Hoe Down- You’re invited to Great UBC Farm Trek

Yes that’s Andrew in full hoe-down mode, who has curated many fine learning parties and workshops with the Sustainable Living Arts School. Join us all Tuesday, April 7 3:30 at the Student Union Building on UBC Campus and afterwards at the farm itself. Come on down! All the details here.


The Great Farm Trek April 7

This from Andrew Rushmere who has curated a great  Sustainable Living Arts School learning party series and who has been on the front lines of the Save the UBC Farm Campaign over the last year. Please distribute this far and wide to all your Vancouver friends:

Save the Farm: Join the Trek!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

3:30 pm into the early evening

Come help celebrate the UBC Farm and its future! It has been a great year for the farm, in terms of recognition, awards and media attention. However, the future of the 24 hectare farm is still not clear, so it is time to come together to show our unified support for a bright future for the Farm. We

This is a celebratory, family-friendly event. We want thousands to join us as we trek from the UBC Student Union Building (SUB) via the Board of Governors meeting and then on to the UBC Farm.

  • For directions, Trek route, and parking instructions, please see: www.amsubc.ca (you may have to refresh the page a few times to get the Trek banner). Also  on Facebook: Great Farm Trek 2009
  • If you can’t make it until after work, we will be shuttling late-comers by bus from parking areas near UBC Farm directly to the Trek crowd anytime between 3pm and 6pm. After 6pm, the crowds will be located at the UBC Farm for festivities.
  • Bring costumes, music, banners, posters, spirit, kids, moving art shows, farm love, floats, hot air balloons, circus performers, sandwich boards, party favours, whistles, bells, dancers, fire twirlers, clowns, bicycles, novelty cars, trapeze artists, scooters, painted school buses, TV Camera crews, and other sundry fun items.
  • Oh yes, bring snacks, water and weather-appropriate clothing. The event will happen rain or shine!

During the Trek we will have Vancouver’s own ever-wacky and danceable Carnival Band, the high-energy percussion ensemble known as Sambata, Papa Thom from the Shepherds pie tour 09 and much more! At the UBC farm there will be music (the soul-quakin’, boot-shakin’ bluegrass boys of the Agora String Band, and the hip hop alt country tom waits-sylin’ Blackberry Wood), food, addresses from David Suzuki and others, and a ceremonial planting.

Contact friendsoftheubcfarm@gmail.com if you have questions.

We can’t wait to see you there!

Sneaky plans underway?

I heard from a couple of neighbours that they have “known” about the London Drugs expansion for a long time. The office of our MLA, Shane Simpson, says they’ve been aware of plans since 2007.

London Drugs corporate headquarters wouldn’t deny there were plans to expand, but emphasized there was nothing “in writing”.

There is no formal development application as of yet. I hope that global economic melt-down means that plans like this will also magically melt away. But the strategy to clear the block of long-term tenants like Tevere Deli is obviously going ahead. When their leases are up, the rent is raised beyond the point that existing businesses can afford.

New businesses have been offered short-term leases, and are all aware that some kind of future development is coming. Whether that’s London Drugs taking over the block all the way down the Bank of Montreal, or London Drugs paired with an IGA grocery isn’t clear because nothing about this process is transparent.

Why in a global recession would you want to get rid of a great, little business like Tevere Deli? Perhaps because once long-term tenants are gone, and new tenants’ short-term leases expire, the opposition to  upcoming development plans is crippled and the way is cleared for expansion.

I’ve put in a call to the city to find out more about our community planning process and will share that information here.

Ultimately we as residents and small businesses and folks who work at organizations in the neighbourhood have to ask ourselves where we want to live and work?  Do we want a neighborhood that supports small, local businesses? One in which small business compete and co-exist with franchises and mother corporations? Or do we give the place over completely, as so many other communities have?

There is a cost. Main streets can and do die. I grew up in suburbia. I spent my 20’s on Vancouver Island when the big boxes sprouted up on the highways, destroying the downtowns. I lived near Broadway and Commercial as the small businesses left and the chains moved in. None of these places felt more safe, welcoming or prosperous as a result of the changes.

It’s bizarre to me, at a time when the business pages every morning give yet more stunning examples of the fragility of globalization and its accompanying money scams, that any of us still believe turning the block over to corporations would promise salvation from “seediness.”

I’m no more a fan of cheque-cashing businesses or pawn shops than most of my neighbours. They exist to exploit the poor. And clearly in Vancouver, where so many of us move too because of its beauty, we like things shiny and new, apparently prosperous. But when we dismiss it all as “seedy” we also dismiss viable businesses with dingy signs that reflect what  a new Canadian without much start-up capital can achieve.

But it’s not our choice what businesses choose to expand, some say. Well, why not? We have community plans, even a “Visioning” committee for our neighbourhood through the city? Do we want more small businesses like Wheelhouse Seafoods where you can bump into a local farmer dropping the meat she raised herself, or more of London Drugs selling more cameras and small appliances, manufactured way outside of Canada?

I’m interested in creative ideas of how to express those choices, ideas and visions for our neighbourhood  like the carrotmob actions where a network of consumers  buy products in order to reward businesses who are making the most socially responsible decisions. I’m following the work of entrepreneurs like Toby Barazzuol of Eclipse Awards and the Strathcona Business Improvement Association in the Downtown Eastside who spends time meeting with arts groups, and building green rooves to grow food, as a way of revitalizing his neighbourhood for business and residents alike.

More ideas please!

London Drugs plans to swallow my neighbourhood

There is a London Drugs in my neighbourhood on E. Hastings St in the beautiful, crazily expensive, but ever more cash-strapped city (thanks Olympics!) of Vancouver, BC.

You can buy a vacuum there, a rubbermaid tote, toothpaste, contraceptives, drugs, computers, cameras, batteries, cosmetics, stationary, junk food, camping gear in summer, cookware, toasters, blenders, hallmark cards and holiday decor according to the season.

London Drugs is big on the street already, bigger than any other store.  But not big enough. They plan to take over most (or all?) of the block to the west. They want to  dominate Hastings, our main street in this little urban village of Hastings-Sunrise. Or maybe it’s an IGA coming in- the rumours are flying, in the absence of any clear consultation.

Tevere deli is gone already to my shock. I heard from another of my favourite shop-keepers that “it’s a done deal and that even the businesses didn’t know about it until too late.”

Are you mad yet?! It’s not over. The liquor store between Slocan and Kaslo is now privatized. Done again overnight with no public consultation. The landlord refused to sign the lease with the BC Liquor Store. Across the street a huge new mental health facility is being built (I’m fine with that, being a fan of all forms of health) with a massive NEW SHOPPERS DRUGMART.

We chose this neighbourhood  because we could walk here to buy groceries, stop at a cafe, get a key cut, visit the doctor,  go to school and greet people I recognize and who recognize me along the way.  Small businesses are key to what makes this neighbourhood great.

I love buying from shop-keepers who own the stores they work in.  I love that there is a mix of stores on this street; from independent dollar stores, to Donald’s and all the other fabulous green grocers, to Wheelhouse Seafoods who now sell a full range of non-medicated meat, to Le Petit Saigon– my favourite pho in Vancouver, to the Cake Master bakery/optometrist shop to GreenRoom Yoga, owned by my teacher Alix, who also lives in the neighbourhood.

It’s not perfect for sure. We could make it safer, we could encourage more of the kind of businesses and services we need. But I feel deeply lucky to live here where some small businesses are able to thrive.

This is when I would like some super-hero activists to sweep in and make this go away. The cost of “fighting a battle” is that we don’t get the time to create the peace. I’ve got ideas and energy for that right now! I don’t want to spend time beating back the corporate behemoth that wants to swallow my neighbourhood.

I don’t even know what to do but write this. But I mentioned this on Twitter and Barbara said “boycott ’em all. Picket them.” I mentioned it to my 6 year old  and he said “we got to tell everyone and get it in the newspaper.” (He learned a few lessons from the successful community fight to save Garibaldi school last year.)

I’m up for something fun and powerful. Any ideas, energy,  or previous rabble-rousing experience you’d like to share? Please also share any up to the minute information…lots of rumours are circulating about the plans for the block.

One Straw to Save the UBC Farm

The essence of Fukuoka’s method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible. There is no plowing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right conditions are provided. There is also considerable emphasis on maintaining diversity. A ground cover of white clover grows under the grain plants to provide nitrogen. Weeds (and Daikons) are also considered part of the ecosystem, periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface so the nutrients they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot, and specific insectivorous carp into the rice paddy at certain times of the year to eat slugs and other pests.The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from the previous crop, which is used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop…

Fukuoka’s method and philosophy is about small scale farming, yet he claims “With this kind of farming, which uses no machines, no prepared fertilizer and no chemicals, it is possible to attain a harvest equal to or greater than that of the average Japanese farm.” (The One-Straw Revolution) Masanobu Fukuoka

Chances are if you’ve been periodically tuning into the campaign to Save the UBC Farm your impression is that the university is acting reasonably and things are on their way to being resolved. The farm has gotten good press. UBC heavyweights have been quoted making positive noises. It is therefore, a distressing experience to give a close reading to the latest vision and options document put forward by the good folks from the office at  Campus and Community Planning (Look for the jauntily titled “Phase 4 Consultation Discussion Guide.”)

For those of you keeping score we are now at phase 4 of a 6  phase process underway at UBC comprised of  many feedback documents, workshops, open houses, presentations to the Board of Governor’s and doubtless 1000’s of meetings. The Board will vote on the final plan sometime in 2009.

Which I guess means we are 2/3 of the way to a plan being adopted to direct the next phase of development of the campus of our public university (barring total global economic collapse or something crazy like that).  But wait — how can that be? Not one of the 3 options put forward in this latest opus include the current 24 hectare farm in its current location.

That’s right: not one option actually “saves the farm”. That option has been eliminated.

So what message did the folks at Campus and Community Planning take from all the thousands of hours of volunteer time dedicated to saving the farm by folks in the community and at UBC, all the public education at events, the thousands of signatures on petitions, the press, the letters and yes, the meetings, dedicated to saving the farm?

Maybe an 8 hectare farm, not necessarily in its current location.  I suppose the idea here is that the fields (the productive part of the farm, one presumes) can be packed up on a truck and dropped in a new spot, minus unfortunately the forest, the hedgerows and the gathering and teaching places, indoor and outdoor, for humans.

I am experiencing cognitive dissonance. And so back to Fukuoka: what I think we meant was SAVE THE FARM! The whole shebang — the system, including the current land-base, wildlife, researchers, the most excellent staff, volunteers, interns and community folk alongside the birds, insects and weeds and the complex connections. Except we want the farm to be truly supported, with all the energy, your ideas, and your funds. That’s what we meant.

This is critical because the research and academic work that is done at the farm happens in a context. A context that includes the study of soil micro-organisms and the laughter of kids in the children’s garden. Researchers at the farm interact with aboriginal elders, folks from the Mayan community, farm apprentices, farmer’s market devotees.

This gives me great hope. It’s research in a context of inter-connected systems, of habitat, of community. It’s permaculture in action.

Paving over this paradise for condos is just so deeply boring. We’ve tried that — paved over and over. Let’s, as a community, let our public university know we’d like to try a different experiment: one where we nurture the complex patterns of interaction, and all the beings, who are part of our last farm in Vancouver, to see what we can learn for the future.

Be creative in expressing your understanding, hopes and expectations! You can of course sign the petition, write a letter to Stephen Toope (presidents.office@ubc.ca) or the Board of Governors, you can learn more about what needs to be done via the Save the UBC Farm listserv:  friendsoftheubcfarm@gmail.com, blog and weekly meeting (check in via the listserv).

Do check Rocks and Water for UBC Farm stories. They write and photograph with energy and zest.

One more quote for the road, from Fukuoka again:

..if modern agriculture continues to follow the path it’s on now, it’s finished. The food-growing situation may seem to be in good shape today, but that’s just an illusion based on the current availability of petroleum fuels. All the wheat, corn, and other crops that are produced on big American farms may be alive and growing, but they’re not products of real nature or real agriculture. They’re manufactured rather than grown. The earth isn’t producing those things… petroleum is!
Masanobu Fukuoka, Mother Earth News interview, 1982[1]

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 stefani.lu@ubc.ca

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.

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.

New ways to learn the old ways

“This stuff you’re doing is just going back to the old ways.”

This reaction to the Sustainable Living Arts School emerging curriculum is a palpable undercurrent in my recent conversations (or pretty direct when the conversation is with my mother). “Do you really think we’re all going to grow and preserve our own food again?”

The fact that I am (slowly, slowly) attempting to express and reflect on my learning and (even more slowly) connect our efforts to others on the web might suggest that I long for something other than return to a hard-scrabbling battle for food and shelter as my daily lot. But my nascent efforts on the web raise concern and even anxiety in other folks (many of my closest colleagues in the permaculture world). “Why spend your limited time adding to the already overwhelming stockpile of information in the world and not just doing the earth work that needs to be done?”

There I’ve managed to over-simplify everyone’s comments, reflections and challenges to the point of ridicule. The conversations have all been nuanced and reflective. My exaggeration points to my own sense of disorientation. It’s an odd but hopefully creative set of conversational waves to surf; from neo-luddite to techno-fetishist and back again.

Continue reading