Places where our hearts grow fonder

Many of my most powerful memories are linked to places outside. There were some upsides to growing up in northern Canada. The north can be tough, but there is a particular sense of freedom to be found in the vast landscapes.

It’s winter. It’s dark. I am less than nine years old outside in my front yard building snow caves. The snow piles up high through the winter and when the snowplows throw the snow from the road it creates a long hill running across the front of each yard. To a child these snow hills are massive! They are perfect for digging into. With just a shovel you can create your own subterranean snow world of caves and tunnels.

Clad in my snow suit, mitts and boots I feel warm. Lying on my back in the cave I look up at the snow above and the street lights shining down. The street is absolutely still and the bright lights of the street lamps set the endless white of snow-covered yards and streets aglow in a shimmering, sparkling light. The landscape around me is as vast as a tundra.

I feel happy.

In that moment I feel so comfortable. One person lying still and safe in my snow cave with a vast, quiet snow world stretching out in all directions. I am at home. Life is infinite.

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A rite of passage!

This memory of the snow caves has stayed with me all these years. I can feel the vastness of my childhood snow world and see the sparkle of the snow in vivid detail. I’ve often wondered why this particular moment plays so strongly in my memory. Something about the sense of connectedness and the sense of freedom, these are feelings that I still seek. I still love snow and the hushed quality of winter. I love to be alone in nature (even when that “nature” is contained in a small city lot). Reading the, Last Child in the Woods, I can relate to Louv’s call for protection of the freedom to play outside that kids once experienced. Depending where you live it may no longer be okay to let your child dig caves of snow by themselves on dark winter nights. But it is just as important, maybe even more important than it has ever been. To have your own experience of making your own safe place (your snow cave), to watch the world around you from a place that resonates with your soul (sparkling tundras of snow) and to feel at the centre of your being an infinite sense of connectedness and freedom– to do and to feel these things is at the heart of what it is to be human. After all, we are, by the timescale, still 99% hunter-gather. We have a need to express that. As the pace of life and time with screens continues to accelerate in our culture we all need, more than ever, opportunities to ground ourselves in ways that help us feel connected to other humans and the natural world. To do things that lift our spirit in a playful, freeing way. So as the days continue to darken and the busyness of the holiday season rev up our pace even more, let’s save some space for winter play. I bet you could make a really cool snow cave if you gave it a try! You might not be able to leave your kids to play on their own in the snow, but you can initiate the opportunity to play together and then slip back while kids continue to romp (mulled wine in a snow bank, anyone?). Or maybe you’ll all find yourselves laying on your backs, looking up at a winter night sky, feeling infinite. Some true winter magic. In the northern latitudes we don’t usually get quite as excited about welcoming winter as we do welcoming summer, but let me be the first to say– c’mon winter, let’s go play. Happy holiday season!   PS. If you need more convincing that play is vital Dr. Stuart Brown’s TED Talk should do the trick:

Fire on the mountain

Hello,

There is something going on not far from where I live that is making national news. I had another post all ready to go, but decided to change the focus. Sometimes a love for nature can get political. For everyone who has worried about the future world their children will live in, this is for you.

Let’s start with the two minute overview of events as covered by Global News:

Now, I know clips of ranting protestors do not capture the hearts and minds of most people. But, stay with me, there is much history at work here. The events at Burnaby Mountain are becoming an opportunity to connect people from all walks of life with an issue of grave importance for our children and grandchildren.

Even those with little knowledge of Canada probably know we love hockey, we have a funny habit towards being overly polite and two of the greatest icons in Canadian pop culture are Neil Young and David Suzuki. While both of these greats have a deep commitment to environmentalism, David Suzuki is the rock star in this realm. An award-winning geneticist who began his career in broadcasting in 1974, David Suzuki became a household name through his award winning series, The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, that has been running for an incredible 54 years! Living in a small, resource-dependent town (yep, in the oil patch) I clearly remember my grade 9 science teacher wheeling in the TV trolley so he could exuberantly screen Nature of Things episodes for us. He, via David Suzuki, taught us about recycling and ecological limits. I had always spent time outside, but I was also surrounded by a culture where resource extraction equalled money. I still have a feeling of indebtedness to that Grade 9 teacher and to David Suzuki for opening my eyes to the world of science and ecology, and the idea that human activity needs to be balanced. It was the ’90’s, the concept of sustainability was brand new.

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David Suzuki has become an institution–as a broadcaster he is under contract with the CBC and the foundation that operates under his namesake has a policy against showing up at protests. So this week, when David Suzuki’s grandson, Tamo Campos, was arrested on Burnaby Mountain protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline it was news. Then a letter Suzuki wrote to his grandson supporting his action went viral. And then David Suzuki himself showed up at Burnaby Mountain in solidarity with his family–his daughter, granddaughter and grandson were all there. This raw, unscheduled reaction to a real time event made me excited. While the protest on Burnaby Mountain is specifically about stopping the expansion of a Kinder Morgan pipeline, it has become a flashpoint where Canadians are standing up to express their concerns about climate change, the failure of our governments to act in the public interest and the desire to start building a future that is less dependent on fossil fuels.

Why is this such a big deal? Some essential information:

  • Kinder Morgan is one of the largest pipeline companies in the US and it’s run by a former Enron exec
  • One large spill from a KM pipeline could cost $40 billion in damage and be catastrophic to the environment
  • Kinder Morgan has already had 7(!) spills and leaks in BC since 2005
  • At the hearings where the public is supposed to have input into the impacts of the pipeline climate change cannot be discussed
  • This is a pipeline being built to transport oil from the tar sands (oil  sands) from Alberta, which when fully developed will be the largest industrial contributor to greenhouse gases in North America, yet climate change cannot be discussed!
  • The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is strongly tied to the oil industry and was recently ranked one of the worst climate villains in the world
  • Since Harper has been in power he has retracted Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, weakened environmental regulations, gutted leading edge climate change research and systematically silenced Canadian scientists
  • Canada, under Harper, has reversed our previous leadership on global warming and is now ranked with Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia as countries lacking a federal policy to address climate change and no intention to create one
  • Governments at a local level are fighting the pipeline: the City of Vancouver, Burnaby and First Nations have all filed lawsuits in an attempt to halt construction of the pipeline
  • People from all walks of life are gathering at Burnaby Mountain–scientists, writers, nature enthusiasts, grandparents, parents and children

This clip of a well-respected molecular biology professor sums up the sentiment that all the usual things are no longer enough given federal and provincial governments who appear  captured by oil industry interests:

What will your kids think?

Given all of this commotion it seems like a good time to ask, what are we doing to make the world a better place for our children? Will our children wonder why, since we knew fossil fuels contribute to climate change and climate change is negatively impacting the world as we know it, why didn’t we change paths sooner? Why didn’t we do everything in our power to stop it? I think these are the fundamental questions that are motivating the surge of participation at Burnaby Mountain, including the 100+ people who have chosen to be arrested in acts of civil disobedience.

While research is lacking on what today’s children think about climate change, we do know that the Millennial generation (those who are currently 18-33) are the segment most motivated to address this issue. In a US poll, 69% of Millennials surveyed thought governments should be more involved in addressing climate change, not less. For those under 18 it is likely to be an even more defining issue. After all, they will bear the brunt of climate changes’ affects more than we will.

This weekclayoquot_sound_activists_marching_to_arrests_at_kinder_morgan_work_site_burnaby_mount_-_mychaylo_prystupa_-_2014-11-26_w3000 we’ve seen other historical leaders from the BC environmental movement, those who led the largest environmental protests in Canadian history in Clayoquot Sound in the 90’s, make their pilgrimage to Burnaby Mountain. Many of these leaders spoke of their motivation to do this for their grandchildren.

What kind of legacy are we leaving?

If you’d like to join the movement at Burnaby Mountain you can get the details at ComeToTheMountain or follow on facebook. This Saturday there is a special event for grandmothers, mothers and children.

If you’re too far away to join in person you can connect with climate change campaigns locally and globally.

Thanks to everyone who are asking themselves the tough questions and committing to a better world for future generations.

Chicken littles

It has been a very exciting week at our house. Something we’ve been waiting and waiting for finally happened…

Way back on an unbelievably rainy day in early June we loaded our two kiddos into the car and drove into the depths of the Fraser Valley to meet our very first family pets.

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Only four weeks old when we got them, fortunately, our new little chics were small enough to fit into two small cardboard boxes that we could wedge between the two large car seats in the back of our compact car. City slickers, yes, but excited city slickers.

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Now I’ve decided that two kids are the perfect number for me, but I was willing to bring four new family members of the avian variety into the fold. I am glad I did. Our two barred rock and two partridge rocks–Ophelia, Ariana, Toopee and Shirley– have eased right into life with our family. After minimal coaching they put themselves to bed and fix their own breakfast, now if only I could get my kids to do that.

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We’ve fed them.

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We’ve loved them.

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And finally, after being asked so many times– have they laid yet? We can answer YES!

Now every day when we go to say hello to our chicken friends we receive the amazing gift of eggs.

I’ve gardened for a long time and know the pride of harvesting, but there is something altogether different about collecting your own honest-to-goodness eggs from your own happy go-lucky city chickens. It’s a small, oval miracle right in our hands.

Everyone in the family has really liked the chickens from the beginning, but there is now new enthusiasm when we bring them kitchen scraps or other goodies. As my daughter wisely observes, “we feed them and they feed us.”

And they feed us well!

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So far having backyard chickens has been very little work. It does make our city lot feel more like a farm, but in the best of ways. I’ll get into the nitty gritty of the how-to’s for starting your own city flock in a future post. If you can’t wait, this is a good place to start for basic information: www.backyardchickens.com

But here’s some final food for thought: kids raised with pets (of all kinds: dogs, cats, horses or chickens included) become more empathetic adults. Eggs in the short run and improved emotional understanding in the long run. That’s an impressive contribution to the family from our four feathered friends.

Well, time to go out and check for eggs!

Hello again

Hello again world.

It’s been well over a year since I last wrote. How are you? What has been happening with you? Here’s what’s been happening with me…

I fell off the cliff of parenthood, again! A beautiful, wonderful little boy entered my life. And even though it was my second time becoming a parent it was no less of a your-life-will-never-be-the-same-again moment. …In all the good ways, and some of the tough ones.

But during many of the tired, tired moments in this past year and a quarter I have thought of this blog many times. I have thought of you blog readers and wondered what you might like to read about and have confirmed within myself that I truly enjoy the process of thinking, writing and sharing.

So here I am. Finally in front of my computer again with a small portion of my time dedicated to writing. I have expanded the scope of the blog as my own thinking has shifted. …I once saw gardening as a great focal point for connecting kids with nature, but after spending this year with my toddler turned preschooler I realized that the need to just play outside in nature is also oh, so important and can be overlooked in our busy, busy modern lives.

I realized too that in my mega sleep deprived state (my son, while lovely, is a terrible sleeper) I needed time in nature more than ever. Much more. Going “to the forest” became I kind of salvation for me that kept me from completely losing my sanity. And the upside was that my daughter and I struck upon something that can feed both her desire to run, jump and explore, while I can feed my soul’s craving for calm and a sense of perspective. Towering trees helped keep the days struggles from taking on more importance than they deserved. While my daughter does not seem to tire of the usual playground circuit, I had a chance to see her explore an entirely new environment that I enjoy much more. It felt much richer for the both of us. And *total bonus* my terrible sleeper always slept best the nights after we’d spent an hour or two among the trees.

So my dear friends, IIMG_0906 am back. I am motivated. I can’t wait to bring you some interesting reading on connecting hearts and minds to nature: in the garden, through play outside in all the elements and in our homes with the foods we eat.

In this Take Two of Little Bean Farms I am hoping to connect more to the larger community of people who are striving towards similar goals and to laugh, smile and play while we explore this big, crazy, beautiful world together.

You’ll hear from me again soon, I promise.

U-pick, We-pick, We all pick…

IMG_7224Greetings!

It is time to gather up buckets large and small and get into the fields. Farms and gardens are now brimming with bounty, including  sweet, juicy berries.

I made my first attempt at u-picking with a toddler and it went pretty well! She nearly ate her weight in strawberries (mainly from my bucket), but was pretty happy to run around the fields and hunt for the babiest and the biggest strawberries of all while a friend and I picked away.

For this first foray we chose a place close to home and found Saturdays at a u-pick are a popular family event. From the wagons and buckets brought you could tell some of these families were seasoned harvesters. While I did not come away with enough strawberries to make jam, my daughter did leave saying, “it was nice to go pick strawberries,” music to a u-pick loving mama’s ears.

IMG_7225 It was nice! And from the buzz on the playground lately a lot of parents are getting their berry fix by bringing their kids along to a u-pick. A few simple tips for success: pack a picnic, bring extra hands along if you can and don’t feel sheepish about buying more from the stand than you actually pick. Hey, it’s all about the experience of getting closer to your food and you will definitely achieve that just by getting to a farm.

Looking for the best places to get my fruit fix I’ve found that organic u-picks are all too rare, so I put the word out to a group of BC organic growers requesting suggestions of family-friendly u-picks. I’m already trying to figure out how future road trips can swing by the amazing sounding places below. You can also find farms near you at www.bcfarmfresh.com (for the Fraser Valley, BC) or www.pickyourown.org (listings around the world and good tips for canning and preserving).

First up, the only un-certified organic operation on the list, but well worth a mention for two reasons: it is incredibly close to Vancouver (near the airport) and the farm legacy is being carried on by the original farmers’ grandson, pretty courageous for someone whose barely 20.

Cherry Lane Farms, Richmond, BC
– organic, not certified
– u-pick cherries, apples, plums and greens, plus very delicious apple cider

I haven’t visited this one, but I will soon…
North Arm Farms, Pemberton, BC
– certified organic
– u-pick strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Plus ducks, a farm stand and pumpkins in the fall.

Another new discovery for me, blueberries, yum!
Circle K Blueberry Ranch, Royston, BC
– certified organic & family friendly
– u-pick blueberries

One of my favourite places is the Cawston Valley in the summer. The valley has the highest concentration of fruit stands in Canada and is the hot, dry, sweet-fruit-filled epitome of summer. While you’re there also stop in at the Blush Lane Orchard’s fruit stand for the sweetest organic peaches ever.

Similkameen River Organic Farm, Cawston, BC
– certified organicIMG_7234
– all sorts of veggies

Pilgrims Produce, near Vernon, BC
– certified organic
– u-pick strawberries, saskatoon berries, raspberries and black
currants

My sister and I were tipped off to this u-pickers paradise while buying canning jars from an Okanagan thrift store. I’ve made multiple trips back, it is the perfect place to u-pick tomatoes for canning your own salsa or pasta sauce.

Covert Farms, Oliver, BC
– certified organic
– u-pick strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, you name it. They also offer farm camps for kids and a winery for adults.

Last, but not least, a farm where the animals look as happy as the cartoons…

Happy Pig Organic Farm, Bulkley Valley, near Smithers, BC
– certified organic
– not a u-pick, but lots of critters for kids to get to know. A chance to give belly rubs to pasture-raised pigs, milk a goat, collect eggs, feed chickens or turkeys and sneak a pet of an alpaca. Not an official petting farm, but kids are very welcome.

Happy picking. It’s time to fill your  buckets and then your belly with the goodness of summer.

To Market, To Market

The longest day of the year is upon us–it’s officially summer! This is the time that locavores most closely equate with heaven, farmers’ markets are now brimming with all sorts of goodness. Inspired by a recent market meet-up organized by the Vancouver Forest Nursery group this post is dedicated to letting your kids take a deep-dive exploration of your local farmers’ market.

Farmers-Market-Take-Your-KidsSimply going to the market is a pleasure trip for the senses. I think I’ve been unconsciously trying to bribe my daughter into loving the market by always ensuring our visit includes some sort of fresh fruit, artisan cheese or baked goodie. Or maybe I’m just sharing the small luxuries that I like to indulge in on market day. Whichever is the case, we’ve already had a few outings where it seemed a good time was had by all, a way better success rate than when she was a baby. And, as inspired by the Forest Nursery folks, there is so much more you can do with even slightly older kids to get them involved in the market experience.

  • Market dollars – Let kids be a part of the market economy with a few dollars of their own to spend as they please. Their selections may surprise you, and they might just find the next family food favourite.
  • Map it out – For kids (and parents) with a fondness for maps bringing one along to the market is a great way to have children start a conversation with vendors. A simple, “where are you from?”, turns into a conversation about farms, fields and orchards in the surrounding areas all of which can be located on the map.
  • Scavenger hunt – Who doesn’t love the challenge of a good hunt? The farmers’ market is a great place to have a scavenger hunt and you don’t need to limit yourself to finding fruits & veggies, the people at the market make great “finds” too. Here’s a kid-friendly scavenger hunt list from Organic Authority to get you started.

With the resurgence of markets in North America and their persistence elsewhere, a visit to a local market can also fit into almost any of your holiday plans. I admit that I’m a bit market-obsessed and don’t feel like I’ve really experienced a place without hitting up the local market, but if you haven’t tried it, please do. You will be sure to stumble onto some kind of sweet surprise and the vendors can introduce you to new tastes and share local lore that you wouldn’t come across elsewhere.

And to finisto-market-to-market-medh off, here is some market magic to add to your bookshelves. The beautifully illustrated children’s book To Market, To Market is a necessary addition to any foodie-family’s collection.

Feel free to post and share the chronicles of your own market adventures. We’d all love to know what you discover!

Happy Solstice and happy market hunting!

Wondrous things from seeds

Keep on sowing your seed for you never know which will grow–perhaps it all will.

–Albert Einstein

Any opportunity to follow some advice from Albert Einstein seems like a good addition to daily life. This week’s post is about a few simple seeds you can sow for near-guaranteed abundance. Because yes, the time of garden abundance is beginning here in the northern hemisphere.

photoTo start, let’s check in on those peas we planted during the first project. They’ve been in the garden a while now and are getting tall! The first pea pods are ready for picking with promise of many more to come. I offered my gardening partner first dibs on the first pea of the season. Since then I’ve had repeated requests of “peas!” when we walk by the garden and we hunt for all the pods we can find. If you haven’t planted peas yet, or even if you are already enjoying the first pods of the season, it’s time to sow more! Plant another little row wherever you can find space and they’ll grow up quick and give you a second harvest of peas right when your first ones start to sloIMG_7213w down.

I can’t take credit for this, but my housemate has grown a beautiful fava forest that I am going to need to replicate next year. You can think of fava beans as the southern European version of edamame. Fresh fava beans can be boiled and eaten the same way you’d prepare the kid-pleasing Japanese beans. They grow easily and as part of the legume family are good for your soil (they make more nitrogen available for future plantings).

Here’s something I love tIMG_7201o grow–kale. Recently awarded superfood status kale is a rising star of the veggie world. It grows like crazy on the westcoast and will stay green and healthy all winter only to resume growing again in spring. If the end-times come, or just lean times, you’ll want some kale in your garden.

I’m a fan of fresh picked kale leaves as a standard for salads, but my daughter has not taken to kale (or lettuce for that matter) in fresh leaf form. But we just had a huge turning point: now she loves to pick kale (all by herself of course) and immediately she voluntarily started nibbliIMG_7217ng on it straight from the garden. I was amazed, kids will really eat what they help grow. If you want to get your family asking for second helpings of kale try making kale chips. I follow this simple preparation and add a little grated Parmesan cheese on top before baking.

Kale seeds are a great thing to start in your early spring garden because they like the cool weather, but don’t be afraid to plant them later in the year too. If you sow kale in July you’re guaranteed to have a kale harvest right into the cool months.IMG_7223

Last, but not least, the mighty pole beans are just starting to climb their trellis. In a month’s time we’ll have a bean tunnel marking the entrance to one of our garden pathways. It’s not too late, plant some pole beans now and unleash the jack-and-the-beanstalk power of these vigorous climbers.

We’re keeping it simple with seeds this week, but there is more excitement in store. Farmers have been sending me their info about kid-friendly, organic u-picks and I’ve gathered up a bunch of farm camps for youth and kids over here. I swear all of these farm camp opportunities are fairly new, this growing things thing is really catching on 🙂

Grab a packet of seeds and sow them anywhere you can… perhaps they will all grow. See you next week.

GMO OMG!

Greetings!

With all of the rain we’ve had lately in my neck of the woods it feels more like movie watching weather than gardening weather, so I thought it was a good opportunity to focus on the hot food sustainability topic of the week–GMOs.

Last Saturday over two million people around the world took to the streets to raise awareness about the GMO seeds produced by seed and chemical giant Monsanto. In over 436 cities in 52 countries people of all ages were asking for labelling of GMO foods, including these incredible ladies pictured below–the Raging Grannies at a Montreal protest.

hi-monsanto-2-852-8col What’s the big deal anyway?

From what I have learned about farming I am convinced that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the use of GE (genetic engineering) technology are not improving our food system. One of the problems with GMOs is that there has not been enough research on the long term health impacts of eating these foods. What has happened with GMOs so far is enough to have us questioning why we are taking the risk of saturating our food supply with them. Top problems below as well as the stories of a teenager and father who are doing something about it.

1. More chemicals are being used
The major GMO crops grown in North America and elsewhere are cotton, corn, soy, canola and sugar beet (the US also grows GMO papaya and some GMO squash). All five of the major crops have been genetically altered to either withstand a Monsanto-made pesticide called Round Up or to exude their own natural insecticide (Bt). The problem is insects and weeds adapt quickly when you use a single chemical to try and control them, soon they become resistant and you need to find another, usually more toxic, chemical to get rid of your weed or pest problem. This is exactly what has happened with GMO crops, the original promise was that LESS chemicals would be needed to farm these crops, now MORE are needed. More chemicals means more pollution in our water ways, more toxic stuff on our food and more expense for farmers who have to buy more pesticides from Monsanto along with their GMO seeds.

2. Patent-protected seeds put the future of food production in the hands of corporations
Agriculture evolved by farmers saving some of their seeds from each year’s crop to plant the next year. This is the heart of food security–seed saving. Saving seeds also allows you to select the plants that perform best under your local conditions, building a naturally-selected seed bank over time that is best adapted to where you grow. GMO seeds are patent protected, which means it is illegal for farmers to save them and even if, as seeds tend to do, a field is cross-pollinated by GMO crops planted by a neighbour Monsanto has been known to threaten, sue and demand money from farmers who never planted a single GMO seed.

This is a really scary downside of corporations patenting seeds and exercising legal rights over them–essentially the companies that own the seeds control the food supply and since those companies need to make money from their seeds this undermines the viability of farmers (and all of us) to feed ourselves. It undermines crop diversity and is a direct threat to food system sustainability.

3. Adequate food safety testing is not in place
Another very scary fact:GM foods are approved for human consumption based on company-pnotscienceexproduced science alone. The data is secret and is not peer-reviewed by independent scientists, our government agencies (Health Canada and the US FDA) are not doing their own testing. To make matters worse, there are no standards set for what constitutes adequate testing and in the few independent studies that have taken place study trial times that are slightly longer than industry-science are showing health effects. Independent research on the impacts of GMO foods have been hampered by the patent on the seeds, companies will not release the seeds to independent researchers. But the companies don’t mind releasing GMO foods into the food system at large with no labelling, making us all the lab rats.

Many scientists warn that the process of genetic engineering could create new allergens and animal feeding studies indicate liver and kidney problems. Without mandatory labeling there is no way to track or monitor possible health impacts.

4. At least label it and let consumers decide
The Right to Know movement has swept the US resulting in state-level movements to label GMOs in Maine, Vermont and California. Efforts to get GMO labelling are also taking place in Canada. The argument is: if GMO foods are in the foods we eat consumers at least have the right to know what foods they are in so they can avoid them if they want. There is huge opposition from industry to this because they know consumer rejection can kill their market–just as it has in Europe and Japan where imports are tested and rejected if they contain GMOs.

And now for a two minute video interlude…



The power of youth and parents 

All of this may sound quite dire, but public pressure has already significantly set back Monsanto’s GMO plans. GM varieties of tomatoes, potatoes and wheat have been taken off the market because of consumer rejection. Where GMOs are still showing up in our food supply are mainly processed foods and conventional animal feeds–corn, soy, canola and sugar beet are heavily used in animal production and as processed food ingredients. If you want to avoid them buy certified organic foods (no GMOs and no pesticides allowed) or, if an organic option isn’t available, you can look for the non-GMO project label that verifies no GMO ingredients have been used.

Now let’s meet two of the over two million people pushing for change on this issue.

First up, 13 year-old Rachel Parent who started the Kids Right To Know project in Canada. She established her own website to raise awareness about GMOs at age 11. Don’t doubt that youth are ready to change the world, check out her articulate interview on Global TV.

KidsRighttoKnowglobalnews

But let’s not wait for the next generation to do something about this. Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert started out to make a film about GMOs. In the process he became a father on a crusade to get GMOs out of his kids’ diets. His documentary, GMO OMG, has just started screening. Watch the trailer below and keep an eye out for local screenings.

GMO OMG Trailer from Compeller Pictures on Vimeo.

Want to learn more? C-BAN is a great resource. Right now there is push to approve GMO alfalfa and a GMO apple in both Canada and the US. Keep on the look out for ways to support these campaigns and take pride in your gardening efforts however small. Learning to grow food is one of the best things you can do to help support future food sustainability.

See you next week when we get back into the garden.

Ready, set, grow!

Welcome to gardening season, full on.

As mentioned last week, now is the time everyone in North America can garden with reckless abandon. Snow and frost are behind us and the nights are warming up–that’s what makes the plants grow.

Because it’s tIMG_1351ime to be outside more than on the computer I am going to keep this post short and sweet, but aim to inspire.

This is your chance to try your hand at veggie gardening no matter how little time, space or gardening experience you have.

Right now you don’t even need to go near a gardening store to pick up some starter vegetable plants–they are popping up everywhere from the grocery store to the farmers’ market. The serious gardeners in my neighbourhood, mainly older European and Asian folk, have been swarming their favourite spot for vegetable starts for a few weeks now. I know it’s gardening season when you can’t get by on the sidewalk by this otherwise, other-times-of-year, nondescript green grocer.

Carting plants home seems to be a favourite activity for toddlers, so take advantage of the help and grab a few. Unless you have a very large garden there are many plants where you’re further ahead to buy starter plants than to start them from seed (you’ll save money, time and likely have stronger plants). For example, two zucchini plants will feed your family and friends, if you grew a whole package of zucchini seeds you could feed the neighbourhood.

Here are some great vegetables to start with already-grown up seedlings (simply known as “starts” in gardener-speak) instead of seeding them yourself:

– Tomatoes, especially cherry varieties for kidsIMG_7147

– Cucumbers

– Zucchini

– Pumpkins

– Herbs of all kinds (except cilantro, they don’t like to be transplanted)

– Strawberries

– Marigold flowers to deter pests

While I tend to get excited about buying plants at the farmers’ market, they seem to look healthier and I like IMG_7166to glean gardening advice from the vendors, I conducted a little tomato experiment last year where I bought half of my plants from the farmers’ market (at about $3.50/plant) and half from the local green grocer (at $0.50/plant). I treated all the tomatoes well and kept them safe from rain under a plastic covering and by the end of the season all of the plants were taller than me and I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with–and trust me, I can eat a lot of fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes. The plants were indistinguishable.

So, if you’re feeling a little empty in the wallet or you don’t want to invest a lot in your early gardening efforts go ahead and stop by the green grocer (but follow the crowds) and invest $5 for a few starter plants. Put them in good soil and water them well to get them established, then let the warm summer nights do the rest. The beginnings of an under $5 strawberry patch is included here as evidence of a lazy, but fruitful (ha ha), approach to gardening.

Of course if you have more time, ambition and energy for growing, don’t hold back. I have to admit that despite my tomato experiment I still couldn’t resist buying some plants from the farmers’ market this year–but come summer I’m going to have purple and green zebra striped tomatoes!

Starting with a combination of plant starts and seeds can also be a good way to keep kids engaged in the garden, the plants give them something more visible to watch right away while they wait for their seeds to sprout.

Now comes the inspiration. Check out this video of a LA family’s first year at a community garden and be ready to be inspired by what new gardeners can create in a single season.

These guys are on my heroes list.

A Year in the Garden from Brad Hiebert on Vimeo.

See you next week for more gardening fun!

The buzz of bees

The May long weekend is coming up, the unofficial start of the gardening season in Canada!

IMG_1328Even if the weather is still feeling a bit cold or damp this is the time when we’re frost-free coast-to-coast and you could traditionally plant warmer weather veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash without fear of them being harmed by cold or rain. These days climate change is making the weather a bit, ummm, unpredictable and if you haven’t noticed it already as soon as you start gardening you will. (Remember last year’s June-uary in Vancouver? Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.)

Now that the calendar says you can garden with reckless abandon I’ve got some bee friendly projects to get you outside. Next week I’ll spend some time on veggie garden ideas, it’s time! Even the little helpers are getting into the swing of things.


The buzz about bees

There has been a lot of talk about bees around our house lately. For one, my daughter has discovered the joys of honey sweetened tea. And, as we smelled the first lavender blooms on our bushes outside, she agreed we would pick one each and leave the rest for food for the bees. She’s getting into this food for the birds and bees thing.

Bees have quickly become the darling of the insect world as alarm bells have been rung over scary sounding things like Colony Collapse Disorder and the pest that strikes fear into the hearts of beekeepers everywhere, varroa mite. Honeybees are critical to the food we eat every day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat, including almonds, apples, blueberries, soybeans and alfalfa (a staple for animal feed). Honeybees are not the only pollinators, native bees (like bumblebees and mason bees) and predatory wasps work to pollinate important plants and food crops too. All of our pollinators are facing tough times with the effect of pesticides, habitat loss and the introduction of exotic pests.

Research is telling us that a relatively new class of pesticides (neonicotinoids) are the worst offenders when it comes to harming bees. These pesticides were partially banned in the EU last month based on the convincing research that neonicotinoids are harming pollinators of all types. Many people are working to get a similar ban in place in the US and Canada.

The state of the bees–which isn’t good–is concerning because they are mini-canaries in the mine shaft. If bees are in trouble we’re not far behind, a world without pollinators will be a hungry one.

Ready for some good news?


Urban oasis

IMG_1331Home gardens and city parks are becoming safe havens for bees. Cosmetic pesticide bans have spread across municipalities making cities pesticide free zones. Pesticide-exuding GMO crops are also not found in cities. Add to that the diversity of urban plantings from landscape plants to veggie gardens and the ability to continually water even when it gets hot and dry and the city is suddenly much more hospitable for hungry bees than mono-cultured agricultural areas where crops flower at a single time. (Case in point, this bee-friendly roundabout.) Urban beekeeping is taking off globally, making cities the places where bee population declines are reversing.

Kinda cool.

You don’t need to set up a hive in your yard to help make your neighbourhood more bee-friendly (although that is an amazing thing to do). You can make a bee watering station and mini-bee garden in your yard, patio, boulevard or park.


Bee project #1 — bee watering hole

tropical bee drinking stationBees and other beneficial insects—ladybugs, butterflies, and predatory wasps—all need fresh water to drink but they need a landing pad to drink from. As the weather heats up in summer it can be challenging for our tiny friends to find a place for a good drink, but it’s easy to make the perfect bee watering hole.

  • Line a shallow bowl or plate with rocks.
  • Add water, but leave the rocks as dry islands to serve as landing pads.
  • Place the bath at the ground level in your garden. (Put it near plants that get aphids and the beneficial insects that come to drink will eat ’em up.)
  • Refresh the water daily, adding just enough to evaporate by day’s end.


Bee project #2 — busy bee gardens

Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers and it is their activity moving from one flower to the next that makes them effective pollinators. Native bees prefer a diet of native plants. Honeybees are more opportunistic and will feed on exotic booms as well. This makes planting with bees in mind pretty easy, if it flowers chances are it can become bee food. One thing to avoid are flower varieties that are “double flowered”, the extra petals make it hard for bees to get the nectar.

Herby honeybee favourites
Try adding these to a herb garden: chives, thyme, lavender, achillea, bee balm, anise‐hyssop, fennel or dill. Predatory wasps bee feedingparticularly like the tall stalks of fennel and dill, despite their unfriendly name these are good guys to have in your garden.

Sunny days gardens
Bees love the sun and become more active on calm, sunny days. Try a mix of annuals and perennials to guarantee year-after-year of bee buffets.
Early bloomers: blueberries, foxgloves, heather, crocus.
Mid season flowers: dahlia, hyssop, raspberry, sunflower, raspberry.
Late bloomers: borage, echinacea (coneflower), cosmos, sedum and squash.

And I have to mention the hardy shrub California Lilac, in early summer it is covered in tiny blue flowers that the bees go crazy over.

Natives for the natives

For our native bumblebees–who don’t sting by the way– they need native plants to thrive, making life in the city harder for them than their European honeybee cousins. Imagine looking over a sea of blooms with an empty bumble bee stomach and not being able to enjoy any of them. Adding native plants to your garden or local landscapes is an important way to help native bees and insects thrive. There is a comprehensive list of bumble bee friendly native plants for west coast gardens. These are a few that I’ve been adding to our place to show some native hospitality: heather, common bearberry (kinnikinnick), huckleberries and (coming soon) red flowering currant.

bee-suits

Enjoy communing with your fuzzy little bee friends and do take the time to see if that bee buzzing on the blooms is a honeybee or a bumblebee. There is a wide diversity of bumblebees that come in colours and stripes that depart from the yellow and black stereotype.

If you’re in Vancouver, you can also get a guided bee field tour (and much more) June 8th at the Strathcona Garden Fair. And no matter where you are keep an eye out for urban honey bee hives. Beekeepers are notoriously happy to talk about their tiny friends.

See you next week!