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Food and agricultural centre launched at UFV

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UFV’s latest research centre, the Food and Agricultural Institute (FAI), was approved by Senate in May and is beginning its operations. The centre will conduct applied research on food and agriculture, looking at sustainable agriculture and food culture in the Fraser Valley and beyond.

The new centre will be taking over the research functions of the Centre for Food and Farmland Innovation (CFFI) and the Agricultural Centre for Excellence (ACE), acting as a “one stop shop” for the food and agricultural research at UFV. Some of ACE’s work will continue under the heading, due to the external nature of the research.

“It makes it a lot easier for students and for the community to know where to go for this kind of work,” Dr. Lenore Newman, director of FAI and Canada research chair in food security and environment at UFV, said.

Newman was the previous director of CFFI, and serves on the Agricultural Land Commission, making recommendations to the B.C. government on the Agricultural Land Reserves (ALR).

In the short term, Newman said the goal of the centre will be to stabilize the ongoing projects that have shifted from other centres to FAI, and to connect with contacts and partners about the changes.

After that, Newman said the centre will continue expansion, bringing on partners and new projects, and working with UFV professors to develop research projects. The centre will also bring on a number of students, either to paid positions or with directed studies projects.

In the long term, Newman sees the centre as a flagship in the Fraser Valley, building up the reputation of the centre as a place to go for agricultural research. She also will be working to build the centre an endowment to support long-term research.  

“We really feel that this university has a role to play in the agricultural community,” said Newman. “In Abbotsford, one in five jobs are directly tied to agriculture. We feel our university, to serve its region, which is our mandate, we need a strong agricultural applied research centre.”

The FAI will conduct research in two main areas of focus: policy and production agriculture.

The centre will continue looking at government policies concerning agriculture, such as health, farmland use, and farmers markets, previously done by the CFFI.  They will also continue to look into the policies surrounding ALR, a topic which has been under discussion recently as many Fraser Valley communities look to rezone ALR lands for other uses.  

“We have an emerging project that will look at interface between agricultural land and industrial land,” said Newman. “As you probably know, there has been some tension about that, but [the project] looks at the history of that and how that has evolved and how we’re using land in such a tight space.”

In terms of production agriculture, the FAI will continue to work with the two high-tech greenhouses known as the BioPods, previously run by ACE. The two greenhouses run a number of projects, growing a variety of crops and testing out new and innovative technologies, such as the Affinor vertical growing towers. Field trials for new crops that could work in the Fraser Valley, such as sweet potatoes and okra, are also underway.

Dr. Lisa Powell, postdoctoral researcher in the department of geography at UFV, will continue her work with local Fraser Valley chefs and farmers on farm-to-table, with a grant from Vancity.

“She’s talking to chefs and farmers to see how they could work more closely to put more local food into the system, and so if you go into a local restaurant, you could have local foods,” said Newman.

Image: UFV Flickr

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