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End-Of-Season Harvest Reflections

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

Halloween. Dia de Muertos. Samhain. All Saints and All Souls Days. This time of year the harvest makes way for the long cold nights of winter in the Northern hemisphere, and it’s no surprise that many cultures take time to reflect on death, decay, mortality, and those who’ve gone before. All that lives must die, to make way for what will come after. On the farm this month we’ve seen the massive heads of sunflowers go from cheery reminders of summer, to drooping, black reminders that summer must end. We’ve torn up the plants that were lovingly tended all season, and returned their corpses to the compost bin. In spring, we’ll plant again, and we’ll use compost to enrich our soils. This year’s beans and tomatillos and zucchini won’t be forgotten, though, and neither will the young people we’ve worked with this year. The lessons we learned from this growing and learning season will help next year be even better.

I’ve slowly been learning more about the ancestral traditions of my family, and especially my Finnish grandmother. In Finland, Kekri marks the end of the summer’s work and the transition to winter. It was traditionally observed whenever a household’s summer work was done. Eventually, it became standardized to November 1 in western Finland, where my family came from. Like many other celebrations at this time of year, it was a celebration of the end of the harvest, and a remembrance of the dead. The sauna was cleaned and heated, a feast was prepared, and the spirits of ancestors were invited to enjoy the sauna and eat the feast. Once the ancestors had their fill, it was time for the family to do the same. During Kekri, no one was to go hungry, and food and drink would be offered to anyone who came to the door, even children dressed in scary outfits, who would threaten to break the household’s oven if they weren’t given treats. That sure sounds familiar!

With the end of October, our “summer work” is basically done here on the Experiential Learning Team. Field trips are wrapped up, camp is long done, and we’ve said goodbye to nearly all of our seasonal staff. Now is the time for reflecting on what’s happened, looking for what should be pruned away and what should be allowed to flourish in the new year. It’s time to breathe and rest and dream of spring. And it’s time to celebrate our many accomplishments from the past year, and see what all we’ve “harvested”. So here’s a quick run down of what we’ve done this year:

  • We engaged learners from pre-K through 12 in over 11,000(!) hours of learning on the farms and in the community!
  • We more than doubled the number of campers in our summer camps, from 125 to 286, and we were able to offer five free camp spaces at our Suwa’lkh camps.
  • We hosted over 60 classes from local elementary and secondary schools on our farms for field trips, and brought the farm to over 30 classes and day camp groups for workshops!
  • We employed 8 young adults in seasonal positions, where they learned as they taught, and grew in their skills and knowledge alongside our program participants!

I hope all of your harvests have been equally fruitful this year!

In gratitude for abundance and the legacy of those who’ve gone before,

Kat

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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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2021 Stories – Summer Schoolyard Gardener

by Olivia Evans, Schoolyard Gardener

For my first term in UBC Co-op, I had the pleasure to work with Fresh Roots as a summer schoolyard gardener. As a schoolyard gardener, my main tasks included planning garden layouts, harvesting fresh produce and overall garden maintenance. Schools involved with this project included Windermere Secondary, Britannia Secondary, Templeton Secondary, Strathcona Elementary, Grandview Elementary, Laura Secord Elementary, Total Education Program, and Nightingale Elementary. This overall experience taught me not only new skills in gardening and nutrition, but also about the importance of community.

Some of the highlights I had from this summer included working with the farm team at the David Thompson schoolyard farm, and the weekly lunch cooked by the Vancouver SOYL program participants,  where we gathered together and ate outside at the Italian Cultural Centre. 

This experience was one I hope to never forget, as it allowed me to engage in hands-on learning that will continue to aid me in my studies for the future.

Work with us next summer! We hire youth (ages 15-30) each year, with job opportunities posted starting in March 2022: https://freshroots.ca/about/job-opportunities/.

Thank you Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ), Vancouver School Board and MP Jenny Kwan for supporting schoolyard farms and engaging summer learning programs for kids and youth!

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Roots of Change – Science Literacy Week Recap

Thank you everyone who attended this year’s Fresh Roots Science Literacy Week event! Roots of Change was a youth workshop in collaboration with CERBC and Algonquin educator and carver, Dave Robinson – head over to this link for the full event information and guest bios. For those who couldn’t make it out, check out our summary of what happened.

Introduction

The workshop took place at two of Fresh Roots Vancouver schoolyard farm sites – September 21 at David Thompson Secondary and September 23 at Vancouver Technical Secondary. Despite the weather forecasted for the week was going to the usual Vancouver rain, the unexpected sun served as a picture perfect backdrop against the schoolyard farms. Students came from near and far for the event. For those that attended the host school of David Thompson and Van Tech, it meant finding ways to pass the time between the school bell and the start of the event at 4:00 PM. For others, they quickly travelled across the city to make it to the workshop’s location, including youth from Lord Byng Secondary, Windermere Secondary, and even Waverley Elementary. Regardless of where each person was coming from, everyone was welcomed with the warm hug of nettle tea, crafted from Fresh Roots’ recently completed tea garden.

We had the honour and privilege to have elder and knowledge keeper, Shane Pointe, who also was the workshop guest Dave Robinson’s uncle, to lead us in a land acknowledgement to start the event. At Fresh Roots, we acknowledge that we work on this land that is not ours; our schoolyard farms are on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the sc̓əwaθən məsteyəxʷ (Tsawwassen), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), stó:lō (Sto:lo), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples. We learned and we listened as Shane passed on the stories of the land to us passed on to him from his elders – the changes to the land and how it was used, what was lost over time, and hope for the future. He ended by sharing two simple words of wisdom to the youth participants – have fun.

Cedar Carving with Dave Robinson

And ‘have fun’ we did. Student participants cycled through three activities, engaging in this year’s Science Literacy Weeks’s theme – C is for Climate. For the first activity, Dave Robinson shared with the youth one of his carving projects – a puzzle forged from a thousand-year-old yellow cedar. Prompted by his professor in the Indigenous Teacher Education Program at UBC, he designed this mathematical piece after the medicine wheel, with the cardinal directions carefully etched out to act as a compass for the new adventure we were about to take.

We learned that we were not the first to travellers to encounter this challenge. From classes of elementary students to stumping a team of engineers, the rules were simple. From memory, we were to take turns either placing a new block or removing one that was out of place, which was definitely more simple than it proved to be. Eventually, we completed the impossible but of course, not without many hints from Dave Robinson. To the brave souls that are reading this and happen cross paths with this labyrinth, here is what we learned about the puzzle (without spoiling the fun) and really, about being good stewards of our land:

  1.  We need to work together. To bring change, we need to communicate, share, and listen to each other’s perspectives to move forward in the right direction. Everyone has a part to play, whether you are putting a piece down or correcting another, you have influence.
  2.  To put the solution together, we need to take the time to understand the marks of the land that existed long before you. They hold the leading lines for us to see the whole picture.
  3. Finally, some pieces are easier to place than others. Start with what’s easy and move your way up. Pay attention to your perspective – it may seem right until you flip it over. You could be looking at the wrong side!

Regenerative Agriculture with Fresh Roots

In the second activity, Fresh Roots guided the youth to explore regenerative agriculture. In short, regenerative practices, in comparison to industrial practices, view through the lens of the ecosystem lens, where we move from a consumer to a producer perspective to bring lasting positive change. Regenerative agriculture aims to work together with existing biotic and abiotic features of the land, rather than only taking from the land, which will in turn reduce our harmful contributions and help us work towards improvements in climate change.

Our journey started by taking a walk around the schoolyard farm. Youth were immersed in their senses and curiosity as they made notes on colours, shapes, textures, and taste of the plants found in the garden beds. For some youth, they harvested and tried rhubarb, kale, even flowers for the first time! For others, it was their first time on an urban farm let alone a schoolyard farm. Youth made notes on diversity that exists in a regenerative system, from plants to insects that can be found thriving in the ecosystem.

We then took the time to visualize the differences between regenerative agriculture to industrial agriculture. Here are some things we came up with together:

  • Regenerative farms support native species, including insects like bees and other pollinators by allowing plants to flower
  • Regenerative farms find ways to improve the soil through compositing and decomposers
  • Regenerative farms reduce the amount of pollutants added to system by limiting large tractors and industrial equipment that produce heavy pollution

What other differences do you see?

Letter Writing with CERBC

The final activity involved the student leaders of CERBC empowering their peers to use their voice to bring about change to climate change. Realizing the limited and lack of climate education in schools, they turned to the power of storytelling to start the conversation. Youth were asked to reflect on questions:

  1. What is your experience with climate change? How have you been affected? What observations do you notice?
  2. How have you been thinking about climate change lately? What have you heard recently?
  3. What would a better world look like to you?

As more stories and letters get written, the hope is that more people, including politicians and policy makers, will take move towards making climate change education more accessible in schools and bring change in the way we view and approach climate change as a society.

Access CERBC’s letter writing toolkit here.

Open Letter to the BC Government

After a summer of heatwaves and wildfires, we at Fresh Roots and 200 other organizations representing 1 million+ British Columbians have come together to call on Premier Horgan and the BC government to get serious about the climate emergency. Check out the links below to learn more:

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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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#SOYLyouth 2021 – Sissi

by Sissi Han, SOYL Suwa’lkh Mentor

Hi, I am Sissi! Here is my blog post!

I chose four pictures from the album and they are my treasured memories.

I took my first picture on my way to Rochester Park. They were hydrangeas. The flowers next to a cluster of clusters, just like small pompons. I felt relaxed at that time. The flowers were blooming brightly, they were gorgeous.

The second picture is a cluster of lavender. The whole SOYL team went to visit colony farm that day and we saw a lot of native plants, fruits, veggies, flowers. Although the temperature was pretty high, I felt well worth seeing these lovely plants. I heard that lavender scents can produce the most positive, calming results.

The third picture is a container full of blueberries from the first week of SOYL market. We harvested a lot of plump, dark blue blueberries. I remembered there were bees flying around, and cobwebs between leaves and branches.

The fourth one is a photo of the curry from Community eats of out crew. The curry was tasty and it smelt so good. We had coconut milk, chickpeas, sweet peppers, and other ingredients that I didn’t really put in the curry I made from home. That was impressive.

This was really a memorable experience!

Bright smiles,

Sissi Han

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#SOYLyouth 2021 – Natalia

by Natalia Samaniego, SOYL Suwa’lkh Mentor

I originally found out about SOYL thru a “my school” app notification. This is my second year here and it’s been a great experience full of lessons, fun, and friendships. I’ve learned about leadership, food systems, forest ecosystems, mental health, the list goes on. I’ve done many things outside of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t have done if not for this program, like gaining hands on experience as a cashier in the Thursday SOYL market. As a mentor, I’ve learned to deal with uncomfortable situations and deescalate conflict. I’m a more confident person than I was before.  I’m really happy I got to be part of this program.
Learn more about the SOYL program HERE.
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#SOYLyouth 2021 – Carmen

by Carmen Starr, SOYL Suwa’lkh Mentor

Market time at SOYL has always been my favourite time during the program. I loved it last year when I was just a crew member and got to do it and I loved it just as much this year as a mentor too. I could honestly list various reasons why the market is my favourite. To start off, I love the preparation for it. Harvest days are some of the best days for me. I love getting to pick the veggies and going through our whole process of getting them market ready. On market days, being able to sleep in is so refreshing and relaxing. Having that extra bit of sleep always helps. Besides that, getting to interact with customers and getting hands on work experience is great. I like that I get that experience in SOYL because it really helps having it. SOYL has just been a great way to gain work experience and prepare me for when I apply to somewhere and get my first job.

SOYL has been such a great way to step out of my comfort zone and really start to open up more. It has given me so many opportunities to connect with different people in my age group and has helped me step up and become a better leader. The mentorship this year has been new for me but others and I have seen a large change in the way I was last year. I’m more open to sharing my voice in conversations. I’ve gained more confidence in myself. I have faced some of my biggest fears here and got through them better than I ever have. I’ve always struggled with public speaking but being in this program and getting used to talking so much has helped me improve on it. SOYL has really done so much for me and I am so grateful I got to be apart of such a wonderful program.

Learn more about the SOYL program HERE.

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#SOYLyouth 2021 – Cady

by Cady Tong, SOYL Suwa’lkh Mentor

Being in the SOYL program was very new to me. You spend of your time outside either working on the farm or forest and any workshops we had we could relate back to experiences we had just had.

We plant a variety of things on the farm, often consumable but also beneficial towards our environment such as flowers for our bees or plants for filtration. 

We do a lot of cooking, leaning more into the vegan/vegetarian side which teaches us the importance of the food we eat while introducing us to new diets, which tie nicely into our food systems workshops.

We often gather in the forest next to Suwa’lkh which has a creek where we’ve learned the importance of our salmon to us and the Coquitlam people and of how the water systems affect us. 

At SOYL we get to create a really nice community where everyone feels welcome and we discuss the importance of safe spaces. It is unlike what I’m used to in my day to day life where such a close community is rare to come across.

Learn more about the SOYL program HERE.