UBCO marketing exercise faces challenges

Students faced with addressing opposition from community to BMX park and food forest.

  • Dec. 26, 2015 5:00 p.m.

Food forester Ryan Foster

A presentation by business students might conjure up images of snazzy suits, flashy displays, and talks about profit margins, market demand, and growth.

Things are a little bit different in the third-year Introduction to Marketing course offered by UBC Okanagan’s assistant professor  Eric Li. His students take a novel approach to management as he teaches a Healthy Communities component to the business-side of marketing.

Each fall, his students are encouraged to take on a project with an Okanagan community as it focuses on regional development concerns. A community’s overall livability and health of the people who live there is just as important as market demand, profits, and high-end business deals, according to Li.

“There is an ever-growing desire and need for healthier communities, not only to shift the growing costs of health-care service delivery, but more importantly to ensure health and wellness for the next generation,” said  Li.

Working in groups and with community organizations and municipalities, the students were tasked to find a social determinant that can affect a healthy lifestyle. Then the students needed to prepare a campaign to help combat that issue and come up with a marketing plan to create a healthier community.

Li and his third-year students work with a number of municipalities and organizations, from Lumby to Oliver, Interior Health, the Central Okanagan Food Policy Council, and even UBC Okanagan’s dog therapy program, to examine healthy initiatives.

Two groups of students who examined issues in the Penticton area recently made presentations about the development of a food forest, a BMX park, and even an outdoor learning environment and a community garden for Parkway Elementary School.

“This year we have 30 student teams working with 12 partner organizations to develop plans to promote food security, sense of community, social enterprise, active transportation, healthy eating, and a smoke-free workplace,” says Li. “Our students work closely with the partner organizations through the term. The purpose of the healthy living project is to expose management students to challenges to promote health in our region.”

While the idea of merging land currently in the Agricultural Land Reserve into a BMX park and a food forest has met with vocal opposition from the community, the students carried forward with their marketing plan. Knowing there was opposition to the idea, the students targeted that specific group.

Their plan, complete with brochure and advertising campaign, was based on the theory that the BMX park will get young children outside and active. At the same time, the same piece of land at Munson Mountain can also be used for a community food forest, where residents can integrate edible landscaping and create community gardens where people can grow fruits and vegetables.

The use of the land at Munson Mountain, a popular hiking area, has created significant debate within the Penticton community — which was addressed by the students’ marketing plan.

“We have taken a strategic approach to each different target audience,” explained student Anton Urtan as he made his presentation to Ryan Foster with Food Foresters of Canada. “We want to promote a healthy living area that will provide the community a space for all to get some exercise, while at the same time giving access to natural and organic food.”

Foster, who recognizes the issue has been contentious, says it’s important to remember that food forestry is integrative.

“This means it can be harmoniously incorporated into a range of development projects, and when done correctly, will enhance the community experience of those projects and have ‘ripple-effect’ benefits to the broader community,” he said. “If the city does elect to move ahead with this project at Munson, I’m convinced the wise course would be to integrate regenerative agriculture, a.k.a. food forestry, into what could become a world-class tournament track unlike any other.”

Another group of students prepared a marketing campaign for a community garden at Parkway Elementary School. The group determined that many young children only eat about 50 per cent of the fruits and vegetables they should.

“The community garden will give students a place to learn, a place to play, and a place to obtain healthy food — all for free,” added UBCO  student Dini Van Eck.

After the presentations, Foster noted the students’ work was informative and professional. While mostly a third-year marketing exercise, Foster is hoping to use some of the data prepared by the UBC students to work with community groups in Penticton to bring both projects forward.

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