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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: https://tasty.co/recipe/strawberry-rhubarb-pie). 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,

 

Vivian

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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!

AND

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

 

-Farmer Camille

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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,

Kat

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, May 1, 2021

A week into April I found myself completely transitioned from working behind a screen to my hands covered in compost, unable to check my messages. It’s awesome. This is why I farm. I love being outside, covered in dirt, with wet, matted hair. Thank Manure it’s finally time to work the soil! We direct seeded about twelve beds at the David Thompson Secondary schoolyard farm, a handful of which are now sprouting. These sprouts are destined to be the first veggies in your CSA box or your June market haul! Time to get excited!

This month, I spent about 2 out of 5 days each week fiddling around with irrigation. This time reminds me once again, how important preparation is for a smooth farm season. When Fresh Roots starts up the growing season, Gray, our Infrastructure Manager, first has to test all the lines and replace any broken bits. Any leaks (or explosive sprays!) need to be repaired before we can hook up the lines that will water our seed babies. Next, we make lists of the parts we need, place an order, and pick them up, sometimes requiring a trip out to Abbotsford. Ideally, we would have a very organized inventory of all the essential, tiny, plastic parts that are dispersed over our many sites. Fresh Roots operates over six sites across the lower mainland (and counting) so this process is a little like herding cats with a broom. 

 

Once we’ve got all our bits and bobs, we need to assemble them according to crop, asking questions like, “do we need overhead or drip irrigation;” “do we need 1, 2, or 3 lines per bed;” “what kind of emitters do we need and what’s their coverage;” etc etc. It’s a little bit like lego, which is kind of fun, but also tedious. Once everything is in working order we finally set the timers… the hardest part. The technology is not user-friendly. It’s like setting an alarm on a water-damaged watch from the ’90s: half-analog, half-digital, with about two dozen impossible-to-find settings buried under complex command chains. TBH, I’m not really sure if these minutiae are interesting to you, Dear Reader, but there you have it – irrigation in all its tiny, explosive glory. 

 

Our seedlings in the greenhouse are now fully irrigated and warm under the clear light shining through fresh panes of glass. It seems like the ideal situation, right? Wrong. Turns out a heavenly courtyard in the middle of a school is also a haven for small animals that like to chew things — namely, about a dozen trays of gorgeous plant babies. I can’t blame the animals. Who doesn’t love a sumptuous spring salad after a winter of garbage… Er, turkey? Our response was to build 6 more cages to protect our precious seedlings from grazing. It also spurred a much-needed deep clean in all the nooks, crannies, and under-the-stairs. The whole team — all departments — banded together to tackle this work and it felt so good to accomplish it together. 

 

Stay tuned next month when I’ll talk about transplants, why we do row covers and the onboarding of our seasonal staff.  

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Vancouver Technical Secondary: A Site History

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

The Experiential Learning Team started our spring Field Trip Season at Van Tech last week with four classes from Laura Secord elementary school. We really love seeing so many classes take advantage of having a farm within walking distance, and look forward to seeing even more classes in the coming weeks. (Field trips spots are still available for May and June at both Van Tech and David Thompson Learn more and register!)

While we have a lot of existing field trip options for teachers to choose from, sometimes I get to make something “off-menu”. In this case, it was a class piloting for our new grade 4-7 ‘Seed to Salad’ year-long program. I’ve been working with the teacher to develop the field trips, focusing around close observation and building connections to the farm. I wanted students to know a bit of the history of the Van Tech farm and well, a number of internet rabbit holes later, we had something really exciting to share with students, and with you!

Before colonization, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations lived on the land, around what is now the farm site, for thousands of years, living in relationship with a rich diversity of other-than-human life. Unfortunately, in the short time that I had to prepare, I wasn’t able to go deeper into the pre-colonization cultural and natural history of the exact farm site; that will have to be a separate project. If anyone has any insights, please share!

The current Vancouver Technical Secondary School building is less than 100 years old (it opened to students in 1928), yet it went through multiple builds, demolitions, and seismic upgrades before the farm was built in 2013. Equipped with maps, archival and contemporary images, aerial photographs, a history of the school written by the Vancouver School Board, and ample curiosity, we tasked groups of students to use this primary and secondary source evidence to recreate Vancouver Technical’s historical timeline.

View From the East

Check out these images, taken in ~1927, 1930, 1985, and 2021. How has the building changed? How about the surrounding area? (Check out the size of Broadway in the 1935 photo!)

View From the South

We love this image of the field hockey team from 1942 and had to recreate it. The original was taking just 2 years after girls were admitted to the school! What do you notice about the school building? What’s growing now that wasn’t in 1942?

Aerial View

This aerial photo, taken between 1942 and 1945 shows how much development has happened in the area in the last 80 years. The close-up shows the school campus. Compare those to the recent Google satellite views! Can you find the farm location on the 1940s close-up?

Students enjoyed playing detective, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and getting a different view of what was, and maybe what could be. They were amazed that just 15 years earlier, a building sat where the farm is now! Sometimes it’s hard to imagine things could be different than they are right now and easy to imagine that they have always been this way, but the history of the Van Tech farm site shows that change is happening all the time, and those amazing things can happen when we choose to make the changes we want to see!

Sources

Google Maps of the Van Tech area, https://goo.gl/maps/9yLUA44PbnhWZiUv9

Information about the seismic upgrades from Colborne Architectural Group, https://www.colbornegroup.com/our-work/heritage/vancouver-technical-secondary-school-seismic-upgrade/

Vancouver Archives, https://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/

Vancouver Technical School History, https://www.vsb.bc.ca/schools/vancouver-technical/About-Us/School-History/Pages/Default.aspx

Photo Captions

  1. 1927 Construction: Vancouver Technical Secondary School under construction. Photograph taken from East Broadway and Penticton Street on August 5, 1928. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-269. Walter Edwin Frost photo.
  2. 1930 Complete school, from the east: Front view of Van Tech taken from the corner of East Broadway and Slocan Street around 1930, shortly after the school was built. City of Vancouver Archives, Sch P14. Leonard Juda Frank photo.
  3. 1985 school from the east: Front view of Van Tech taken from East Broadway, around 1985. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 790-2078.
  4. 2021 School from East: Front view of Van Tech taken from East Broadway, April 15, 2021, by Kat Vriesema-Magnuson.
  5. Girls grass hockey team with Mayor McGeer taken on September 19, 1936. The team is standing on the fields located on the south side of Van Tech. The Girls Wing of the school, later demolished during seismic upgrading, is visible in the top middle of the photograph. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 99-4945. Stuart Thomson photo.
  6. View from the field south of the school taken on April 15, 2021 by Kat Vriesema-Magnuson.
  7. Aerial view of Vancouver and Burnaby taken sometime between 1942 and 1945. Vancouver Technical Secondary School is visible on the middle right-hand side of the photograph. City of Vancouver Archives, VLP 186.7. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.
  8. Google Satellite View of Vancouver and Burnaby, accessed April 26, 2021.
  9. Close up of Van Tech from the 1940s aerial view. City of Vancouver Archives, VLP 186.7. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.
  10. Google Satellite close up of Van Tech, accessed April 15, 2021.
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Tea Garden Build! – Experiential Learning Report

By Mia Fajeau, Youth Program Facilitator

Did you know that many of the plants and flowers that you might spot in your garden or around your neighbourhood, like Dandelion or Wild Chamomile (aka Pineapple Weed), can be steeped to make your very own teas? I’ve always enjoyed a warm cup of tea as a calming and cozy drink during rainy Vancouver winters, and really enjoy adding my own ingredients to try new flavours, soothe my stomach, or wind myself down after a big day! So, when asked to design a planter for the learning circle at the David Thompson farm, I was excited to create a space for students to discover different edible plants that they can use in their very own teas.

The idea was to create a space that can be used during camps and field trips for students to dig around in, do farm work, and to connect with the plants around them. The tea garden can be used as an educational tool to learn about the different edible parts of plants as well as to learn about and identify native plants. The planter design is called a keyhole planter, with a circular entrance at one end into the center. This shape provides easy access to the center of the garden, making it easier to plant, tend and harvest all of the plants.

We are really excited to grow plants and flowers that can be used for teas in this space because teas are a great way to experience plants’ different medicinal properties, and they just taste really yummy! Making tea on cold and rainy camp or field trip days is also a great way to help students warm-up and keep their energy high. Because so many different parts of the plant are used when making teas, a tea garden provides a great learning experience about the functions of different plant parts. It also provides an opportunity for students to get creative and make their own mixtures based on their personal taste preferences. Some of the plants that will be featured in this garden include chamomile, sage, fringecup, and pearly everlasting, the latter three of which are native to the region now known as British Columbia.

The tea garden is ready for planting – a big THANK YOU to the SOYL team who worked hard to lay down the bricks and fill the planter up with compost this past Spring Break!

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, April 1, 2021

Oh, March. Another month of prep before the busy season comes on. The idea is that the better we prepare, the smoother the tomato volcano will be… but I’m sure many-a-farmer will argue that there’s simply no way to prepare for a vegetable glut in the heat of summer. 

There were a couple of things about my job that I fell in love with this month. First is the SOYL youth alumni who joined us for Spring Break:

  • At Van Tech they tended to the sensory garden after amending our entire growing space. 
  • At David Thompson, they planted cold-hardy seeds in the learning beds, built a new bed for a ‘tea garden’ in the outdoor classroom, helped us seed in the greenhouse, and drilled together a frame for a bed in the courtyard.
  • They also collected observational data on our overwintered chard to determine what might have led some plants to survive the cold while others died (conclusion: the healthier plants had more leaves to insulate them from the cold so they survived).
  • SOYL hands distributed about 20 yards of compost over two sites, which is an incredible help for Fresh Roots farmers. Their ingenuity in observations and energy tackling the huge piles of compost left me inspired. So many great problem-solving skills were applied in the building projects, too. What a delight!

My other new love is Fresh Roots’ greenhouse. Jack, Fresh Roots Delta farm lead, and I spent many hours there this month, seeding for our Vancouver locations as well as our new farm project out in Delta, a partnership with Farm Roots. We listened to co-op radio (what an awesome mishmash of music and personalities) while we sprinkled seeds and love into every cell. Even on bitter cold days, the greenhouse is nice and cozy, especially nestled in the courtyard at David Thompson Secondary. In this little oasis, the resident hummingbird screams its electric Tarzan call atop the huge magnolia tree and there are a couple of ravens that visit, often circled by angry crows. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this space is in the middle of the city.

-Farmer Camille

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How Do You Connect with Nature?

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

As I write this, Vancouver has snow on the ground, and where I’m staying right now in Tacoma, Washington we had snow yesterday. But spring is basically here, and if you look closely you can see it all around. I’ve been watching the leaf buds on the hydrangea outside my window swelling for a few weeks now, and just in the last day they’ve started to open up. The leaf buds on the Japanese maple and the neighbor’s plum tree are big enough to be visible from a distance. It’s not just the plants that are telling me spring is here. I’m very much not a morning person, but for the last few days I’ve been waking up before my alarm because there is light coming into my room before 7:00, and sunset isn’t until nearly 6:00 here these days.

We hear about connecting with nature, and how great that is for our physical and mental health, but how do you do that

  • The first, and arguably most important step, is just to notice. Look, feel, smell what’s around you. There is nowhere in the world that isn’t part of nature, so it doesn’t matter if you’re deep in the wilderness or at the top of a skyscraper. We’re all affected by the sun, wind, and rain; we all breathe the air around us.
  • The second step is to remember, so you can compare what is happening over time. Writing down your thoughts and observations in a nature journal is one great way to do this. Because I’m terrible at remembering to remember, I have a journaling app that prompts me each evening to jot down what I remember about the day, like the crocuses I saw while walking the dog, or the hummingbird that flashed his magenta throat at me. I’ve also been taking pictures from my home office window and posting them on my social media daily-ish (very -ish). It’s been a great way for me to document visually and share with others. Low tech solutions like a paper journal, or just a daily “noticing nature” check in with a family member or friend are also great!

As you get into the habit of noticing, and remembering what you notice, you can cultivate your sense of curiosity and wonderment. Resist the urge to google everything – with a little patience, the world around you may just answer your questions for you, and sitting with mystery is a wonderful practice. Today, I’m wondering how long it will take for the hydrangea to fully leaf out, and if the plum will bloom before I head home to Vancouver. I’m also wondering what the hawk that was circling the neighborhood this morning was looking for, and if it found it, and where the little birds go when it gets really windy. Maybe I’ll find the answers, maybe I won’t, but they will keep me noticing to help find the answers!

 

Happy Connecting!

 

Kat

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Farmer’s Log, Start-Date: March 1st, 2021

Hello and welcome to the Farm Team’s very first blog post of 2021! My name is Camille and I’m the new Farm Manager for the Good Food program here at Fresh Roots. I come from a  Deaf Family (Deaf parents, hearing kids) of mostly white European settler descent. Growing up on a large piece of land in what’s now known as South Surrey, the Indigenous land of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, and Tsawwassen First Nations, I was afforded the privilege of tending the soil and growing food with my family. This was where my passion for vegetables was ignited and it continued down paths of wildcrafting, permaculture, and urban farming to where I am now, here at Fresh Roots. 

 A few fun facts about me:

  • my first language is American Sign Language
  • I am obsessed with wild mushrooms
  • I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Critical Theory and Critical Studies in Sexuality. 

My combined education and experience leads to interests at the intersection of everything, like how the ‘local’ food movement can serve to simultaneously feed and exclude marginalized communities – and how breaking bread can bind us together. 

Similar to most Farmers in our region, February was a month of planning at Fresh Roots in addition to a whack of orientation for this noob to the organization. I had lots of introductions to people, programming, and technology that I never knew existed. I’ve been pouring over documents and making seed orders, planning compost deliveries, and scouring resumes to hire folks for our seasonally expanding  Farm Team. I am so excited to bring all of this planning to life. Just like a little garlic sprout, these ideas will transform into something lusciously green and delicious, and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Looking forward, we’ve got lots of stuff germinating. I just received our first seed order from Johnny’s and even got a couple of seed trays started with the help of our Program Manager, Galen. Seeding is kind of like making perogies – put on some good music, set up the trays, get a flow going, and you’re in the zone. I like to imagine all the energy in the room going into every ‘plop’ of a seed. What were Galen and I talking about and how will those words be brought to life by these plants that will emerge? I don’t care if this seems hippy-dippy. It feels good to set the scene for intention and growth in a holistic way. Other things featured this month: an epic, steamy, slippery compost dump; approximately one million zoom meetings; a gigantic, online group interview for our summer staff; and… snow (what!?).  

In March you’ll hear more from me through social media and the second Monthly Farm Report, and by June CSA Veggie Box members will be reading my weekly fresh sheet updates. Soon enough, I hope you’ll all be eating the food the Farm Team has collaboratively created. Can you taste those sweet Hakurei Turnips, yet?

-Farmer Camille