In honour of World Food Day 2020, we are sharing staff and student perspectives on local concerns around food security in a global pandemic and the collaborative effort to deliver fresh food to UBC students. The Harvest Hamper 2020 Program was inspired by Ian Marcuse and his team running the Grandview Woodland Food Connection COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution project. Thank you Ian for sharing your story and knowledge with us!
Addressing Food Security in 2020
World Food Day 2020 is taking place in a year like no other. COVID-19 has significantly impacted food systems with both producers and consumers having to adapt to new ways of operating. Food and agriculture producers have been operating as essential service providers but many businesses have been negatively impacted along the food supply chain. For consumers, not only has accessing food become more difficult but many people are experiencing work layoffs and financial hardships, which increases food insecurity.
New for 2020, the Harvest Hamper Program is a UBC community effort to connect plant diversity, urban gardens and students. Our goal for this season was to prepare and deliver 50 Harvest Hampers to UBC students in need of extra food support. A partnership between Cali Schnarr at AMS Food Bank and Tara Moreau at UBC Botanical Garden, the program represents the collective efforts of UBC staff, Friends of the UBC Botanical Garden, volunteers and West Coast Seeds (our local seed providers). Support from UBC Wellbeing helped bring on board our Harvest Hampers Manager from AMS Food Bank, Akhila Varghese, and to purchase cooking tools to support students in cooking at home.
Highlights from our season include:
- 515 pounds (234 kgs) of fresh produce harvested and distributed to UBC students.
- 54 Harvest Hampers (18 delivered to students on-campus, 12 picked up at the Garden and 24 delivered to AMS Food Bank for next day pick-up).
- Over 25 different plant species prepped and sorted for distribution over 6 weekly harvest sessions starting from September 2 and ending October 14.
In addition to ~10 pounds of produce, the Hampers included cooking tools such as roasting pans, peelers, vegetable scrub brushes, olive oil and more. In each kit, educational resources were added to support plant-based cooking and healthy eating including the Food Guide Brochure and recipe cards from Love Food Hate Waste.
Sample of educational resources provided with Harvest Hampers.
Student perspective: Akhila Varghese
“I never thought that something other than human biology would fascinate me, but learning more about the importance of plants…has opened me to the world of botany and sustainable agriculture. I’m now interested in how these fields connect to human health.”
-Akhila Varghese, Harvest Hampers Manager from AMS Food Bank
Akhila Varghese is a fourth year student in the Food, Nutrition and Health Program at UBC. She shares her perspective of being part of this Program.
Being part of this endeavour has brought insight on and hands-on experience with the process of food security as we seek to help our community. I never thought that something other than human biology would fascinate me, but learning more about the importance of plants, food gardening, and non-edible crop relatives has opened me to the world of botany and sustainable agriculture. I’m now interested in how these fields connect to human health.
While helping in this project, I’ve personally benefited from learning about local and seasonal BC vegetables, fruits and herbs. I have been very fortunate to take some of the extra bounty home and experiment with new recipes. So far, I have had the opportunity to enjoy beautiful heirloom tomatoes, pink and purple corn and beautiful rainbow chard, which has become my new favourite leafy green.
The pandemic has given me time to reflect on our food: where it comes from? Who harvests it? What and who are the other important players of our food system? Our global situation shows us the importance of having a food system that is adaptable and resilient to crises.
Food Security Initiatives at the Garden
“Our food programs attempt to tackle food security both in the short – and long-term.”
-Tara Moreau, Associate Director, Sustainability and Community Programs
This year’s World Food Day (October 16, 2020) marks the 75th anniversary of the UN-FAO and is calling for “global solidarity to help all populations and especially the most vulnerable, to recover from the crisis.” The annual day was established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) to promote awareness of world hunger and inspire global solutions for change.
UBC Botanical Garden has had a long commitment to advancing urban agriculture through its Food Garden (established in 1983). In recent years, the Garden has worked to advance critical food literacy that intersects climate change, food security, and biodiversity conservation. Our food programs attempt to tackle food security both over the short- and long-term. For example, consistent access to nutritious food is an immediate issue many people in our community face. Yet, one in five plants face extinction and as a botanical garden we also see that conserving the genetic diversity of our food plants is crucial to the food security of future generations.
Short-term programming has focused on promoting positive food choices (e.g. food waste reduction, plant-forward diets, pollinator populations, urban agriculture, etc.) while also providing fresh produce to community food banks. In 2018 and 2019, the Garden collaborated with the AMS Food Bank to address food insecurity for students through the Harvesting Food Skills program. Longer-term programming has focused on increasing food plant diversity in agriculture and the conservation of crop wild relatives as key resources for agricultural adaptation.
Adapting to COVID at the Garden
In the uncertain landscape of COVID-19, Garden staff, students and volunteers have adapted quickly. In-person events moved online and partnerships with local collaborators proved to be key. For example, our long-term collaboration with Metro Vancouver for the Grow Green Guide resulted in nine widely viewed 2020 Grow Green Facebook Live sessions watched by over 60,000 people. Our annual Apple Festival, organized by the Friends of the Garden, became Apple Market with online apple sales of ~5900 pounds featuring nine different varieties. In July, UBC Botanical Garden became the first Canadian garden to sign an agreement to join the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens (CCABG) aligning our adaptation work with botanical gardens around the world.
The Harvest Hamper aligns to global goals of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as: Zero Hunger, No Poverty, Good Health and Well-being, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Life on Land. The alignment of this Program with the SDGs continues the work done by UBC Botanical Garden’s Sustainable Communities Field School, as they seek to connect the local work of the Garden to global goals for a sustainable future.
At UBC Botanical Garden, showcasing diversity-driven agriculture and making it accessible to on-campus students provides a practical way to support sustainable food security, plant conservation and student wellbeing. Through the preparation and delivery of fresh produce, we aimed to localize food supply chains so that students can access seasonal and fresh produce.
Submitted by Akhila Varghese, Harvest Hampers Manager from AMS Food Bank, and Tara Moreau, Associate Director, Sustainability & Community Programs, at UBC Botanical Garden.