UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 4 | Feb.
Students team up for inner city service project
Guelph, UBC students join to help community gardens
by Michelle Cook staff writer
A group of UBC students took 11 of their counterparts from the
University of Guelph to the Downtown Eastside to do some gardening
this week as part of an unusual exchange project designed to show
participants from both institutions that there's more to the community
than its gritty reputation.
The UBC Learning Exchange -University of Guelph Urban Agriculture
Project is the first-ever exchange of its kind between two Canadian
The goal of the five-day pilot was to help students from various
academic disciplines see past some of the common stereotypes of
the inner city by getting their hands dirty, literally, doing community
"Some portrayals have truth to them but they tend to ignore the
strength and vitality that these communities also have," says Learning
Exchange director Margo Fryer. "We wanted students to see the `other'
side of the Downtown Eastside."
To do that, the UBC-Guelph group volunteered to help the Strathcona
Community Gardens refurbish its compost system so that it can help
another group in the community, the Quest Outreach Society, dispose
of a large portion of its waste. Quest, a large food redistribution
project, currently pays almost $10,000 a year to dispose of its
unusable food donations.
Through their efforts to support Strathcona's composting operation,
the students were not only helping Quest save money, but also contributing
to efforts to create a larger, more comprehensive composting project
in the neighbourhood. Fryer brought back the idea for the exchange
from a meeting in Antigonish, N.S. last May for Canadian universities
introducing community service learning into their programs.
When a Guelph University representative expressed interest in
bringing students to the Downtown Eastside, Fryer saw an opportunity
for both schools to participate in educational activities related
to grassroots community development.
Community service learning incorporates community volunteer activities
into academic programs so that students can make connections between
theory and practice, and enrich their academic learning by seeing
how it can be applied, Fryer explains.
While the concept has been popular in the United States for some
time, Canadian universities have only recently begun to adopt it.
"We're hoping that by generating interest in this kind of community-based
learning, more faculty members will integrate service volunteer
opportunities into their course work," Fryer says.
She hopes the UBC students will be able to make a reciprocal visit
to Guelph and that this week's pilot spurs ongoing community service
exchanges with other Canadian universities as well as international
Other activities scheduled for the exchange included a discussion
with representatives from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users,
a workshop on local community development and guided tour of the
The Learning Exchange is part of the commitment to community outreach
found in Trek 2000, the university's vision statement.
It offers UBC's resources and expertise to the Downtown Eastside
community, provides educational opportunities to people who live
and work in the neighbourhood, and gives UBC students first-hand
volunteer experience in community organizations.