Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

In consideration of the mission statement recently published for the university’s Sustainability Academic Strategy, students of UBC might reflect on their role in the development of the SAS, the UBC farm and the importance of sustainability initiatives for their university.  The South Campus Academic Plan Committee asks students if this mission statement “account[s] for [our] particular interests” (SAS).
Students may find themselves asking, what is the definition of “sustainability” within the context of this document as well as the University’s conception of the UBC farm?  Why is sustainability, so defined, considered a priority for the University, and in particular, this area of campus? Furthermore, what role could organic, sustainable farming play in the international market?  How does it relate to regional and national food security?  How do food security and the production of food tie in to issues of societal inequality? And finally, could the UBC farm provide an example of the importance of local agriculture in correcting many of these issues which face us today?
As a large university which occupies an urban campus yet possesses an integrated, fully-functional farm within its borders, UBC occupies a unique position of educational potential and responsibility.  Not only does the UBC farm provide an example of the possibility and countless benefits of integrated local agriculture to the surrounding, non-academic community, it also has the potential to educate the thousands of students and future leaders who pass through its doors about the importance of environmental and agricultural sustainability, local food security, and the role they play in the most pressing issues which today face an international community.
While many of the articles used as content for this class explain the relevance of organic agriculture in terms of its environmental benefits, its ability to produce adequate yields (in comparison to conventional farming), or its potential to produce food for the world’s hungry, they bypass the opportunity to address the ways in which these issues relate to even larger flaws within our global economic system (2 Halweil).  As large-scale, mechanized, conventional farming depletes “90 percent of the topsoil in the U.S. faster than it can be replaced” and chemical pesticides pollute our watersheds, the human casualties of industrial farming often go unacknowledged (3 Rosset).
The current system of industrial food production in the U.S., which favors the growth of large amounts of cereals and grains intended for export, intentionally floods the international market and destroys small-scale, agricultural economies in developing nations (4 Rosset).  Not only does this contribute to an already exploitative system which utilizes developing nations’ resources for the sustenance and growth of the developed world, but it encourages the entry of organizations like the WTO and the IMF into the politics of food security and development within these nations (4 Rosset).  What this means for developing nations is increasing social disparity, greater debt to such organizations and greater reliance on international trade for food supply whilst ever greater numbers of farmers migrate to cities to swell the ranks of the urban poor.
And how can such dire social issues be addressed by an organization such as the SAS, or the students who contribute to the growth of the UBC farm?  Primarily by beginning the education of many students who will go on to become the legislators, policy-makers and corporate leaders of our society. Environmentally, socially, and economically, organic farming is the future of our society.  A switch to organic farming can vastly improve the state of our imperiled ecosystems by limiting the use of detrimental chemicals and pollutants as well as encouraging bio-diversity (7 Halweil).  On the economic front, organic farms represent greater job opportunities for more members of the local community, and the participation in a mode of production which does not alienate workers from their product (2 Rosset).  Socially, the growth of organic, small-scale agriculture could mean the reduction of international debt and social disparity in developing nations in addition to the redistribution of surplus which would favor what are currently impoverished, hunger-stricken areas (4 Halweil).
As students and academics, our support of the UBC farm and our participation in its maintenance not only contributes to our personal knowledge about the technology of organic agriculture, it also emphasizes our support of a system which challenges conventional methods of food production.  While most individuals who become involved with the farm may not choose to engage in organic agriculture in their future career paths, they nonetheless benefit from an expanded understanding of the need for small-scale community farms for the development of local (and international) food security and solutions to a number of global crises which will become the responsibility of our generation.

Works Cited
Halweil, Brian. “Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?” World Watch. May/Jun2006, 19:3, 18-24.
“The Case for Small Farms; An Interview With Peter Rosset.” Multinational Monitor; Jul/Aug2000, 21:7/8, 29-33.

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Another interesting feature of the UBC Farm Mission Statement text is how recruitment and industrial application are important ideological directives.  The Farm is good because it ‘promotes’ UBC’s commitment to sustainability. There are well-funded programs that are on the other side of the spectrum, and that are left alone to flourish, such as mining engineering and wood materials processing. The Farm could become the type of laboratory that comes out with new patents, products and techniques that can be marketed by industries and thus help to change the world, at home and abroad.

The UBC Farm is given the general utopian task of ‘regenerating’ individuals, communities, forests and ecosystems, healthy soils and foods. Maybe the idea here is that the UBC Farm could become mobile, moving throughout the land and transforming landscapes according to sustainability principles as it goes, regenerating everything along the way. The wording here is, at the very least quite awkward, unless we can figure out how a place could be able to ‘regenerate healthy individuals and communities’. It sounds like the Farm is like a hospital where people go to be cured – metaphorically, it is already working. The UBC Farm has made a life changing effect in the lives of many individual students and community members along the years, precisely because it allows them to experience a place that is removed from the most common constrictions or urbanized areas. The only issue now is that Wesbrook village was erected right at the entrance of the Farm, to the disgust of pretty much every student who has ever worked at the UBC Farm.

We should also take issue with the idea that the Farm “advances sustainability literature in students, leaders, and decision makers”. Not only does this statement make an unnecessary distinction between students, leaders, and decision-makers, but it is also signals the existence of a highly hierarchical system that must be served by the UBC Farm. The statement leaves future student generations, local children, and the Musqueam out of the picture.  We also see no mention of how the UBC Farm will engage with biotechnology, whether it will help in the production of transgenics or not. Will this live laboratory be promoting the type of sustainability that conforms to “agricultural neoliberalism” and free-trade agreements (Otero and Pechlaner 2008:1)? UBC’s new branding strategy does not mention that students came together in 1997 to oppose the APEC meeting that happened at the Museum of Anthropology, where heads of state met to set up neoliberal policies in Asia. The statement should also clarify whether the Farm will be used for the creation of new organisms for the sake of selling patents, and how much selling patents relates theory of sustainability they are promoting?

If the process of consultations continues as it has in the past, there will be a small window of opportunity available for public consultations. Whatever people say on those occasions is not automatically taken into consideration, but becomes bulk feedback that is later selected. One should wonder how much are they trying to promote consultations into this plan. All information should be made available to the UBC community, including working drafts. Transparency and accountability should be the most important directives of any consultation that leads to development on campus.

“The South Campus Academic Planning Committee will prepare an Academic Plan for South Campus focused upon the 24-ha area currently under the stewardship of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems”

How are students involved in such a project and how much of the data gathered through the UBC Farm Vision, attended by students, community members, administrators and politicians, is being used as input on the plan being prepared? How transparent are the proceedings of this committee and what is its composition? It is important to note that the Farm, through this wording, does not deserve its own plan, but it is an internal issue of a larger and more important plan, focusing on South campus. It seems like campus is divided into zones simply for development purposes. They make it clear that the ‘area’ in question is “currently under the stewardship of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems”. This is a key distinction. The wording makes the place an “area” that is currently managed by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, and not the Centre itself, also known as the UBC Farm. So, the 24 ha area is not the “UBC Farm”, it is just being managed by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, currently. Currently means this is certainly up for change.  It would not be surprising if the administration found a large donor and named the place after that person once they develop a bunch of expensive structures in the area. Everyone would be in favor of infrastructural changes, and the UBC Farm Design Workshops were the perfect example of just that. We will see in the future how much of that vision will be realized in the future developments that will be falling over the UBC Farm.

South Campus Academic Plan . Last accessed, October 1st 2009.

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