Anita Stewart’s Canada File: UBC Farm, A Culinary Haven
By Anita Stewart
It was a glorious autumn day when we pulled into the Farm on the campus of the University of British Columbia. The kale was almost fully harvested; the beehives were a buzzing flurry of activity and the hens were busily foraging in their movable open-pasture enclosure.
UBC is a sprawling collection of well-landscaped buildings but UBC Farm is very special. The 24-hectare (59 acres) the UBC Farm is located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people and is surrounded by a 90-year-old coastal hemlock forest. It’s prime real estate on the edge of Vancouver, one of the most thriving cities in Canada, but the wise educators at the University have chosen to farm it rather than rip it up for condos.
Unique to Canada, UBC Farm is one of that city’s best-kept secrets. Over 200 varieties of fruit, vegetables, and herbs are harvested during the long growing season it enjoys in the Northwest.
Not only is it fully organic in its operation, it supplies produce in bulk to many of Vancouver’s who’s who list of top restaurants. From Burdock & Co, a flagship of vegan/vegetarian cuisine and blessed as Best West Coast Restaurant in the Vancouver Magazine Awards to the elegant Coquille to Dosanko, a nifty new Japanese-style restaurant to Forage, one of Food Day Canada’s veterans, these restaurants are hyper-local in their food philosophy and weekly welcome the brilliantly fresh totes full of just picked arugula, mizuna and frilled lettuces to flats of sun-ripened strawberries. The winter squash selections are unmatched.
The impact that access to the Farm’s produce has on young restaurateurs is beautifully summarized by Chef Nathan Lowey who, with his wife, owns and operates Dosanko.
“We wait all winter for the beautiful greens from UBC. In spring the ruby streaks, Mizuna, and arugula are vibrant and delicious. These greens take our Aki’s salad to the next level. That and peppery radishes and crunchy refreshing cucumbers are so missed over the cold months.
Spring is almost overwhelming in BC but one of the hi-lights is UBC strawberries we love to serve them parfait style with lightly sweetened cream cheese and preserved rhubarb. It looks and tastes amazing.
Summer is a flood of zucchini for sautéing and pickling and preserving in olive oil. We also love UBC blueberries. Our parfait is hyper-seasonal and morphs throughout the warm months. Blueberry is one of mine and my children’s favorites. Using preserved and fresh berries
In the beginning of fall the fresh edamame are unreal. It is so nice to get local fresh soybeans with so much flavor! Oh… and the German butter potatoes are life changing just butter and salt….. takes me to my happy place. “
For travelers, UBC Farm has weekly Saturday markets during the summer/autumn.
The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (UBC Farm) is an interdisciplinary and inclusive hub for solutions to local and global food systems sustainability. CSFS is a living lab, providing researchers with a research platform where social, economic, and environmental interventions can be designed, tested, and monitored within a living food system. Research opportunities span the whole seed to plate continuum while integrating many disciplines and sectors to provide global leadership for change leading to resilient and secure future food systems. The CSFS provides diverse research space for farm trial and wider research. Of special interest is Urban Agriculture when less than perfect vacant lands are turned into community gardens and Food Literacy programs for students with the goal of transforming the food systems. They do a multitude of seed trials from dozens of beets and kale to spinach.
With the wine growing regions in British Columbia so close to UBC it’s little wonder that the University has a substantial Wine Library established 20 years ago and hidden deep in the cellar of one of the campus buildings. It’s a research facility that is, like UBC Farm, doing fundamental wine research in various growing regions of the Province.
Anita Stewart is the Food Laureate for the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada. She holds a graduate degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide and is a Member of the Order of Canada. She lives in Ontario.