, Tea Making and Tobacco Pipe Mix Making, and conduct ‘medicine walks’ where visitors and students learn about the ceremonial and healing properties of the plants in the garden.

As a unique agricultural resource within a large municipality, the UBC Farm hosts a number of experiential learning opportunities for the broader community, such as the Intergenerational Landed Learning Project (ILLP), which brings together green-thumbed senior volunteers, UBC students and elementary school children from four different Lower Mainland schools. Together, they explore the farm as a ‘living lab’ where experimentation, play and learning go hand in hand.

In addition to public educational workshops, UBC Farm hosts regular farmers’ markets and special events for the UBC community and its neighbours, and supplies fresh produce to several on-campus dining outlets, including The Loop Café at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, Totem Park and Place Vanier residences, and the university’s Scholar’s Catering company. Its wares are also featured by a number of award-winning local restaurants, such as Café Medina, Campagnolo and Forage, to name just a few. In addition, as part of its goal of making its produce accessible to UBC students, the Farm operates a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that provides members of the UBC campus and broader community with a weekly box of organic produce grown on the Farm.

Womam walking in farm
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Good Soil, Good Humans: Agent of Change

Good Soil, Good Humans: Agent of Change

The certified organic UBC Farm grows more than 250 varieties of crops on 24 hectares of land.

Researching farm to fork

Since 2008, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, which manages the UBC Farm, has offered unique opportunities for researchers and students to investigate the sustainability and resiliency of food systems. Every year, more than 3,000 students across 10 different UBC faculties and schools collaborate with the centre on curricular activities ranging from immersive internships to international research sites. Ongoing research projects include the UBC Farm Seed Hub, a multi-year project that conducts seed trials with B.C. farmers to identify which local varieties perform best in different regions of British Columbia. Also creating a buzz is Leonard Foster, a professor in biochemistry and molecular biology, who maintains the Farm’s beehives. He is conducting research into how honeybees can be selectively bred to resist parasites and combat the wave of bee-colony collapses that have struck bee populations throughout North America.

Womam walking in farm
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UBC Farm Bees

UBC Farm Bees

Fruits and veggies

The UBC Farm isn’t the only source of fresh produce on campus; we have a number of other garden projects that offer abundant harvests for the community. The Orchard Garden, an initiative of the UBC Food System Project in partnership with the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, opened behind the MacMillan Building in 2007. Located in Totem Field and managed by the Faculty of Education, the student-run, inter-faculty garden project grows food for student volunteer-run eateries, as well as for community sales. It has, in the past, operated a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program with deliveries made by bicycle. A newcomer to UBC’s garden scene is Roots on the Roof (UBC Rooftop Garden Club). Formed in 2014, the student-run club manages the rooftop garden and the community garden plots on the roof of the AMS Student Nest, and also operates a CSA program.

For a taste of what these gardens have to offer, drop by one of UBC’s student volunteer-run cafes: Sprouts, a volunteer-run café, store and community space located in the Nest; Seedlings, an offshoot of Sprouts serving vegan fare in the Thea Koerner House; and the Agora Café in the MacMillan Building.

Interested in food security and creating resilient food systems?

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Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partners: The UBC Sustainability Initiative and Campus and Community Planning and the many units, departments, and faculties at UBC that helped contribute invaluable information on sustainability for this story.

Story team: UBC Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, online producer; Cynthia Deng, web developer assistant; Margaret Doyle, digital storyteller; Paul Joseph, UBC photographer; Michael Kam, web developer; Adrian Liem, manager, digital communications; Mark Pilon, communication designer; Jamil Rhajiak, digital communications specialist; Laura Stobbe, communication designer; Matt Warburton, manager, graphic design; Aida Viziru, web interaction designer. Content writer — Jessica Werb. Copy editor — David Leidl.

Published: May 2017