Many perspectives on sustainability for UBC Farm

The phrases, "campus as a living lab and the university as an agent of change" are familiar to most UBC students. But what do these phrases look like off the pages of university strategic plans and guidebooks?

For an idea, turn to the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS), a research centre located at the UBC Farm that “aims to understand and fundamentally transform local and global food systems toward a more sustainable, food secure future.”

The Farm teams up with students, faculty, staff, and multiple partners, including Indigenous communities, to work towards their goals. So what is the farm doing, and who is involved?

The CSFS, UBC & holistic sustainability

Sustainability is an all-encompassing term for the CSFS. “[It] extends beyond simple ecological sustainability,” said Shannon Lambie, communications director at the CSFS. “We do look at environmental health, but also community and social health and wellbeing.”

The CSFS’s principles and standards of sustainability are guided by UBC. “Our two main schematic underpinnings are certainly the ‘university as an agent of change’ and ‘campus as a living laboratory’,” said Lambie, citing their inspiration as UBC’s overall strategic plan.

The CSFS wants to be an agent of change through community engagement. “I think one of the things that the Farm has to offer, and also the Centre more broadly, is kind of a show and tell,” said Hannah Wittman, academic director at the CSFS. “We take that knowledge and we try and use it, and make it accessible to the community through community programming and workshops.”

The CSFS offers a physical space to learn and discover.

“The living lab piece is an amazing opportunity … to have a working farm that we can assess for its economical, social, ecological, viability and sustainability,” said Wittman. “But we can also assess intervention on the farm -- we can say, ‘what happens when we change the marketing structure … test this new crop variety … test different organic amendments?’.... It’s rare to be able to do such experimentation like that in a controlled environment that mimics real life.”

SEEDS helps connect the CSFS with the wider UBC campus

SEEDS (Social Ecological Economic Development Studies) is an on-campus program where students, faculty, and staff work on sustainability challenges, with the aim of building upon campus as a living laboratory.

“[It’s] really about weaving in opportunities to learn about practical sustainability applications that are part of a curriculum at UBC,” said Carole Jolly, director of community development for Campus and Community Planning, the sector that runs SEEDS.

“SEEDS has been pivotal in bringing farm ingredients into campus food outlets and we see food ingredients in Vanier, Sage, Westcadia catering and more outlets beyond that,” said Jolly. “It’s been really key in integrating what’s been going on at the Farm into the academic environment here on campus.”

Farm-to-hospital: collaboration between CSFS, Sodexo & UBC Hospital

One partnership, forged through a SEEDS project, is with Sodexo, a food services provider that works with the UBC Hospital. Through this partnership the Farm hopes to see their produce served to patients within Purdy Pavilion, a residential care unit at the UBC Hospital.

Tiffany Yeung, district manager at BC Health Authorities, is optimistic. “When residents know where their food comes from, they become more engaged in food, and community,” said Yeung. “Food is such an important part of our lives, and when you know where your food comes from, it … gives us a better sense of wellbeing.”

Currently there are no other farm-to-hospital initiatives in B.C. The project has yet to fully launch. “Moving into the hospitals is a whole new realm … and the regulations for small-scale, or new farmers to meet is a huge undertaking,” said Lambie.

The many perspectives of sustainability

The key to the exploration of sustainability at the CSFS is that it includes multiple stakeholders and community partners.

“There is a centre of people who actually have a diverse set of perspectives on what food system sustainability is," said Whittman. "What unites this diverse group of people is an understanding that food security entails ensuring that food is produced sustainably, distributed equitably, and … is both healthy for those people and the environment.”