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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date July 1, 2021

July 1st. Wait, what? It’s J U L Y ? It’s July and the kale has exploded along with the weeds. I’m so thankful for our hard-working team (not just the farm workers!) and the handful of volunteers who have joined us in liberating our crops from the overwhelm of hungry, green-leaved neighbours. Fresh Roots has a few hungry neighbours of the human variety, too, which has made an impact on our yields. The unique pressures of Urban Farming continue to surface as we try our best to fulfil commitments to our CSA members, Markets, Programming, the Community Eats Program, Lunch Lab, and Donor Recipients such as South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Hub. All of this is to say, I feel the theme of the past month has been about Community. 

Community

The Fresh Roots Community is blooming into the Summer Queen that she is. All of the youth hired under the Canada Summer Jobs contracts are trained up and ready to operate the Fresh Roots Summer Kingdom (aka Farm). By the second week of July, we’ll have SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) participants growing, learning and leading at three sites, keen to pull weeds and distribute wood chips (I can’t wait to utilize those hands!) and harvest veggies for the market. 

Our Community Supported Agriculture Program is in its 5th week, now, getting our lovely greens and roots into the hands of thoughtful consumers who know their investment is supporting not only the operation of our farm, but also our programming to employ youth and teach kids about agriculture and themselves. It has been a pleasure to put the faces to the names on our CSA sheet and watch as our vegetable babies find their forever homes… in your mouths, I guess?

We attend two markets with two distinct but wonderful communities: Saturdays at Riley Park we connect with the market-goers, organizers and vendors that make up the incredible Vancouver Farmers Market; and on Wednesdays our market is hosted by the ever-generous folks at the Italian Cultural Centre. The ICC market community ‘feel’ is definitely different this season than last – yes, that means the pizza and wine are missing. That is because the ICC is putting their effort into supporting the community in another way: they are hosting an epic vaccination site, seeing an average of 1600 members of our community get vaccinated each day. So while I’m sad that we don’t get a slice of pizza, I’m happier still that we are overcoming this virus with the support of places like the ICC. 

Other amazing community experiences include ogling all the adorable dogs that are walked around the periphery of the farms, connecting with our curious neighbors, playing I-spy with neighbourhood kids, chatting with students who attend the schools where we farm, and staff sharing a lunch of Fresh Roots Salad Mix with that tasty yeast dressing we all love. 

I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg that is the support and connection happening between the coreteam members of Fresh Roots! It seriously takes so much teamwork to adorn our Lady Fresh Roots with the glory she deserves. It takes meetings — so. many. meetings — and so much planning, and phone calls, and notes and communication boards to make sure all the cogs are turning in time between each department. There is also a lot of: “who does what?” in this organization, as she evolves and transitions into something new, it seems like every moment. 

So, yeah. We get weedy, and stuff gets stolen, but the trade off for working in a supportive community is totally worth it.

-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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Norquay Field House – A Year in Review!

As we mark the dubious 1 year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown we can’t help but celebrate the accomplishments made possible through our residency at the Norquay Field House. With the support of the Vancouver Parks Board and the Field House Project, we have supported food literacy and food access for kids, youth, and the community at Norquay and across Vancouver. In 2019 we served 17,928 nutritious meals and engaged with 6,354 kids and youth through 34,616 program hours. In 2020 we served 73,653 nutritious meals and supported 2,650 kids and youth through 20,055 program hours.

Some of the highlights from this past year are:

  • Norquay Park Food Sharing Garden – We tend a sharing garden where we engage with community members throughout the growing season. We speak to people about plants, share stories and invite them to harvest vegetables on their own!

 

  • Apple Cider Press Day – In 2020 we held this modified annual event with volunteers from the Bosa Foundation preparing and pressing 700 pounds of apples into 35 gallons of juice. We showed many community members how cider pressing works and gave out ginger gold apples generously donated by BC Tree Fruits to take home!

 

  • SOYL Program – We host over 35 high school youth each year who learn how to grow, cook, and share food.  Youth are referred to the program through social service providers and counselors and, through the program, build lifelong skills in confidence, friendship, and leadership. Learn more about SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) here.

  • Schoolyard Harvest Dinner *At Home Edition* – Fresh Roots annual fundraising dinner virtually broadcasted live from Norquay Field House. We hosted 190 virtual participants online with 35 staff and a cooking demo safely hosted by chefs in-person.

  • And last but not least! Right before lockdown before we knew we wouldn’t be back in the field house for a while, Alexa  Fresh Roots Executive Director, then Interim Executive Director got a chance to prepare Fresh Roots’ famous salad dressing for the first time! We hope to be back in the field house preparing and eating food, laughing, learning and enjoying time spent together with our community.

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October Farm Volunteer Sessions-Just Announced! 🍁

Are you itching to spend some time outside on a schoolyard farm? We are here to help! We are excited to welcome the return of volunteer sessions! Join us at the Fresh Roots schoolyard market farm at Vancouver Technical Secondary to help us with a variety of farm tasks including weeding, moving compost, or woodchips which will help us put the farm to bed for the winter! We’ve missed having folks from the community on the farm and

Join us for one of (or all!) three sessions in October!
Register here:

Friday, October 16th, 10-12:00 pm

Thursday, October 22nd, 10-12:00 pm

Thursday, October 30th, 10-12:00 pm- FULL

Please note:

Sessions are limited to 10 participants, to allow for physical distancing. Sign up to reserve your spot. You cannot attend without pre-registering. Please DO NOT attend if you are feeling unwell, including if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough, runny nose, or difficulty breathing.

What to bring:
*Raingear
*Masks
*Garden gloves (we will have some available but ask that participants bring their own if possible)
*Rainboots or other waterproof footwear
*Water bottle
*Personal snacks
*Warm clothing/layers

We’re really looking forward to seeing you and sharing the magic of fall on the farm!

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We’re Still Farming~A Fresh Roots COVID-19 Update

Dear Fresh Roots Community,

Like many of you, we are closely following COVID-19 developments and taking steps to keep our team and all those we work with healthy. We hope you and yours are safe and well during this time. We wanted to share what’s happening here at Fresh Roots.

Most importantly, our team is working to ensure our farms will be growing more rather than less food this season to feed you, your families and our community. Food is an essential service and a strong local food system is more important now than ever.

Signing up for a Fresh Roots Veggie Box is a great way to access weekly, hyper-local produce! Sign up today or inquire to see how you could buy a Veggie Box to be donated, email food@freshroots.ca to learn more.

With the announcement of indefinite school closures, we’ve suspended all of our school-based programming, including field trips and field classes until school reopens. This also includes the LunchLAB program we run in partnership with Growing Chefs!. We happily look forward to re-scheduling these programs once safe to do so.

At this time we are planning on running our summer SOYL youth leadership and empowerment program and kids camps as planned. Youth registration for SOYL is open until the end of April at: https://freshroots.ca/get-involved/soyl/ and camp registration is ongoing at: https://freshroots.ca/education/camp/.

We continue to monitor the situation and recommendations by the health authorities and will communicate any further adaptations and plans to Fresh Roots programs to you all as the situation develops. The safety of our community comes first. We have communicated to our partners that we are here to help support the kids, youth and families in our communities through these challenging times.

We are also working creatively to look into how we can support distance learning for classes and families. Maybe a virtual farm tour for your kids or class? A “meet a farmer or chef” program? Lesson plans you can use or share? We’d love any suggestions you may have! Follow us on social media to learn about upcoming online resources, tools, and program ideas.

We greatly appreciate all the support our community has given to ensure the continued success of Fresh Roots – thank you!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by email at info@freshroots.ca or by phone at 778-764-0DIG (0344).

With a fistful of hopeful sunshine,

Alexa and the Fresh Roots team