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CSA Survey

Hello blogging world,

As part of my UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture, I am completing a farm business plan, and I need your help!

I have put together a (very) short survey that will help me build my marketing plan. Please take 5 minutes to complete this totally anonymous survey.

If you can complete it before Sunday, October 27, that would be fantastic.

Thank you very much in advance! Please forward to anyone you think might be interested in completing it, the more input I can get, the better.


Field Trip to Pemberton

Our little team set out on an adventure – an overnight trip to beautiful Pemberton! We set out early Friday morning June 7, and had a chance to visit 3 small organic farms in the Pemberton Valley.

Rootdown Organic FarmPemberton 011

Rootdown Organic Farm is run by Simone and Sarah, two UBC farm practicum grads, who manage about 2 acres of mixed organic vegetables, raise 20 pigs, about 100 chickens, and now 2 lambs. This amazing little farm grows a huge variety of crops in a fairly small space, and maximises the use of the land. What is so inspirational about these farmers is they are so relatable for us practicum students – just a few years ago, they were like us, learning about farming, and now they are running an increasingly successful business. They have a 40-share CSA, sell to restaurants in Whistler, and at farmer’s markets. They have experimented with different irrigation methods, using groundwater, river and ditch water, and learned from their experiences.

Their pigs are an interesting project. They started a few years ago with just 2 pigs, for their own meat consumption, and learned a lot about pigs, who are very smart, through a few mishaps and escapes, and how to use electric fencing to keep them where they are supposed to be. Now up to 20 pigs, they give these guys a great, free life in a part of the field, before they are sent to the butcher to become meat that has been pre-sold as half-pig shares.

The best quote from Simone as to why she loves farming: “It’s never boring!”





Helmer’s Organic FarmPemberton 020

The lovely Helmer family runs Helmer’s Organic Farm, where they grow 7 acres of organic potatoes a year. Each piece of land is left to grow cover crops for 4 years, building soil structure and fertility, then tilled and planted with potatoes for just one year before being cover cropped again. They grow 18 varieties of organic potatoes, 8 that no one else grows, choosing for taste and variety, not only for hardiness or ability to grow well.

Being so well established in the area, the Helmers have worked for a long time with other potato and seed-potato farmers in the area, to convince them that organic farming doesn’t mean there will be an increase in pests and disease in the area. This was an important learning fact for us – as organic farmers, I think it’s easy for us to get on our high horse, believing that ours is the “better” way of farming. But it’s important to remember that we will, for the foreseeable furture, be working side-by-side with conventional farmers, and they have a lot to teach us, and that we can work together to ensure that all of our farms benefit.

Potato field

Potato field

Ice Cap OrganicsPemberton 033

Ice Cap is another family run farm is run by a husband and wife team, Aleasha and Delaney, assisted (?) by their 1 and 3 year old children. They cultivate 7.5 acres, half owned, half leased, growing a wide variety of crops that they sell in 60 CSA boxes and at 3 Vancouver farmer’s markets, as well as some sales to local stores. They told us about the benefits of selling at a farmer’s market, including the ability to get direct feedback from customers, and having the ability to sell what you grow, whether it’s a large or small amount. They told us about the farmer’s market system, which is seniority based, which can make it hard for a new vendor to get in. Often, new vendors start by going every other week, and get the less-than-prime locations, but can work their way up to better spots.

They have learned, at Ice Cap, the costs of over-tilling with tractors, which can turn fertile soil into dust, and have cut back the number of times they work a field. Not having enough land to leave some fallow for a season, they do their best to keep the soil fertile with amendments and reduced tilling.

Beautiful Pemberton

All of these farms are set in the beautiful, fertile Pemberton Valley, which is known for its seed potatoes. The small town centre boasts an organics grocery store, and Mile-One restaurant, where meat is from the Valley – although frustratingly, all livestock must be processed at a facility in Chilliwack, so in reality, a one-mile burger may have grown up close by, but still traveled a ways. The dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains on all sides is breathtaking, and I fell in love with the valley. The soil is rich, built by fluvial and glacial deposits, and not nearly as rocky and sandy as the UBC Farm soil.

We spent the night camping at Rootdown farm, being eaten alive by mosquitoes and sharing an amazing potluck dinner. After a morning of weed blitzing at Rootdown – an extra 12 pairs of hands can do a lot of damage to the weed population in a short time – we headed back to the city, stopping for a tour of the Squamish farmer’s market on the way.

Tent set up at Rootdown

Tent set up at Rootdown

Potluck feast

Potluck feast

Sinking Politics

I’ve recently attended two events addressing sea level rise due to climate change, bringing together experts and municipal government representatives to discuss adaptation strategies.

Sea level rise is scary, no matter how you look at it. The most conservative estimates say 1.2 m in 100 years – others are much more draImagematic. In any case, it will translate into a lot of flooding, storms, and billions of dollars being poured into infrastructure. There are climate change adaptation teams on municipal councils.

So what’s baffling me is this – how is it that our local governments are acknowledging this and making moves to adapt to it, and yet our federal government is pouring money and energy into propping up, encouraging, and enabling the fossil fuel industry, making it ever easier for them by removing legal and administrative barriers.

It’s like one parent agreeing with the doctor that their child has severe obesity related illness, and the other parent actively encouraging the kid to consume cakes, soda and chips, telling the kid that it’s good for them.

The contradiction for me is frightening and maddening. Today, when an ad on the CBC came on for the Canadian Government Economic Action Plan (note: comments are disabled. I guess they don’t want anyone pointing out anything controversial). In the ad, they tell me how we are developing our natural resources in an environmentally sustainable way. The only word that pops into my head is propaganda. What else can it be, when the government tells us one thing, but we know that scientists are being muzzled, and broad sweeping changes are being made to regulations to reduce environmental protection. Our government is joining a very unpleasant list of governments that wants its citizens to believe one thing, when the reality is quite different.

I’m angry. I’m angry that my own government is selling out my future and that of future generations in the name of economic development. I’m angry that our electoral system ensures that my voice is not heard. All the money we’re making off the tarsands development better be going into a pretty good savings plan, because Hurricane Sandy will not be the last major disaster to hit the Western world. We’ve been watching it happen to poor nations for a long time, but now, we’re going to reap what we sowed.

Northern Road Trip

Everyone needs to take a vacation every once in a while, and that time of year rolled around for me this month. I’m the type of person who wants a nature holiday – give me 2 weeks camping outside of cell phone and internet coverage area to recharge my batteries. I’m also an adventurer, and after years of living overseas, I am eager to explore more of my own country.

This year, M and I took a long-awaited road trip way up north, to the Northwest Territories. And what an amazing trip. The farther north we went, the longer the days got, until it never quite got dark (challenging to sleep in a tent when the birds outside keep acting like it’s the middle of the day). We stayed in and around Yellowknife for nearly a week, exploring the city and the surrounding nature. I loved the pace of Yellowknife – the speed limit is 45 km/hr, and people actually drive that. No one seems to be in a rush, everyone is super friendly, and everything is close by. We went on lots of small hikes and nature walks, planned with the help of a blog called Life in the Knife.

No doubt, the highlight of the trip for me was the wildlife. I am in no way a newcomer to camping – I’ve grown up camping with my family in provincial and national parks, and have done several back-country trips. And yet, I seem to have not encountered any of the Great Canadian wildlife – bears, beavers, elk and moose, those symbols as renowned as the maple

The only brown bear, still a member of the black bear family.

leaf, have eluded me. Well, no more. Although the first few days yielded nothing but deer – even tho M guaranteed me that there would be herds of elk through Jasper, they all fled the rain – this trip brought 28 black bears (luckily all seen safely from the car), including 2 cubs and a brown bear, 4 moose (including 2 calves), herds of wood bison, stone sheep (like mountain goats) and deer, a few coyotes, 2 foxes, a muskrat, beaver and porcupine.

I firmly believe in reducing our carbon footprint, especially on vacations, and I am aware that my 6000+ km of driving was not the most earth friendly of vacations. But I also believe that as an environmentalist, it is important for me to go out there, and connect with the animals, plants and people living in different places, because we are all in this together, and we have to remember what we are fighting for.

I’ve given a brief outline of places we went below, and my recommendations, for anyone planning a similar trip.

Stop 1: Monck Provincial Park, outside Merritt BC – quick stop, but nice enough, on a lake. Deer visited the site in the early morning hours.

Up close and personal with a moose in Liard River hotsprings

Stop 2: Mount Robson Provincial Park, BC – great, quick hiking trail to see the stunning Mount Robson and surrounding mountains. Worth a stop, even if not camping.

Stop 3: High Level, Alberta – really not much throughout northern Alberta, so just kept driving til we couldn’t drive any more.

Stop 4: Louise Falls, NWT – nice enough campground, with a nicely kept trail that goes between the 2 sets of falls (Alexandra and Louise) and down farther along the river.

Stop 5: Fred Henne Territorial Park, Yellowknife, NWT – great campsite for being pretty much in the city. A bit overly crowded and noisy on weekends, with teenagers walking through the campground. We stayed at one of the tenting sites removed from the parking area, which was great, good views, and decent privacy.

Stop 6: Prelude Lake Territorial Park – crowded with ATV riders and motor boaters on the weekend, with RVs running generators, which is rather annoying. But completely cleared out on Sunday. Beautiful views, has walking trails at the site and is close to the stunning Cameron Falls. Again, stayed at the walk-in tenting sites, which is very much worth it.

Stop 7: Blackstone Park, near Nahanni park – mosquito filled (even more than everywhere else), super friendly host (maybe because we were the only visitors?). Accessed through a very muddy (after rains) gravel road on the Liard trail. Good place to stop on this route.

Stop 8: Liard River Provincial Park and hotsprings – great place for hotsprings, which do not look like a swimming pool (in case you’ve seen the ones at Radium -boring!). Along the Alaska highway, which is stunning and full of wildlife, it was worth the side trip.

Stone sheep, who like to hang out on the most dangerous parts of the highway

Stop 9: Andy Bailey park, outside Fort Nelson – not a bad place, quiet, but not much in the way of maintenance. But good for secluded campground on a quiet lake.

Stop 10: 10 Mile Lake, outside Quesnel – nice enough place, but quite big and seems like it probably gets really crowded once school’s out. At least it had showers, though – we’d gone without since Prelude!

Stop 11: Home. The plan had been to stop around 100 Mile House, but it was stormy, and it’s not much fun tenting in the rain, so we just kept going down the Fraser Canyon to get back to Vancouver, through the flooding, stormy and occasionally power-outaged Fraser Valley.

Blogging for Non-Profits

The 12 weeks of my social media course, with the different blogging assignments and tasks, have given me a little bit of insight into the world of blogging. Given my blog focus, it has helped me learn a bit and explore how non-profit organizations can use blogging to good effect. The best blogs in the environmental sector provide timely and useful information to their readers, offer tips and advice for taking action, and empower  people to become advocates.

Providing information

The best environmental blogs that I’ve found so far are the ones that provide the kind of information I’m looking for, whether that’s learning how to start a worm compost or wondering what a good alternative to dry cleaning is. These are great because I usually find them when searching for specific information I need, and blogs usually offer a personal touch, like someone who has tried something in particular. With so many questions about different environmental topics, blogs are a great way to get the perspective of someone else who has had the same questions.

Tips and Advice

There are lots of blogs out there offering great tips and advice to people looking to make a green move. For many people who want to lead a greener lifestyle, the hardest part is figuring out where to start and how to do it. The Clean Bin Project is a great resource for all kinds of waste reduction tips.

Empower People

With sustainable lifestyle changes, as with anything else, people need to feel empowered in order to be able to accomplish anything. The two points above help people to feel that they can make actionable changes in their lives, and this kind of empowerment leads to more long-lasting change.

I think, in this sector, blogging is a very powerful tool that is already being used widely to connect the environmental movement. And as a field that always changing, it can only benefit from more people joining in the conversation, and organizations in this area can harness this to position themselves as experts and resources, for the benefit of all.

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. I hadn’t really thought about World Water Day specifically before, but when I was listening to my daily BBC podcast today, I was rather surprised and frustrated when their mention of World Water Day was accompanied by a story about a man who turned his life around through the sale of bottled water.

I’m pretty sure bottled water is high on the list of bad for water issues. See my favourite video (yes, I’ve posted it before).

Water is an issue around the world. Here in Canada, we are blessed with ample, clean water. But many people take this for granted. Canada is 2nd only to the USA for water wasting. And apparently the Canadian government has decided that we don’t need to worry too much about protecting our water. On an individual scale, I see people every day who leave the water running while they scrub their one plate in the office kitchen, or who turn the washroom tap on full blast, leaving it on while they dry their hands with a paper towel, just so they can turn the tap off with the towel. (Don’t even get me started on the germ-phobia around here… but maybe it’s just because I’ve lived in Africa that I’m not bothered by germs. I also don’t get sick these days nearly as much as most people around me. Go figure.)

For the 6 months that I lived in rural northern Cameroon, my house, though built for it, did not have running water. I would pay my 8 year old neighbour to take my 2 40L water containers on his cart to get drinkable water from a tap about a couple blocks away, and hauled my non drinking water out of the compound well. Which was perfectly fine, I’m not complaining. And for a year, I lived where I had running water, but it would mysteriously be shut off most days between 8am and 2pm, and often all weekend. It gave me an appreciation, though, for how lucky we are to turn on our taps, and have clean, drinkable water come out at any given time. Can you imagine your water just being shut off for the day?

Next time you flush the toilet, just think about how much water (drinkable water, no less) just got used. Or when you leave that tap running for 2 minutes just waiting for the water to be cold enough to drink, think about that. If you just think about it, consider it, then next time, chances are, you’ll make more of an effort to conserve.

Water is not infinite. It’s worth taking care of. Where would we be without it?

Waterfall near Whistler, BC.