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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 September 1, 2021

Technically the title of this report is wrong. Sept 1 is not a seed-date this month, and there won’t be any more seed-dates for 2021. All our seeds and transplants are in the ground, fully germinated, and fate has been determined– sort of. The intended fate for our veggies is to land in CSA boxes and market shelves. This doesn’t always happen because of the pressure of pests, diseases, weeds, and theft. But I digress…

What a whirlwind of a month, August was. It’s peak harvest season, with a slew of intense heat, drought, and financial crunchiness. Meanwhile the administration team at Fresh Roots is hauling to raise funds so we can afford to operate everything from SOYL Programs across 3 sites in the lower mainland, to EL summer camp, not to mention farming vegetables. 

Although all the numbers aren’t quite in, I think the Backyard Harvest Dinner was a success, Fresh Roots having met our fundraising goal of 20K in pledges and silent auction bids (excluding ticket sales). It is such an epic feat to pull this kind of thing off. There is so much organizing, networking, communication, timing, collaboration, showmanship, and rather bad poetry (sorry-not-sorry). Witnessing Caroline Manuel (Communications), Vivian Cheung (Ops), and Alexa Pitoulis (our ED) pull the whole thing together was kind of like magic. That said, every single person on our core team pulled weight, whether it was packing dinner boxes, cooking for 50 people, or trucking equipment from 3 sites. 

The highlight of the fundraiser for me was the farm team planning our outfits. All season long we were very proud to imagine ourselves as a band called “Planting for Death” – a term I use to refer to re-planting holes where transplants have failed. The team loves to take the weird things I say (ie: “great,great,great,great,great;” “It’s fine, I’m fine, Everything is fine;” and other sayings not quite family-friendly enough to list) and turn them into songs. Well, not literal songs. We are more in our ‘concepts and planning’ phase. The only literal thing P4D has done was put together outfits, dye some eyebrows, and do a little dancing for a fundraiser. But you better trust that our literal outfits were literally epic. This Farm Momma doesn’t lie. 

Last week we said goodbye to our beloved Isobel, the part-time flower arranger and ponderer of deep, comical musings. We planted seeds of rebellion in her, and she is returning to school in Saskatchewan to mess up industrial agriculture. This month we will be bidding our Market Lead, Nico, adieu, as he returns to Ontario to connect (like, he is a dude who really connects) with the Food Security community out there. Piper, Mia and I (with an assist from Galen) will be holding down the fort on the farm and market scene until the third week of October when we will put the farm to sleep for the winter. 

September is my favourite month of all time. First of all, it’s my birthday month and I Thank-Mother I was born. Mushrooms begin to pop out, it’s sweater-weather, and the chill in the air cools down my summer-boiled temper. This is a moment when we still have all the wonderful fruiting veggies of the summer while the cool season crops come on, so we get to enjoy a cornucopia of diversity. I’m looking forward to filling our CSA Boxes and Market Shelves with a plethora of colours, shared with all of you.

-Farmer Camille

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Campers say Camp Fresh Roots is “Really Fun”

By Kat Vriesema-Magnuson, Experiential Learning Manager

We’ve heard from a number of Experiential Learning staff this year about their experiences on our team. This month, I thought we should turn it over to the most important members of the team: the kids. I interviewed campers during our EcoWonders camp at David Thompson, and here’s what they had to say:

What do you think about Camp Fresh Roots?

“It’s really fun.”- Multiple campers

“It’s very enjoyable.” – Age 9

“I never knew we would be cooking this much and I really like cooking.” – Age 7

What’s your favourite part?

“Cooking. We made curry and rice and brownies.” – Age 8

“The brownies.” – multiple campers

“The Curry. It had swiss chard, potatoes, and carrots.” – Age 10

“My favourite part is that we get to make food and harvest and learn all the types of plants” – Age 7

“We do lots of different games and fun things”. – age 6

“I like the games. My favourite is Fruit Salad. That’s all you need to know from me.” – age 6

What is Camp Fresh Roots about?

“It’s about plants and games and arts & crafts and fun.”- Age 7

“It’s about the environment and helping” – Age 8

“It’s all about nature and plants and learning about them. There’s lots of nature here.” – Age 7

Well, that about sums it up. Camps will be over for the year in just a couple weeks, but we’re already gearing up to welcome field trips in late September and October. After a much needed rest!

Oh, and that brownie recipe the kids all love? It’s easy, vegan, made with zucchini, and extremely delicious. You can find it here: https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Healthy-Zucchini-Brownies-31120011

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Suwa’lkh School’s Native Plant Sale Now ONLINE!

The Fresh Roots Team at Suwa’lkh School is very excited to announce that we’ve brought this year’s Native Plant Sale online with 2 convenient pick-up locations! If you’ve been looking to learn more about native plant species or have been searching to find your favourite native plants for your garden, this is the blog post you’ve been waiting for! 

When Fresh Roots formed a partnership with the Indigenous Education Department in Coquitlam/Kwikwetlem, one of the main requests from this community was to help provide access to native plants, especially those harder to find for sale or in our urban environment. The beauty of the Native Plant Nursery Project here at Suwa’lkh School is that the youth who work with us in preparing and selling the native plants also learn about those plants, their uses, and their seasonality.

Gray Oron, the Suwa’lkh Project Manager, had this to say about the native plants we grow:

“Native plants not only give us a sense of place and connect us to the history of the land and the people on it, but they also support our local ecosystems and are easier to care for than most plants. One of the most common questions I get is: ‘can they be outside, right now?’ The answer is yes! They belong here, they are from here, and if you give them the right environment, they will need much less care than most non-native plants!”

We are working towards deeper guidance and connection with local First Nations Communities, Knowledge Keepers, and Elders. We strive to be an ally by providing native plants to the local community and space to support the passing of knowledge to youth. The web pages for each of the native plant species we’re offering in our shop are full of information about each species, their preferred conditions, and their interactions with wildlife and humans.

You can scroll through our online shop, add the plants you would like to have in your garden to your cart, choose a pickup location, and pay online all in a few simple clicks! We will contact you to arrange a pick-up time at your chosen location once you have placed an order. There are two pickup locations to choose from: 

 

  1. Italian Cultural Centre (Vancouver) on Wednesdays from 4-7 pm during our Pop Up Market
  2. Suwa’lkh Secondary School (Coquitlam) on Thursdays from 4-7 pm

 

Thank you in advance for your support in all of the work we do at Fresh Roots, especially during this difficult time! We are grateful to the communities we are a part of and your efforts to support native wildlife and youth education through our Native Plant Sale.

Happy planting!

The Suwa’lkh Fresh Roots Team

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Fresh Five Week 3: Earth Day!

Earth Day turns 50 this year! Back in 1970, an American politician named Gaylord Nelson wanted to harness the energy of youth activism to bring attention to environmental issues. That year, 20 million Americans (10% of the total population) took part in marches, rallies, and learning sessions, and their collective voices and the connections made from that first Earth Day led to important environmental legislation in the US, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts within three years.

Today, Earth Day is a global event that has gone digital! You can learn more and find lots more ideas of how to get involved at earthday.org. And, of course, we have a Fresh Five things you can do to celebrate this beautiful planet we call home.

 Dress Your Veggies

A friend of mine asked people to share what they had way too much of in their pantry that they didn’t know what to do with, and someone said “Nutritional Yeast!” So I just had to share our Fresh Roots Famous Salad Dressing. We use it to make our farm-fresh salads irresistible – we have to cut kids off at 5 plates of kale salad, it’s that good! If you, too, have a supply of nutritional yeast in your pantry and aren’t sure what to do with it other than put it on popcorn, here’s an awesome solution. It’s great on salad, steamed or roasted vegetables, grains, and more.

What does this have to do with Earth Day, you ask? Well, when we make veggies delicious, kids (and parents) will choose to eat more of them. That’s not only good for your body, it’s good for the planet too. Animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change globally, so choosing plant-based foods more often reduces your carbon footprint. And if you can get your veggies from a local farmer, or your own garden plot, that’s even better!

Fresh Roots Famous Salad Dressing

 

Learn About Food & Climate

Raising animals isn’t the only part of our food system that’s connected to our warming climate. From farming to processing to packaging to waste, every part of out food system has impacts on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This interactive learning resource from the Center for Ecoliteracy is a deep dive into the topic for middle and high school students, or anyone curious about the food system. And don’t worry – it’s not all bad news! You’ll discover lots of ways the people are making change for good in their communities and beyond.

Understating Food and Climate Change

 

Discover Backyard Nature

What better way to honor Earth Day than to learn about some of the other living things that make their homes here? Seek is a kid-safe mobile app created by the iNaturalist folks. Just point the app’s camera at a plant, bug, bird, mushroom, or other living things and the app will tell you all about it! Plus, you can earn badges and participate in challenges. There’s no registration required, and all location data collected is obscured to protect privacy. Happy Searching!

Find the Seek App

 

Make Veggie Art

If you have some fruits or veggies that have been in the fridge just a little too long, Veggie Printing is a fun way to repurpose them! Not only is it a good thing to do with that limp celery, potato that’s started growing, or the bits of your veg that aren’t going to make it into soup, it’s also a great way for kids to play with their food. When kids are encouraged to use all their senses to get to explore a carrot or asparagus in a stress-free way, they can develop a greater appreciation for them, which in turn makes them more likely to eat those vegetables. And if you’re wondering what to do with those veggie prints, may I suggest making an Earth Day card or banner to hang in your window?

Veggie Print Activity Guide

Sing Along with Eco Jams

What better way to wrap up a list of ways to honour the Earth than with an Earth-themed concert you can sing and dance along to from the comfort of your living room? As a grad student, I had the privilege to have singer, songwriter, social worker, and educator Joe Reilly join my outdoor school program for an Artist-in-Residence week. He worked with the kids to write songs, and led us all in a concert that was just the best. As his website says, “The core of his message is an invitation to heal our relationships with our selves, with each other, and with the earth.” His songs full of science facts, silliness, so much joy, and a ton of heart. He’s live streaming throughout the week on his Facebook page, or you can check out a recorded live stream here.

Joe Reilly Earth Week Non-Tour

May you love the Earth and all the life she sustains,

Kat

Seed Saving is Rad

Seed saving is rad and I mean that in the literal sense of radical, meaning something that relates to the fundamental nature of a thing. Seed saving is the act of collecting seeds, a plant’s reproductive material, directly from the plant as opposed to buying or procuring the seeds elsewhere. Last week I was collecting sweet pea seeds and I was reminded of how seed saving reconnects us to the fundamental nature of plants. It reminds me of the intelligent design of plants and the fact that plants can reproduce without human intervention.

My seed collection including seeds saved by hand, store bought seeds, and farm bought seeds.

Now, I’ll be frank, seed saving is no easy task. There are many steps to the process and oftentimes I find myself wondering if it is worth the the 4$ most packets of seeds cost. The process is different for fruits and for vegetables because one of the defining characteristics of fruits is that the seeds are collected from the fruit itself whereas for vegetables the seeds are collected from the plant from which the vegetable is harvested. For example, for apples the seeds must be taken from the core of the apple and left to dry whereas to harvest kale seeds, the plant from which the kale is cut must be left to flower and then from the flowers of the plant the seeds are collected. Depending on the priorities of the gardener, seed saving may or may not be cost-effective, however the power in seed saving is not necessarily saving money. The power of the act is experiencing the full life cycle of a plant and understand that it occurs independently of us even though we have inserted ourselves in the lifecycle of the plants we consume. This is yet another way we can understand where our food comes from.

 

Collecting seeds from the plant is an important reminder that like vegetables, seeds do not come from the store, but from the plant itself. The fundamental nature of plants is that they are completely independent. Photosynthesis allows them to produce their own food and sustain themselves from the beginning and although we may help them along the way sometimes by weeding around them or giving them a little extra water, seed-saving is a good reminder of the fundamental independence of plants.

Fireweed Seeds

Fruit vs. Vegetable: Summer Botany Edition

Originally, I was going to write a long, detailed article about a new type of squash I encountered in the garden, however in the midst of telling a friend about this idea we got into a discussion about the technical differences between fruits and vegetables. The answer surprised me. Sure, we’ve all heard about how a tomato is technically a fruit, usually from some know-it-all kid in elementary school who posed the question in such a way to embarrass anyone who didn’t know the answer. What this kid in elementary school probably didn’t tell you was why a tomato is a fruit.

Fruits develop from the flower of any plant, whereas vegetables are any other part of the plant; this usually means the leaves, stems or root. Working in the garden certainly helps with understanding how each plant grows, but just from shopping in the super market one can discern what is a fruit and what is a vegetable. Anything with a stem is probably a fruit. For example: peppers, both bell and hot, are fruits because they develop out of the flower of the plant, same goes for tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, beans, and peas. Don’t worry; potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, and broccoli are still vegetables. Rhubarb, although generally paired with fruits like strawberries, is technically a vegetable because the useful part of the plant is the stems.

These may seem like trivial botanical facts for plant nerds like myself, but thinking about which vegetables are botanically fruits forces us to reexamine our relationship to food. It mends the gap between our thinking about food and plants that plagues those of us that get the majority of our food from grocery stores. When you ask yourself whether what you are eating is a fruit or a vegetable, you’re asking about the plant it stems from (pun intended). This gets us thinking about our food in new and exciting ways.