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Betting the Farm on Sustainable Design: Students Help Local Farm Tackle Business Plan
Collingwood School

You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastics and trash make their way down rivers and flow into the ocean where they hitch a ride along a current and converge halfway between California and Hawaii. It’s an area three times the size of France, and it’s the largest of five plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. Meanwhile here on land, where we separate our trash into multi-coloured bins with hopes our plastics end up recycled rather than relocated to the Pacific, the bulk of our society relies on materials with short lifespans. This is a problem that students in Ms. Lau’s E-Commerce and Design 12 are trying to solve. 

Students are learning that designing for a sustainable future means creating products that are durable, can be repaired, recycled, or re-assembled, use renewable resources, and are efficient. In our everyday life, this could mean patching a hole in a shirt instead of throwing it away, buying higher quality products that will last over time, or building with reclaimed or recycled materials. Students had the opportunity to tour a local self-sufficient farm that uses sustainable design principles like these in practice – and there was a lot to learn.

Located near the banks of the Fraser River in Maple Ridge, the farm is run by husband and wife Ata and Fardis who manage the grounds in their spare time. Ata works in construction and uses his skills to do all of the maintenance and building on the property. Over several acres, they have horses, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, a greenhouse, orchard, and living spaces. You would think from the outset that it must cost a small fortune to build and operate such a place, but you’d be wrong: 90% of their construction materials come from other sites where the supplies would otherwise be thrown away. Ata scours Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and gets leads from friends and neighbours to find materials like scrap wood from mills or a metal staircase from a decommissioned Chevron plant. He and Fardis creatively turn pieces like these into chicken coops and hydroponic gardens, among other things, while they save them from the landfill. They also keep their animal costs very low by turning their family’s green waste into feed. 

“We have almost zero green waste at the end of the day,” Ata told students.

And in the summer growing season, the only groceries they need to buy is flour to bake their own bread. Almost everything else comes from the farm or through trades with their neighbours.

Using everything they’ve learned in class about sustainable design and e-commerce, students were tasked with pinpointing the business opportunities Ata and Fardis could pursue. As they toured the grounds, ideas started percolating – a small-scale produce supplier, an AirBnB experience, a dining spot for farm-to-table food – and students were asking great questions like “What are your annual costs for running the farm?” and “Do you know your total yearly crop yield?” 

Grant A., a Grade 12 student in E-Commerce and Design said he joined Ms. Lau’s class because he wanted a

business course with a creative flair. This kind of farm was a brand-new concept to him and inspired quite a few ideas.

“Every part of their farm is a closed ecosystem. The rainwater fills the pond, the pond water waters the plants, and they use the pond waste as fertilizer. They re-use or find a lot of their materials but at school we waste so many materials and it would be really neat if we could adopt some of their ideas to reduce the waste we make.”

For his project, he had some preliminary thoughts about the kind of business Ata and Fardis could manage.

“They told us they used the goats to clear their land and I was thinking they could lease their goats to other farms or properties to do that job elsewhere. Machinery and manpower is really expensive, so this could be interesting.”

Grant could be onto something – goats are a proven method for managing invasive blackberries and other plants (though it often takes a few years of grazing to work). But they would cut back or even eliminate the use of toxic chemicals as well as equipment that would end up in the landfill eventually.

Ms. Lau encouraged the students to get as creative as they like, and also try to come up with a name and brand for the business.

After the field trip, students headed back to the classroom to work on their assignments, which will be presented to Ata and Fardis. 

“The biggest takeaway from this trip was how being sustainable doesn’t limit business opportunities, but inspires them,” said Ms. Lau.

Business owners like Ata and Fardis and students like Grant and his classmates are learning that reusing and repurposing can give new life to materials which could otherwise end up in a garbage patch – and you could bet the farm on that.

  • Senior School