Sustainable Agriculture—Yes, No, Maybe

Kwantlen cultivates degree in sustainable agriculture,” says the Vancouver Sun headline. The program would be led by Kent Mullinix, PhD, Director, Sustainable Agri-Food Systems, at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Some key sentences from the article:

The Kwantlen Polytechnic University senate last week approved in concept a new bachelor’s degree program in sustainable agriculture with an eye to starting classes in the fall of 2011.

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity,” said Richmond Coun. Harold Steves. “When we first started to talk about acquiring the [Garden City Lands] one of the things we were interested in was the Kwantlen proposal.”

“[Sustainable agriculture] is environmentally sound, economically viable and contributes to social equity,” Mullinix explained. Rather than commercial mono-culture—raising a single crop across thousands of hectares of land—the focus is on human-intensive, smaller-scale farms that grow a mix of crops and livestock, enabling farmers to practise “closed loop” agriculture that enhances the environment.

“This is not going backwards, but it is learning the lessons of our agricultural history. We have a 10,000-year agricultural history, but only a few decades of commercial agriculture.”

Senate approval of the degree concept allows Mullinix and his colleagues to draft specific curricula for courses this summer with an eye to starting classes next year.

“Sustainable Agriculture” is an improved brand name for the “Urban Agriculture Education” program that Dr. Mullinix proposed to a receptive Richmond council on February 5, 2008. Council directed City staff to look at a 48-acre parcel of the Garden City Lands as an option.

The Garden City Lands is an ideal main location for the program but not the only option for Kwantlen. If the city, community, and citizens of Richmond are going to partner with Kwantlen, we’re approaching the stage of now-or-never. However, there’s a fitting saying:

Once bitten, twice shy.

Kwantlen, with a Richmond campus a stone’s throw from the Garden City Lands, has not bitten us. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s been a great asset, and learners like the individual and small-class interaction with their instructors that’s hard to come by at most universities. However, some in the Richmond community would feel that our civic body has chunks missing from its back after interacting with other partners in Garden City Lands agreements for over five years. It’s promising that the city has been considering this partnership and essentially prototyping and piloting it for over two years, but I suggest that we need to take even more care before taking a momentous step to accept Kwantlen’s overtures or reject them.

On this blog, we have a series of posts that systematically go through the Mullinix proposal to council in six steps:

  • Post 1: The need—ten factors that call the sustainability of our cities into question and suggest urban agriculture as the timely answer
  • Post 2: The vision—four linked elements in a comprehensive program focused on agriculture and community sustainability
  • Post 3: The practicality—seven reasons why the Garden City Lands might be a good fit for both Kwantlen and Richmond purposes
  • Post 4: The challenges—ten examples of realities that would need to be addressed head-on, not taken for granted
  • Post 5: The benefits—twelve reasons to advance urban agriculture, here first and everywhere
  • Post 6: The hope—turning near-disaster into opportunity
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3 Comments »

  1. 1
    Roland Says:

    Playing Devil’s Advocate:

    First of all, I support the general idea. Many parties I know that have interest in agriculture are going to colleges in Alberta, to the Fraser Valley etc.
    However, I find the timing interesting, given the classes would start in Fall 2011, which would of course be just before the 2011 Civic elections in Nov.
    aka ( There is no such thing as coincidence in politics …..and timing is everything ).

    This would reasonably imply that the City has “master plans” for the GCL in place as we speak, and has another application to submit to the ALC. Our current Councils political DNA is all over the latest GCL saga…and they will want to hit the home run soon, before Nov 2011. They certainly don’t want to have any new Councillors take credit. If this is the case, the application would need to be submitted soon so our Council can assure us that a 600% premium for the GCL was taxpayer funds well spent .

    However, I would assume that Kwantlen would have certain minimum acreage required. However, given that Kwantlen is under the jurisdiction of the BC Gov’t, this is where it could get sticky. The City has paid a premium for the GCL, over $400,000 per acre. Given the City has “stuck it” to ALL user groups of civic property , it would have to require a market lease rate from Kwantlen for GCL use, regardless of its non – profit status. Or, conversely, will the general Richmond Public accept $400,000 + /acre be used to support a Provincial agency ?

    The only other premise may be that the City will curry favour from the ALC that the Kwantlen project is one of those “benefits to agriculture” , and that the City uses this as an ” ace ” to apply for exclusions and non – farm uses on the rest of the GCL .

    However, the Musqueam are in full alert to whatever goes on re: the GCL . ( I requested a copy of the the City’s defence and was referred by the City Clerk to
    go to the BC Supreme courts and get it myself, even though the City informed the media of the Musqueam lawsuit).

    What’s the secret City ?

    Stay Tuned

  2. 2
    Olga Says:

    May be I am missing something here, but I do not see how the Kwantlen proposal leads to assumption that the City has the plan to submit another application to the ALC – for the teaching fields the lands do not need to be resoned, it fits well into the ALR designation.

  3. 3
    Roland Says:

    In order to farm, or moreso start a farming operation, one is required to submit a farm plan, which can cost several thousand dollars.. The City wouldn’t simply allow Kwantlen to go ahead and farm. There is an incredible amount of red tape to go through , which further frustrates farming.

    Given the City is the owner of the GCL and the Local Gov’t, and the ALC Act is complied with, the City would likely designate a portion of the GCL to Kwantlen, and enter into a long term lease. It would require infrastructure such as irrigation and drainage. Given the GCL is mainly peat(one of the poorest soils) , how would Kwantlen farm this peat? or would it import soil ? etc etc.

    If the City allows Kwantlen to farm, then it is admitting that the GCL is viable for agriculture, after spending enormous effort to state otherwise.

    The City, in a master plan for the GCL, may have to subdivide off a portion and its zoning bylaws won’t allow ALR subdivision of less than 5 acres parcels. However, the ALC may intervene and disallow such subdivision, saying such parcelizing has a negative impact.

    How much land would the City lease to Kwantlen ? Is public ALR land purchased at $400,000 acre leased to a non-profit group a good idea ? .

    Regardless, The City did NOT purchase the GCL at such a premium price for urban farming , it could have bought ALR elsewhere in Richmond at far cheaper prices if it was so pre-disposed . The only logical premise is the City will roll the dice with the ALC one more time to apply for either exclusions or non farm uses on the GCL more in keeping with park and other urban needs.

    However, the ALC is sufficiently aware of the City’s desire for park space, and may grow rather tired of another dressed up application attempt If however, the Musqueam scare off the City, the lands may sit there as is or at best farmed. However, farming them would be a sign of defeat to the City, so we’ve entered a real Catch 22 on the GCL’s future

    It’s a far bigger matter than simply “farming is an allowable use in the ALR”.


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