Growing Opportunities for Aspiring Urban Farmers
The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems’ Farm Schools offer students nine months of hands-on training on how to grow food in a way that nurtures both people and the earth.
The ISFS is an applied research and extension unit of Kwantlen Polytechnic University that focuses on regional food systems. The farm school program was designed in collaboration with the Richmond Food Security Society and the Sharing Farm. In 2010, the Richmond Farm School accepted its first cohort of students, and in 2015 they created the Tsawwassen Farm School in response to a request from the Tsawwassen First Nations Council.
ISFS director Kent Mullinix and farm school coordinator Caroline Chiu say the program strives to teach about the concept of sustainability and how food systems are foundational and integral to human sustainability. “We attempt to build a learning and farming community as well.”
Both farm schools operate on the same principles of teaching students how to grow food crops successfully and operate farm businesses. The TFS operates on over five acres and provides students with an in-depth learning of other sectors of agriculture such as orchids and livestock. The TFS focuses on integrated, small-scale alternate market farming methods and farm business.
After six years of operation at the Richmond Farm School, the ISFS realized “that not all aspiring farmers want to farm on two-plus acres, and many might want to stay and farm within the urban centre and engage in ultra-intensive production,” says Mullinix. The RFS program and curriculum is currently being redeveloped to focus on ultra small-scale, intensive urban farming of mixed vegetable crops only.
The new program curriculum will reflect the interest of aspiring market crop producers and urban home “homesteaders” who want to grow in small urban plots.
Despite the program differences, both farm schools are dedicated to teaching ecologically sound farming methods to those with or without farming experience. Neither program has entrance requirements, assignments, or grades, and both focus on experiential learning.
Mullinix and Chiu say that the best take away from the program is that students discover a completely new side to themselves. “They become passionate about what they learn and are eager to enter the farming/food/sustainable society sectors to contribute to advancing sustainability and food system innovations.” They also hope that the program empowers students to actively advance the concept of sustainability.