Researcher Profile: Will Valley, Instructor and Academic Director of the Land, Food and Community Series

What is your title?

Instructor, Applied Biology

Academic Director of the Land, Food and Community Series

What is your research project and what is it all about?

The three main areas of my research are in sustainable food systems education, K-12 school food systems, and urban agriculture.

My research in sustainable food system education focuses on curricular impacts on students, teaching assistants and community stakeholders. Currently, I am working with a group of educators from other universities in North America on articulating and evaluating core program competencies, such as systems thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, and equity. I work with K-12 schools focuses on developing teacher, administrator and staff knowledge and skills in critical food literacy. I also conduct research on urban agriculture policy and practices in Vancouver.

What’s next for this project?

In working on the curriculum development for sustainable food systems education, we aim to prepare our students for their careers as future professionals in the food system. In order to address the complex and uncertain challenges in the food system, our students will need to develop specific disciplinary knowledge and skills, while at the same time, be able to connect their efforts with others who are working towards improving the food system for all. This means developing core competencies that will allow our students to be both disciplinary and systems thinkers, capable of collaborating with a broad range of social actors towards common food system sustainability goals.

In K-12 school food systems, we are collaborating with teachers, administrators, staff, municipal government, public health nutritionists,and numerous local organizations to help integrate food system literacy into schools and classrooms. Some areas of focus include looking at problems of food access, food literacy skill development, and helping students develop healthy relationships with food.

With urban agriculture, we want to understand and assess its development and integration into institutional spaces and policies, private property and businesses. We want to understand how urban agriculture can be leveraged  to re-awaken the urban population’s value for and support of rural farmers. We believe urban agriculture can also support the necessary growth and development of young and new farmers. As our farming population is set to retire in BC over the next decade, we need to decrease the barrier to entering farming, and the gap in experience is one aspect that can be addressed through participating in urban agriculture, to a certain extent.

Why does this work matter to you?

This work matters to me because it orients towards increasing the sustainability of our food systems by decreasing ecological impacts, increasing equity and maintaining economic viability in food systems. Working with teachers, administrators, and staff in the K-12 education system will help more students engage with food at school, potentially minimizing the disconnect that we have within the food system currently and bringing food back to the centre of our lives.

What surprises you about this work?

The complexity of the food system is something that surprises me. Food is something we all engage with, and while we may have different perspectives and values, it is something that brings people and communities together. I am also surprised by the commitment and diversity of individuals and stakeholders who are trying to help create better food systems at the local, regional, and global scale

How important is the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm to your work?

CSFS facilitates my engagement within the complexity of the food system as well as supports my commitment and connection to this field of research. CSFS helps mediate and bring like-minded people together in this space. It also supports the community as participant and co-educator in our collective understanding and action within the complex task of imagining and creating healthy, just, and sustainable food systems.

What should people know about the UBC Farm that they probably don’t know?

It’s a good place to see snakes in Vancouver!

The UBC Farm is an oasis in our urban jungle with cultivated fields, forests and a great community of people. It is incredibly peaceful, regenerative and exciting place.

What’s your favourite thing to do at the UBC Farm?

I enjoy the forest walk, seasonal events like FarmAde, visiting folks in the Indigenous gardens and simply connecting with the people I meet when I’m on-site!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

CSFS is a unique space for bringing diverse people and projects together and is a gift and asset unique to UBC. I would encourage everyone to engage with the community here.