The battle for the UBC Farm is seen as a test for democracy on the campus, as the university decides on how to develop this valuable land.
The potential loss of the farm has spurred staff, students and aspiring politicians into action.
The farm represents some of the last undeveloped property on the campus and its future is an indicator of the future development of the campus.
A decision about the future of the 24-hectare property is expected early next year.
The UBC Board of Governors make decisions about the operations and development on the university campus, but they do not decide in isolation.
Related: Candidates’ views on the UBC Farm
Five candidates are vying for Electoral District A’s only director spot on the board, a position which represents the population of the UBC Campus community.
The farm is the one issue they agree on.
The farm serves as an educational space for students from many departments. It also serves as “a source of food” and as a “model for development,” said West, a former deputy leader of the Green Party of BC.
“The choices and the changes that we’re going to make in the next couple of years in regards to the farm, in regards to development, in regards to governance are going to determine the shape and character of this community in the next 100 years” said Naylor, who is also a UBC student.
To the UBC community, a position on the board is key to their ability to influence the decision-making of the UBC Board of Governors.
According to Naylor, Electoral District A is “a district where engagement is a massive problem and voter turnout has reached historic lows.”
The issue of the UBC Farm is encouraging civic participation. Students and residents who attended a debate between Electoral A candidates at the Student Union Building earlier this month showed strong support for the preservation of the farm.
Menzies, a candidate and UBC professor of anthropology, argued that the uncertainty of the farm’s future represents a democratic deficit within policy making for the region.
Developers are making the case for more housing on the UBC campus, something all five candidates oppose.
“It doesn’t address the real needs of housing on this campus, it addresses the real need for a certain cadre of businessmen to make lots of profits,” Menzies said.
“The primary problem here is that there is a really unusual situation where the developer and the planning authority are one and the same,” said Harris, a candidate and long time resident. “With that kind of structure in place, you cannot get the kind of decisions that you would get in a normal municipal structure.”
The farm is “a place where we do the kind of research that’s necessary to understand our connection to food and place and ourselves,” said West. “I see it as a symbol of what’s going on not just in UBC but throughout our region.”
“We need to take a look at increasing productivity on farms and make sure that land isn’t taken away from agriculture,” said Pritchard, a former director of planning at UBC. “We are talking about something that could be a global centre of excellence.”
Proposed campus plans either reduce or displace the farm. If these plans are carried out there will be a “reduced image for the university,” and a “reduced size and workability of the farm,” argued Lindsay Clark, a student at the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC.
“What [UBC] is going to lose is a message of hope and the trust of the campus community,” she continued.
(Farm photo courtesy bbqmag)