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Rethinking Weeds

The farm is bursting with growth and food right now, but when visitors look around they tell me all they see is weeds.

What is a weed? It’s a plant…just in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the farm, we spend a lot of time pulling out these weeds because they crowd out our tenderly loved and cared-for crops. Weeds compete with our veggies for space, sunlight, nutrients, and water we were hoping would make our kale big and leafy and carrots long and sweet. But amongst the weeds, there is food and medicine, flowers for pollinators, and homes for critters. Do you think weeds are friends or foes?

Forage for edible weeds

Weeds are surprisingly delicious and nutritious! Our Edible Weeds Field Guide can help you identify some common weeds you might find in your neighbourhood in Greater Vancouver, including plantain, dandelions, chickweed, and more! The guide is just a starting point. It includes sustainable foraging guidelines and an Edible Weeds Bingo card you can bring as you go looking for snacks. Bring a plant ID guide, phone app, or mentor, such as a farmer or gardener, to help you start recognizing local weeds. iNaturalist is a good, free ID app to identify unknown plants and contribute to citizen science research. Please forage responsibly!

Edible Weeds Field Guide

 

Make a Transect Map

 

Get up-close with a weed. Explore how it’s connected with other living and non-living things around it. Using string, mark out an area to observe, called a “transect”. Like a field biologist, record and map out your observations within the transect. What do you notice? Try observing multiple different locations, from a field to a crack in the sidewalk.

Transect Mapping Activity Guide

 

Wanted Weed Poster

Weeds wanted! Create a “wanted poster” for a species of weed. Draw and label characteristics of the plant at different life stages to help other people identify it. Your wanted poster may be alerting people that this weed is bad and should be pulled out. Or, you may want to alert the public about how great this weed is for food and medicine! BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation’s (BCAITC) lesson plan has great background information, a field guide of more common weeds, and suggestions for creating your poster.

Gardening’s Most Wanted Activity bt BCAITC 

Invasive Aliens

Some introduced plants are so good at damaging our native plants and ecosystems that they are called “invasive aliens”. They often are quick at reproducing, have few predators, and are great at living in their new home. These are plants to fear! In Suwa’lkh forest, we spend a lot of time with youth every summer removing Japanese Knotweed, English Holly, Himalayan Blackberry and English Ivy. By the next summer, they’re all back again. Himalayan Blackerry’s fruit is delicious and flowers great for pollination, but this plant takes over large fields and stream banks, and is nearly impossible to remove.

There are lots of great interactive games and fun books to learn about invasive alien plants and animals in British Columbia. Or, if you’re looking for experiential learning about invasives, look for a local ecological restoration volunteer program near you.

Invasive Species Games & Activities by Invasive Species Council of BC
Book “Aliens Among Us” by Alex Van Tol 

Rainbow Rolls and more recipes!

What’s for lunch? There is lots of meal inspiration in and amongst our sidewalks and yards. Try adding weeds to create a delicious rainbow roll. Children at our summer camps love this version of a fresh spring roll! They also love dandelion fritters with honey for dessert. Do you have other favourite ways to eat or drink weeds? Share them in the comments section!

Rainbow Rolls Recipe Card
Dandelion Fritters Recipe Card

Do you think a weed is always a weed? What do you do with weeds?

 

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date November 1, 2021

Of course, the day that I need to sit inside and hammer out a blog, the sun decides to shine and the sky is bright blue. At least I don’t have to squeeze into my mud-soaked raingear today, which is the norm this time of year. 

Reading back on last month’s blog, the goals I set for the farm seemed realistic and intuitive. Alas, this is not how things usually go. Piper, Galen and I went out to Delta to lend hands in planting their garlic and clearing out the high tunnel. We had the intention to harvest the seaweed that was washed up on the beach out there but a storm blew it all away. We also had intentions to piggyback on Delta’s compost pile but ran out of time tying ristra peppers from rafters so couldn’t shovel it into the truck. This all translates into later planting and mulching dates, and more days in transit between locations. 

Galen and I did get our garlic planted at Van Tech: 4 X 45 ft beds (not ten, like I imagined) to mature into big heads of Russian Red Garlic. Amendments we used were compost and river sand, sul-po-mag, and blood meal. We mulched with 6 inches of straw and will add seaweed when it washes ashore in Delta again and we have time to harvest it. We messed around with the spacing a little bit but ended up with 3 rows per bed, intermittently planted (laid out in a posts-and-windows pattern) 6-8 inches apart. It’s important to make sure each clove has 3-4 inches in every direction so it has space to expand its roots and get juicy. That means we planted about 1,000 cloves in these four beds. We also installed 3 X 25-ft beds at about 4-inch spacing for green garlic, which is like a delicious, garlic-flavoured leek harvested in the spring. For this purpose, we used the smallest cloves and some bulbils (garlic flower-produced seed). I’m excited to see how they turn out — I’m expecting thin, single-cloved, tender stalks that we will bunch for our CSA in 2022.

Although our markets and CSA are done for the season, we still have brassicas and chicory producing tasty cold-sweetened shoots. Japanese Sweet Potatoes were dug, and about 200 pounds of sunchokes are looking for homes. We are using these veggies to supply special events like the Indigenous Family Gathering at VanTech and to fill the food boxes for the South Van Neighbourhood House food hub. I’m also hustling a bit to get whatever bits and pieces I can into East Van Farm-to-table restaurants like Ugly Dumpling and Dachi Vancouver. If you’re a restaurant nearby and want to purchase veggies from us, get in touch with me!

Fresh Roots’ Field Lead, Piper, has now finished their contract for the season. I am so grateful for the positive vibes and enthusiasm they contributed this season. What a gem of a human that I’m sad to see go. I’m sure they will continue to charm whatever workplace or schoolroom they enter. This also means it’s up to me, sometimes Galen, and hopefully volunteers to finish up winterizing the farm. There are a lot of plants to pull and plastic to cover our fields, so any help from any supporters or *ahem* readers would be cherished. I promise to give you kale!

Now that I’ve enjoyed my hot lunch and written about garlic (was that really all I did in October? Plant Garlic? Time flies), it’s back off to the fields to tear down some trellising and coil up drip lines from our irrigation system. I’m hoping I’ll get a good dose of Vit D with these sun rays. Stay cozy, friends. 

– Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date October 1, 2021

Welcome to the final month of operation for the 2021 Fresh Roots Farm Season. This month we are undertaking lots of soil TLC so we have a nice, healthy biome in the spring, ready for our seeds and transplants. The only thing we actually plant this late in the season is Garlic. This year we will be filling an entire block (that’s 10 x 45ft beds) with lots of juicy amendments then planting the whole area with Russian Red Garlic. We’ll top them off with foraged seaweed and 6 bales of hay so they have a nice store of nutrients dissolving into the soil all winter until they decide to sprout up in the spring. There are a few beds we will leave to overwinter – like kale, chard, chicory, and a few other brassicas – but the rest we will amend and cover with silage for a nice winter nap. 

October is pretty solidly booked with school field trips on the farm. I’m hoping the youth will witness our system of putting the beds to sleep as a meaningful learning. It’s not just about smothering everything with big sheets of black plastic – it’s about protecting our soil from leaching and weeds all winter long so that we have an easier time in the spring. 

This month also closes out our final markets – October 13th is the last CSA Pickup as well as Market at the Italian Cultural Centre and October 23th will be the final market with VFM at Riley Park. Once our markets are shut, we clear the fields of any veggies that are left and either sell direct to restaurants or donate to local food hub programs. Right now I’m working on a partnership with David Thompson Secondary for a student-led program called the “Free Store” to get our donated veggies into students’ homes over the holidays. Otherwise we try to get our veggies into the weekly boxes at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, or the low-cost market at Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House.

Most of our fruiting vegetables have completely died back. That means no more eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, or peppers. We have some straggling last beans which is kind of shocking to me, but they’ll only last another week or two before they rot in this fall rain. Our flowers are melting off their stems while broccoli and Gailan pump out their last straggling sideshoots so we can bundle them up as broccolini for our final CSA Veggie Box. The transformation of the farm from a beautiful, buzzing production zone into a state of decay is marvellous to me. It means it’s time to slow down and introspect – and it’s so healthy to take stock of what needs work. Looking forward to doing the same for my own damn self, especially in light of this new holiday commemorating one of the Calls to Action for Truth and Reconciliation. 

With production out of the way, Piper and I will be able to focus on winterizing and tidying up the farm. I am so excited to have a clean slate this spring and looking forward to some possible new toys like a rolling flame weeder and a fancy tiller – that’s what I’m asking the Fresh Roots’ Santa for this Christmas, anyway. Another big wish on my list is for more weekday volunteers in 2022 to help us tackle weeds on a weekly basis. With changes in our programming, our SOYL participants weren’t able to support us at our site at David Thompson. This meant the farmers who are dedicated to cultivation had to divide their time between maintenance and seeding; I bet you can guess which task got priority.

That’s pretty much October for Fresh Roots’ Farm team in a nutshell – looking forward to slowing down and taking stock in the months to come. Thanks for a wonderful summer season!

-Farmer Camille

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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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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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Menu for Fresh Roots’ Schoolyard Harvest Dinner Announced

July 28, 2020 | Scout Vancouver

Vancouver, BC | With less than two weeks left to score yourself mid-August feast from some of the region’s top producers, in support of a fantastic program. From the Fresh Roots team:

For this extra-special year, we are creating summer harvest boxes filled with everything you’ll need to create a beautiful summertime meal experience to share with friends, family, or your colleagues at home or in a location of your choice. The box will include fresh and chef-prepared ingredients for a simple and delicious meal to finish at home and thoughtful accoutrements like wine and flowers for the table. Menu created by Chef Natasha Sawyer and TJ Conwi.

Funds generated from the dinner directly benefit its SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities Youth Leadership) program, which engages and empowers youth.

Menu

Amuse Bouche
Profiteroles stuffed with Fresh Roots herbs and goat cheese, accompanied by candied Agassiz hazelnuts and wine compressed figs.

Charcuterie
A meat and veggie option with either a selection of charcuterie from Legends Haul or Végé-Pâté and spreadable dips from Saltspring Harvest and pickled vegetables from Cropthorne Farm, Zaklan Heritage Farm and Fresh Roots

Main
Sous vide Organic Ocean Seafood sockeye and Legends Haul sirloin masala, Fresh Roots harvest salad, zucchini palak paneer terrine, carrot vindaloo vinaigrette, atchara relish, and wheatberries

Dessert
Summer Cheesecake with raspberry coulis from Olera Organic Farms

Beverages
Choice of a bottle of red or white wine from Marquis Wine Cellars cans of 33 Acres Brewing Company Sunshine French Blanchè beer and kombucha from Bucha Brew

Accoutrements
a bouquet of flowers for the table, cookies from Susgrainable surprises created by our SOYL youth program participants, and more.

Info and tickets: freshroots.ca/harvestdinner

https://scoutmagazine.ca/2020/07/28/menu-for-fresh-roots-schoolyard-harvest-dinner-announced/?fbclid=IwAR0GhHVWWjgqkh9lVlubtxgYR0uR5c-7-CTEw2RL9EZp17eRhb62GOVaeWs

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Fresh Roots on The Conversation Lab -Co-op Radio Vancouver

Our fearless Interim Executive Director, Alexa Pitoulis, chats about all things Fresh Roots on The Conversation Lab with Don Shafer produced by CFRO FM (Co-op Radio Vancouver). Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about what we are up to these days and how we adapted our LunchLAB in-school meal program along with our partner Growing Chefs! to offer students and families meals out of school during this uncertain time.
Vancouver Co-op Radio CFRO To learn more or to donate visit www.lunchlab.ca

Listen to “Alexa Pitoulis – Freshroots Urban Farm Society” on Spreaker.

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Norquay Park is Growing

ATTENTION NORQUAY NEIGHBOURHOOD:

The power of good food has once again bonded people together. Fresh Roots is excited to announce that we have teamed up with Together We Can to grow food in Norquay Park! This calls for a celebration- a FEAST of yummy, healthy food which will become ready for harvest in the summer. Attendees of this celebration will be: broccoli, fennel, herbs, rhubarb, strawberries and YOU! Also in attendance are some fruit tree saplings. Come stop by to watch these babies grow as they turn into beautiful flowering, fruit bearing trees.

Fresh Roots is a non-profit organization working with school communities towards Good Food For All: Everyone deserves access to healthy food, land and community. To do this, Fresh Roots cultivates engaging gardens and programs that catalyze healthy eating, ecological stewardship and community celebration. We currently have two schoolyard market gardens which grow food to be distributed to the community and sold at markets.

Fresh Roots believes in Good Food For All. As part of a community group partnership with Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute (RCFSI), Fresh Roots has agreed to support community food security initiatives in the Renfrew-Collingwood community. This awesome project at Norquay park will support increased agricultural land use while giving access to local food. It is so exciting to see our vision extend beyond schoolyard farms to the wider community.

Together We Can was founded in 1993 in Metro Vancouver and since has become one of Canada’s leading treatment centres for men. TWC’s mission is to educate and support men and families who struggle with the challenges of substance misuse and desire a new life in recovery. The charity recognizes that long-term recovery is most successful when people are provided health and wellness supports for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.

This partnership empowers men to give back to the community by growing nutritious and delicious produce.  Anyone who is hungry or needs a snack is welcome to enjoy the food grown in the park. Another awesome part of this project is it is conveniently located by the treatment and community center, allowing opportunity to reorient these men back into the community! The ultimate goal of this program is to have cross pollination by planting flowers to encourage more bees- because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder.

Together We Can do this with Fresh Roots to provide soul food for Norquay community! We’ll keep you updated for harvest news.