Permaculture Diploma Class Winter Solstice Meeting

December 18, 2011 at 12:41 am (goings-on, permaculture) (, , , , , , , )

I know, the actual solstice hasn’t occurred yet, but the group only meets once a season and we try to do it as close to the solstices and equinoxes as possible.  Last weekend’s meet-up took place in the city, for a change.  Previously, we’ve met up at Rolling Earth Farm and the Heart Gardens in Roberts Creek and Elphinstone Provincial Park–all on the beautiful Sunshine Coast.  I didn’t make it to the second class because the June 26th meeting was too close to Henry’s due date and I sure as heck didn’t want to be in labor on the ferry back to Vancouver.  I did, however, take two-month-old Henry to the third meet-up, which was also on the Sunshine Coast.  I couldn’t leave him for a whole day because he was exclusively breastfeeding at the time and wouldn’t take a bottle, even if I had been able to pump enough milk for the day.  He was a dream–he slept every time we got in the car to caravan to the next location; he slept snuggled up to me in the wrap as we tromped through the forest; he nursed discreetly in the sling while I hiked down a cliff; and he was very pleasant for the short time that he was awake when we stopped at Delvin’s to view a permaculture video.  I never thought taking a baby on a trek like that would go so smoothly!

Anyway, last weekend’s meet-up took place in Vancouver.  First on the agenda, we met at Strathcona Community Garden, which is one of the oldest in the city.  It is quite large, sprawling in a delightfully ad-hoc manner, and boasts a mature espaliered apple orchard consisting of several dozen dwarf heritage varieties.  While there, a couple of us shared with the group on the progress of our mapping projects.  Mine were very well-received.  I think my architectural background shows in the readability and quality of detail of my base map and sector diagrams.  The mapping component of this course is an exercise to get the designer thinking about the different properties of a landscape–sun and shade; wind and water flow; circulation of people and animals in the space; and, in the case of an ultra-urban environment like mine, sources of noise, litter, and pollution.  Understanding how these affect the landscape helps the designer know how to mitigate negative effects and use available energy and resources wisely.

Our next stop was the Purple Thistle Center in East Van.  They’re a non-profit, youth-run center for arts and activism.  After checking out their guerrilla garden across the street, we went inside to get warm, had some snacks, and did a design exercise focusing on the suburban environment that most North Americans have inherited.  Environmentalists like to blame the suburbs and the extensive sprawling network of roads they necessitate for the twin  problems of traffic and greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention millions of collective man-hours wasted every year by people sitting in traffic).  It’s been said that the suburbs kill culture and art and community… But, maybe it’s time for a re-visioning.  Maybe the suburbs aren’t so bad in themselves, if people would or could stick around during the day and create a community, by bringing in businesses and shops, by encouraging home business and start-ups–ways of working that don’t entail an hour drive into the city.

One thing suburbs have going for them is lots of fairly cheap land that could be used for food production.  Let’s face it: farming isn’t exactly a lucrative enterprise and land for urban farms and community gardens is constantly under pressure from the urban real estate market and property development.  Until society chooses to value wholesome agriculture and uphold its place in our communities, farming will by and large continue to be relegated to the cheapest, most marginal lands further and further out from the center of human culture… as if agriculture can be divorced from culture.  Besides encouraging the conversion of every lawn to food-producing gardens, other ideas we came up with for “greening” the suburbs included: creating pocket markets for the swapping of goods, crafts, or produce between neighbors; weekly or monthly street closures for music and arts festivals to bring people out into the streets; creating community kitchens; using permeable surfaces for parking to increase rainwater absorption and mitigate flooding by run-off; using old rail-road rights-of-way for walking and biking paths; adding bike racks; getting schools involved in gardening; planting fruit and nut trees in the boulevards; reforesting vacant land; painting traffic-calming street mandalas a la Portland; creating space in local strip malls for a local-only store, micro-loan credit union, and co-operative where residents can rent space.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but you can see from this list alone how many low-hanging fruits there are to start greening the suburban landscape.

While the class went back to Cottonwood Community Garden to compare it’s permaculturally master-planned lay-out with the more organic (no pun intended) flow of Strathcona Garden, I had to rush home to nurse Henry down for a nap.  I got back just in time to caravan to the next location, SOLEfood Farm on the Downtown Eastside where our lovely hostess, Sara Dent, runs an urban PDC course.  A group affiliated with the organization United We Can started this inner-city farm in 2009 on property leased from the Astoria Hotel next door.  It consists of dozens of long and narrow raised beds on an old parking lot. 

Despite consulting a landscape architect on the lay-out, they have significant drainage problems–proof that even the pros are sometimes still learning as they go.  The gardens looked somewhat dreary on a cold almost-winter day; everything was covered in plastic hoop houses, so not a lot of color until you peek underneath and see beautiful stands of collards and rainbow chard.

The greenhouses they use for growing tomatoes in the summer were chock full of seedling trays yielding an abundance of salad greens.  Throughout the fall and winter, they’re still seeding something every single week!  What a goal to set in my own garden!

Once the sun set, it started getting really cold, so we wrapped up the day with a tea and snack at Organic Lives, a vegan raw-food cafe and store at Quebec and 2nd Ave.  The food looked great, if a bit pricey.  But, hey, you get what you pay for, right?  It’s not easy finding places to dine out that are in keeping with the ethics of permaculture.  Two thumbs up!

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1 Comment

  1. cmrickards said,

    Very nice work. Permaculture in urban environments can only go from strength to strength. I’m doing a PDC in Thailand in March 2012. I haven’t even finished my summer garden and have already started planning for next winter.

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