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Curating innovation at the UBC Farm

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Exciting news for January 2023!

I’ve taken on a new role as the Innovation and Research Curator at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) at UBC Farm. The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm is a teaching and research centre and local-to-global food hub working towards a more sustainable, food-secure future. I am excited to be working alongside the new Director, Dr. Sean Smukler and the entire management team as we embark to create a new strategic plan.

I’ve been looking for a role where I can apply my skills in dialogue, innovation, strategy and project management towards a Vancouver based project that is aligned with sustainability, decolonization and climate action. The CSFS at UBC Farm is an amazing place full of great programs that have the potential to demonstrate the role of sustainable food systems. The vision of the Centre is “Innovation from field to fork to achieve resilient, thriving, and socially just food systems for all”.

Going back to UBC feels a lot like coming full circle.

I moved to the west coast in the early 1990’s to start my graduate studies in Zoology at UBC. The cost of parking your car in the B lot was $2 a day and there was no such thing as a UPass. There was a new thing called the internet and I got my first ever email address - only a few of my friends off campus had access to email. We still wrote letters to each other to keep in touch.

My office was located in a building called ‘The Vivarium’ which had a barn door, a cattle ramp and large metal hooks. I was researching Rufus Hummingbirds with Dr. Lee Gass and we kept some of the birds in the basement of the building that was once used for cattle. It was built in 1947 as part of the Agriculture program and is now the site of the Computer Science building. I had to be on campus most mornings early to feed the birds that were located at Animal Care at South Campus (next to where the UBC farm is today). I started biking to campus after my first year when a fellow student reminded me of the impact of driving a car and my interest in conserving animals, plants and ecosystems.

I spent a lot of time swimming in the UBC outdoor pool and immersing myself in my studies of ecology in the ‘huts’. I had amazing ecology classes and lectures with Charles Krebs, Carl Walters, and Jamie Smith to name a few. I was hired as a teaching assistant in first year biology and later became a “lab faculty” helping organize and train TA’s how to teach the labs. We had a program that took first year students to the UBC forest, Tower beach and the ponds at the Botanical Garden as part of the program. I learned first hand the importance and possibility of experiential learning on campus.

I decided to enroll in a PhD because I was interested in designing a curriculum towards this new concept of ‘sustainable development’ that emerged as part of the Brundtland report in 1987. I found other folks interested in sustainability and walked across the campus to work with Dr. Bill Rees and the School of Community and Regional Planning.

My PhD focused on how UBC could become a place of experimentation towards sustainability education. As a planning student we were immersed in the ways the campus was changing, how the endowment lands were turning into housing developments and we were asking a lot of questions about what was happening and why. The newly formed UBC Sustainability Office was a place of possibility and we organized many conversations and dialogues across campus about designing interfaculty programs towards sustainability outcomes.

I was completing my doctoral work in SCARP and Curriculum Studies when the ‘save the farm’ meetings, protests and campaigns were happening on campus. I attended many of the meetings in support of the student campaign to save the farm. I was honoured to witness the leadership and vision of Moura Quayle, Art Bomke and the late Alejandro Rojas. It was such a joy to watch Derek Masselink and so many other students who found a way to launch and keep the UBC Farm going. It was an exciting time on campus.

In 2003, I was lucky to be part of a team that taught one of the first interdisciplinary courses on sustainability at the farm called “TSAPOS- The Science and Practice of Sustainability” with the late Kurt Grimm, Dr. Rob VanWynsberghe, Derek Masselink, Jim Merkel and Yona Sipos. We imagined a course that demonstrated sustainability and embarked on field explorations across the lower mainland by bicycle, kayak and foot. It was a time of great excitement and possibility.

Coming back this term to UBC Farm and CSFS after so many years at SFU feels like returning to the start of the circle . The concepts that we were discussing 25 years ago are now active and thriving; Campus as a Living Lab, transformative learning, community centred research and climate change. The campus is committed to action on climate change, there is a focus on reconciliation and decolonization and so many new programs and possibilities have emerged. How might we find ways to innovate and experiment to create more sustainable systems and patterns for living?

I look forward to learning more about all the programs and happenings at the CSFS and UBC Farm and will be sure to write more about what I discover.

Stay tuned!

2003 The Science and Practice of Sustainability cohort at UBC Farm.

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