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at van tech 2016

Small Magic in Late Autumn

The Pineapple Express breezes through Vancouver, bringing a day full of sunshine and a tease of spring weather.

After spending lunch with the Aboriginal Youth Program at Van Tech, I was feeling very soft and charmed by the warm air. So I went outside to our Fresh Roots farms to just notice. To notice what activity, small or large, was taking place on the farm. The Kale was upright and loving the sunshine. The hoop houses looked secure. The remnants of garlic planting were visible.

Unseasonably warm, I was able to be in my t-shirt. Charlotte, our head farmer rolled up in the Fresh Roots truck, I was excited to see her because it meant I could help on the farm a little and also because I was hoping to have some company on such a warming day. And little did I know, my favourite task was the garden task of the afternoon- mulching the garlic beds.

From the truck, we unloaded free barrels of straw collected from Halloween houses (thank the spirits for craigslist!). Charlotte saw my excitement and let me have the honour of tucking the garlic babies into bed for the winter. A thick layer of straw blanketing over, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding plants. The warm golden sun illuminated the straw blanket. Charlotte and I looked at how far the straw stretched as a blanket over the garden beds, and visually estimated how many more Halloween houses we needed to contact. As we observed quietly, the aspen tree just south of the garden shed its leaves as the warm breeze blew in. A shower of amber confetti aspen leaves bumbled over the garden through the golden sun. The earth bringing us in for a warm embrace. We couldn’t help but laugh at the magic we were witnessing.

Taking time to be present, to receive the gifts the natural world is constantly offering us, to just feel the changes, can lead to pure magic.

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Fresh Roots with Cilantro Cooks!

Marc Schutzbank is transforming the school food system through educational farms on school grounds as the Executive Director of Fresh Roots. We recently sat down with Marc to hear more about his organization and his thoughts on the importance of farming education for today’s youth.

What is the mission of Fresh Roots?

Good Food For All – where everyone has access to healthy land, food, and community. We do that by growing educational farms on school grounds. The food we grow is brought into the school cafeteria and to the surrounding community.

What is your gardening and farming philosophy?

Well, you’ve heard of the 100-mile diet; this is the 50-foot diet. Imagine a high school cafeteria where the food is grown right outside as part of students exploring the nitrogen cycle or learning about organic pest management. That’s what we do on our farm.

Our goal is not to grow all the food for our community. It’s to show youth that their food is important, that growing is hard, and that we need our farmers across our country to have access to good jobs and strong markets. Our schoolyard farms are reminders to people that farms, farmland, and (most importantly) farmers matter. We salute the work of farmers and help to share the story of our food system with youth and our neighbours.

There are so many advertisements for other aspects of our food system, such as restaurants, prepackaged foods, or sauces. But there are no advertisements for greens and healthy vegetables and fruits. That’s our job, and that’s why we’re different: our farm is one big advertisement for kale and broccoli.

What types of foods do you grow in your market gardens?

We grow a schoolyard harvest to ensure that we’re focusing on food we can grow during the school year. Our largest harvests are in September and October to accommodate the school season. Here in Vancouver, it’s possible to grow all year round, and so we do. We use small hoop houses as a means to prevent freezing, and we work with chefs to identify winter hearty vegetables (spinach, leafy greens, kale, etc) that do well during Vancouver’s mild winter.

Finish this sentence… “The most innovative way that I’ve seen one of the vegetables we’ve grown served or prepared is … “

Just this summer, we made incredible zucchini pasta, dressed with a mustard pesto that was to die for. And it was healthy, and it was all grown within 50 feet of the school.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we work with local chefs to help our youth learn how to cook the food that they grow. That food is transformed into incredible burgers, soups, salads, and smoothies for the youth to eat, but also for anyone in the school community who wants to have something healthy to eat as well.

What takeaways do you want the kids who participate in your programs to remember from their time in your market gardens?

That they can do anything. These farms were literally like a moonscape before we worked with the school district and hundreds of volunteers to turn them into outdoor classrooms. Over the course of four days and with hundreds of volunteers, we transformed them into edible experiential learning classrooms. We want the youth we partner with to recognize that when they work together, they really can do anything.

How do you make your gardening and farming practices palatable to larger food growers and processors?

We always know that we are an educational urban farm. That’s really what we focus on: helping to train people and let them know that farmers in rural areas are the true heroes of our food system.

When preparing some of the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor, what are some of the most essential tools, utensils, or items that you have in your kitchen?

Our youth most are in love with the immersion blender. For commercial kitchens, they are a cross between a blender and a chainsaw. Our youth make jams and sauces as part of a social enterprise that they develop and run. Through that work, the youth are able to support themselves, which for many of them is crucial to their success in and out of school.

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Fred UnLEEshed!

Fred UnLEEshed: Sept. 19, 2017
Fred Lee highlights Fresh Roots, the Pacific Autism Network and Chinatown BBQ

Fred Lee / Vancouver Courier
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 06:00 AM

FARM TO SCHOOL: Combining urban agriculture, local food and education, Fresh Roots is an innovative program seeded by three friends who have a passion for gardening. In 2009, Gray Oron, Ilana Labow and Marc Schutzbank wondered how much food they could grow for their friends and East Vancouver neighbours. A lot, it turns out. Their backyard experiment was soon full of vegetables, and Fresh Roots was founded. Soon, more gardens sprouted. One shared a fence with a local elementary school garden that had grown into disrepair. The principal asked the three friends if they might be able to help. They would eventually transform the grounds into an edible schoolyard and educational farm enabling hands-on lessons on farming, food and nutrition. Today, the educational farms are located in three school districts — Vancouver, Delta and Coquitlam — with more than 5,000 students visiting Fresh Roots fields annually. The produce grown is sold to school cafeterias, restaurants and local families. In the summer, Fresh Roots employs high school students to garden and sell the food at farmers’ markets. Fresh Roots, which recently earned charitable status, hosted its Schoolyard Harvest Fundraising Dinner at David Thompson high school to raise awareness and support for the school market gardens. David Thompson is home to one of the educational gardens.

To read online click here.

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East Van Press Fest

I’m impressed to suggest that this year’s fall fest, is just around the bend.
It’s hardly a jest, I must confess, we have so many apples it almost offends
But not quite. It’ll be all right – if only you bring us your bottle.
We’ll fill it up quick, with cider that fits, you’ll have to carry it home with a waddle.

What: A Free apple pressing extravaganza. Join your neighbours in celebrating the harvest. Try your hand at pressing local apples into sweet cider and take some home!

Where: Vancouver Technical Secondary School (at the farm near the tennis courts) at Slocan and Broadway. Here’s a map.

When: Sunday, October 16, 2016 from 11-3

Who: All are invited. Bring your family, bring your friends and BYOJ Bring your own jar to help take home the cider.

RSVP

Brought to you by Mother Nature and a few simple machines

Thanks to: The Vancouver Foundation & Neighbourhood Houses of Vancouver (Small Neighbourhood Grants) Duncan’s Backyard Henhouses, Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society, Homesteader’s Emporium, and all our wonderful volunteers

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Learning Food Skills at Norquay Food Hub

The kitchen of the Norquay Park Food Hub was bustling with activity on the evening of Tuesday, August 16th as families from the Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute worked together to make healthy and delicious snacks to share. Although the group whipped up several tasty treats including tuna wraps, no-bake energy balls, banana ice cream, and peanut butter-celery snacks, the homemade hummus really stole the show!

RCFSI is currently hosting the Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Program. Participants came together in early July and expressed interest in picking up new recipes that would be good for their children’s lunch boxes. We used lettuce, apples, peppers, carrots, strawberries and garlic from the farmer’s market. The children were more than ready to peel, chop, and mix the ingredients together.

At the beginning of the workshop, families shared their experience in putting together healthy treats for their children after school. Some prefer celery and apples while others enjoy homemade sushi. As a result, it’s important for us to recognize that nutrition can be approached in so many ways by different families. We look forward to learning more about the wide variety of healthy snacks that can be made in different cultures!

– Cassandra Ly, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute

 
foodworkshopfoodworkshop2

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You’re invited – Aug 19 Garden Build at Norquay Neighbourhood Food Hub

Get your gardening and snack on!

We are so excited to Grow Norquay’s Garden with our Norquay Neighbourhood Food Hub community partners Collingwood Renfrew Neighbourhood House and the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project.

As part of the Vines Arts Festival on Friday, August 19th, join us from 6-8 pm – learn how to grow Good Food at home and help us build a garden. So get your gardening gloves on, and get hungry – we’ll show you how to start some seeds and share a salad!

Location: North West corner of Norquay Park, 5050 Wales St, Vancouver

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Season of Pruning and Trellising

On leaving room and creating space.

On pruning and trellising.

On learning about learning.

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“They’re called ‘suckers’ because they suck energy from the plant. Also because they just suck.”

(Gaelan, teaching a friend’s little sister about what he calls “the theory behind why we prune tomatoes”.)

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Aaaaand… we’re back!

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Well, it’s been awhile, huh, Fresh Roots cyber land? I’ve missed you guys! I’ve been out ‘n’ about since the end of my Schoolyard Farm Internship last season, immersed in the good things of academia, and family, and such. I’ve been back with the Fresh Roots family, in a slightly different role and capacity. This growing season, I’ve been gardening with a group of students at Windermere Secondary School, growing food together and selling it at a weekly summer market stand! (Shameless plug: We’re at Collingwood Neighbourhood House every Tuesday from 11am – 2pm in July and August. Come say hi!)

On paper, I am a garden coordinator. The #Windermeregarden crew is amazing in many ways, of course gardening being one of them! My job is to support them in that. In the beginning days (sometimes now too) I wondered to myself, “What does that even mean?? look like? feel like? taste like?”  “How does one ‘coordinate’?” “Empowerment is a great word and all, but how does one walk in it, practically, in the everyday kinda things that the inspirational speakers don’t have time to talk about?”

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In the process of all this new learning, messing up, adapting, and becoming… My hands, they still get to work the soil, plant seeds, and yank out weeds. My head, often is in a buzz and bubble of uncertainty-laden AHHH!-moments, but so too soul-happy Ahhh 🙂 -moments. My heart, oh my heart, is continually being nurtured and challenged to grow into new capacities, to hold onto peace, to allow and embrace processes of pruning.

Tomatoes.

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The very first thing I grew tried growing. I have a pair of handmade earrings (yay for sculpty clay!) that are tomatoes, in honour of that life event. The poor tomato plant weathered a couple bad storms, got bushy beyond recognition, and tried with all its might to have its measly fruit survive. Granted, we got a handful of cherry tomatoes off of it. But, indeed, it was a sad plant.

And then the students at Windermere teach me about pruning. Brave new world.

This season, we’re growing A LOT of tomatoes at Windermere. Tomato pruning has become a regular thing for us. Heart-level, I’ve been reflecting on how this new role as a coordinator/facilitator involves a lot of pruning, but also trellising. There’s the oft-times stressful process of having my mindsets re-adjusted, my words revised, to honour, empower and leave room for student learning and leadership – pruning. But then there’s also the support of a string or a stake that helps hold me up, helps guide my stalks and arms as they reach up higher – trellising. In this role, I am supported, encouraged, and enlivened by the Fresh Roots team, by the neighbours who visit our market stand, by the students who never cease to come up with witty veggie puns, and naturally and effortlessly create a culture of creativity and good times that I love being in.

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It’s a season of pruning. It’s a season of trellising.

And I am still learning. So much.

On letting go, on balancing to-do’s and to-play’s, and fostering farming and fun. On letting old perspectives and boxes be pinched and pruned away. Leaves and suckers – endless task lists, overbearing efficiency, perfectly executed plans. Some things can (and should) be held with an open hand, so that we can focus on growing and maturing the fruit – student ownership and leadership, confidence and creativity, skills and silliness, joy!

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Well, perhaps some of that had some semblance of sense and logic. I’m not too sure yet what shape this 2nd iteration of “Hands, Head, Heart” will take on, but I hope you will join me in reflecting on the roles that we play in our communities, and in the diligent work of pruning and trellising tomato plants – in our garden beds, and in our minds and hearts and relationships.

Before I sign off, some scribbles from a day back in the spring, when all this first began. Such is the tone of this season, I think… to hit those low notes.

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March 15th, 6:40pm. On the bus heading home from the garden.

If I were to describe what I’m learning in one word, it’d be this:

Humble.

Be humble—always ready and attentive to learn, change, shift your mindset. Quick to listen, and slow to speak (or instruct, or suggest). Know and be ok with knowing that you know not everything, that you do need help, that you need encouragement, and support, and a community to grow in. And know that it’s a good thing, this not-knowing-it-all-from-leaf-tip-to-root-end, that you need not burden yourself with aspiring for perfection and clear lines in all that you do, in all that it feels others depend on you to do, and do well.

“It’s important not to let perfect take away space for just okay.” (- quoted loosely from Marc Shutzbank)

Sometimes just okay is okay.

Sometimes it’s better than perfect.

Because in those spaces there’s then room to grow, nuggets to dig up, and reason to reflect, and think, and enjoy the loopy jaddegness of swirly lines.

On paper and in planting rows.

Through the avenues in my mind that new neurons fire through,

Excited by novelty.

 

When I feel that I’m a hopeless bumble, it’s really just good times to practice being

Humble.

The SOYL Experience (so far)

This is the second week of SOYL and I’ve been having an excellent time! Throughout the program so far, I’ve made new friends and also got to learn more about gardening and farming. I hope further in the program I’ll be able to enhance friendships and create new ones that will hopefully continue once the summer is over. It’s going by so quick! One of my favourite parts of SOYL right now would probably be the harvesting days at the Fresh Roots farms at David Thompson & at Van Tech. So far I’ve been able to harvest some Swiss chard, some arugula flowers, and white icicle radishes. At David Thompson, I find their garden exceptionally beautiful. The Swiss chard, patty pan squash, the chocolate mint make me extremely happy because it’s so awesome to see an urban farm at a school in action and of course seeing the delicious fresh produce that’s organic as well!

My commute to David Thompson is around 40 minutes and I find myself actually enjoying it. I find waking up early and taking the bus puts me in a better mood and makes me excited for the day. As for Van Tech, I do love the space there. Since I’m part of the garden and sustainability club at Van Tech, I feel accomplished when SOYL helps out with the VT Garden Club’s beds because they’re so much better with our help! We’ve been clearing out the intense amount of weeds lately in our bush bean beds and it already looks incredibly better than before SOYL had started! I can’t wait to see what we can do to improve the garden out there this summer. I’m sure members of the club will be happy to see their garden when school starts back in September. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that they know that the SOYL crew helped out with it. 😉

A somewhat gloomy day but that doesn't mean harvesting wasn't fun!

A somewhat gloomy day but that doesn’t mean harvesting wasn’t fun! Group B harvesting swiss chard.

A challenge I find myself being caught in would be my sleep schedule. I become motivated when I am refreshed and about to start the day but I find myself not getting the right amount of sleep. I would say that I’m both a light sleeper and will wake up to any little noise, but I can become a deep sleeper when I’ve had a long day. The problem of my sleep schedule would be that after a long, semi exhausting day at the garden & farms, I always take a nap right after because I really can’t help myself! I know now that all I have to do is find something to do during that specific time so I can save it for a nice deep sleep that will for sure benefit me in the morning. I will definitely try to work on that in the following week.

I remember on one of the mornings I woke up extremely close to 9:00 and was really tired to the point of my eyes wanting to shut. Though when I got there to the farm, I felt more energized and ready to take on the long day. I think it was because of the atmosphere and how everyone was happy and excited but also seeing the positive attitude from the Fresh Roots workers and interns. I also really enjoy having beds and beds of fresh produce surrounding me because it feels organic. (haha get it?) I personally think mornings are the best times to do farm work. There’s something about being surrounded by farm land and blossoming fresh produce that makes you feel so much better! Another activity I feed off of, literally, is weeding! I find weeding a good activity to start off the day because it can be quite relaxing, unless you’re doing it for a heapless amount of time. I think weeding brings people together since it’s a good time to chat to fellow peers about life and such while of course clearing out the unwanted plants. I learned that some weeds are edible like purslane and to me it tastes like a slimier spinach but to each their own. What does purslane taste like to you?

Besides that, I’ve had a great time helping out with community eats. My crew (B) made a delicious and filling meal last week and I enjoyed it very much. We had made a stir fry, using the vegetable of the week, KOHLRABI! That stuff is honestly delicious in a stir fry with quinoa and fluffy brown rice. Community Eats is a fun way to connect with all the other FreshRoots Crew because we get to talk and share stories about the day or generally everything. One of my favourite things about community eats is probably guessing what they’re making that day. I have guessed one dish right but the rest not so close. I always guess what food they’re making on community eats days according to a) what the veggie of the week was and b) I find secret loopholes from some other fresh Roots crew who either have the scoop on what they’re making or saw them carry a certain ingredient. Shoutout to you who have given me hints! 😉

To conclude this blog post, I would like to say that SOYL has genuinely been the highlight of my summer. First because it’s basically taken over my summer but also because I haven’t had this much fun in the garden in awhile! I’ve met great people and I really hope we stay in touch afterwards. I’ve been able to take care of the school garden (at Van Tech) and I’ve also been able to see the process behind growing local and organic food on an urban farm. All the Fresh Roots crew have been so excited and it really makes you have a stronger momentum and a genuinely splendid, beautiful day. Here’s to all the SOYL days to come!

Who needs gloves? You have to touch soil to be in SOYL!

Cheers,

Julie To