2020 Impact Report

From Alexa, our Executive Director

There’s an eagle nest at the farm site that Fresh Roots stewards with Delta Farm Roots—a farming mini-school program located on the unceded and traditional territory of the Tsawwassen and Musqueam First Nations. Perched high above in its treetop nest, I wonder what the eagle observes of us. What does it see that we can’t—in how we go about working on the land, and how we navigate working with each other? 2020 was a year that forced new ways of being, but also encouraged new points of view.

At Fresh Roots, this has meant examining what it means for our work to be regenerative. Working from a regenerative approach means to be constantly re-assessing and mindfully evolving. We already know our work is more than just growing food—it’s engaging with and building our community. With that in mind, it’s important for us to learn and listen, to become better allies, and to be stronger and louder advocates for anti-racism and justice. As an organization, our goal is to develop those values and ways of being in our team and in the youth with whom we engage. We are all training to be our own observant eagles, looking out for ourselves and each other. We’re committed to noticing, addressing, and evolving systems that were created with colonial, racist and oppressive mindsets. 

At Fresh Roots, we’ve always known the richest learnings for kids and youth (self-confidence, self-awareness, sense of belonging) have come through the medium of growing, preparing and sharing food. Our path to becoming a regenerative organization reinforces the “roots” we have been nourishing. Every moment out on the schoolyard farms is precious. We are so excited for this growing season and invite you to join us!

Click on the image below to view the report!




Hello from Norquay: Sharing is Caring

The concept of a food sharing garden was first introduced to me a few years ago, back when I was a Fresh Roots intern. I recall eating lunch in the fields with my team and talking about forests in Japan where anybody could come to pick the fruit and produce that grew in these designated areas. I remember us dreaming big – wondering if this was not only possible in the urban jungles of Vancouver, but whether this idea could be practically realized through Fresh Roots one day. We admittedly shared many musings and crazy ideas for the future of our little organization; after all, sharing is caring, and so, you can imagine my wide-eyed excitement as I first stood in the middle of Norquay Park, harvesting rhubarb in the Norquay Park Food Sharing Garden.

Perhaps you are like me and this is the first food sharing garden that you’ve been to. Our team has come up with 3 simple guidelines to get you started (available in other languages!):

  1. Find “PICK ME” signs to show what’s ready to eat
  2. Only walk on the pathways so plants don’t get hurt
  3. Take what you need AND leave some for others, too!

In addition to sharing food, we hope that the Norquay garden will be a place where we as a community can share ideas, just as I once did with the team and continue to do on our schoolyard farms. We tend the Norquay garden throughout the growing season, so come by and say hi! We’d love to hear about your plants and hear your stories as we partake in the feast of what it means to be a community.

And that’s it! You are now a sharing garden expert, so on behalf of the team, I invite you to visit the Norquay Park Food Sharing Garden. Currently, we have kohlrabi, raspberry leaves for tea, and my personal favourite – rhubarb (and more to come!)

In honour of National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day today on June 9th, I can’t wait to use my Norquay harvest in a very ap-PIE-tizing (here is the recipe for those that want to join me in the celebration: We look forward to seeing your tasty creations from the Norquay Garden as I look forward to showing you my pie and highlighting more plants that you can harvest in the next Norquay update. After all, sharing is caring.

“Pick me” – the garden,

Make strawberry rhubarb pie.

Hello from Norquay,




Community Comment: Delta continues to be a leader in farming, food education

Delta has been an innovator and leader in British Columbia in regard to educating young people about food and farming and will continue to do so

 By: Mike Schneider/Community Columnist, Delta Optimist

If you live in Boundary Bay or at the Southlands, chances are you have observed the work that has been done this spring at the Farm Roots field at Boundary Beach elementary school.

If you don’t live in the area, you should definitely make a point of checking it out. It is truly spectacular. A new hoop house has been installed, which will house our tomatoes, cucumbers and other goodies. Our super delicious Russian Red garlic field is maturing and several rows of Warba potatoes are just beginning to flower, which means a sure sign of summer will be ready for your dinner plate soon.

As usual, none of this would be possible without help from the close knit Delta farming community. The most recent assistance cane from our Southlands neighbour Seann Dory of Salt and Harrow farms who took time from his already busy schedule to bring his tractor over to till half of our field.

As most would know, the Farm Roots program was on hiatus this year partially due to the pandemic but things are shaping up to restart this important initiative soon.

In the meantime, Farm Roots has joined forces with Vancouver based Fresh Roots to manage the productive farm and the educational component via the “SOYL” program which will see some 20 odd young people working the field and gaining significant working knowledge of farming operations while being paid for their efforts.

It is undeniably important to engage young people in the food message. The food message has been taken for granted for far too long and it is time for parents, educators and the community at large to stress its importance.

Delta has been an innovator and leader in British Columbia in regard to educating young people about food and farming and will continue to do so.

You can support the ongoing effort to promote agri-literacy in our community by buying your garlic, potatoes and other farm fresh produce at the Farm Roots farm stand this summer.

Farm manager Jack Edgar is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and he will be happy to answer any questions about food and farming that you may have.

For my part, I have been enjoying watching the younger children gain an appreciation and understanding of where their food comes from and it has been, as usual, and absolute delight to watch the young farmers begin to eat food that they have been growing for the past few weeks. The look of wonder in the small faces as they harvest and eat food that they have grown themselves is immensely satisfying.

And to all the parents who have decided to grow their own at the request of their children, thank you all.

Mike Schneider is founder of Project Pickle and likes to write about growing, cooking and eating food.

Link to original article:



Farmer’s Log, Seed-date June 1, 2021

Nuts and Bolting

The nuts of farming, to me, translate to the “awe, nuts!” moments – like when you arrive one morning to your lovingly hand-reared broccoli transplants and find that they have all bolted prematurely. Riding the waves this spring – whether they were tropical hot or arctic cold – meant that a lot of our plantings behaved differently than expected. This early in the spring, when most of our planting spaces are spoken for, it’s hard to make up for failed crops without having a time machine. The effect for Fresh Roots is that we have adjusted our market start dates, and introduced a “soft-market” concept to our first week. 

That said, we did have many gorgeously productive days on site, with all our farm team recruited and in the process of all staff (22 new team members!) training over the past few Mondays. The Vancouver farm team transformed our greenhouse over the last 4 weeks from wild, gregarious, multi-shaped leaves bursting over every surface to a serene, warm oasis with tame baby head lettuces lined up in rows of green and purple. While seeding and rearing transplants is a lovely, crafty task, the prep for transplanting is everything in this process. 

Putting the Seedlings To Bed

When seedlings are ready, their bed has to be made. To start, we first have to uncover the beds that have been sleeping under silage tarps or lumber wrap all winter. If they were uncovered previously, we need to weed — sometimes for hours — before we can move on. Next, we measure and mark out each bed: 36 inches wide, with an 18 inch path. Then we wheelbarrow 3 loads of compost for every 45 foot bed, rake the compost out, and wheelhoe the bed to integrate the nutrition and fluff the mattress, so to speak. If a fluffy bed is a mattress, then consider row cover the sheets. For transplanted beds, the best way to save yourself future battles with weeds is to apply a sheet of landscape fabric to the prepared bed to prevent scattered, wild seeds from seeing the sun or getting irrigated. When we run out of fancy fabric, sometimes we create low-cost covers out of lumber wrap that we cut holes into with rickety scissors found at the bottom of cracked rubbermaid boxes. Transplants are popped into holes in these sheets, and eventually their plumage cascades over the surface, hiding the fact that their sheets are not Egyptian cotton, but rather, black plastic.  

Prepping our beds in this way not only prevents unwanted weed pressure, it also retains the nutritional quality of the soil, preventing nitrogen from being taken up by unplanned plants. Additionally, it prevents surface leaching, by blocking irrigation and rain outside of the holes we farmers have cut. In these ways, we are serving our soil as well as our crops, to minimize our nitrogen output, which also protects the environment.

We did lots of other cool stuff besides bed prep, including clover angels (who knew this was a thing?), building an epic tomato trellis, donating 14 totes of veggies to South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, and wrestling rhubarb – whose leaves I’m considering using in place of landscape fabric, maybe, to suppress weeds? Also makes a great hat during a thunderstorm. 


June will see our first CSA Pickup and Market Days – don’t miss them! 


We’ll be at the Italian Cultural Centre from 4-7 on Wednesdays starting June 2nd. We’re located at the southwest corner adjacent to the park-look for the white tents, orange signage, and basketball hoops!


Vancouver Farmers Market at Riley Park from 10-2 on Saturdays starting June 12th.


-Farmer Camille


May is a time of possibility

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

May is a time of possibility, May flowers brought by April’s showers foretelling the coming of summer’s fruits. The month dawns with the midway point of spring, celebrated by people across Europe and by European-influenced culture in North America as May Day, Beltane, or Walpurgisnacht, with festivals of flowers, fires, and celebrations marking the greening of the earth. May Day is also celebrated internationally as International Workers’ Day, a day to organize and advocate for the rights of working people, calling on us to make the world a better place for our fellow humans. 

Green is the colour of the month. The big leaf maple is a fresh, bright green, just like the new tips of the Douglas-fir. Grass and clover and dandelion and plantain mix their greens in my yard, and every bush and tree in my neighbourhood have exploded with greens in the last month. The farm, too, is becoming green. The black plastic tarps that keep our soil protected over the rainy winter are rapidly leaving, and the fresh dark earth underneath is sprouting everywhere with radish greens and lettuce greens and spinach green and pea greens. 

Flowers are the theme of the month. The last of the cherry trees are done blooming (it takes a long time to make a cherry, so they have to get started early), only to be replaced for the briefest of moments by elderflower, then mountain-ash, then hawthorn. The berries are getting in on the action, too. The salmon berries are giving their last flowers now, as they make their first fruits, heralding the coming of spring salmon back to the streams. Thimbleberries are growing so quickly from fresh shoots to large, white petaled flowers, and strawberries, too, are calling to the bees with their flowers. And on the “domesticated” front, the raspberries are about to bloom with just enough time for the first berries before the end of the school year. Last year’s brassicas – kale and arugula and horseradish – are in full flower, and the lavender and sage are close to bloom as well. Soon we’ll be seeing pea flowers (if we can restrain ourselves from eating all the pea tips). 

Kids are blooming, too. You can see it in their excitement to be outside, to run, to play, to climb, to explore. We’ve had kids from kindergarten through grade 9 out to the farms for field trips in the last week, and they are all just full of excitement, energy, and wonder at the living world they are part of. One of the things we’ve talked about this week is that humans are part of nature, too, not separate from it. We all are part of the same living systems as big leaf maples and bumblebees and raspberries. We all need the sun’s light, the rain’s water, the air around us and the earth under us. So is it any surprise that we feel May in our bodies?

I’ll leave you with a song that perfectly expresses May to me, Spring by Richard Shindell.


With joy in the possible,



Spotlight on Scientists: Sarah Nersesian & Natasha Vitkin

By Andrea Lucy, Experiential Learning Program Lead

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


Interview with Sarah Nersesian & Natasha Vitkin

Headshot of Sarah Nersesian in a lab coat, black shirt, disposable gloves. Behind Sarah is a shelf full of lab equipment, including Erlenmeyer flasks
Sarah Nersesian (she/her) is a passionate researcher who loves to share scientific knowledge through illustrations and other visual communication strategies. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Bio-Medical Sciences at the University of Guelph before moving to Kingston to obtain a MSc in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Queen’s University. Sarah is currently completing her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University focusing on exploring the impact of immune cells on tumour development and treatment responses. With her unique expertise combining scientific communication strategies with illustration and graphic design, Sarah founded Designs that Cell (DTC) in 2017. DTC has grown to a team of talented post-graduate, graduate and undergraduate students who hold advanced degrees and have experience in graphic design, science communication or illustration.

Headshot of Natasha Vitkin in a black shirt, grey cardigan. She has curly blonde hair and is smiling at the camera. Out of focus in the background is a white building and some deciduous trees.
Natasha Vitkin (she/her) obtained her MSc in cancer immunology at Queen’s University, Kingston in 2018 and completed her MPH at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby in 2020. She is passionate about using visual knowledge translation strategies to promote equity and improve population health. She is an evaluation analyst at Cathexis Consulting and a co-owner and senior communicator at Designs that Cell (DTC).


















We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

Sarah: I feel like I’m just going to say my favourite vegetable, which are brussel sprouts. They’re quite sturdy, and I feel quite stable today.

Natasha: When I used to attend Sunday school, we watched VeggieTales, and I loved Bob the Tomato. I even have a Bob the Tomato bookmark! So, I would say a tomato.


Can you describe your work? 

Sarah: We’ll start with the oncoimmunologist. It’s a cross between looking at cancer and looking at how it works with our immune system. My research looks at how a particular immune cell, called a natural killer (NK) cell, functions and helps when our body starts developing cancer. NK cells are one of the very few cells in the immune system that can recognize cancer. Therefore, I think it’s a really promising cell to look at. I’m trying to figure out what features of an NK cell would make it a good immunotherapy. Immunotherapies are different strategies that we can use to activate or enhance a person’s natural immune system. It works differently from traditional chemotherapies which have harmful side effects. I specifically look at ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly cancers in women. The women who get treated for it undergo long chemotherapy treatments that end up being very harsh on their bodies. I’m trying to find an alternate treatment by focusing on the immune system to reduce those side effects so that women can continue living their lives while they’re also getting treatment for their cancers.

Then we’ll flip over and talk about science illustration. As a scientific illustrator, I work on different projects every day. I usually communicate with scientists all over the world, sometimes clinicians, doctors, companies as well. My job is to take complex scientific ideas that they’re trying to communicate and draw it out in a way that is accessible to everybody. It’s a really cool job because I get to essentially learn about all the different types of research that is happening around the globe. It spans from looking at phytoplankton in the sea, to mushrooms and fungi, to illustrating things about cancer and very specific pathways within the cell.

Natasha: I’ll start off with evaluation! In evaluation, our goal is to make other organizations and programs run better so that they can make a difference in the communities they’re serving. I work and consult with different nonprofit organizations and government organizations at all stages of the evaluation process. Sometimes organizations are just starting a new program and they want to see what will make the most impact for their clients. Or they’re applying for funding, and they want to demonstrate the impact they’ve made in peoples’ lives, but this can be hard to do without appropriate data. In that case, I could conduct consultations with program staff and their clients to see what the program’s impacts are. As an evaluator, I’m empowering other organizations to change for the better.

In terms of science communication, I’ve always loved sharing information and giving presentations. When I was in grade six, I volunteered to give a presentation of my report even though it wasn’t a requirement! When I was doing my Master of Science degree in cancer immunology, I was trying to connect two different protein pathways that weren’t traditionally connected. I found it very helpful to have an animated diagram to show the interaction of these pathways. It was then that I started really becoming interested in communicating science. That’s also where I met Sarah. We were doing our Master’s degrees in labs next to each other. I think a diagram, tweet, or Instagram video is an innovative way to communicate science. Through Designs that Cell, I’ve continued developing my illustration and communication skills. Specifically, I focus on communicating information with lay audiences as opposed to scientists.



Sarah: Growing up, I always loved art. I grew up in a conservation area, so I was always in the woods. I ended up focusing a lot of my art on natural things that I saw around me. When I applied for university, I really wanted to apply for painting. However, my parents suggested I should focus on getting a science career, and perhaps I could do painting later on. I am happy it worked out that way because I got into research during my university time. When I was trying to communicate my research to my peers or colleagues, I was able to use my art to engage people and clarify the ideas and those complex scientific concepts. From there, I stuck on that path. During my master’s degree, I started Designs that Cell . It turns out that there are quite a few people who also really have a love and a passion for both art and science, and that is who makes up the Designs that Cell team today.

In terms of my passion for research, I, unfortunately, had to grow up watching some family members deal with women’s cancers and the harsh side effects. So, it’s always been a passion of mine to research women’s cancer. I started in breast cancer and then quickly found that ovarian cancer was a very high-need research area. It has a moniker, which is the “silent killer”. It sounds scary because it is. Women don’t end up actually showing any signs or symptoms until the tumour has already spread in the body. At that point, treatment success is very low. We don’t really have any good screening methods and the treatments that we are using are effective only for a few months. We need new strategies and treatments. Something I personally like is a little bit of a challenge, and ovarian cancer is definitely a challenge.

Natasha: I was always very science-oriented. In my undergraduate program, I specialized in cancer research. But as I was pipetting things on my prostate cancer cells for the umpteenth time during my Master’s of Science, I realized I didn’t see that as a long-term path for me. I didn’t feel like it was satisfying my desire to connect with people and help them in a more direct way. Maybe what I pipette onto my cells will lead to something in 20 years, but not in the immediate future. So that’s what led me to pursue a Master of Public Health degree, which I completed last year.

It was during my Master of Public Health degree that I learned about evaluation and took a course on it. My friends were also participating in the Student Evaluation Case Competition run by the Canadian Evaluation Society, and they asked me to join their team. We won the Canadian competition last year and represented Canada at the World Championships . After I graduated, I was looking for a job and thought maybe I’ll throw my hat in the evaluation ring. My current employer, Cathexis , was one of the sponsors of the Case Competition. I remember when I joined the team, my boss said, “I remember you from your Case Competition presentation!”. So that’s how I started in evaluation.



Sarah: With the science illustration, my motivation is being able to continue with my art in a way that is productive. I think the best example right now is in this public health epidemic where we need science communicators more than ever. Scientific illustration, I think, provides a very unique mode of communication that is a little more accessible than perhaps using some complex scientific terms in the text. When you focus on illustrations, it’s really easy to get a point across in a way that people can see and they can act upon. For example, the infographics talking about vaccine hesitancy or talking about the importance of wearing masks, we can show how that is important. We can show things that are hard to describe. We don’t see viruses travelling through the air, but we can illustrate them.

For my ovarian cancer research, I think an important thing for me is constantly engaging with patients. Engaging in activities of public outreach where I get to talk with patients, and speak to them about their experience is the best motivator for me. But I also just love the science. I love the challenge. I think every scientist says this, but I think personally, I’m working on a therapy for women in the future and I really hope that I get to see it implemented.

Natasha: I always like seeing the endpoint of my work. So for instance, at Designs that Cell, an illustration that we had worked on six months ago got published today. I’m often waiting for our images to finally be shareable and to celebrate the achievements of the author. I always enjoy being a part of that story, because often they’re communicating some really cool research.

In terms of what keeps me going in evaluation, I really enjoy working as a consultant. Number one, because it sounds super fancy. Number two, because I get to work with a variety of clients in different fields. They’re all doing really important work, but really different work and it’s an opportunity to see what’s going on. For example, I’m working on a project about STI testing among queer youth. As a gay woman, this work felt especially meaningful to me. At the same time, I’m working on a large project with a cancer control organization. That’s been interesting because I can use a bit of my cancer background and knowledge to inform my role. As a consultant, I enjoy being able to see what’s happening across Canada at different organizations.



Sarah: There are environmental risk factors when we talk about ovarian cancer. There’s also a really strong link between the immune system and what you’re putting into your body and how you treat your body. Something that is always considered in treatment is the state of the patient. We’re not just giving the same treatments to everybody. We have to consider how their body is going to react, how their immune system is.

In terms of scientific illustrations, it always relates to the bigger picture, the environment, and the world we live in. A lot of what we end up illustrating is related to climate change, and the way that the world is changing around us. We’ve done quite a few projects on how climate change is changing the ecosystems that we live in, and how that impacts the organisms that we study. And obviously, that impacts the food we are able to grow, and ultimately affects things like food shortages in the long run. We take this big picture into consideration with our illustrations. Sometimes when we end up focusing on one cell, we forgot that this one cell exists in this much larger environment. The environmental changes can impact that one cell in so many ways.

Natasha: Food systems and the environment connect most directly with my evaluation work. Cathexis has done a lot of evaluations with nonprofits working to improve food security, particularly among low-income people. A project I’m working on now is with a charity that distributes food and harm reduction supplies to people experiencing homelessness. When I work with organizations like these, I’m also indirectly benefiting everyone they serve. My hope is that if I can help organizations gather meaningful data, this will increase their funding and they will be better able to make a difference in the lives of their clients. As well, Cathexis, the evaluation company I work for, is a Certified B Corporation. We’re interested in how our work impacts the environment. Every month as a team, we look at our key performance indicators and one of them is about our environmental impacts. Pre-pandemic, a discussion that we would have is around travel, and whether the pros outweighed the cons of the carbon footprint.



Sarah: I’d just say to follow your passions. Don’t do something because you think it’s going to end up in a career or a job. Just find what interests you, find what you’re passionate about, and find a way to make that into a job. And if it doesn’t exist, then don’t be scared to take a risk and bring it into existence. There was nothing that fit what I wanted to do and so I made a company to do that. Obviously, that’s not something that you might do at a high school level, but eventually, down the road, you could. Follow your passions, take courses and participate in activities that you feel passionate about and that makes you happy.

As a woman in STEM, as a Middle Eastern woman who works in STEM, but also scientific illustrations, there have definitely been some experiences that have made me feel like I’m less than other people who might be sitting at the same table or sitting in the room. Something that I always like to say is that you definitely don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you might think of yourself as being just as capable as anyone else who’s there. You might not have the same inherent knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work towards having that knowledge. That all comes from confidence and understanding your capabilities, which is something that’s hard to have, especially as a woman, but is really important. Women are one group of that, but then of course, there are tons of other underrepresented groups. If you belong to any of those groups and you feel like you don’t belong, know you do. It’s just you might have a little bit of a taller mountain to climb than some others.

Natasha: My advice for today’s youth is to reduce the pressure you put on yourself. When I was younger, I was the kind of person who felt like if I wasn’t getting 100% on a test, then I had failed. While you should always try your best, you shouldn’t base your self-worth on how well you do on a test or an exam. Especially in my undergrad, I felt I had no time to socialize because I was always studying. But once you graduate, your GPA doesn’t matter too much. It’s more about your experiences, your skills, and how you present yourself. I would advise my younger self and other young people to just try and relax and not put too much pressure on themselves to achieve 100% all the time, because it’s not going to happen and it always comes at the expense of something else.

I would also say to be open to new opportunities because you never know what will come your way and who you’ll meet! This time last year, I never expected to be working full-time at an evaluation firm and to own a small business. Sometimes I look in the mirror and remind myself that I am a business owner. I met Sarah for the first time when I came into her lab to borrow supplies for my experiment. I never would have imagined that years later she would ask me to become her business partner! Keep yourself open to opportunities and put your best self forward because you never know what will happen.



















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Spotlight on Scientists: Dr. Annett Rozek

By Vivian Cheung, Operations Coordinator

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


Interview with Dr. Annett Rozek

Dr. Annett Rozek obtained her degree in chemistry from Humboldt University in Berlin and completed her PhD at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Her interest in life sciences led her to join the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. In 2003, she started as Senior Scientist at Inimex Pharmaceuticals, leading the Research & Development team in the discovery and development of Innate Defense Regulators. In 2011, she joined Terramera as Chief Scientific Officer, where she leads discovery and Research & Development in the development of Terramera’s Actigate™ Targeted Performance technology. Alongside CEO and Founder Karn Manhas, Annett has launched Proof® and CIRKIL®, Terramera’s initial products.


We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

I picked lettuce for today. Lettuce is a plant that keeps growing new leaves and becomes more and more complex, and since we’re talking about science, science and industry, and science at Terramera, it seemed fitting! We grow new leaves and layers all the time, and what we’re building becomes more complex and more rounded over time.


Can you describe your work chief scientific officer? 

I am leading the scientific part of our Research & Development (R&D) team. I’m also at the management level of the company, focusing on how we work towards our company’s objectives to help change the world. Terramera is very passionate about changing agriculture to be more sustainable and regenerative, and all our different projects in the company flow together towards that goal. 

One of our big goals is to reduce the global synthetic pesticide load by 80% by replacing them with natural products. With our Actigate technology platform, we’ve found a way to reduce the amount of synthetic chemicals in pesticide products which are used to treat pests and disease on plants. Developing that technology is the main thing I do every day. We continually apply Actigate technology to natural active ingredients to make them more effective, robust, and reliable. We also apply it to synthetic active ingredients to reduce the dose needed. We do a lot of experiments to further develop Actigate technology and test our hypothesis that Actigate materials help speed up and increase the transfer of active ingredients through cell membranes. We use machine learning and computational chemistry to understand interactions between molecules to predict what products will work best for an application. Then we continue to test and improve the formulation to perform well in the field

Orchestrating this whole thing is what I do day-to-day. I keep working towards my vision of perfecting the Actigate platform and creating products and applications that really help the farmers out there to do their work more efficiently and with safer materials.


What was your path to becoming chief scientific officer?

I was at a pharmaceutical startup company before I came to Terramera. We were designing peptides, the building blocks of protein, very deliberately to fulfill certain functions. Peptides are natural compounds, but similar to synthetic drugs in that they are single molecules. At the time, I’ve always viewed natural products and extracts with a little bit of skepticism because they tend to be complex mixtures of different kinds of things. As I started reading more about natural products, specifically plant extracts, I got really fascinated with what these extracts can do. I was curious about other applications for extracts other than for human medicine. It was at that time that I was starting to think about plant extracts and their use in agriculture. I realized how similar the agricultural field is to the pharmaceutical industry. In some ways, pharmaceutical discoveries foreshadow what is done in agriculture. To this day, I want to make agricultural research and development as sophisticated, effective, and successful as it is in the pharmaceutical industry. I figured out it could be really cool to apply all these fancy things we do in pharmaceuticals towards creating agricultural products. And then Terramera happened. It was almost like it was envisioned, you could say. It crossed my mind first and then I just jumped on the opportunity when I had it.


What motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

The most enjoyable part is actually seeing our products work in the field. Once it gets close to making a difference in people’s lives, that’s when it gets really exciting. When the rubber hits the road, that’s rewarding. There’s a scientific curiosity part too. It’s really fun to do all of this and work with our team. 

As I previously mentioned, it’s also very interesting to see all these parallels from different industries and be innovative. We can say, “they’re doing it like this. I’m just going to apply it here like that” and boom, I solved the problem! We can use the techniques and principles and skills of one industry and apply it to another industry very successfully. There are fundamental things that define success, and we can transfer it to our work at Terramera.


How does your work relate to food systems or the environment?

I’ve always been really conscious about the environment and how we as humans, as a society, affect the environment. We need to be very aware of what we’re doing and that we are doing it sustainably. We can do a lot of damage when we are not aware. There’s a lot of things that we need to repair or at least allow nature to repair. I’ve always been passionate about that, and it’s great that I can feed that into my work. I want to contribute to growing our food in cleaner ways than what we have been doing because it has left its mark on our environment. I’d like to find changes that promote sustainable agriculture and also regenerate where damage has been done. With my work, my main goal is to reduce synthetic pesticides. 

I have really high respect for growers and farmers. They are scientists and have such a wealth of knowledge. I learn from great growers because they really understand, steward, and care for the land. I think the agricultural technology industry and growers should be partners and work together.


What advice would you give to your younger self, or to youth today? 

Advice number one is just finding your passion. If you are aware of what excites you and what keeps you motivated, what’s driving you, or what’s getting you out of bed every morning, then you can always look for ways to work on exactly those things. Invest yourself in that and then life will always be interesting, work will never feel like work. That’s how it is for me. I made that choice early on in my 20s that I will never have a 9-to-5 job that isn’t fun. I said no, it’s 8 hours a day, and I’m going to have fun the whole time. I found what excites me and now work in that area so that I can have fun all day. 

Once you have found that, just keep your eyes on the prize. Sometimes we don’t get to where we envision ourselves right away, especially if we set ourselves big goals. But the road can be rocky, and it may not be a direct path, so don’t be discouraged. Keep your vision and you will find ways. Sometimes you need to take a detour, sometimes there’s a dead end and you have to backtrack, but as long as you keep your vision and your eyes on the prize, you will keep going towards it.


Click here to see the full list of Science Odyssey activities


Twitter: @Sci_Od

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Spotlight on Scientists: Jacelyn Shu

By Vivian Cheung, Operations Coordinator

Promotional poster for Science Odyssey. The photo depicts a person's head opening to reveal drawn science symbols, such as a rocket ship and atom. The text reads "Science Odyssey. Join the Adventure! May 1-16, 2020" To celebrate this year’s Science Odyssey, Canada’s biggest science and technology festival, we are highlighting amazing scientists from across the country! Young adult staff members at Fresh Roots interviewed inspiring individuals contributing to science, to learn more about their personal and professional journey, career, and what advice they have for youth. These scientists surprise and delight us with their unique topics and backgrounds, and the unexpected ways their work connects back to healthy food systems and a healthy environment. 


Interview with Jacelyn Shu

Jacelyn is a biologist and scientific illustrator. She completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at the University of British Columbia. She continues to be involved in the Department of Zoology as a lab manager and research technician in the Mank Lab. In addition to her managerial duties to support her lab’s research on guppies and sex chromosomes, her interests in the art and communication side of science has led her to be involved in today’s cutting-edge research through making figures for scientific publications and presentations. For Jacelyn, she enjoys translating complex scientific concepts into simple diagrams and help with turning the gruelling hours of data collection and analysis into a compelling narrative that can be shared with others in a visually appealing manner. See more of her work on her website Jacelyn Designs.



We have a tradition at Fresh Roots of starting our conversations with this question: What vegetable do you feel like today?

Today I feel like a carrot. Stubby and covered in dirt, but could still be sweet.

Doug Fudge
Gosline Lecture, UBC, 2018


Can you describe your work as a biologist and scientific illustrator? 

By day, I wrangle guppies! My lab has about 6,000 fish that I am responsible for taking care of. I also support my labmates in their research, which a lot of the time means helping with their research projects, ordering supplies, doing administrative work, or taking care of the finances.

When all this technical stuff is done, I get to do more of the fun and creative things. I designed my lab’s logo, ran a course on Adobe Illustrator, and produced a bunch of figures for the papers coming out of my lab. I also started freelancing my science illustration services, and have produced figures and illustrations for other scientists as well.

When water contains toxins, these toxins can be taken up by fish at the gills, causing a physiological cascade that results in cardiovascular collapse.
McCormick, S. D., Schultz, E and Brauner, C.J. 2021. Methods in Fish Biology, American Fisheries Society. In Press.


What was your path to becoming a biologist and scientific illustrator?

I started becoming involved in research in my third year of my undergraduate degree, and did an Honours research project in a lab that I would later continue to do my Master’s degree in. After my Master’s, I decided that I enjoyed research and wanted to stay involved but, but didn’t think pursuing academia was the right path for me.

I was very fortunate to find a job as a lab manager/research technician with my current lab and Principal Investigator Judith Mank. I’ve always enjoyed the behind-the-scenes roles, and I like being able to support my labmates with their research, watch it unfold and take form, then help to communicate the final result.

My path to being a science illustrator is a bit less straightforward and is still definitely in its earlier stages. Throughout my degrees, especially during guest lectures or research seminars, I would take notes in the form of doodles to keep myself entertained. I also learned how to use Adobe Illustrator in one of my graduate courses, and spent just as much time making my presentation figures for talks and seminars as I did on the content itself. My Master’s supervisor noticed that I enjoyed drawing sciency things, and asked me if I wanted to make some figures for his lecture material and some of his publications. I agreed, and since then, I’ve been drawing people’s science wherever I can.

(1) An experimental setup used by Yvonne Dzal. The divided chamber allows Yvonne to measure whole-body respiration and ventilation in little brown bats, contributing to her research on the effect of white-nose syndrome. This figure was recently published in a review in Conservation Physiology. (2) Another of Yvonne’s experimental setups, this one used to measure whole-body respiration. You can read more about Yvonne’s work here.


What motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

I’ve always enjoyed nature and biology, and there’s so much about the world we know, but so much we still don’t know. My favourite thing about my current positions as a lab manager/research technician, as well as a science illustrator is that I get to dip my toes into a bunch of different research areas. It’s inspiring and humbling because there’s so much cool stuff happening on the frontiers of science, and I get to play a small part in investigating the big research questions that are being asked and answered in our current day and age.

As a science illustrator, I also see the importance of what I do. I feel like so much cool and current research goes unnoticed by 99% of the population because most of us are not well-versed enough to understand exactly what it means, and there is often so much jargon and background to wade through. Simplifying and illustrating the research is a great way to make it more appealing and more easily understandable.

Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) vary greatly in colour patterns among males. In particular, two main competing selection pressures have resulted in the same colour phenomenon in multiple river systems. Downstream, high predation results in selection against bright colours that are easily seen by predators; as a result, males are duller. Upstream, there are fewer predators, and sexual selection by female choice favours more brightly coloured males. The Mank Lab studies the genetic basis for colour and sexual dimorphism in these guppies.


How does your work relate to food systems or the environment?

No obvious, direct link, but everything is connected somehow! My lab does basic research on guppies and sex chromosomes, so that is less applied than some other research like climate change or food availability, but no less important (we can discuss the importance of basic research another day). As an illustrator, I get to work with a whole bunch of different projects, but so far no food system stuff or environmental stuff yet. Would be fun though!


What advice would you give to your younger self, or to youth today? 

Success in science doesn’t have to follow the three paths of a doctor, professor, or engineer that are so often preached to budding scientists. These are great professions, but far from the only options. I would say don’t limit yourself, try different things, see what you like, and don’t try to rush the process.


from a talk given by Eleanor Caves at Evolution 2019


Click here to see the full list of Science Odyssey activities


Twitter: @Sci_Od

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Hashtag: #OdySci