Ugh How I feel the spirit

Pure Hokum photo by arushmere, uploaded by me

Andrew sent along these photos from the turn-off near UBC Farm:  “I wanted to take some photos of the incredibly ironic signs that the developers just splashed all over 16th and Wesbrook that advertise the ‘Pacific Spirit’ development (in the respected postmodern tradition of razing beautiful landscapes and then naming the new homogenous suburbs after them).”

Last night I was up late at a birthday party (& Happy Solstice!) and met a bunch of fine folk, all longtime Vancouverites. We got talking about the folks leaving town. You want a creative class (and yes, I am retching as I write that phrase) in the city? It’s easy: cheap rent!

I know of a few folk who have already departed for the east, back to where many of us started out. It’s hard to fault people for moving to Montreal but it is incredibly sad and disheartening that people have to leave. Right now I’m just hoping there’s something left that will tempt Hanna Mitchell to stay in town when she comes back from her pilgrimage to the east.

As she documents it’s not that we don’t need more housing in Fat City. But this kind of condo development will not serve the people or the land itself that make this such a creative, wild city to live in.

Ooooh how I feel the spirit, originally uploaded by Keira. Photo by arushmere.


Save the UBC Farm

Update: Here’s a brochure that will help you craft your letters of support for the UBC farm. Another way to help the farm: come volunteer on a project or for the farmer’s market. I promise you’ll leave with a foolish grin on your face. It really is a joyful place to be even with the current pressures.  And note Andrew’s comments below about the meeting next week:  Show up anyway!

The UBC farm is threatened by development pressures. In the current plan the 24 hectare farm- the last in Vancouver- is designated as “future housing reserve.” It’s not that they want to eliminate it, just shrink it and possibly move it and chop down the forest around it for condos.

I don’t think you have to be an academic agriculturist to get why this might be problematic for the farm. This is soil that has been growing and nurtured for 40 years in the context of a rich and diverse habitat. You can’t just cut the landbase on a farm and destroy the surrounding habitat and expect the farm to thrive.

Besides it’s on this particular land that faculty, students and the community have invested their intellectual, spiritual and physical energies into projects that promise to all keep us eating for the tough times to come. This isn’t a “nice to have” community resource, it’s bloody critical to our survival- that is, if us city folk would like to continue to eat while living in the promised land.

Why at a time when the whole world is in the grip of a global food crisis, when eating local has caught the imagination of people on the street, when even a total duffer like me can get my picture in the paper for growing vegetables in the front lawn, would we even be having this conversation?  Real estate baby! That’s what keeps this city hopping.

It’s enough to make you pull your hair out in frustration.  But I was recently associated with a David and Goliath battle- when the Vancouver School Board threatened to close our local school, Garibaldi. A diverse community team came together, buoyed by the constant and unflagging spirt and efforts of the Garibaldi’s Parent Advisory Committee and Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, and campaigned with joy and creativity. They wrote letters (me too!), delivered flyers (I did 1 round), posted signs on the lawn (just took it down!), went to meetings (4 for me) and through all of this collective effort, an act of public imagination triumphed. A truly innovative proposal went forth to the VSB and guess what: we, the community won!

So I’m starting to ponder what wee drops in the Save the Farm bucket I might contribute. This is what I’ve found out the Save the Farm crew needs right now:

1. They need folks to come out to a campus planning meeting: Food Security and the Vancouver Campus Plan

DATE: June 25, 2008
TIME: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. (Light snacks available)
LOCATION: GSS Ballroom, 6371 Crescent Road, UBC

How to register: Contact  Stefani Lu, UBC Campus and Community Planning Telephone 604-827-3465 or email

2. They need letters written: (you know the drill: the kind with a stamp seems to make more of an impact but filling the appropriate people’s inboxes is good too.)

3. They need you to sign a petition.

4. It’s not always easy to get the connection between the research that happens behind the walls of our public universities and our lives. But the research and the projects that happen on the farm are accessible in so many ways. Come to the farmers’ markets, take a tour, learn about projects like the Inter-generational Landed Learning or  the Urban Aboriginal Kitchen Garden project or the myriad of UBC courses that take place on the farm.

She even hung up paper towels to dry

Since I got my picture in the paper some people assume I know what I’m talking about, and that I’ve got some serious credentials to back up my “environmental work”. This article from the Guardian describes exactly my schooling in this area.

Over by the sink, you’d find a soggy tea bag, maybe two, awaiting second use, and dotted around the Aga would be several saucers of leftovers – some likely to contain as little as a few peas or a handful of pasta shells. Meanwhile, upstairs, you’d doubtless come across a toothpaste tube, or maybe a bottle of moisturiser, cut open with nail scissors to reveal its final scrape.

This is not about saving money, although I’m sure finances played a part. We weren’t seriously hard-up. It was something else. A hangover from wartime austerity, perhaps,…#65279; which both sets of grandparents passed on to my parents when they were growing up in the 50s. An almost moral sense of obligation not to waste what you have but make it go as far as possible.  The Pleasure of Penny Pinching by Anna Shepard via my good friend Wendy

I did throw out a number of used tea-bags when I was home at mom’s last month- sorry mom. I also came across some photos of the backyard when I was a kid. It is a huge suburban yard; I was deeply proud that it was the biggest in our neighbourhood (by some fluke I assume for our house was no grander in any  other respect).  Mom planted a massive vegetable garden to which I’d be chained to pull crab grass. Good thing I could turn myself invisible and so could quickly slink off to read books.

Garden Now for Fresh Food Year-Round

On Saturday the Sustainable Living Arts School hosted the “Garden Now for Fresh Food Year Round: A Winter Garden Course”. Heather Johnstone was the teacher.

I’ve organized a couple of learning parties with Heather over the last few months- one on starting seeds, one transforming a patio into an edible garden- and we’re hoping to do one on home brewing soon. She organizes the annual permaculture meet-up on Cortes Island which in just two years has become the highlight of my winter months. She was at Abundant Food in the City: An Urban Permaculture Workshop with Gregoire. She also hired me to do a strategic plan for the Edible Garden Project, which she coordinates on the North Shore. (They’re a fabulous, smart and incredibly productive organization that grows and collects home-grown produce and distributes it those in need.) So I guess it’s safe to say we’re colleagues, and that alone makes me  proud of this last year’s work.

What’s really thrilling about this organizing work with the Sustainable Living Arts School is that I get to organize learning parties for what I want to learn, with teachers that I want to learn from. Heather repeatedly joked on Saturday about her “lazy gardening” or her refusal to buy supplies.  Why collect kale seeds when you can let them dry on the plant and then shake them around the garden? Why can vegetables when you can ferment them in some salt-water for 1/4 the work? Why slave over jam when you can freeze some strawberries on trays and dump them in bags for treats all winter long? Why buy lumber when you can salvage wood from the old fence being torn down across the street?

There’s an awful lot of productivity in this laziness of course. But what there isn’t at all is any of that manic Martha perfectionism which paralyzes me. There’s also almost no shopping involved which is delightful and rare. The emphasis with Heather is on the joy of growing and figuring stuff out, on hacking your way through,  and on eating, drinking and celebrating what you make.