For my teacher Robin

Robin Wheeler is coming to town to teach a full-day course for the Sustainable Living Arts School and Langara College Continuing Studies “Gardening for the Faint of Heart”. You should really come if you’re in the Vancouver area.

This course was designed for those who feel they are beginners in food gardening but would love to feel more confident about understanding garden systems and food production. Students will learn garden terms (the fun way!), explore the magic of “microclimates”, make design choices, select plants for your needs, delve into seed catalogues and learn techniques for watering, simple soil improvement and more.

I am very proud to count Robin as my teacher and my colleague in the Sustainable Living Arts School. What I’ve learned from her is that “sustainably” is really about accepting ourselves as creatures of this earth: we’ve got to get our hands dirty.

I was questing for a teacher when I first encountered Robin through the Vanpermaculture listserv. When newbies like me asked questions she’d jump in fast with answers that were grounded in her direct experience, extensive study and immersion in a community of small farmers and wildcrafters. I stumbled onto her book which was hands-down the best, funniest guide to growing food for beginners that I’ve read. Which was great but what I really wanted was to learn from someone in person, in a way that fit with my working mom’s schedule. Robin stepped up and hosted the the first “Practical Permaculture” weekend at her land in Robert’s Creek BC, a short hop over from Vancouver.

The Garden Gate at Edible Landscapes

It was a radical and beautiful thing she did that weekend. Our teachers were the local farmers, back-to-the-landers, herbalists and other country folk. Folks who lived with the land were the “experts”. This simultaneously honoured their years and years of experience and impressed upon us, the students, that what was counted was our own, very personal connection with the earth.

These weekends have been the ground and centre of my learning the last few years. Robin’s own classes are always the highlight for me. They’re often deceptively simple in structure, a walk and talk around her garden that she calls “Timely Actions” where we experience what the garden needed right then. But talking to Robin about gardens and plants is a venue to deep learning about food, our culture and the earth. Ideas take root.

She also nailed the format: 1.5 hour workshops, comprised of demonstrations and experiential activities, interspersed with discussion and as many questions as we could squeeze in, located either in Robin’s extensive gardens, buzzing with insects, studded with birdsong, graced by weeds and charmed by snakes, or in nearby homesteads and farms.

These weekends grew into what is now an urban and rural grassroots education venture: The Sustainable Living Arts School. Robin starts stuff and then she commits to it, until the help arrives. This is how her activism on behalf of local farms happens (check out the “Be Subversive” campaign), how she practices as an herbalist, how she writes books (Gardening for the Faint of Heart is being reprinted and Food Security for the Faint of Heart due soonish from New Society Publishers) and how she runs a nursery full of the kind of plants you’ve got to have for your own edible landscape, all on a shoestring, in the spare seconds when she’s not working at her day-job.

People who live in open acknowledgment of themselves as earth creatures are not sanguine about our future. They are afraid of what’s coming and they are busy preparing for it. They see it, in signs large and small in their kitchen gardens, in the ever-shrinking woods, in the roar of the excavators. Despite more and more coverage on “the environment”, the rampage continues unabated.

Robin is urgent.

She’s also funny and wise and big, big, big despite her size, which actually isn’t all that big. But she’s fed by the earth and it really is something to get a chance to learn with someone like that. She just gets down to it- the class we’re offering on May 3rd in conjunction with Langara College’s Continuing Studies will be packed with ways to start growing food, with the detail you need to get over that initial flood of questions before worms start speaking to you via your dreams (oh yes it can get weird this gardening stuff!). I’m deeply excited. I’ve never had a full day to ask her all the questions I’ve got. Though I wouldn’t say I’m exactly “faint of heart” anymore there’s still big gaps where I’m less than fully confident.

Once you’ve done that you’ll want to head to Robert’s Creek and May 10 and 11 to experience her organizing genius. She’s got an amazing line-up for the Wild Weekend with workshops taught by local experts on Wildcrafting Indigenous Herbs, Wild Basket and Container Making, Cooking on a Fire, Plant Technology and Into the Woods. Register by phone (604) 885-4505

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