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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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Community Spotlight – Made by Malcolm

By Jaimie Rosenwirth, Suwa’lkh Lead and Malcolm’s Support Worker

Malcolm’s Story

Malcolm is a valued Fresh Roots community member with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and the garden at Suwa’lkh School in Kwikwetlem (Coquitlam) is a place that he loves to spend time. He has been working out in the garden with Fresh Roots for 5 or 6 years now. He was a student at Suwa’lkh who helped create the garden and orchard and helped develop the 7 acre food forest next to the school. During his last year of school he worked outside 3 hours a week, seeding, weeding and uppotting. After Malcolm graduated in 2020 he wanted to continue working in the garden. He started volunteering twice a week and kept coming to the garden throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided him with a safe, welcoming place to go every week. This is a place where he is able to build lasting connections with the community.

Malcolm loves to do the uppotting and seed start tasks. Weeding is also a task he loves because there isn’t too much to think about. With weeding everything must go! Malcolm really enjoyed the seed saving of lupine seeds this summer. Harvesting, leaving them to dry in a paper bag, separating seeds, packaging and labelling. He asked if we would be doing this again next year. Malcolm also really enjoys harvesting the purple peacock beans. These are easy to spot and we just have to pull them all off. The simple repetitive tasks are great for Malcolm. He does enjoy learning new farm tasks when we are able. The more things he can do means he has more choices of tasks to choose from when he is here.

Sonia, Malcolm’s Mom, has said “We are so blessed that he is so welcome there! I tell everyone what an amazing program it is all the time. He is so lucky to have Fresh Roots”.

Support the ‘Made by Malcolm’ Fundraiser!

In addition to dedicating his time to help out on the Suwa’lkh schoolyard farm, Malcolm fundraises by selling Made by Malcolm handmade cards. In January, he raised $362.34 in support of Fresh Roots experiential food literacy education programs. Way to go, Malcom and Jaimie!

Malcolm is back with another Made by Malcom Fresh Roots fundraiser, selling sets of holiday cards for $5! Each set comes with four cards (star, tree, snowflake and stocking). Show your support by purchasing a set of cards through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Made-by-Malcom-655182104946615/!

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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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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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Fresh Roots Urban Farm’s Backyard Harvest Dinner showcases culturally diverse foods

The Vancouver non-profit society empowers youth by growing, harvesting, and selling food

August 1st, 2021

Fresh Roots Urban Farm’s Backyard Harvest Dinner With Friends takes place on August 19 at 6 pm PDT.

 

MORE AND MORE people want to know where their food comes from. Vancouver’s Fresh Roots Urban Farm teaches youth all about what’s on their plate—including how to grow it.

Food equity among young people is a pressing issue. Some 2,000 Vancouver youth go hungry daily, according to Fresh Roots, while more than half of Vancouver youth (54 percent) do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits or vegetables. Poor nutrition among students affects everything from academics to mental health to physical fitness.

The non-profit society’s Sustainable Opportunities Youth Leadership (SOYL) program gets youth involved in every step of the food process, from planting and harvesting to selling it at farmer’s markets. Youth also learn about food justice and cook with local chefs, whether for themselves or people in need in the community.

So much hands-on skills and entrepreneurial experience help build self-confidence and community engagement.

To raise funds for the SOYL program, the organization is hosting its Backyard Harvest Dinner with Friends on August 19 at 6 pm PDT. The online event includes a virtual farm tour, music, and entertainment.

Participants will receive a summer harvest box filled with items from new and culturally diverse local food businesses to have at home. The box includes dishes made by members of the first cohort of Flavours of Hope’s Dream Cuisines, a pilot program supporting newcomer refugee women launching food ventures in partnership with Coho Commissary. These include Super Dishes—Egyptian Halal Cuisine, Mis Cazuelas Mexican Food, and Tinker Bake (Mexican baked goods).

Ono Vancouver and Kula Kitchen helped develop the menu.

Other partners for the 2021 Backyard Harvest Dinner include Legends Haul, Organic Ocean Seafood, 33 Acres Brewing Co., Susgrainable, Odd Society Spirits, Plenty Hard Kombucha, VanSuya, Tsawwassen Farm School, the Italian Cultural Centre, UBC Farm, and VanCity.

Backyard Harvest Dinner tickets, $150, include dinner for two, beverage pairings, flowers for the table, and other items.

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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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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.