This article is part of The College Farmer, a series of interviews with student farmers from across Canada.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Lucas Chan is a student in the Faculty of Land Systems at the University of British Columbia. He is currently the President of Roots on the Roof, a student-run club that manages the rooftop garden space and the community garden plots on the Student Union Building at the University of British Columbia. Founded in 2014, Roots on the Roof creates a communal space that celebrates sustainable and just food systems through healthy relationships with food, each other, and the natural world. As President, Lucas has dabbled in logistics, planning, growing, and visioning at Roots on the Roof.
In one sentence, please answer: what is Roots on the Roof?
We are a student club that manages a rooftop garden space at UBC, food is our way of engaging community and creating spaces for people to smile, laugh, connect, and explore.
Can you describe the food system at UBC prior to the founding of Roots on the Roof? When Roots on the Roof was established, what gap did the club fill?
“If you know about it you know about it, if you don’t, you don’t.” That was my impression of the food movement at UBC before Roots on the Roof existed. I would say that our club has made conversations around food more accessible and visible to people in the UBC community. You don’t need to be a farmer, scientist, or ‘activist’ in order to be a part of this conversation. The food movement is relevant to everyone and accessibility to these conversations needs to be reflective of that.
Tell me about your role at Roots on the Roof.
I am currently the President of Roots on the Roof. I dabble around in everything (logistics, planning, growing, visioning), but not too much of anything! I would say that I am largely responsible for addressing the direction the club is heading. Roots on the Roof is working towards creating a platform for community storytelling, learning, and love. It is important to me that Roots on the Roof continues to challenge what a ‘garden’ can be and what it means to the food movement.
What stimulated your interest in urban agriculture?
Once upon a time, back when I was in high school , as a part of the program I was in, it was just mandatory to participate in the school garden. Over time, I started to notice that there was a community being built around this garden and that for some reason I was becoming a part of it. It’s been 4 years since I have left high school and I still can’t seem to stay away from gardens. I have built lifelong relationships and had unforgettable experiences through gardening. For me, gardens have been a place for self discovery, personal growth, and community, this is an idea I want to continue to share through Roots on the Roof.
What about other students in the club?
Other students who have become a part of the club have gotten involved in many different ways. We’ve taught people how to make salads, pot-a-plant, moss tile art, lanterns, and more! What we do is reflective of the many different ways that we experience food and how it influence our lives. I would say that many of RotR’s friends and family have just kind of stumbled into the garden space, not expecting that it would grow into a meaningful learning experience.
What have been the major accomplishments of the club since it’s founding in 2014? What challenges has the club faced?
Throughout the 2 years that Roots on the Roof has been in existence we’ve been able to grow 2000lbs of food, sell produce through market stands and weekly CSAs, and put on a variety of workshop/events! Our biggest achievement would have to be our annual lantern celebration, Lights on the Roof, which has started to become one of the largest end of the fall semester events on campus. We wanted the community to engage with food in a creative way, open up discussions around how we value food, and to have people experience food and share that experience with others.
A challenge that we currently face is finding ways to continue to engage our community beyond just normal garden drop-ins or attending events. Collaborating with community members outside of the core planning committee to lead workshops/events is something we look forward to into the future. I would say our biggest challenge is being able to establish a way of sharing knowledge, not only with the community but within our core group. Working against the transient nature of a 4-year degree and making sure that Roots on the Roof’s core values of community storytelling, building, and support are fully understood is what will allow us to continue to facilitate thought around food and community.
What are you temporary plans for the coming years? How do you think your experience at Roots on the Roof will help you navigate your future career path?
I would say that Roots on the Roof has been a major part of making my formal education worthwhile. As a Land and Food System’s student at UBC, many of the things we learn are theoretical and fact-based. Being able to experience learning as something that doesn’t just exist inside the walls of the classroom or in the facts of a research paper is has allowed me to grow as an individual. Learning how to interact with community, to tell stories, and allow other people to share their own has been the most meaningful part of my time at UBC. I’m not exactly sure my future will take me but I am confident in the experiences I have had here will be relevant in allowing me to continue to be a part of sharing community stories.
What has Roots on the Roof taught you about food and community?
Through Roots on the Roof I have gained a better understanding of what makes gardens so special and what these spaces can mean to discourse around food systems. Gardens can be a place for people to challenge, explore, and express themselves. It’s a place where communities can work towards having conversations about race, power, and politics, very difficult topics that are deeply intertwined with our relationship with food. Gardens are a place to build that relationship with food and the community that surrounds it. Even though Roots on the Roof is a small-scale garden, the impacts of what we are doing in terms of a community/spiritual/relationship-based approach to food, is significant for the food movement.
To learn more about Roots on the Roof or to get involved, please visit the club’s blog.
Photos curtesy of Lucas Chan.