It wasn’t long after I was introduced to the term permaculture, a couple of years back, that I heard uttered: SPERMACULTURE. We all know by now that the term permaculture was coined by two white men, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and my feminist gardening role models were quick to tell me that permaculture isn’t free from patriarchy. Spermaculture is a critique of male domination in the movement; a term created by women/queers who see middle class, white males inhabiting the majority of permaculture leadership roles (authors, leaders of PDCs, permaculture “rockstars”). Furthermore, it has been observed that while the men are in teaching positions, the majority of participants tend to be women.
When we stepped into our first tour of Linnaea I felt some sense of relief from the above phenomenon. The executive director and one of several stewards of the land is a woman. Tamara’s strength, knowledge and leadership inspires me. The feminist strength of the land didn’t end there though. A quick history of the farm depicts a passing down of the lands through women’s hands. From Flo McKay who inherited the land in 1928 and purchased 120 extra acres, to her daughter Hazel Hansen who took the reins in 1950. Then there are the amazing women currently stewarding the land all over Cortes: Liz, Kirsten, Jodi, Steph, Sabina, Kathy, just to name a few. Oh, and I can’t forget Quill the boss cow and all the lamb ladies. Although, these folks might not have been directly preaching permaculture, they were integral to our permaculture design course. I also want to thank the men and other folks in my course and those who shared their knowledge. These folks were some of the most generous, thoughtful and supportive people to work with. Never once did I feel that there was a fight for space in discussion or domination by male knowledge holders.
This was just one of a host of social dynamics I observed. Many other questions and critiques came up for me. For example, there was a lack of cultural/ethnic diversity between teachers and learners alike which raises some questions around knowledge appropriation, cooptation and more. Who did we leave out of our conversations? How might permaculture be inaccessible and to whom? Questions I am keen to engage further with as I move forward in my work and life. Click here for an article that I recently took a gander at that can help to get the wheels turning around these types of questions, pertaining more specifically to homesteading but definitely applicable.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the trip was to see the Cortes Community coming together to do something about the lake eutrophication. Gunflint and Hague Lake are two beautiful lakes and swimming grounds of the locals on Cortes Island. In recent years, the lakes have experienced an increase in temperature, in conjunction with nutrient run-off from surrounding homes, farms, and roadways, the lakes have been experiencing algal blooms.
What is most important to note, that differs from many communities in today’s society, is once this occurred, the community did not sit back and say “Oops, oh well, let’s swim elsewhere”. The community has banded together to figure out a solution to the problem and to naturally heal the lake of the man-made damage.
Some of the ways in that the crew at Linnaea Farm Specifically were managing their impact on the lake was by creating a system of checks and balances to purify and filter the water before it reaches the lake. Any farm has nutrient run-off due to rains and exposed soil. At Linnaea, thickets and hedgerows for nutrient uptake have been placed as a last line fo defence along the water’s edge. Moving upstream, areas like the production garden and cow pastures are adding nutrients to the run-off. To mediate this, a creek channel has been gently damned up in sections to create slowing and deposition sites which will force the water to percolate and filter through the soil before spilling into the lake. At some of the miniature damn sites, a revolutionary filtration technique has been adapted where wood chips acting as a wick are pulling water from the creek and filtering it through a bed of Garden Giant, Stropharia rugosoannulata, mushroom mycelium. This particular mushroom is excellent at drawing these excess nutrients from the water, helping to purify the lake spillage.
Our downstream effects are not always considered, sitting at home right now, think about where your water goes, what is below you? Lakes? Wetland? Creek? Ground water? People? Ocean? Where is your water going? What is in it? Who will it affect? Please stop to think of your downstream effects and creative ways to reuse your gray water or filter it through some sort of biofiltration to cleanse it of nutrient overload or toxins. We all have an effect on the people and the world around us, realize your impact, and ACT ON IT!
Dangerous, incredibly useful, and the most fun you can have with your chaps on. Don’t let the wave of adrenaline that rushes through your blood consume you, you are wielding a cambium hungry ball of fury with a plethora of razor sharp blades spinning faster than your auntie at Spinny Saturdays.
Chainsaws come in more varieties than ladies undergarments and are not one size fits all. Is the wood seasoned or fresh? Is the tree tall or short? Can you climb it? Can you fell it? What species is it? Does it fall straight? Can it have a hollow and dead core? Are you just pruning? Are you cutting on the ground? Are you cutting on a hill? Are there obstructions or assets that can be damaged? There is no overthinking it when using a chainsaw.
Every person at a different stage in life, with different body types and uses will need a different saw and it is up to you to spend the time and learn the language of said saw. Become very familiar with this piece of equipment as what giveth may also taketh away.
Always remember to keep the blades sharp, the fuel mixed, the lock on (until ready). Choke it to start it if it’s cold, AND ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B! I can not stress it enough, if something will go wrong… have an escape route. If you are farming, you will use a chainsaw, remember this short and important lesson.
Safety gear minimums:
A sharp SAW!
Steel toe boots
Chaps or safety pants
A friend to help in the event a mistake is made.
Focus and thought
The carpenter measures twice cuts once, the chainsaw user should measure, think, measure, think, think, think, cut (if safe).
Sharp blades cut fast and safe
Dull blades cut slow and dangerously
For big trees: chainsaws have two speeds “on” and “off”
When in doubt, don’t do it.
Every mistake can be deadly
Vegetable oil works great as a chain lube and is biodegradeable
Check out this fun Driftwood/Cob Greenhouse timber frame that was largely built using a chainsaw and some technical mumbo jumbo.
Normally, I wouldn’t consider writing a blog post about the time I spend out in the woods. I rarely take pictures as part of some last ditch effort to try and separate technology from nature by leaving phones and cameras behind and trying to internalize as much as I can. Normally, I get a little bit irritated when I hear speakers playing music at the beach or at campsites and when I see peoples faces buried in their phones, taking in the world around them by looking through their miniscule lens. In the words of Tree (Kyle), who dropped in on some of our classes this past semester “I prefer FaceWorld.” I like technology, gadgets, apps, nerding out on sound and video quality, but for some reason I prefer to keep it all very separate from the woods, mountains and beaches. Oliver Kellhammer, or okellhammer as he goes by on the multi-mentioned app iNaturalist, has developed a much more hybridized method of interacting with technology while out amongst nature, which has started to grow on me. I suppose it starts with his perspective being such that wilderness, to begin with, is a myth. It’s a narrative that only exists as a result of human discourse around it, so by this logic I suppose I should be less concerned about separating technology. iNaturalist is a mobile app that allows species to be documented, dated, photographed and uploaded over a map, that can be viewed by all the app’s users however they so choose. It’s essentially a species catalogue for plants, birds, insects around the world.
Now that I’m at home at my desk, I’m able to check it out without jeopardizing my dwindling moral stance on where I can use my phone. In terms of a developing iNaturalist community, it seems to be quite common for users to frequent certain locations, uploading multiple species for small areas. If your feeling nostalgic or wish you could have been there on the walk through Whaletown Commons with Oliver, take a look at the entries on Cortes Island and you’ll find lots of interesting species to look up and learn about. There’s significant potential for iNaturalist to grow into a pretty spectacular resource, and it’s clear that some users are set on making that happen, but I still have some reservations about people focusing too much on taking a photograph and not paying attention to what they’re stepping on, or off of.
I dig in dirt, I move mulch, I play with plants… I’m not a rapper, and by no means a poet. The permaculture design course has an integral component that is the Passion show. Despite lacking theatric abilities, I felt inspired to jump up and take my turn at performing for the friendly group of permies and linnaealiens. I didn’t have time to do a spectacular piece or learn a skill that is stage appropriate, but I was able to tweak the lyrics to Easy-E’s – Boyz in da Hood to suit our time and the epic people we met and experiences we had.
Cruise into Linnaea in my 0 – 4! (OH FO!)
Smellin’ the flowers n’ takin the notes
Went to the farm to get the scoop
Permie Heads out there cold shootin’ some
Tractor pulls up, Who can it be?
Tamara hops off the Massey Fergy!
She shows us the cows and started to say…
It’s all about makin’ that milk n’ hay!
Cuz the permz on the farm always grow
If you come talkin’ food you may get
Everything down here functions like a system
From the birds and the bees to legumes nitro-fixin’.
Set my tent by the lake to give me the pace
Cheesus is here n’ might give me a taste
Thought the bull William was a friend of
Till I caught him pushin’ up on my
Walkin’ through the forest with our boy
Learnin’ slime moulds and how to stay out
Adam and Jeff makin’ Veggies like Pros
Liz n’ Brent stack functions, thatudon’t even knows!
Cuz the permz on the farm always grow
If you come talkin’ food you may get
Everything down here functions like a system
From the birds and the bees to legumes nitro-fixin’.
Kristen, Thanks so much for the food, it kept us goin’
PDC was a blast, thanks Linnaea, get growin’!!!
Now check out these permies getting excited at the natural building material sauna! What an awesome little hut!
In conclusion, I had a great time, possibly life changing, waiting to see where this wild ride is taking me. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to share this inspirational experience with inspiring and passionate people.
As university students in Victoria, life can get busy. In and out of class, we are repeatedly pumping out essay after essay and spending long, late hours at night studying for exams. Opportunities for rest, relaxation and to disconnect from the hectic city life are few and far between. When the ES 470 – Intro to Permaculture class was presented with the option of partaking in a Field School, a class that would happen at Linnaea Farm on Cortes Island, few of us could say no. The class of amazing and passionate students, with passionate instructors together in a hands-on learning environment facilitated deep inspirational learning. Twenty one students set out to Linnaea Farm we weren’t really sure what to expect, we knew it was about permaculture but I venture to say that not one of were prepared for this life changing experience.
(This face carving in an old tree was found by the Klahoose Nation on Cortes Island, They were kind enough to share this with us. We are excited to learn more about the history of this artifact.)
Cortes is remote, not remote like Alaska, remote in the sense of multiple ferries, many exciting distractions along the route, limited cellphone reception and sparse Internet availability. Immediately upon arrival, the smiling faces greeted us, welcoming waves warmed us, and the helpful hints of Cortesians led us. The warm sun, the soft breeze, the calm water and clean air had me feeling healthy. Linnaea Farm is big, 316-acres of covenant-protected land that is mixed-use agricultural and conservation with 8 super land stewards and their children that keep the farm lively and thriving.
I felt at home on Cortes Island, Like most of my classmates. This place was magical, inspiring and the perfect place to learn the skills of permaculture and being a productive member of a community. The lessons learned and experience gained on this trip have positively shaped 21 blessed students from UVIC.
Striding with ease through the tall and soulful trees brought a new taste of tenderness to the trials of timeless timber.
I’m sure I am not alone in the stirring that our stroll through the Whaletown commons woodlands brushed upon me, like pollen dusting down and nestling oh so comfortably amongst the fibers of my mindscape. Of all the things to take with me on that ferry, I treasured that moment of humble silence as I lay my chest against the mossy bark of that first old growth tree. Gazing up in bewilderment, like the days when my uncles would toss me around their childhood kitchen, I felt a visceral, childlike connection to this tree I seemed to have known my entire life. From that angle, I was convinced I could just start walking vertically up the trunk like it was horizontal, ducking and weaving through the sporadic branches to reach an end I had no sight of. It made me wonder where I was hoping to go; what lay at the end of this triumphant specimen, and why did I, of all people, deserve to tread that trail?
It’s easy to anthropomorphize all of these things we feel such deep connections to, and perhaps that is a human trait in place to urge us to treat all things with the same respect. If it isn’t there already, I see a widespread dissemination of the IDEALS associated with Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis to be the next evolutionary step where those who cannot foster such appreciation don’t deserve to reap the benefits.
I believe Joel Salatin says it best in Food INC. in claiming that “a culture that just views a pig as a pile protoplasmic, inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design the human can foist on that critter, will probably view individuals within it’s community and other cultures with that same disdain, disrespect, and controlling type mentality” (Kenner, 50:15). I think that as a human race, there must be an inherent desire to better ourselves by striving for this humble and respectful standard for the sake of sustainability, and especially for the reconnecting of humans to this universe that designed them by whatever means one chooses.
No, this gargantuan Thuja may never know the treasures that it’s worth, but as far as the area of land known formally as ‘Whaletown Commons’ is concerned, it has no value other than the shade, sap, space, and sounds that it conjures amongst the forestlands- much like my childish perception of those gargantuan tree trunks that appeared to be my uncles.
After a week of farm living on the luxurious Blue Jay Lake Farm, I was well acclimatized to the rhythm that Cortes Island had lulled me into. This was certainly a unique experience for me and treasured it beyond words; it was amazing to meet so many intriguing people along the way and I crossed Quadra Island a different man 16 days later.
You can imagine my surprise when I rumbled down the 3 kilometer drive expecting a nice grassy spot for my tent, only to be shown to my own tiny-home with potable tap water, incredibly comfortable bed, and composting toilet overlooking the vacant pasture. It was surreal, and I will be forever grateful for such an enriching experience to shape my first encounter with Cortes living. I saw Swayletown- aptly named for its position at the bottom edge of this grassy, buttercup infested pasture and ironic connection to ‘Whaletown’- with youthful eyes and an attitude so open you could run cattle through it. If there was work to be done, I was into it, even if it involved back breaking shoveling, striking, weeding, and wheelbarrowing; it was sustenance living and I found a new excitement and appreciation for the work that typically bored me, all without a paycheque in sight- just lunch. I believe this to be one of the pillars of change that I experienced on this magical island.
Now I still don’t quite understand these changes, but it became visceral when our class convoyed down Blue Jay Lake Farm’s lengthy driveway more than a week later and I saw the Swayletown commune with fresh eyes and a student’s mentality. With Mark Lombard, my generous and previously unintroduced host, guiding us through and explaining the different approaches taken in building these homes, I saw more of a gradient effect between these characteristic homes that highlighted differences in expertise, space, cost, preparation, materials, and personality.
The main point of discussion was Max’s efforts towards recycling and salvaging materials versus Dan’s choice to work externally instead and buy more materials; Dan also benefitted from being the last to build his home, and therefore draw from Max and Mark’s experience, who also helped in the planning and construction stages. In the end, each of the three homes were rich in character and perfect examples of 3 differing tiny-home designs and the all too important factors that go into building them.
I took two important pieces away from that: I preferred Dan’s approach for the sake of long-lasting, high quality materials and accounting for important design details only discovered through experience. All of these were made possible by the sense of community that Swayletown exhibited, allowing the refining of ideas and results by the combination of the three men’s ideals- I could only hope for such a situation in my own life.
The Common Fig, Ficus carica is a deciduous species growing 4-10 meters high.
Figs are of the mulberry, or moracea family. They have smooth white bark and can grow up to 10 meters, or anywhere within the 4- 10 meter range. They have palmatid leaves with three or five lobes. The infloresence is quite unique and consists of a syconium with multiple unisexual flowers. Fig flowers are not visible outside the syconium, and are actually infructescence . The fig fruit is a fleshy hollow receptacle with multiple ovaries, or inflorescence inside.These edible infructescence range from green to purple and are often.
Fig trees grow well in a variety of soils and can thrive in poor soil conditions, however they prefer sunny areas with deep, well-drained soils (Morton, J. 1987). They can withstand seasonal drought conditions and thrive in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climates (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016). The fig prefers rocky, warm environments, which is perhaps why it has become a prized plant in microclimate permaculture (Morton,J. 1987).
Cultural History and Geography
Originally native to Western Asia and the Middle East, figs have become naturalized in many temperate climates, being used as both edible food plants and ornamentals (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016). The United States, Turkey, Spain and Greece are the main producers of figs, growing all the way from Texas to Washington in America (Organic Information Services 2016).
Fossils of figs dating from 9200-9400 BC have been found in Gigal, the site of a Neolithic village (Malcom, P. 2006). This predates many of the early-cultivated agricultural species and suggests that figs were perhaps cultivated from the wild as an early farming food source.
Reproduction, Pollination and Natural Propagation
Figs are a gynodioecious, coming from the Greek word for “ two households”. Fig trees have hermaphrodite flowers and female flowers on separate plants (Morton, J. 1987).
Figs need the correct beneficial pollinator in order to produce fruit; otherwise an artificial process called caprification is necessary. Figs are pollinated by a species of wasp , Blastophaga psenes (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016). These wasps do not have a nest and instead breed inside figs and live a very short life after laying eggs. This is a relationship is mutualistic, as the fig tree benefits from being pollinated and the wasp benefits from an environment in which to lay its eggs (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016). The male wasp crawls into the syconium, or inside of the fig, which is lined with ovaries. Female wasps lay their eggs inside the ovaries of the fig, which creates a gall for the young to develop. Young become adults at the same time that the male fig tree flowers. The B.psenes then mates within the sycomium of the fig, and females fly out to lay eggs within another fig fruit, continuing the cycle. The fig tree is pollinated by the wasps that emerge, and the female ovipositing inside the fig syconium (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016)..
Figs provide shade, habitat for various species, and a food source for birds and animals. It takes up water and cools the environment around it when temperatures rise. Once ingested, the fig seed can be propagated through the droppings of these animals.
Figs are often called super foods because of their countless health benefits coming from their high vitamin and mineral. They contain significant amounts of vitamins A, C, E and B-complex ( PFAF 2012). The phytonutrients in figs protect from free radicals by neutralizing them and in turn protecting from many degenerative diseases and cancers (Organic Information Services, 2006). Figs also protect from osteoporosis because of their high calcium content compared to many other fruits (Botanical Online 2016).
Because of their high fibre content, figs can be a relief for some bodily back ups such as constipation (Organic Information Services 2016). Furthermore they contain dietary fats to aid the digestion process. These fats are in the leaves of the fig plant and can also help stable insulin release in diabetic individuals (PFAF 2012).
Potassium, which helps to maintain sodium levels in the blood, is food in excess in figs (Mercola, J. 2016). Individuals suffering from high blood pressure may find it very beneficial to incorporate more figs into their diet. Potassium also helps to prevent calcium loss through the kidneys ( Organic Information Services 2016).
Folate helps in production of new Red Blood cells, protecting against anemia (Mercola, J. 2016).
The fruit of the fig tree is extremely valued in for its beneficial qualities for skin and hair . Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo were all treated with traditional medicine using figs (Malcom, P. 2006). No western science studies have confirm these qualities about figs, however traditional anecdotal evidence and their presence in skin care products suggests that this remedy is beneficial to many people. It may be that the many vitamins, antioxidants and minerals present in figs help the skin by balancing overall health.
Despite this long list of health benefits, sap coming from the fig tree is an irritant to human skin (PFAF 2012). The milky substance can cause a severe reaction in some individuals causing rashes or boils. Because of this intense ability to slough the surface of the skin, a home remedy for warts has long been to put fig latex on the affected location to act as a natural chyrotherapy treatment in place of liquid nitrogen (Morton,J. 1987).
Today Fig leaves are also a component in vegetarian rennet, acting as chymosin, the enzyme found in the stomach lining of many milk feeding young to help them digest their mother’s milk more readily (Case, J. 2011). This makes figs quite significant in the vegetarian community, as many vegetarians are interested in finding alternatives to rennet derived from slaughter.
Permaculture uses and Stacking Functions
Figs are a great species to have close to your zone 1 for easy picking, or farther out in zones 4 for a good stroll for gathering and to provide food for species coming for a visit from zone 5. The provide shade and cool the temperature around them because of their high intake of water and consequential transpiration. Animals and birds eat the fig fruits and can propagate them through their droppings.
Figs can also be propagated easily from seed or cuttings, making them a great plant to start with in your permaculture design (Biggs, S, n.d.)
The threatening effects of climate change are becoming glaringly obvious – one only needs to look to the devastation from this year’s El Nino in Asia and Africa to get an idea of what’s becoming the new norm. With concerns being raised about how we care for the earthand each other (coincidently, 2 out of 3 permaculture ethics), solutions in all manner of design and creativity sprout. Meatless Monday was proposed to reduce meat consumption to slow demand on an industry heavy on water, waste, land, and other inputs. A vegetarian lifestyle is commendable by many notions; however, if one begins to source their meat-free products from across the globe to suit their exclusive palate, how sustainable really is that lifestyle?
On Cortes Island, we were introduced to a local lifestyle where there’s a place for both plants and animals. In fact, they complement and depend on each other! Tamara McPhail, the Executive Director of the Linnaea Farm Society, practices a system of ruminant forage use called managed intensive rotational grazing … in simpler terms, you move the cows where you want them to eat grass that day! By controlling and shifting the small area where the herd roams, we can choose where they eat and poop. This thins out the grass without leaving the ground bare, while concurrently depositing manure throughout the area. Eventually, these outputs all contribute to a successful closed loop system seen in action at Linnaea.
Various livestock herds have provided support to their leafy counterparts over the years. Each species provides a valuable lesson on how it may fit into an already bustling web of relationships between flora, fauna, fowl, and of course those humans. Pigs? Too big, they can trample the ground to oblivion. Sheep? Sometimes they find a taste for those delicious fruit trees we also love. Goats? Yet to be attempted. Right now, the herd of cows found in the pastures are the right fit for Linnaea. There’re not without their challenges: the morning I showed up to milk big Jazzy, the herd had found an ingenious way to short-circuit the electric fence and hop over to a previously ungrazed area. We found them happily munching away on prime grass real estate, looking a little bewildered at their success. Herding animals that literally weigh a ton back into their allotted pasture at 7am was an interesting way to start the day! Regardless, their outputs all the way into their eventual slaughter are a valuable asset to the farm. In terms of food security, I admire this system for its small-scale locality, especially when Cortes Island’s remote location is considered. Their design is generally stable and sustainable, yet is also adaptable. Minimizing waste, creating logical food systems, and sharing the eventual surplus is one path to fixing some of the planet’s wounds we have inflicted through our capitalist market and increasingly globalized, decentralized, & multinational trade.