My objective in this commentary is to assess critically and analyze the UBC Farm Mission Statement proposed in the South Campus Academic Plan . This official development plan starts out already assuming that there is some single body of theory out there, that determines “sustainability theory and its applications” and that can be immediately operationalized at the Farm. We should question what they mean by “The UBC Farm and its surrounding areas on south campus” as examples of applications and explorations of such ‘ideology’. If we were to accept this statement, we would have to agree that the Wesbrook village development is an example of sustainability in action. It is a commercial centre with luxury high rises, that includes a ‘residence’ designed for Master of Business Administration (MBA) students specifically. This happens while the line-up for childcare on campus is over 3 years. Again, unpacking the vision of sustainability, and defining it with precision is the key for understanding how development works on campus. Luxury market housing development should not be taking precedence over development in other important areas such as childcare, student housing, and public sports facilities.
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 to the particular 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.