Wednesday, March 25, 2015

City Farmer ,,, ever hear of Harrowsmith? 1984

Hello Everyone!

Hope this note finds you well!

I've just had the darnedest thing happen: I ran across an article by Michael Levenston.

Now, if you follow these columns, you'll have heard me mention - thank - Michael Levenston for articles I've run across on his site City Farmer. City Farmer must surely be Canada's longest running urban agriculture website, and even non-profit (1978!): City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture.

The article I just ran across is titled Red Celery in the Sunshine, and is from Harrowsmith, April/May 1984.

For those of you below a certain age, or outside Canada, Harrowsmith, was a great Canadian magazine that began as what I'll call a Canadian counterpart to Mother Earth News or Organic Gardening.  It told us about gardening organically, how to live with less ... it was great.  Along its journey it got rather upscale, there were some falling outs, and then it disappeared. 

And I've just found a treasure trove of old issues of Harrowsmith ... right in my own kitchen.  Oh, I knew they were there ... lurking in a cut-down detergent box, on the bottom shelf of a pretty inaccessible shelf.  The ones from the 1980's were from the committed organic gardener who owned our house before we took it on.  The ones from the 1990s came from my husband or myself. 

Well, what brought them out (to dust!) to browse is my Christmas gift ... just finished now because everyone in the house got sick just before Christmas with the 3-week flu and it's taken months to catch up: a beautiful 5-shelf shelf, built by my brilliant husband, smooth as silk, stained a lovely reddish gold, sturdy, functional, fitting the space.  I love this shelf!  Thanks Chris!

Red Celery in the Sunshine talks about setting up City Farmer's gardens in the backyard of the Vancouver Energy Information Centre, near Maple Street and Sixth Avenue ... where it still is!!  The article talks about urban agriculture, biodynamics, food in the community, the importance of living soil, volunteers ... all the things some of us are trying to get across to some people today!

Back when the article was written, plans were afoot for a solar greenhouse!  Talk about City Farmer being ahead of the trend!  Apprenticeship programs had been in place since the garden began in 1981, under the management of Catherine Shapiro; 

Check the link to Michael's interview with Catherine, in 2007!
     .... (I haven't found a site for Catherine Shapiro yet)

and the well-archived City Farmer site has Red Celery in the Sunshine online here:

The article gives inspiration to just get going on a project.  The history of City Farmer shows what happens when you do!

So, once again:  Thank you Michael!

Best regards to all!

Why's Woman

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett ... We are left to rage and write

It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it. 
                        Terry Pratchett, from the foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, by David Pringle

Hello Everyone,

I'm sitting, rather stunned ... browsing 'round the internet reading variations on the same reality:  Terry Pratchett died today, at home, in England.  
He must have set up ahead of time the announcement that went out over his Twitter feed ... one of his most important characters, Death, saying in unmistakeable capitals: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

... and the curiosity of the author as he began his next journey: “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

Pratchett was good friends with author Neil Gamon, who wrote a while back about the coming death of Pratchett:

 “As Terry walks into the darkness much too soon, I find myself raging too: at the injustice that deprives us of – what? Another 20 or 30 books? Another shelf-full of ideas and glorious phrases and old friends and new, of stories in which people do what they really do best, which is use their heads to get themselves out of the trouble they got into by not thinking? ... “I rage at the imminent loss of my friend. And I think, ‘What would Terry do with this anger?’ Then I pick up my pen, and I start to write.”

So far, this little note is all I've written ... and, of course, most of the words aren't even mine.  I'm feeling a little numb.

But I'm sure I'll start raging about something soon, as soon as I read the news or my emails, listen to the radio or television, start thinking about Prime Minister Harper ...

... I'm feeling energy already.

Much love,

Why's Woman

Monday, March 9, 2015

Food related programs - saving the world in their own time


I hope this note finds you well. How's the weather your way?  We've finally had some temperatures over freezing!  And all our seed orders have arrived.  There has to be spring!

I've been thinking about the title here - Saving the World in My Spare Time -and thought I'd just put down some of the organizations and events that have crossed my path lately, because they are all saving the world, in the spare time of volunteers and some paid staff.

The Pod Knowledge Exchange -
Online, you can find out about food issues, styles of local food security organizations, and find resources to help you find ways that your community can be more food secure.

The Pod is a part of the work of Community Food Centres Canada ( which helps community food centres across the country share information and celebrations, and learn about issues and how to do more effectively the work they do.

USC-Canada is focused on building agricultural resilience through ecological agriculture. Programs are in areas of seed security and diversity, climate change adaptation and mitigation, rural economies, gender equality, and young farmers.  Its core values of rights, resilience and respect have been with USC Canada since its beginning, which is all the way back to 1945 when a Czech refugee, Dr. Lotta Hitchmanova, founded the organization to help children suffering after the second world war.
USC-Canada has a new program, I Am a Seed Saver, to celebrate the importance of seeds for food security. To meet some seed savers: check here.

The Bauta Family Initiative on Seed Security in Canada is a partnership of USC-Canada and Seeds of Diversity Canada, working to find which farmers are saving seed across the country, encouraging more seed saving, and educating about its importance.

All those programs have volunteers ... saving the world in their spare time.

Ah! It's good to remember these good things sometimes!

Very best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, February 13, 2015

Raising the Bar at Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainability Conference

Hello Everyone,

I hope this day finds you well.  We're continuing to have cold weather and this morning there was a dusting of new snow ... which in the sunshine just sparkled!  I don't mind that at all.

Something rather important happened in London over the last few days.  The City hosted planners and politicians  who are members of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities for sessions on sustainability topics.  And a new thing that was arranged was to have 50 local citizens who are members of various environment and community groups be in a think tank sort of session with 50 FCM delegates.

I got to be there, and it was pretty neat! 

The important comments are often overheard in the women's washroom, such as: "This is a great session, great exchange of ideas!" 

It doesn't matter a bit that some ideas came up that some of us had heard before.  Yesterday's session was between people from a lot of different places.  They hadn't heard some of our experiences and we hadn't heard their experiences and projects.  Even people here in London heard about projects they hadn't known about in London.  A lot of business cards and emails were exchanged.  No doubt today the connections started.

And yeah, there was fair bit of mutual admiration, and back patting.  But the thing is, if this was the first time for such an exchange of ideas between planners/politicians from 'cross country and "locals" in the hosting city - and it was the first time - then surely all of us who attended should take a bit of time before a critical or cynical mind kicks in and just think "wow, a step in a good direction".

Another important thing for this session is that we will be getting notes from it.  And there will be follow up for us Londoners at a June date.  I know I always need post-meeting think time to reread notes (I took lots at my table), add more notes in pink pen, and jot ideas about follow up and related things.

One FCM delegate thanked the London organizers and said that after three days her "bucket was full".  Her brain was loaded with information and ideas.  But she was so pleased to have been at those three days.  I spoke with her at the end of the day, and felt kind of proud ... and I hadn't even had anything to do with organizing the event!  I'd just shown up and gotten free lunch and great conversation.

The City staff person behind the event is Jay Stanford, head of environment services.  Enthusiastic, forward-thinking and a planner.  And a real stickler for keeping on task!  Thank you for all the work you did to get this community session.  Any future FCM conferences on sustainability (and maybe generally) will have to have such a host community / delegate session.  There's no going back from this!

So, I've had a good couple of days.  And my own bucket sure is full.

Sending best regards to all,

Why's Woman

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Joel Salatin shows us a new fashioned food system that helps and heals

Hello everyone,

I hope this note finds you well.  We've got snow happening outside.  I don't think we're in for a lot, but it'll clean things up nicely.

As I was trying to find my desk the other day (under all the paper!) I was rewarded with the Dec./January issue of Mother Earth News, which has a particularly good article by one of its regular contributors, Joel Salatin.  Salatin describes himself as a "renegade" farmer.  Salatin, whose Polyface farm is in the Shendoah Valley in Virginia, is "renegade" in the best possible way: someone who rejects conventional ways of doing things.

His article, A 'New-Fashioned' Food System That Helps and Heals, points out that we need to rethink a lot of ideas about farming.  For him "old"-fashioned farming is monoculture, GMO, petroleum input agriculture.  The most up to date farmers are finding ways to use efficient, simple, and energy-saving technologies - many of them right up to the minute as far as the techie crowd goes - to farm well, produce safe healthy food, and give back land that is better than they found it.

He assures us - and particularly any young person thinking of getting into farming - that farming is not going "back" to the land.  It is going forward to regenerate land.

He tells us that the language used to get out the message of good farming "has to be big enough, innovative enough, sacred enough to capture the hearts of all types of people".

I reall like his combination of practicality and spirit.

He tells us we have to "upgrade the language of stewardship". 

We can get out the message that farming and food are integrated; not segregated in their own aspects or from neighbourhoods and society.

We can emphasize that farming and food production are not systems that conquer; they can be thoughtful and practical actions that "caress" the land, that work with and learn from natural processes.  And overall, they are healing and not harming.

Salatin's full article is worth reading. His own words are more inspiring than my summary!  The link to his MEN article is below.  And his website is sure worth a look too, and has audio and video interviews and segments.  His moveable poultry pens are fascinating to me!  And he's written several books, some of which might be in your library.

I hope you are delighted by something you find in his work.

Very best regards!

Why's Woman

Author and "renegade farmer" Joel Salatin calls for food producers to tell a better story of a "new-fashioned" food system that rejects the industrial agriculture paradigm while embracing technology.
By Joel Salatin, Mother Earth News, December 2014/January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Water in the City ... how'd that get me thinking about Dad?

Hello everyone,

I hope this post finds you well.  I 'specially hope you haven't had a bout of the flu that's been going 'round this post-Christmas and January 2015.  I had several miserable days of it, followed by three weeks of something akin to sleeping sickness!  Been years since something knocked me out the way this has.

But, I'm pretty well over it and trying to reconcile the fact that I can only do so much.  This evening I was online reading, and ...

I'm 59.  When I was a kid, National Geographic Magazine only came by subscription.  I didn't realize way back then how lucky I was that my England-born, school-leaving-at-grade-six father subscribed.  I don't know what experiences led him to be interested in the whole world, the world that came into our home through National Geographic.  Perhaps it was his 14 years in the British Army, 1937-1951, serving in Egypt, Malta, and Palestine.

Dad was born February 7, 1912; died June 1, 1992.  In Stratford, Ontario, where he emigrated to in 1951, he became a house painter and paper hanger, and worked at that until he retired.  I've got a feeling I underestimated him, probably a lot.

Today I was browsing the City Farmer website as I do most days, and ran across a National Geographic article Securing Water for Urban Farms (  The article outlines some ways in which cities can capture and use water for use in urban farms.  The article also points out that water issues are everywhere we look. 

And we need to look around us more.

Last year I happened to have a chat with one of the senior London, Ont. city staff - found out that we don't have such a thing as a reservoir to hold captured rainwater.  I was sort of surprised by that because I've been at Planning and Environment meetings where the topic was problems caused by stormwater run-off mixing with the sewer system, and overwhelming the water treatment system.  That means that too much rainwater goes down the drain (so to speak). 

The staff person did say that he figured there'd be a need for rainwater capture in future as energy/economy changes.  He's no slouch when it comes to big picture stuff.

When I look across the road from my place during a rainstorm all I see is cubic meters of rainwater running down paved road and asphalt parking areas, rushing into the sewers, not having any way to get onto land and benefit growing plants ... not having a way to become a part of the "ecosystem services" a city needs to keep its natural areas growing.  And not just its natural areas down by the river, but water to keep the lawns and gardens of homeowners flourishing.  All the water gets taken away before it gets to urban lawns; properties and roadways and sidewalks are sloped to take the water away.

How often have you seen a "berm" cleverly holding in a parking lot so it doesn't escape ... and the berm is sloped so that any rainwater immediately runs off onto the sidewalk and thus onto the road and down the sewer?  So there's no chance for the rainwater to linger and soak into the carefully arranged "planting" of four spirea and a pampas grass (even with the artificially straight ditch enclosing them).  Even the drive in/out of the parking lot circles the garden with a curb, so any rain going onto the parking lot rushes down the in/out road and away.  Not a chance for those four spirea and pampas grass.

My "one thing" done today may be to have read the article on water and to think about how important it is.

What's your experience? 

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas wishes ... and moving forward

Hello Everyone,

I hope this note finds you well, and that you have had a Happy Christmas. I hope you had some time to sit or take a walk, visit with someone you wanted to check in with, be as busy or as relaxed as you wanted to be.

Around here, we've had rain for the last few days on and off - altho' it's sunny right now and I think I'll do some laundry and get it outside to dry.  

I'm sure that for most of the years of my childhood there was snow for Christmas, so, no matter what I try to tell myself about how Christmas is spirit and family, and no matter how tasty dinner was, and no matter that everyone liked their gifts ... well, I have this feeling of something not quite right.  And, in the way of synchronicity, I thought I'd check in with Elizabeth May's blog and her last post was her December 14 post about the Climate Change talks she'd attended in Lima, Peru, earlier this month.

I'd followed her posts from Lima, where talks went two days longer than scheduled, and it seemed like no agreement of any kind was possible between the many countries.  Well, there was an agreement of sorts ... at least an agreement that countries were agreeing to keep talking; as May said tho', climate activists were not happy.  

May is an optimist in her very nature, which I admire and appreciate.  She points out that the U.S. did not pull out of the talks, no country did. 

Her optimism is of the best kind, based in practicality, based in working from the situation at hand, based in encouraging those of us who aren't politicians to keep communicating with the politicians.  To us Canadians she says: "Between now and next year at COP21 we need to keep a focus on the climate.  We need to demand that Canada meet the weak pledge Harper made in Copenhagen.  We must insist that Canada meet the agreed upon goal for all developed nations ... and to do so in the first quarter of 2015 ... and above all else, we need to make sure that climate change is an election issue." And she goes on to say "This is a moment that allows us to think like a human family. We need to make the most of 2015."

My blunt opinion is that the only way Canada can go forward without being shamed internationally is to get rid of the dictatorship that exists at the Federal level of government, that cabal that names itself after its leader, and is already putting out national commercials saying to elect that leader ... completely ignoring that we do not elect that person, he is elected in his riding.
I'll give some praise to provincial and municipal officials who recognize that at their levels of governance they can move on a huge range of issues that affect climate change, without needing federal o.k.  Change is going to come from everywhere, everyone ... except that guy currently at the "top" and his phrase-perfect clones.

Get radical everyone ... radical in the meaning of root.  Root yourselves in ideals and ideas, root yourselves in local support.  

Enjoy a few days off over this so-advertised "holiday" season if you really do have time off from paid or family work.

And then find your support, find your concerns, find your place in the big picture of change. 

With kindest regards as the daylight comes back,

Why's Woman