UBC Farm Pollanated - June 6, 2009

Early Saturday morning, I picked up the author and food activist Michael Pollan from the Opus Hotel. I was taking him to a fundraiser for the farm at UBC where he was speaking to promote the paperback release of his critically-acclaimed In Defense of Food. While it was essentially Michael’s first visit to Vancouver, I instinctively felt he was the ideal person to support all the wonderful work done at UBC Farm. The last working farm within city limits, it is a cause near and dear to my heart.

We had sold 675 tickets and everything appeared to be in order. Still, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. In all my years as a bookseller, I had never attempted anything of this magnitude. The scope of the event was prompted by the importance of ensuring that UBC’s 24 hectare farm continue to play a vital role in our community. It has always been my dream to create a large scale fundraiser for one of our most crucial food-related resources. But this was my town – my dream. Would Michael Pollan share my home-grown passion for the cause?

I decided to put my nagging doubts aside as we traveled west along 16th Avenue to UBC. It was a lovely drive. We came to the round about and circled to the left to journey down the road to the farm. Michael inquired, were we on campus? We took the tranquil wooded road to the farm and drove right up to the farm centre where we were to meet Mark Bomford, director of the UBC Farm.

The plan was for Mark to take us on a tour of the farm, with CBC’s Cheryl Mackay, conducting an interview. We began our tour with the simple idea of taking in a few of the farm’s highlights. As if on cue, a hawk swooped down within feet of us on the way to securing his lunch. Looking up, we could see a group of crows swarming eagles. We could hear honeybees buzzing and the rooster protested our presence while protecting his girls. As we met the Mayan farmers, I was deeply affected by the natural beauty of our surroundings.

We made our way to the children’s garden where Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij had prepared a picnic lunch. The cloudy sky had turned brilliant. We dined on a feast that included local goat, mung bean salad, mint and mango chutney, cabbage and paneer salad and sautéed mushrooms. Afterwards, we made our way to the field where our guests had gathered to enjoy their own picnics before hearing Michael speak.

I welcomed the crowd and introduced Mark Bomford. Mark spoke briefly but eloquently about the farm and favoured Michael with a lovely introduction. When organizing this event with the publisher, I had requested that Michael speak for 15-20 minutes, before proceeding with the book signing. But when Michael took to the stage he spoke passionately about the importance of real food for 45 minutes. The tears welled in my eyes when the crowd rose from the ground to give him a much-deserved standing ovation.

After his speech, Michael went to his signing table. The farm conducted tours. Our guests enjoyed the folksy live music while sampling the plant-based appetisers offered by participating restaurants of the Chefs' Table Society. It was a happy day.

That evening we enjoyed dinner in a private home cooked by Chef Robert Clark, an extraordinary cook and a wonderful man. There were seven of us, including a journalist who had observed Michael at the farm and was continuing his research over an inspired meal. Robert’s menu? Spring Pea Soup with B.C. Spot Prawns, Hannah Brook Farm Steamed Asparagus with quail egg, Venturi-Shultze balsamic and hazelnut snow, Pemberton Valley Beets with Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese, Pan Grilled Bayne Sound Scallops with Fava Beans, Mushrooms and New Potatoes. Little Qualicum Fromage Frais Cheesecake with North Arm Farm Rhubarb, preserved sour cherries, Terra Breads Red fife Baguette with Agassiz Farm House Butter.

What a way to end the perfect day. Since it’s a beautiful evening, Michael and I decide to walk back to his hotel. I thank him for his generosity and for helping me achieve one of my dreams. He responds with a gracious thank you, and says good-bye “until the next book”. Thanks to the generosity of all who attended the event to support the farm, I am giving a cheque to the UBC Farm for $12,000.00. Another dream come true for everyone who cares about the vital role sustainable food plays in the city we love.

Barbara-jo McIntosh
June 10, 2009