Students in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Sustainable Agriculture program overcame COVID-19 uncertainty to grow and donate $42,000 worth of fresh vegetables to the Richmond Food Bank.
“We had to switch from on-farm teaching to online teaching, and we had to make the difficult decision not to plant perishable labour-intensive crops, like tomatoes. We decided to focus more on low-labour crops that store well, like potatoes, beets, and cabbage. We were able to donate a lot of those to the food bank,” says Mike Bomford, instructor in the program.
Hajira Hussain, executive director of the Richmond Food Bank Society says they’ve found the donation very timely and beneficial.
“We had to switch from a grocery style model to a pre-packed hamper model and needed produce that can keep well in bags. Our produce packing team puts together over 150 bags of produce a day and it was great to have a supply of quality, fresh, locally grown vegetables from KPU’s Sustainable Agriculture program. The people that we serve are very grateful to have this fresh produce included in their hampers.”
Students grew 16 tons of food of fresh produce on the farm at the Garden City Lands in Richmond. They also sold $32,000 worth of food at a booth at the Kwantlen St. Farmers Market, which is run by the Kwantlen Student Association.
“I’m so grateful to the Kwantlen Student Association for starting and maintaining the Tuesday afternoon farmers’ market,” says Bomford. “The market moved to the lacrosse court across from City Hall this year to give control over how many people were on site. We weren’t sure what a physically-distanced farmers’ market would look like, but it worked! Our customers really appreciated having access to super-fresh, locally-grown food.”
He says it was a relief to get some students back on the farm. The province designated farms and farmers’ markets as essential services.
“It was good for the mental health of students and the faculty. Farm work lends itself to physical distancing, so we could all stay safe.”
Elizabeth Worobec, dean of the Faculty of Science and Horticulture, praises the quantity of food the students were able to grow and donate given the uncertainty in March at the beginning of the pandemic.
“I am extremely proud of the generosity of our faculty, students and staff in the Sustainable Agriculture program,” she adds.
The program hopes to produce more food at the farms next year. All the teaching farms at KPU are managed according to national organic standards.
“Our orchard in south Richmond is already certified organic, and the farm at the Garden City Lands is just wrapping up its third year of the organic transition process. Hopefully, the food grown on that land will be certified organic beginning next spring, once the transition is complete,” adds Bomford.