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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning sustainability on the farm : exploring academic programs at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems Wright, Gavin


This research focuses on the academic programs at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm (the Farm). The Farm is a centre for sustainability learning and research, providing a working model of sustainable food systems with which to engage students, faculty and community. The Farm is situated within the global context of a dominant industrial food paradigm that is demonstrated to be a major contributor to the social and ecological crises the world now faces. The Farm is further situated within the context of a dominant education paradigm that provides most students with knowledge that is disconnected from social and ecological realities, leading to the misuse of knowledge and to the exacerbation of global crises. The purpose of this research is to explore the contributions that the Farm’s academic programs provide toward advancing sustainability learning from the perspective of program participants, including myself. The research methodology was guided by participatory approaches to research. Qualitative methods were employed, focusing primarily on surveys and semi-structured interviews with program participants. I have also been an involved participant in a diversity of programs at the Farm from April 2004 – December 2008. The results of the research suggest that program participants value the ability to engage with their subject matter, not only on an abstract/theoretical level, but also on practical and affective levels. Participants feel that UBC is lacking in programs that allow students to engage physically and emotionally with their learning. Students feel their knowledge will be better recalled and more likely to be useful if they care about what they are learning, if they can engage with it in a real world context, and if they have some ownership and responsibility for what they are learning. Further, program participants feel that the Farm’s academic programs would benefit from providing more theoretical context and connection to their other academic work, from additions and improvements to Farm infrastructure and resources, and from additional human resources support. This research project was site specific. Nevertheless, it connects with and complements work being done at dozens of universities, colleges and student farms around the world.

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