The following essay was a finalist in the BC Hydro Invent the Future Contest. For more information, visit InventTheFuture.ca
My submission is very specific for UVic, however the idea is broadly applicable to all universities and colleges in Canada. I propose the foundation of a facility for sustainable urban agriculture on campus on the southeastern side of the University Cedar Hill Corner (UCHC). The university community has a demonstrated strong desire to:
Age: 29 years, Esquimalt
Entry: UVic Farm
- Increase the food security of the campus community, and enhance the relationship between food producers and consumers by growing more of the food consumed by University members on campus.
- Help the University reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by growing food without the use of petroleum-based products and reducing the distance from field to plate (food miles). A facility would be a visual and tactile example of how the University is working to meet BC Government mandated GHG emissions reductions.
- Increase the opportunities for healthy and supportive formal and informal community interaction for University members and campus neighbors by offering continuing education workshops, volunteer opportunities and social events open to all.
- Increase the opportunities for experiential learning surrounding food issues for University and community members by offering workshops, co-op positions, an Environmental Studies course, and easy access for classes already studying the subject. Expansion of the facility could also facilitate the creation of a new department of Sustainable Agriculture on campus.
- Preserve the historic apple orchard currently on the UCHC lands and revive a historic use of the property by giving the orchard a context and promoting its value.
- Support the Goals and Mission of the University as laid out in the Planning and Priorities Committee report “A Vision for the Future- Building on Strength” (2007) by creating a unique and exciting learning facility
What is a CSA?
One of the central points of my proposed facility is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA can take many forms, but the basic structure spreads food production financial risks amongst the subscribers to the CSA as opposed to placing that solely on the farmer. CSA subscriptions are paid at the start of the growing season to the farmer. By receiving the money at the start of the year, the farmer is able to afford seeds and supplies, and has a guaranteed income which allows him or her to budget money and plantings more efficiently. Consumers benefit by cost savings (CSAs tend to have prices lower than those found for comparable food at farmer’s markets), by the satisfaction of supporting local agriculture, and from the health benefits of a diverse and plentiful vegetable supply all season. CSAs, and student-run farms, have sprung up on campuses across North America in the past decade, and these typically operate with agriculture integrated within a broad range of academic disciplines, as student research, as coursework in applied classes, as independent student projects, and as work-study.
My proposal is broadly based upon other successful student-run CSAs, primarily that of the Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. There, they have a student body of less than four percent of UVic and have successfully run a farm for the past eleven years and a CSA for the past seven. Like UVic, they have no agriculture program- their facility is run through their Environmental Studies department. While their program is much larger than what could be expected at UVic in the near future, their program structure is an excellent model for UVic to adopt.
Basic Elements of the UCHC Facility
The UCHC facility need not be simply a working CSA, it also has the possibility to be a vital part of our campus and community. I do recognize several other uses are currently approved for the UCHC (frisbee golf and dog walking), and it is believed all uses will be able to co-exist without conflict. The facility can occupy a small footprint with low infrastructure needs (approximately one acre or 1/30th the UCHC site, and expanding as appropriate). The main elements of the envisioned facility are as follows:
- A CSA run by a full-time coordinator with additional assistance from student classes. Subscribers to the CSA will be primarily from the campus community and food services with broader subscriptions available in line with the amount of subscriptions available and demand. Farmers to work the plot and produce the food can be drawn from our local (and large) population of land-less farmers. The CSA subscriptions can be used to pay the farmers salaries.
- A community garden available first to those within the campus community wanting to grow their own produce, and second to the surrounding community.
- An educational component which regularly hosts agriculturally-themed workshops, provides a unique location and setting for courses and, indeed, departments to investigate sustainable agriculture
If UVic embraces the incredible opportunity presented by the University Cedar Hill Corner lands, I am certain that the UCHC facility will rapidly become a highly prized focal point of both the university and broader community.