Fraser Valley is on its way to becoming the agricultural research heartland not only of B.C., but of Canada.
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the new B.C. School of Agriculture on Tuesday, the message from University of the Fraser Valley officials and local leaders was that the long-range plan is to build up an agricultural centre at UFV to rival those in Guelph, Ontario, and Olds, Alberta.
"We have to get out there, and maybe become the leading school in Canada in terms of agriculture. We can do it," said John Jansen, president of CEPCO, who has been supporting the plan for years.
The first phase of construction, scheduled to be completed by this September, includes new greenhouses, a demonstration barn, test field sites, and a livestock area to take up the field south of UFV's existing agriculture building.
UFV's agriculture department has been without a barn or greenhouse since moving to new facilities at Canada Education Park last year.
The second phase of the B.C. School of Agriculture will expand training to agricultural equipment, and will be completed with additional fundraising.
The establishment of the school is appropriate for the Fraser Valley, historically B.C.'s first agricultural region. As rain fell on newly-tilled soil on Tuesday, attention turned to remembering the past while planning for the future.
"Change is happening so rapidly. How are we going to produce food and create a vibrant industry in the future?" said local horticulture icon Brian Minter. "It comes down to training students...being able to provide the right type of education for the jobs that haven't been invented yet."
UFV's agriculture department has come a long way in a couple of years, since locals used to travel to the U.S. for ag training.
"No more. We're going to fix that," said UFV president Mark Evered.
Third year UFV student Amir Maan will use his Bachelor of Business Administration for agriculture management to expand and diversify his family's berry and vegetable business in Abbotsford. His time at UFV has included a practicum at a leading agricultural institution in Holland.
"I feel I have a better understanding of what being an agriculture industry leader truly means. It means agri-business, and understanding what it takes to produce raw goods into entrepreneurial opportunity," said Maan.
In the bread basket region of B.C., Chilliwack has maintained 64 per cent of its land value for agriculture, and has the largest dairy farm in Canada.
The B.C. School of Agriculture has raised $2,150,000 so far. This consists of $750,000 from UFV, $250,000 from Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, $150,000 from Envision Financial, and $1,000,000 from the provincial government.
"This will put Chilliwack on the map even brighter. It will attract students from all over B.C.," said UFV elder-in-residence Eddie Gardner on Tuesday.firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/alinakonevski