Okanagan College, University of the Fraser Valley sign agreement on agriculture

It’s official: Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton and University of the Fraser Valley president and vice-chancellor Mark Evered sign an agreement Friday to commit to an ongoing collaboration on education, particularly in the area of agricultural studies. - James Murray/Observer
It’s official: Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton and University of the Fraser Valley president and vice-chancellor Mark Evered sign an agreement Friday to commit to an ongoing collaboration on education, particularly in the area of agricultural studies.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

A seed that was planted two years ago is on its way to bearing fruit – or vegetables, or all things agricultural.

It was smiles all around Friday at the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College, as Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton and University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) President and Vice-Chancellor Mark Evered signed a memorandum of understanding. The agreement formalizes the initiative to have the two institutions work together, particularly on opportunities associated with UFV’s new British Columbia Agriculture Centre of Excellence, now being built in Chilliwack.

“This is a great day for us,” said Jim Barmby, Okanagan College’s dean of the Shuswap-Revelstoke region, as he explained the idea came from Margaret Hardy two years ago when she was working as downtown community campus co-ordinator. It was also two years ago that Barmby, Hardy, farmers John McLeod and Richard Bell, and Leslie Bogula of the college travelled to UFV to tour the campus, look over the agriculture programs offered there and explore opportunities for partnerships.

Hamilton told the gathering Friday that Okanagan College has been talking for some time about agriculture and food-related endeavours. He noted “the college has been active on the wine front, but we haven’t been as active as we could or should be in some other areas.”

When the UFV was recognized as the Centre of Excellence for Agriculture in B.C., “that opened a big door for us,” he said, pointing to the facilities, experience and people who would be available.

“I can’t think of a better partnership between one area of agriculture in the province with another.”

Evered added his enthusiastic support for the plan.

“As President Hamilton mentioned, this agreement is the blanket agreement that opens up all kinds of possibilities,” he said, noting that society is waking up to issues of food safety and security. “It only makes sense to me to take two institutions with strengths… and bring them together.”

John English is the dean responsible for agriculture at UFV. He said the university has two flagship diploma programs, one on the “plant side,” one on the animal side.

“They are strong, powerful programs that teach students how to work an operation” such as a farm or greenhouse, he said. “Very hands on.”

Although at this stage options are still being explored, making the UFV curriculum available to Okanagan College means the college wouldn’t have to develop it.

“Conversely, we’re looking at what you have in viticulture (wine making),” he said as an example. “Something where we can scratch each other’s backs. That’s the kind of thing we contemplate.”

Asked if an existing farm could be used for teaching purposes, he said dedicated teaching facilities are preferred because of biosecurity – the control of viruses and diseases that may move between locations.

As for possibilities for the partnership between the two educational institutions, he said “the sky’s the limit.”

Regarding time lines, Evered said: “We’re a long ways down the road already just by virtue of having two organizations having signed an agreement,” he said. “That means we’ve thought through a lot of things. Now we need to get down to tangibles.”

He said he’d like to have a clear idea of chosen options by the fall, and “by the winter, start getting things on the ground.”

Margaret Hardy said she’s ecstatic with the agreement.

“All the pieces are coming together, it’s very exciting and I’m thrilled to have been involved.”

Mayor Nancy Cooper termed the agreement “a very exciting step,” noting that first came the plan for the downtown campus, then the focus on agriculture, then the land donation and now the agreement.

“It’s a very big step. We’re moving forward, one step at a time.”

McLeod described the agreement as “excellent,” noting that agricultural learning institutions have been dwindling in Canada.

“We have to learn and know how to provide food in a sustainable way so we don’t have to rely on a foreign country and corporation. Food sovereignty – we’ve lost that and this is how we get it back. This is a great first step.”

He said this is an opportunity, in conjunction with the food forum held two weeks ago, to meld all of the initiatives together.

“This is a huge opportunity with the new land designated for the college… We can use this agricultural initiative, we can start producing food on that land. While we wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, we can get the wheels in the dirt. That land has some of the best dirt in Salmon Arm.”




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