Spring is nigh

I’ve been fighting against the urge to confess. I started this week mellow, tired, content. Folks appeared out of the ether for Northern Voice, embodied and making music in our living room. Such energy and excitement to be together! It was living in community while it lasted and that is a while when friends share their experience so generously on their blogs once they’re home. I had a wrap-up post on the go too but I stalled and it’s died on the vine. It’s been curiously painful to resume my work and my life this week. I feel resistance, a discouragement deep in my bones.

Perhaps it’s the daffodils that are appearing in markets, and snowdrops in my garden. Spring is late this year, we’re often well into the blossoms by now. It’s the loveliest and longest season on the west coast of British Columbia but we had something a bit like Canadian winter this year. I’ve worn my 2nd hand Nike ski jacket (Be Subversive Buy Local Food button strategically placed over the swoosh) and my purple and black skull toque everyday since Solstice.

The joy of spring is sharp and sudden whenever it comes. Golden daffodils on the kitchen table suck the breath out of me, leave me bereft. In about six weeks they’ll claim all the garden beds at Hamilton General Hospital in Ontario, just down the highway from home.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (via The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harold Buhner)

I’m going to spend my day of childcare tomorrow (9:30 until 2:30!) outside tomorrow and ask the plants for help and heart’s ease: medicine.

Absurd agriculture

I love the blurb for this CBC podcast on urban agriculture:

12/02/2008: Diet For A Hungry Planet: Urban Agriculture

Growing your own food and raising your own livestock — in a city? It may strike some as absurd, but a growing movement to encourage agriculture in cities says it’s a useful way to improve our relationship with the environment.

Right click to Download 12/02/2008: Diet For A Hungry Planet: Urban Agriculture
[mp3 file: runs 24:06] Thanks to Wendy and her mother-in-law Jessica for sending this along. Wendy is my most reliable link-sender. I have a backlog of posts from cool stuff she digs up.)

Sunny Lam’s research was especially compelling: “A Queen’s researcher has found that if Kingston residents grew some of their own fruit and vegetables, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions annually by up to 14,000 tonnes – or the equivalent of taking 4,700 compact cars off the road.”

Another example of absurd agriculture in the Globe and Mail on Saturday about activists growing barley on their front lawn in suburban Calgary. “Guerrilla barley growers go against the grain”. Thanks to both Scott and Brian for steering me towards it. Keep the articles on crazed front lawns coming!

I’d love to link but the G&M thinks it’s a good idea to make you pay for it. The artists behind the installation, are the arbour lake sghool, named after the ‘burb they live in.

The Sghool’s mandate is to provide a stage for the creation and display of artistic or critical projects in a way which explores and engages our suburban setting. Activities under this mandate excite, entertain, and often serve as comic interlude in the not-so-secret game of suburban one-upmanship. A loose association of artists, athletes, musicians, trades-people and students form the core group of project participants. Membership in the group is not determined by any specific criteria other than a desire and willingness to collaborate in a diverse and open-minded atmosphere.

Agriculture in the ‘burbs- absurd indeed. I want to get some t-shirts printed.

Sustainable non-coercion

There is rising energy for a democratic, non-coercive, project-based educational model at Garibaldi school. I’m super excited about this. Granted I could get super-excited about a small school version of either French or Mandarin Immersion or a Fine arts program. Of course, Harry can’t see the point of school at all if it’s in English. “I already KNOW English.” Jeesh mom.

But I want to be part of a school community that recognizes the basic fact about kids: they’re learning machines. We don’t have to coerce them into learning, we need to rise to the occasion and invite their attention with compelling projects and problems to solve.

Garibaldi school is already a small, warm-hearted, culturally and linguistically diverse community, located in the middle of a neighbourhood with generations of handy, food-growing people. These are the elements I’d like to see us build on.

Kids love making, growing and building stuff. They love applying their knowledge to real problems. Whether they were in a mainstream track or the non-coercive track, working together on a school garden or building a solar food dehydrator or building a cob bench could provide the grounding in the skills we need to live more sustainably.

I want to be part of a local learning community. I’ve got questions for my neighbours. What’s that prickly, melon like vine that my Chinese Canadian neighbours grow? How do you prepare it for eating? Or is it more medicinal, or both? What about the greens I see drying on racks- what do you do with those? Can I try some?


I also want to know how to properly prune my grapes. I’m a non-pruner at heart (one reading of the revolutionary Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka convinced me) but this is SMALL space gardening. I want to learn how to get the most food, medicine, tea etc out of my garden while always increasing the soil fertility. Pruning might have a place. I’ll let my Italian and Portuguese neighbours convince me.

I want Harry to learn how to grow food as part of his education because it’s timely, practical, hands-on and will help him apply the concepts he learns in science, math, social studies. It’s a venue for exploring history and literature. When people share old skills and nearly lost arts they share stories.

I want him to know what weeds and wild plants soothe a sore stomach, build immune systems and help wounds heal. I want him to know how to build simple structures using natural and salvaged materials, how to plant and nurture a vegetable garden, how to design and repair simple machines, how to create, recycle and reuse the materials he touches. And know how to raise backyard chickens– the next big sustainability battle for Vancouver residents! I want him to know how to speak and listen to his neighbours, to express himself, reflect on and share his learning with a myriad array of tools, technologies (hello www!) and materials (books, art supplies, musical instruments, costumes).

The urgent question we face is what does living sustainably in the city look like? I’d like to be a part of a local community school that viewed the curriculum as a way to experiment with answers to that big question, and to share what we discover to all who are interested.

Upcoming for Spring

I got to the garden today. The sun and a blast of warmer air wasn’t the main motivating force oddly enough. I talked to two of my teachers yesterday about some upcoming events we’re planning for spring, a course with Gregoire Lamoureux of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute and a learning party with Dan Gibbs, now of Victoria, and got inspired.

Dan was describing the garden we started last November as part of a learning party. He said the mulch is nearly broken down and rich soil is waiting for the spring plant. I look out on my pile of leaves and well, they look like a pile of leaves. “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s footsteps.” In other words, be there.

I’ve been ignoring it. My greens haven’t really recovered after the last snowfall (though I think I’ll have some again by next week). There’s no food in my food garden so what’s the point? Well, it turns out the point is just to be there, to walk through it, to stop, look around, snip off some rosemary and chew it, trim a raspberry cane. It’s not so much work that’s required, or even possible right now, just presence and attention. There’s no magic garden without the gardener- and that’s fine for the wild but this place is about supporting me and my family and sharing the bounty. We’ve need regular bonding time and I need magic on my side. It is certainly not going to be my finely honed gardening skills that will feed us.

I took Dan’s suggestion and sprinkled some of the weed tea that’s been brewing in buckets all winter over the leaves. It was stinky so that’s good. If this is another kind of fermentation process than what I’m doing is mixing in a little microbial culture action to get things going. My weeds are my most bountiful and useful crop!

Dan’s going to sail from behind the tweed curtain and grace us in the big smoke with his presence on Saturday, March 9th. We’re going to practice dividing perennials, talk about using edibles in landscaping in the midst of other useful plants and share up the bounty of a perennial garden. Everyone will leave with a new plant or two.

Gregoire is going to come in April for a 2 day Intro to Permaculture/Urban Design course. It is looking hopeful that we’ll be able to have it out at the UBC farm and I hope we’ll have lots of Faculty of Land and Food Systems folks out for it. Gregoire has been doing this stuff for 20 plus years. For us this is a chance to start a conversation about permaculture in the curriculum. We’d like to see far more back and forth between the permaculturists on the ground designing, living in and supporting themselves using permaculture principals and the university.