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Executive Summary

We partnered with Gambier Island Sea Ranch (GISR) for our UBC Community Based Experiential Learning (CBEL) project. It is a water-accessible, community farm located on the east side of Gambier Island; being partially owned by the fifty-eight residential cabins surrounding the land which includes seven fenced fields for livestock and soil-based farming. The Farm Committee voices farm operations and projects to the Strata Council which has final approval. The purpose of our project was to create a sustainable, implementable usage plan for the Thistle Down field. It has been less productive than other plots of land due to its pronounced slope and resulting poor soil quality even after following attempts to rehabilitate it. We came up with a research question to solidify our purpose for the project and direct our research: What are the best crops and agricultural techniques that could be used to improve the productivity of the Thistle Down field at GISR when taking into account its slope constraints? To conduct our research, we used two approaches to obtain mixed-methods results: quantitative methods involved measuring physical attributes of the field itself such as hand texturing of soil and surveying the land to obtain dimensions and slope of the field; qualitative methods were carried out through interviews with key stakeholders. Lastly, we researched what crops would thrive in the climate and landscape at Gambier Island. We determined that the 100 ft by 251 ft 4” field had a slope of 23.22 degrees and contained a silty to sandy clay loam soil texture. Interviews elucidated to the farm’s small budget, the predators on the island, and community’s interest in having more crops available to them, possibly fruit or nut trees. Taking into account that the field is located close to residential cabins and that animals such as deer might pose a problem to growing certain crops, we decided that creating a plot for herbs- namely rosemary, sage, oregano, and lavender- and bush beans for nitrogen fixating purposes would be a good choice. These crops would enhance sustainability of the GISR food system by serving the community, encouraging pollination, being cost efficient and would be easy to grown and maintained given the climate and the threat of deer. Limitations of our project included the time frame, lack of facilities for soil testing and sunlight measurements and remote location.


Commonly referred to as Group 1, our team consists of eight members from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at The University of British Columbia. Six of us are majoring in Food, Nutrition and Health, one member is studying Global Resources, while another is focused on Soil Science. We partnered with Gambier Island Sea Ranch (GISR) for our Community Based Experiential Learning (CBEL) project, a water-accessible, community farm located on the east side of Gambier Island, in Howe Sound, British Columbia[1]. The farm is partially owned by fifty-eight residential cabins on sixty-six lots surrounding the farmland which includes seven fenced fields for livestock and soil-based farming [2]. The community members are stakeholders in the farm as they have a say in the farm operations and are free to enjoy the farm and its harvest. The farm consists of 300 acres of shared property belonging to the residents of Gambier Island [3]. Various projects that take place on the farm are voiced and proposed by the Farm Committee and granted approval by the Strata Council [4]. In 2013, the fields were left fallow to improve pasture land. This past spring, in an effort to rehabilitate the farmland, various agricultural techniques were used to improve pasture quality that included mowing, seeding, and harrowing (which is breaking up and smoothing out the surface of the soil on heavy ground) [5] the fields, in addition to rotating pig placement which successfully rooted and tilled the soil and cleared various areas of vegetation[6]. Following this endeavour, the managers on the farm noticed that one field in particular that had been previously used for sheep pasture was less productive than the other plots of land. At that time, it was overrun with thistle weeds and was subsequently named the Thistle Down field. This pasture has been our group’s main focus throughout our project.

The purpose of our project was to develop a sustainable, implementable usage plan for this plot of land and examine how to best utilize the field considering its pronounced slope, resulting soil quality, and proximity to predators. We also had to take into account the small budget for farm improvements, the water restrictions on Gambier Island, and the fact that any necessary materials would have to be brought to the farm by boat or barge. We were to provide a detailed analysis of the site and give feedback and recommendations based on the pros and cons of using the field for soil-based farming. The community expressed a great interest in having fruit and nut trees or other produce available to them; as such, our focus has been to determine which crops would be most suitably grown on the field and on developing a practical usage plan that could be executed and maintained by the people at GISR.

We constructed a systems diagram to highlight the relationships within the GISR food system as well as the external factors. The purpose of this systems diagram was to show the complexity of the GISR food system and the factors that should be considered in our plan for the field. Our solution for the Thistle Down field will incorporate civic agriculture, whereby the crops we recommend will provide fresh, safe, locally produced food while encouraging sustainable consumption activities that will help to strengthen the community[7]. The diagram can be accessed through the following link:

Research Question

We came up with a research question to solidify our purpose for the project. The research question allowed us to maintain a clear focus throughout the semester and ultimately direct our analysis of the land and our research question: What are the best crops and agricultural techniques that could be used to improve the productivity of the Thistle Down field at GISR when taking into account its slope constraints?

We understood that determining the land usage of the Thistle Down field was a complex task; thus, we decided to compile a list of simpler research questions that, when answered, would provide a clearer response to our main research question stated above. The sub-research questions were as follows: what is the slope of the field?, what is the length and width of the field?, what is the soil texture of the field?, what is the opinion of farm committee members about the usage of the field?, what has the land been used for in the past? and lastly, what is the budget for implementing the plan for the field?

Research Methods

We executed our project with a mixed methods approach to research using both qualitative and quantitative methods[8]. To complete the qualitative research, which depended on direct fieldwork observations, personal interviews and written documents, we interviewed the key stakeholders from the GISR and convened a Skype meeting with our community partner, Rosalie Boulter. Research questions were prepared to conduct individual interviews with key stakeholders to determine their opinions surrounding the Thistle Down field. It provided multidisciplinary perspectives on issues because of the various backgrounds of the community members. However, the numerous perspectives and ideas made it challenging to manage all of the information and recommendations from various sources and then come to appropriate conclusions. The suggestions on how to utilize the field was varied and it somewhat reflected personal bias related to individual wants and benefits.

In terms of quantitative research, we conducted this at GISR and focused on measuring physical attributes of the field. We performed hand texturing of the soil and observed different strata layers of the soil by digging until we hit rocks at 60 centimeters. The soil quality was determined by checking the standard of soil texture grade[9]. After we collected the soil samples, a soil test was conducted using Dispersibility and Slaking test[10].We dropped a few pea-sized air dry aggregates into a dish of rainwater or irrigation water and observed whether the aggregates crumble into smaller fragments which indicates there is not enough organic matter in the soil or remain intact which states there is enough organic matter to keep them together[11]. We also measured the slope of the field by using equations related to the geometry of right-angle triangles and Pythagorean Theorem. The soil test helped us discover the soil texture and look into what plants might be suitable to grow in the soil at the Thistle Down field.

Throughout the semester the research evolved rapidly. At the beginning of our research, we faced challenges in deciding how to best utilize the land in the field. After visiting the farm, we concluded that growing crops would be the most ideal solution for this empty plot of land. In the beginning, we planned to address slope and drainage issues along with investigating sunlight patterns. However, we encountered difficulties in finding appropriate and practical methods for assessing drainage and sunlight (specifically with the time constraints of the project), so we decided to focus on slope measurements and soil analysis. Initially, there was limited sources about the climate at GISR, but those problems were remedied by further online investigation, of nearby places.

Our research was based on a myriad of sources, allowing us to gain a diversity of information through which we were better able to tackle our research question: peer-reviewed journal articles relating to themes present within our research question provided us with a more general background about our topic; documents sent to us by our community partner concerning the politics behind the strata council and how this system operates as an organization; YouTube videos which were used in order to visually learn how to measure the slope of a land; the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) Ethics tutorial which provided us with a better understanding on how to approach our interviewees; and finally the weather network, which gave us a better idea of the climate and amount of sun around Gambier Island.

During our visits to GISR and throughout interviews, we ensured ethics and confidentiality standards were closely adhered to. The primary way in which we communicated with our community partner was through email. We also had a Skype call with her, she was able to answer some specific questions we encountered during our research stage. In addition we planned two trips to the island during which time we collected our qualitative and quantitative research. This data was collected based on our responses from a broad set of research questions, as stated above in the Research Question section of the report, that enabled us to answer our main research question effectively. We managed this data by discussing our answers as a group to come up with possible solutions that could generate a usage plan.

Each member of the group held different responsibilities throughout the semester: Julia was responsible for recording meeting minutes and setting deadlines; Hailey created the Google documents we worked on and edited collectively; Elizabeth mainly focused on the soil research relevant to our project; Connie was responsible for room bookings and updates through Facebook; Arman was the data analyst who transformed our raw data into tangible outcomes for the results; Cody reflected on the lessons learned and communicated them to the group; Simone was the communications coordinator and finally, Nadia was responsible for conducting research needed to gather information during the initial stages of our project. We all collaborated equally, sharing ideas through discussions and conveying our main ideas to our community partner in order to establish a concrete plan for the Thistle Down field.


It was through the use of qualitative and quantitative methods that we were capable of gaining data in relation to the field. Based on the slope measurement technique, we measured the field at nine different spots as it has been indicated in Figure R1 in the appendix. As a result of these measurements, the slopes range from a minimum of seventeen to a maximum of thirty-one degrees, averaging to a measurement of 23.22 degrees. This number was significantly less than our initial estimation of the slope through field observation. The quantitative approach was to measure the dimensions of the field while taking into account the small pathway running vertically up through the field. As indicated in Figure R2 in the appendix, there is a small portion of this land located on the left side of this pathway that our team decided to eliminate in the measurements. The large area of pasture to the right of the pathway, which gave us a dimensions of 251 feet and 4 inches wide by 100 feet long.

Examining the texture of the existing soil on the Thistle Down field was one of our most important research questions in order to identify the best use for this piece of land. We conducted a hand soil texture test of the soil at three different depths. The color of the soil within the range of 0-32 cm from the surface was observed to be dark which indicated the existence of organic matter and its texture was identified as silty clay loam. Next, the color of the soil was considered to be gray and yellow within the depth of 32-60 cm, and its texture was observed to be a sandy clay loam. At the final depth of 61 cm we were not able to dig any further due to the existence of hard rocks.

The interviews with key stakeholders during which we discussed questions regarding past field usage, farm budgets for implementing a usage plan, and opinions about the usage of the field. According to their responses, there is no set budget for implementing a plan at this field; however, the lowest budget along with a beneficial plan will be most acceptable and realistic. In the past, the Thistle Down has remained fallow, but now residents of the island are becoming interested in having crops grown on this piece of land.


The results of the soil texture test that showed us some of the limitations of crop production on the field. The high clay content of the soil horizons, which means it is susceptible to compaction, especially when in wet climates[12]. The recommended agricultural practices for clay soils include crop rotation, conservative tillage, and contour cropping, which, according to encyclopedia britannica, is tilling and planting “along line of consistent elevation”[13] [14]. However, the GISR already practices limited tillage farming, meaning that the farm will not have to change its current agricultural techniques in the management of the thistle down field. It would only be suggested that the thistle down field would be contour cropped.

The most insightful data we were able to collect at the site was the soil texture. Using the soil texture test we were able to understand the limitations of the Thistle Down field. We took the soil texture and interpreted them using a bulk density triangle, seen in Figure D1, and Minasny's work to find the soil fraction, seen in Figure D2[15]. The soil fractions then lead us to better understand the soil-water potential[16]. Using climate data, seen in Figure D3, we were able to start relating the soil and the climate of the thistle down field to which plants would be appropriate for the land [17].

There were several limitations of this project. First we were limited by the facilities we could access. Originally we planned to take our soil samples to a lab at UBC. However we were not able to find a lab that we could use. Along with that we could not acquire the appropriate equipment to be able to measure the sunlight directly. Then we were faced with time constraints. Since this project has a short time frame of 3 months, we were unable to measure the sunlight for different times of the year. The narrow time span also impacted all areas of our project, including the amount of time we could spend trying to finding a lab and doing research. Finally the location of GISR would be classified as a limitation since we were restricted as to how much on-site research we could do. Despite these limitations we were able to come up with a solution for the Thistle Down field. This plan for the field will create an environment that supports the concept of civic agriculture which encourages community involvement while producing good, nutritious food [18]. This concept for the field will also increase the sustainability of GISR food system by promoting a food system that, as Mcallum et al. (2001)[19] states, “improves the health of the community, environment, and individuals over time, involving a collaborative effort in a particular setting to build locally based, self-reliant food systems and economies.”


After evaluating and analysing the properties of the Thistle Down field, the environment and climate surrounding GISR, and gathering our data, we have come up with some ideas about which crops would be better to plant in the field. We decided that growing herbs such as Rosemary[20], Sage [21], Oregano[22], Lavender [23], and bush beans would be good choices because all of these herbs and legumes have many features in common that are required by the climate and conditions of the field on Gambier Island. These herbs grow well in mild climates, and Gambier Island has rarely experienced harsh winters, thus these herbs are well-suited to the environment. Assuming the Thistle Down field has adequate sunlight- based on observations at two site visits- these herbs should grow well. We were not able to test the pH of the soil in this field, but according to our research, these herbs and bush beans grow easily in a relatively large range of pH and range of soil quality and climates.

Some of these herbs may become a food source for deer because of their smells or bright colors, in order to prevent this damage, we think installing a fence around the herbs if the herbs grow successfully in the field over the next year. However due to the cost-benefit analysis of adding a fence, we do not think the farm should fence the area until favourable results from a growing season. We also do not think these herbs need to take up the entire space in the field, it could be a trial in a small-space within the field.

Oregano is a deer resistant herb due to its high oil content it confuses the deer’s sense of smell[24]. Growing these herbs is not only beneficial for health, but they also make our foods more flavourful. Lavender encourages pollination which benefits the farm’s ecosystem, and could be used for socials events at the Pavillion including door decorations, candle and tea making, and for therapeutic purposes (Farmers Guardian, 2014). Invasive herbs need to be taken into account as they reseed themselves very quickly and spread by their roots hindering the growth of other plants around them[25]. Invasive herbs include: mint (both spearmint and peppermint), hops, catnip and lemon balm[26]. If the farm decides to plant invasive herbs, it is suggested to place them in their own containers to contain them[27].

Bush beans, such as green beans are also well-suited to the environment of Thistle Down field because they are nitrogen fixating which is beneficial to the soil and are also very easy to grow[28]. They could be planted close to the other herbs we mentioned earlier; therefore, the different parts of the field could be used to grow different crops and herbs at the same time [29]. Bush beans require soil pH to be between 6.0-7.0 to grow successfully. We recommend further research to be done to find the pH of the soil [30].

It is important to know what to grow depending on the given environment in order to have sufficient crop quality and quantity. Our community partner was open-minded and gave us autonomy to complete the research on the Thistle Down field. Then by sharing our project findings with her and making our research accessible to the key stakeholders who can implement change on the farm, we are indirectly contributing to better food security and food system sustainability not only for the farm but for the community involved at GISR.


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Appendix I


LFS 350, group 1, field measurements.png

Figure R1-depicting the nine points in the Thistle Down field measured for slope

LFS 350, group 1, field dimensions.png

Figure R2-depicting the dimensions of the field. As determined by using a 100 ft measuring tape

Bulk Density Triangle found at:

LFS 350, group 1, soil data, table.png

Figure D2: Soil Fraction of different horizons of the thistle down field. The soil fraction was determined by interpreting the soil texture using Minasny’s classifications, especially those in Table 1[31].

LFS 350, group 1, climate data.png

Figure D3: The climate data of Gambier Island. The hardiness classifications of the climate are some of the most mild classifications for Canada [32].

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