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UFV sets sights to feed a hungry world

Terisha Mitchell hopes to help find a safe and secure food supply for children like hers.

Amir Maan wants to take the business of agriculture to the next level by honing the skills he’s acquired while growing up on his family’s farm.

Both students believe the new B.C. Centre for Agriculture Excellence at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus is the place to do it.

The students were just two of the guest speakers that helped open the new $2.7 million centre at Canada Education Park on Friday.

More than 300 invited guests toured the buildings before they were opened to the public as part of the UFV’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

Premier Christy Clark, whose government committed $1 million to the project, was impressed.

“This community has created something very, very special,” she said. “It’s the product of vision, the product of tenacity, and, of course, the product of lots of imagination in making it happen.”

UFV was able to fortify the government contribution with $1.1 million of its own, and $387,000 from business and private partners. Another $250,000 came from Chilliwack Economic Partners – the agency that has taken the lead in redeveloping the abandoned Canada Forces Base Chilliwack and turning it into an education and training campus.

The first phase of the Centre for Agriculture Excellence includes a 780-square-metre livestock demonstration barn, and a 600-square-metre polycarbonate greenhouse.

The buildings are connected to a centralized heating plant that will accommodate future expansion.

They will allow UFV to continue growing and enhancing its agricultural programs, providing technical training for students and an important venue for applied research.

The goal, said advanced education minister Amrik Virk, is to cultivate B.C.’s agriculture sector by producing a tech-savvy workforce, backed by cutting edge research and innovation.

The greenhouse, for example, is built from a light-weight material that is stronger and more photo-efficient. At 11.5 metres, it is the tallest greenhouse in North America, allowing the school to experiment with innovations like vertical growing.

Said Premier Clark: “People are going to come from all over the world to look at what you’re doing here, to learn from it and import that technology.”

British Columbia already exports $1.6 billion in agriculture products to countries around the globe. But there is room to do more, said Clark.

That possibility excites students like Mitchell and Maan. “It is the possibility for us to be part of the mounting push for change in the world of agriculture,” said Mitchell, “the push to provide Canadian farmers with the tools they need to thrive and compete in the global market, the push to innovate, create, and supply food to our ever growing global community.”

Mann agreed. “UFV is on its way to becoming the leading institution where not only the agriculture department, but every department in every faculty collaborates to support the industry that feeds us all,” he said.

University president Mark Evered said the facility will become a keystone in network of applied agriculture research and development across the province and Western Canada, leading to best practices

in technology, with hands-on skill building opportunities in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors.

For Premier Clark, the timing couldn’t be better. With a rapidly expanding middle class in countries like India and China, sources of safe and sustainable food are being desperately sought.

“They are hungry for Canadian product, for safe, high quality British Columbian food,” she said. “We have to have the capacity to be able to produce that, and the only way we we can do that is to continue educating students like Terisha and Amir, so this investment is going to continue to grow.”

Both Mitchell and Maan welcome the chance to part of that push.

Said Maan: “Locally grown and sustainable food is not a buzz word anymore; it’s not a fad. but is rather a necessity.”

• For a video tour inside the BC Centre for Agriculture Excellence, find this story online at www.theprogress.com

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