Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School Teaches Students How to Grow

Collaboration between KPU and TFN offers hands-on learning

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A student harvests beets at KPU’s Tsawwassen First Nation Farming School in Delta, Aug. 25, 2016. (Tommy Nguyen)

Plans for the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School—a collaboration between the TFN and the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University—began back in 2015, and the school is currently in its first year of the program, with applications wide open to the public.

The part-time, 10-month-long program requires students to attend three days per week. Approximately 300 hours go into coursework in addition to the 350 to 400 hours of practicum experience on the farm, making for a unique blend of traditionally academic and hands-on tasks.

“Working on the farm is the best way to learn,” says Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School Administrative and Business Coordinator Caroline Chiu.

“The Tsawwassen First Nation were the first to approach us to see how we can collaborate, and that is how [the Farm School] all started,” says Chiu. “It brought a lot of positive recognition for KPU and we’ve got people from all over B.C., from the interior and the island, just to take this program.”

It offers 20 acres of land for students to work on, so that they can gain genuine farming skills. On that land is two acres of an orchard, two acres of mixed veggies, and a section dedicated to pigs and chickens.

All animals are pasture-raised, and while the chickens are used primarily for their eggs, there are pigs brought up for pork consumption. When the animals are ready, they are sent to Johnston’s, a family-owned butcher shop known for their high quality and high standards.

Although the program does not include a certificate or diploma upon completion, it does have amazing opportunities and resources in place for graduates to succeed in their farming endeavors. For instance, they are eligible to lease half an acre of land for up to three years.

“We call it the incubator plot, where [students] can learn, make mistakes, try out what works and what doesn’t work for them, and still have access to farm school staff, community mentors, and teachers,” says Chiu.

There are nine instructors specializing in different aspects of running and operating a farm. Courses taught in the program include Market Crop Production, Plant Science, Animal Husbandry, and Indigenous Food Systems, among others. Dr. Kent Mullinix, the director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at KPU, developed a number of those courses.

“Traditional agriculture education programs do not support or prepare people to engage in human-scale, ecologically sound, alternative market, community-focused agriculture and food systems that are needed for our sustainable future. Our Farm Schools are intended and designed to do just that,” says Mullinix.

Another goal of the Farm School is to give back to the community, especially the Tsawwassen First Nations, for partnering and providing the farmland. By offering locally grown, organic foods, they are doing just that.

In many ways, the program operates like a business. Everything produced is eventually put to market, whether it’s for various farmer’s markets throughout the Lower Mainland or the weekly food box subscription they provide.

The box is a variety of between nine and 12 vegetables for $25 a week, featuring a bi-weekly option of farm fresh eggs for an additional $5. These boxes are not limited, and are conveniently dropped off at the KPU Surrey Campus upon request to allow for easier access to fresh local produce for students or faculty.

This unique program is not the only one of its kind at KPU. The university has also offered a Richmond Farm School, which operates out of the Richmond campus, but has been on a break for the 2016 year two allow for some curriculum restructuring. A major difference between this program and the Tsawwassen Farm School is the lack of indigenous roots within the Richmond program, and the fact that it uses land from The Sharing Farm Society in Richmond.

KPU has also partnered with the Delta School District to bring the Farm Roots Mini School to high school students in grades 10 to 12. This program allows students to attend their regular classes while alternating days with the Farm Roots program,  providing them with hands-on experience while finishing their high school education. Their farm consists of eight acres in the Boundary Bay area.

The Delta School District and KPU are still working out a dual credit option allowing students to collect credits for Agriculture 1150.

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