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From left to right: Pritchard, Menzies, mediator, West, Harris, Naylor

Candidates pledge to resist UBC Farm plans

No matter who gets elected to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), the University of British Columbia Farm has an…

By Miné Salkin , in Municipal issues , on November 13, 2008 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No matter who gets elected to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), the University of British Columbia Farm has an ally in its fight to stay alive.

The university’s first election for a place on the GVRD boasts five candidates, all pledged to stop UBC from deceasing the size of its 24-hectare farm by two-thirds, which would limit the output of locally grown food.

Students and advocates are fighting UBC’s plans, intended to accommodate development pressures on south campus, to the extent that it has become the main focus of the November 15 election.

Pritchard, Menzies, mediator, West, Harris, Naylor
From left to right: Pritchard, Menzies, mediator, West, Harris, Naylor

Matthew Naylor, Alma Mater Society representative and Electoral Area A candidate, said UBC needs to preserve the farm as a model of sustainability within a rapidly-growing area. “The choices and the changes we are going to make in the next couple of years in regards to the farm are going to determine the shape and character of this community for the next 100 years,” he said.

Naylor and the four other candidates – UBC Anthropology professor Charles Menzies, Ben West, former Deputy Leader of BC’s Green Party, former UBC Director of Campus and Community Planning, Fred Pritchard, and Maria Harris, Director of the Board at St. Mark’s College – squared off at an all-candidates debate November 6. All that differed however was the degree to which they supported plans to preserve the Farm.

West said the farm is important because it is the university’s main centre of agricultural research, a place of employment for students and faculty, and one of the remaining working green spaces on campus. “It’s useful, not only as a source of food, but a model of development,” he said.
Currently, UBC is in the fourth stage of a three-year planning process to generate a new Point Grey campus plan over six phases. At each stage, there has been conflict over balancing the degree of development, benefits to the university endowment accruing from land sales and community interest. This stage has been focused on public consultation, which has initiated controversy, because the results favor construction of commercial and institutional space over maintaining the UBC Farm.

West said the public consultation results, which started in September, were “utterly uninspiring” because they did not take into account faculty or resident interests.

Student voice

Students agree. On October 27, an AMS organization, Friends of the Farm, sent UBC president Stephen J. Toope an online petition to save the farm with nearly 16,000 signatures. The group also sent freshly baked pumpkin pies from produce grown at the farm in the hopes of convincing the administration to re-evaluate the outcome of the public consultations.

A Map of the Plan
The development plan would impact the farm

For the university, UBC Farm is considered a prime location for development because it is close to services and amenities. It also isn’t the first time that the farm has been displaced because of development pressure. It has moved three times over the past century as research and other agricultural activities have shifted to the south campus.

“From a building perspective, it’s a lovely piece of open land, and a convenient place to build on a campus with limited land,” said UBC Land and Building Project Manager John Percy.

While UBC-UEL is still an undefined area, the candidates predicted that it will become its own city officially due to its expanding population, which is projected at 30,000 residents by 2030.

Naylor said the university’s approach is a short-term strategy arguing that UBC should be more focused on creating an integrated green strategy than building housing, particularly in an economic downturn.

“We don’t need housing designed by the university to create money for the endowment, because housing necessarily isn’t the best investment to be making right now.”

Other candidates argued for more aggressive strategies to save the farm, suggesting that if anything the farm needs to be expanded.

The next stage for the farm will be decided in early 2009.

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