The urban farming controversy around Lantzville’s Compassion Farm inspired one of the province’s top universities to incorporate the issue into its curriculum.
The University of British Columbia included the issue in its Faculty of Land and Food Systems, land, food and community 350 course last year.
The university is still deciding if the issue will be included in next year’s course. Students could pick from more than 30 community partners, including Compassion farm, to initiate a community-based research project.
Anelyse Weiler, communications and course coordinator for UBC’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, said the Compassion Farm case was used to teach students about land security issues and how the struggles of the owners, Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw, transcended their area and were similar to international concerns about the right to produce food in urban settings.
“[Students] learn about land policies and about questioning our assumptions,” said Weiler.
Emme Lee, one of the students, said in an e-mail that researching the issue enabled her to explore two of her major passions: urban agriculture and food policy.
“Urban agriculture is an important part of an integrated solution for increasing community self-reliance, food security and improving nutrition through better access to fresh healthy foods,” she said.
Lee said students didn’t know about the controversy surrounding Compassion Farm prior to starting the research project. The student’s survey of the community surprised them.
They expected the community was divided on the issue of urban agriculture, but found that 72 per cent of those surveyed had no concerns about it and most strongly agreed with urban agriculture taking place in the community.
“It turns out there is a huge amount of community support for urban agriculture in Lantzville and very few people have a problem with it, although you wouldn’t know it based on the level of complaints that are raised,” said Lee.
People can read parts of Lee’s research findings on her blog, http://blogs.landfood.ubc.ca/writetoemme.
Becker said it’s great that universities such as UBC are recognizing urban agriculture and its importance not only in British Columbia, but in Canada and around the world.
He said industrialization has steadily separated farming practices from where people live and work, but now people are looking at reintegrating them. He said any land should be looked at as farmable, regardless of whether it’s part of the agricultural land reserve.
With more than 95 per cent of the Island’s food imported, growing more food locallly is important, said Becker.
Lantzville Mayor Jack de Jong stepped into office after the original controversy around the farm began. He said it’s positive that the issue is being examined in the academic realm.