Reflections

I am currently running two personal projects at UBC Farm. The main one is developing a model for urban sunflower sprout production under the direction of Brent Skura; the other is the development of a permanent “no-till” field at the farm. It is the no-till project that is the focus of my CSL, which has also led to a third contribution to the farm: irrigation design and installation.

The no-till project is taking place in two areas on the farm: on a small patch of grass just north of the caretakers’ trailers and south of the UACKGP field in a field which is now currently in blackberries! I started the project in the smaller area in February where I took some soil samples for analysis and then mulched the area with plastic. With the help of Graduate student Melissa Iverson, I took samples to test for bulk density, infiltration, pH, and organic matter content. Thus far I have only run the tests for bulk density. This garden area will be used for the farm’s caretakers as a plot to grow their own vegetables.

In the blackberry area I also started by taking soil samples in random areas. At the moment the area is still full of blackberries, but I am preparing to go in there with a machine and take them out! We are just waiting for the ground to dry. It is my hope that both of these areas will make a contribution to the production and teaching capacity of UBC Farm.

In conjunction with developing the ‘blackberry’ no-till area is the installation of irrigation to the area as well as two other areas on the farm. I told Tim I was happy to contribute 15 hours to the irrigation project, which would include design and management of the project. As I have previous irrigation experience, this is turning out to be a big benefit to the farm.

The no-till project is becoming a great way to get familiar with the farm’s soils, which I was also able to do with our farm project testing soil variability. The data I am collecting will also help contribute to the continued monitoring of soil at UBC Farm. I have also become much more familiar with the flow of the farm and after only a few months of working on the farm am already feeling very familiar with the land. One of my main objectives for coming to UBC was to be involved in the farm, both as a contributor and a learner, and the no-till project is proving to fulfill both of those goals.

The irrigation project is similar in that it allowed me to both contribute and learn. The time designing the system has helped me better get to know Tim, as well as the farm and its crops. I have also been able to utilize new technology for irrigation design which helped make the job easier as well as producing a useful irrigation map and plan for future projects. Below is what I was able to produce using Google Sketchup, which I basically call software crack since it is so addictive. One map is the overall irrigation plan and one is the underground connections, which help for parts purchasing:

field-map-2009-irrigation

Overall field view of irrigation layout

Underground connections for purchase planning

Underground connections for parts purchasing planning

Overall, there are a few things that have really stuck out for me in these projects so far.

One, is getting acquainted with the farm. Having operated a farm for several years myself, and then having spent the last 2 1/2 years in school, getting back onto the land has been very fulfilling. The fact that I am learning something new ever time I step onto the farm, and many times also get to teach someone else something new, makes my experiences at the farm very rewarding. This has made me very aware of my judgments and biases regarding farming, and especially soil management, which I am often critical of. Just seeing how hard everyone seems to be working towards developing a truly sustainable system has been very inspiring

The next thing that stood out was a reminder of the amount of work it takes to maintain a farm. The planning, implementation, and management of farming systems can be very time consuming because farms are such dynamic systems – especially farms like the UBC Farm, where so many different people are involved at so many different levels. However, it seems like this dynamism at UBC Farm may be working against its ability to be more profitable, and perhaps more sustainable. With so many projects and groups with which to organize and communicate it seems that it is hard to prioritize the soil and crops because there are so many other things to do relating to academia, tours, apprentices, volunteers, etc,. that crops and soil may actually be getting neglected. But, to be honest, until I have spent a whole season on the farm, this is difficult to know for sure.

Third, is to see how much the farm is contributing to student learning. Granted, it is up to the student to make their learning experience the best it can be, but what a great opportunity for those of us who are wanting to learn more about sustainable farm management!

And fourth, but not least, is feeling a really good opportunity to contribute my own experience to the farm. I can easily get intimidated by others in the agriculture field and often question how much I have to offer. But I have had so many conversations with people at the farm that have been such amazing exchanges of information that is helping restore my confidence in my past experience (its amazing how sitting in a classroom for years studying agriculture can make one forget what they know about agriculture). I am so much looking forward to many more conversations with students, faculty, volunteers, and anyone else involved at UBC farm to continue this exchange of knowledge and ideas.

At this point, I am not sure how I feel about the CSL component of the course overall. While I think the idea is a good one, it seems it might need a bit more direction. It was easy fr me because I had some projects I was already working on , but noticed a lot of students struggling to find a project to get involved in. Of course, perhaps this has nothing to do with lack of direction and more to do with lack of motivation.

See you in the fall!

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