Forest Ecology & Climate Change Adaptation

Oliver Kellhammer work as an artist, activist, and environmentalist has led him down an extraordinary path in life. He has created numerous art instillations with a focus on food justice, communication and botanical intervention. Some instillations he shared with us range from guerilla and sanctioned gardens, reestablishing forested areas after infrastructure developments, growing slime mold to predict the future and working to preserve forested areas.

One topic that Oliver returned to on several occasion was how climate change will affect the future ecology of the world, and how we should be preparing for it. Oliver highlighted some species that were historically present in North America, like the Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). The fossil record for Dawn redwood have been found widely distributed throughout North America and Eurasia from the early Late Cretaceous to the Plio-Pleistocene. The species was thought to be extinct until 1941, when it was found in the Shui-sha-ba Valley of china (Lepage, 2005). Since then it has been successfully replanted in city in North America (e.g. City of Toronto, New York City etc.).

As climate change continues to destabilize climatic patterns it is important that we identify vulnerable species and species that might be able to fill the ecological niches of species lost. The history and range of tolerance of Dawn redwood makes it an interesting tree to consider when thinking about climate change adaptation. The wide distribution in space and in time suggests that the genus probably grew under a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions (Lepage, 2005). Dawn redwood could become an important species for North America as the effects of climate change continue to unfold over the years.

Oliver is not the only one thinking about the problem our current ecosystems are facing. Greg O’Neill, research scientist for the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, is running one site, in the Okanagan, that is involved in the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trail (AMAT) project. The AMAT project is trying to determine the limits of commercially important species by moving them south and subjecting them to warmer weather, and at the same time is working to determine if moving species north will enable them the fare better as the climate evolves (Marris, 2009). The province of BC has also recently adjusted its forestry rules for replanting cut blocks to encourage the movement of species northward or up in elevation, so that they can remain in an environment that most resembles their ‘climate-envelope’ (Marris, 2009). So far these initiatives have only happened with commercial timber, and the project is too young to have strong conclusive results. Trying to integrate a foreign species such as Dawn redwood into BC, despite it potential benefits, would cause uproars within many communities. Even moving native species outside their historic ranges is viewed negatively for fear of aggressive invasion. However, as climate change continues to push our biogeoclimate zones around, isn’t it only logical that we find species that can “invade” these new environments and thrive in them?

Finding ecological solutions to changing climatic conditions is extremely complicated. Oliver offered unique thoughts into the matter, which would likely run against the grain of most conservationists, and similarly, Greg O’Niell faces substantial criticism for his involvement in the AMAT project. As climate change continues to unfold and the effects become more pronounced a variety of solutions will be required to maintain ecological services and functions. My wealth of knowledge is not robust enough to heavily weighing in on the debate for and against the assisted migration of species, but I feel it is important to acknowledge that the idea of ‘novel ecosystems’ may be a very real actuality in the near future. One could argue we are creating ‘novel climates’ and that ‘novel ecosystems’ may be the only way to continually deliver ecosystem services and function even if some ecological mistakes are made along the way.

What do you think? What is the best way to prepare our ecosystems for Climate Change? Is it something that is possible? I’m open to any and all forms of feedback!

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From the Farm to the City

I heard a story while at Linneae from a fellow student, about a child who refused to believe apples come from apple trees and instead they firmly asserted that apples in fact come from the supermarket. I try to put on my empathy hat, think back to when I was a kid growing up in cities (Toronto & Calgary), were did I think apples came from? Farming is anything by an easy job; it requires constant creativity, perpetual problem solving, steadfast dedication, a wealth of knowledge and a deep understanding of the land. To be a successful farmer the want and desire to produce food must be set in your bones, so that your spirit may be carried through the years of laborious work. While I understand that not everyone can be a farmer, the far reaching effects of farming and the shear importance of the role justifies a comprehensive literacy from the general public. “We have to bring children into a new relationship with food that connects them to culture and agriculture” – Alice Waters.

Small-scale permaculture farming requires its practitioners to develop an intimate reciprocal relationship with the landscape, the seasons, and local systems. Doing so allows practitioners to find the simplest solution to on the ground problems. In order to be a successful permaculture farmer you must be literate in the language of the land and the systems on it. On Cortes we had the opportunity tour various system with local translators; to glean from them insights into the relationships they have create with the land, the animals and each other. Linneae Farm is an extraordinarily special place that has, over the past 100 years, developed a multitude of sustainable systems by not overexploiting the land and its resources. It is an amazing place to acquire knowledge, inspiration, guidance, and fresh food! However, due to its location and the capacity of the stewards it is not feasible for large numbers of people visit and learn from the farm. Linneae is able to operate its systems in part because the farm is zone as a conservation covenant, which exempts from normal taxation and allows its stewards to keep systems small and sustainable. Under normal circumstance Linneae Farm would likely have to put more pressure on the land by increasing its annual production. Linneae is a special place but it is unrealistic to try to replicate its model, it is simple too unique, and it is unfair to place the onus of education on its stewards. As students I feel it is our responsibility to take the lessons we have learn from the Stewards of Linneae, and from others in the Cortes community, with us back to the city.

Permaculture offers an opportunity to integrate thoughtful agricultural systems into our urban landscapes. Together we must observer our urban systems to find edges within these environments and exploit them for the benefit of both people and the earth. We have to find ways of creating multiple functions within the landscapes we inhabit, and cycle the excess energy that we create. We need to expose ourselves, our youth, to the interact relationships between the land and our food. In order for all this to happen municipalities need by-laws that normalize food production. The City of Victoria has already started to adopt such policies. With ‘minor’ prodding from individuals within the urban food scene, the City of Victoria has recently streamlined its licensing process for small-scale urban food production businesses. It has also produced several resources encourage those interested in urban food production. (http://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/business/permits-licences/food-production-businesses.html)

It will be interesting to see how Victoria’s urban food production community grows in the coming years. The stage is set for the industry to potential see significant growth. Some leaders have already begun to emerge within the community (i.e. Chris Hildreth – Topsoil). But do Victorian’s have a strong enough appetite for an urban food production industry?

A Glass Half Full of Sustainability

Like many things in life, I am a person who has had trouble beginning an endeavour while knowing that I will never be able to fully complete the task. While it may seem like a good trait at first, there are various aspects of life that I have begun to realize which may not need to be fully accomplished. A great aspect of this is sustainable living.

I have had a hard time convincing myself of changing various aspects of my lifestyle to reduce my overall footprint on our planet. While buying local wherever possible, taking public transit when available, and consuming a mostly organic chemical-free lifestyle, I still find myself looking towards further sustainable goals (and rightfully so).

As I aspire to this ecologically improved lifestyle, I often run into a mental barrier saying: “why do anything if you’re not going to go all the way?”. The various meetings with permaculture experts on Cortes Island have allowed me to challenge this thought of tackling personal sustainability goals without feeling the guilt of not being able to do it all.

I recognize that while people aim to maintain a sustainable lifestyle, we are wrong to expect them to live one of net-zero carbon. This comes through my admiration of the lifestyle choices that have been made by people such as Max and Brent.

While Max is an exceptional hunter and gatherer, he still relies on various fossil fuel resources to allow him to live his everyday life to a comfortable level. This means that Max will still use a boat motor with gasoline to power his boat. Does this undermine his credibility someone living a sustainable lifestyle? Not at all.

Similarly, in the case with Brent, while he is super resourceful and generally a none-wasteful human being, he will still ship in coconut husks from out of town to feed his compost. Even though it is a waste product, it still needs to be brought in from an outside resource – thus requiring transportation and more fossil fuels.

All in all, the main reasoning behind all of this is to not be too hard on yourself. Make those baby steps that you feel will help you lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and you will be doing good no matter the circumstances.

“people are from everywhere, why can plants be?”

You know when someone makes you feel so inspired that it hurts your bones? For years I thought I’d live in a cabin in the woods. Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but Oliver made me realize something astoundingly momentous, yet simple. The cities need me because I care. Living in “the asshole of Capitalism” is important. Go to the worst place, and stabilize it. This guy uses nature to stick it to the man.

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Oliver Kellhammer himself, showing us the wonders of the natural world… with some pizzazz, of course.

As a social practice artist, he offers a perspective that is otherwise lacking in the world. He asserted that sometimes the right thing to do is nothing. Now this doesn’t seem too shocking, until you consider that almost all environmental restoration work places value judgements on which plants to keep and which plants to save without much reflection. Oliver continually questioned why we valorize certain plants over others. I have spent so much of my time focusing on needing to keep native plants native. Now it’s essential to point out that plants can, and have been, culturally significant for thousands of years. Many people have been forcefully dispossessed from their ways of life, and as such, the plants which were integral to it. BUT it’s also important to consider that the world is changing.

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A glacial erratic. Proof that hey, wow, the earth changes.

To keep the forest native is essentially gardening, and as such, Oliver rightfully claims intervention to be a moral question. “Shit really is hitting the fan now, in all spheres.” According to Oliver, the most important issue is going to be climate change. Some native plants aren’t handling it too well, and maybe won’t make it. However, other similar plants can fill those niches, while still contributing to biodiversity. For example, he thinks Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) unfortunately won’t survive, while California Redwoods will flourish here. This is an ethical concern, which unsettles my tummy. Then again, 10,000 years ago nothing was native. Perhaps we could use plants that were native 50 million years ago, indicated by fossils, because the earth changed then too. It’s all trial and error now, baby.

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Remember to look up.

 

Is all biodiversity equally valuable?

Essentially, what I gathered from this magical man is that we need to exploit our youth and passion while we have it, and refrain from running away. The problem can and should be the solution, and we need to find better ways of caring for ourselves and each other as we, justifiably, all freak out. Just like plants, people and animals don’t stay the same, nor should they. Certainly we cannot escape the value judgements we place on the world around us. That said, we should ensure those values are informed, and be willing to change them when cease to be useful. There is no such thing as a ‘bad plant,’ so we shouldn’t racialize them (JUST AS WE SHOULDN’T RACIALIZE PEOPLE! I MEAN COME ON ,WE ALL ARE EQUALLY DESERVING OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE). Plants that come from other places aren’t inherently evil. We need to shift existing power relationships, and create alternatives to them. So do things without permission, keep the pressure on, and move forward (what a wise guy)! Oliver concluded that we have to be prepared to lose, but the struggle is worth it. The earth is going to be fine long after we’re gone, but hey, why not try to save ourselves.

“Don’t lose hope, there’s always something in the world that will eat all the shit you do.”

The Tales of Meat Punk Max

On Tuesday we journeyed to Manson’s Lagoon to meet with Max and his partner Heidi. They shared with us their way of living with the land, their hunting practices, and how they have worked to become 95% self-sustaining. Their talk was thought provoking in many ways, but what struck me most was when Max prefaced by saying that he can’t give us answers. Instead, he can tell us a story—of his experiences and the perspectives he’s gained from them.

This is an instinct, I think. Intuitive. When we seek to explain the world and ourselves, it is usually in the form of a story—indigenous legends, religious texts, Greek and Roman mythologies. We use metaphors and analogies to make ideas more accessible and engaging—math word problems, Aesop’s fables, the characters of the constellations. When fellow student Thomas taught us how to tie knots during an “Each One Teach One,” we all better understood what to do when the instructions became a story—the rabbit goes out of the hole, around the tree, under its tail, etc.

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Gathered around to hear Max’s stories

The more I practice my observing skills, the more I see the world is full of stories. And the more I learn about permaculture, the more it all becomes a collection of stories, rather than a dry textbook of figures, numbers, and theories.

A favourite example is phenology: Brent knowing to harvest the hazelnuts because the squirrels and stellar’s jays have arrived; Adam watching for when the lilacs bloom, because that is when to plant the peas; my own home in the Okanagan, and that when the meadowlark begins to sing, I know spring will be here to stay.

In A Biodynamic Farm, Hugh Lovel defines the word educate as a “process of awakening knowledge, skill, and understanding,” which I believe is what stories tend to do. They are not a way of inputting data. Though they don’t always provide clear-cut answers, they are still able to awaken new knowledge and understanding in an individual, especially since we all perceive stories in different ways. I think this adds to the richness of the world. There is the tendency to be searching for answers, but perhaps switching to a search for stories could prove to be more insightful. Each individual has a story to share. Every part of nature has a story to tell. And each are all part of the big story that is the world we inhabit together.

Permaculture doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it offers us examples and experiences of it in practice. We can learn more deeply and fully from these (rather than from something like statistics) because we understand stories on a more intuitive level. They stick in our minds. They make sense. They engage us and give a greater and more lasting impact. They are often something we never forget, especially when we begin to create our own to share.

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One of the clams Max showed us how to harvest from Manson’s Lagoon. Each individual is allowed to harvest 70 clams per day. Max and Heidi harvest far less, but are still able to enjoy a meal a week.

Weed’s Cool

Oliver… what a duuuuuuude. A dude with charisma and a knack for motivating the permie-pack to perform “planetary first aid” on and off the farm. It was really great to see the potential of permaculture ethics tying into art, social change, urban wastelands. His words were a reminder to start doing things instead of worrying about doing things. Also while you’re doing things, look around and ask “what can I not do”?  I liked his installation of a weed sanctuary, giving plants room to breathe and take over in a metropolis of human control. It’s fascinating that that is considered controversial, that letting weeds grow is a radical act.

This made me think of the war on dandelions: while root, flower and leaf provide concentrated nutrients and are very tasty, people are determined to get them off their lawn. After my third year of university I was feeling a little discouraged and less intellectual than when I had started. So I took a year off to mull over the information i’d been subject to. I remember one day last spring, I was on a walk with my Mum in Golden and we passed an older man stooped over his lawn spraying every single bright-yellow-sunshine dandelion with weed killer. I said to my mum, “whenever i feel really dumb I have to be grateful that i’m not that dumb”.

A friend told me the reason for all this dandy hate: At the end of World War 2 there was an abundance of a certain chemical left over. The company who produced the chemical wasn’t sure what to do with it and came up with the brilliant scheme of biological warfare, and sold this chemical as a means to get rid of dandelions even though they are not bad in any way!

It’s strange that such idyllic visions of nature are so detrimental to healthy, biodiverse ecosystems. If only we could change our visions and be more open minded to messy, fully functional, wild plants. That would be chill.

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Okay, Oliver K!

Importance of hands on learning

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Wild foraging by digging clams in Mansons Landing with ‘Meat Punk’ Max for “class”.

Only recently within the last year did I discover the opportunity that is field courses, and it was probably the best discovery of my university career. Field courses, like this one, wrap so many good things into one nice bundle; hands on learning from experienced, personable, knowledgeable teachers, in a beautiful environment, surrounded by unique wonderful friends… What more could you ask from a class?! Opportunities like this make me value and treasure my degree and the choices I have made thus far in my schooling and for my future.

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Learning about the art of farming grass with Tamara McPhail in the back fields of Linnaea Farm.

I have always loved learning in the field, on the job, using my hands and meeting new and interesting mentors. Interacting with mentors in their homes and workplaces is so important and instrumental education, to open your eyes to different ways of life and learning.

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Just hanging out on Hummingbird Bluff receiving our first lecture of the week, how cool?!?

Being on this farm with like-minded individuals, learning from the stewards of Linnaea Farm inspires and motivates me to work harder and learn more. Tamara and Adam are like the ultimate power duo which everyone aspires to become, and who I just want to follow around soaking up knowledge from. Brent and Liz have lived on this farm and taught countless people, I hope to be as patient and committed to one piece of land for as long as they have. They illustrate adaptability and adaptive management so effortlessly, welcoming change, and accepting it with ease. The newest and youngest couple, Jody and Jeff, are immensely knowledgeable and it is interesting to see how a new family integrates into the long-term community of Linnaea. Plus, they are always all dropping truth bombs and catchy life-phrases which crack me up, but also hit home, making me realize how grounded and experienced they are.

These teachers, farmers, life-guru’s, friends, role models are pretty much “life goals”, as we would say these days. In essence this permaculture course has allowed us to temporarily step into the community that is Linnaea Farm and learn the values, ethics and principles of permaculture in the most incredible way. Oliver Kellhammer, ‘Meat Punk’ Max and Mark warm-heartedly welcomed us into their homes and opened up to tell us about their unique lifestyles. Learning about these alternative lifestyles first hand, with the opportunity to ask questions was such an extraordinary experience. Seeing people in their element, where they are most comfortable and vulnerable, surrounded by their creations and projects they are so proud of, establishes deeper connection and understandings.

So…. I hope some official, decision making person reads this and realizes we need way more field courses in universities because they are awesome!! Also, they are are important for learning skills, creating relationships to people and places, and encourage cool people, like the Linnaea Farm Stewards and residents at Swail Town, to continue doing what they’re doing. Thank-you to everyone for the most unreal ten days, you are all the coolest and most intelligent people I’ve ever met. ❤

Imposition of ourselves onto land

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Working in the Permaculture Market Garden at Linnaea Farm, used and modified over decades.

If you were given a piece of land, let us say one acre, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Probably some sort of plan of what you would like to do with it, whatever it is you are most passionate about or interested in, but overall some idea that will modify the land in some way, shape or form. Tamara McPhail brought to light on our Linnaea farm tour, this idea that many of us tend to impose our own views on the land, without consideration of what is best for the land or what the history of the land is. This is something I had never even considered or really thought about. She touched on one of the core principles in permaculture, that one should be present on the land and observing it for at least a year before implementing a plan. Often, we still implement a system tailored to our own needs, wants and views, and don’t fully understand nor appreciate what the land already has to offer. Can there a balance between what is best for the land and our own intentions for it? I think there can be, and I am sure that there is in places around the world. It is so important to take time and observe because the systems functioning naturally are most likely the best and most productive systems there can be. So why not enhance those amazing systems instead of trying to change a good thing?

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Taking a peak at the naturally made outdoor shower at Channel Rock, and how is works with natural systems utilizing passive solar energy. 

It blows my mind that there can be 20 individuals looking at one piece of land, and all come up with a completely different idea of what they want to create on that one acre. In our time with ‘Meat Punk’ Max he also touched on this topic, he saw land as already being very productive as the wild systems that they are, and that we imposing ourselves and changing them just mess them up. He looked to our history of living off the land and recognized how this is a dream for many people, but rarely ever followed through with. If Max was given a one acre piece of land, he may just leave it as it is and be successful at foraging from the natural system.

So what am I trying to get at? Where does this conversation go? Well, I hope that it spurs people to take more time in learning the land, and appreciating what it has to offer, that being said we often buy property for a reason, to construct things to meet our needs, it is inevitable that we will modify the land. If however, you have the opportunity to really try and work with the land, find a balance and enhance systems already in place, I encourage you to try and do so! Linnaea Farm is doing a pretty great job of trying to work with the land and are truly an inspiration, but in the words of Brian Starzomski, all are wrong and only some are a little right, this was in reference to climate change papers, but I believe it can be applied here as well.

Courtney

Goumi

Goumi/Gumi/Cherry elaeagnus/Cherry silverberry
Elaeagnus multiflora

 

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Referred to as either Goumi or Gumi, but also as Cherry silverberry and scientifically as Elaeagnus multiflora, this small rounded, deciduous and somewhat thorny shrub is a largely undiscovered plant in North America. Introduced over 100 years ago from Asia, and highly valued specifically in Korea, China and Japan, Goumi is non-native and thus far non-invasive to North America. It is a close relative to Autumn Olive, and overall is a rather hardy plant being drought tolerant and rarely having disease or insect problems. Goumi stands 2-4m in height and produces small round red berries 1-2 cm in diameter. Ripening in mid to late summer, berries are a deep scarlet red at their ripest and have a slight acidic flavour, they are commonly used in jams and pies. This plant may become more popular in the future, because it has great environmental benefits as a nitrogen fixer and strong insectary attractant, and has not be found to hold invasive properties.

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“Goumi is a plant that thrives on neglect.” As previously mentioned, Goumi is a very hardy plant, they can grow in diverse soil types, wide temperature ranges, and a varying scale of sun coverage (however, full sun is best for good fruiting). This plant even tolerates salt air well, making it a great plant for our coastal regions. Goumi also can survive temperatures as low as -20’C, and even to -30’C where the above ground plant may die at these temperatures but the roots can regrow in the spring.

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Goumi is what is considered a nutraceutical, a food that combines “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”, by providing health and medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. There are high levels of vitamin A and E, the presence of bioactive compounds, minerals, flavenoids and proteins, all adding up to an impressive combination. Their lycopene content, a red carotenoid pigment, is also the greatest of any food and has been used in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and various cancers. The extracts from the seed and berry of Goumi were used as treatments for HT-29 colon cancer, and results indicated reduced cell viability inhibited cell growth, induced apoptosis and it may contribute to suppressing cancer growth. Studies have found water and ethanol extracts from the fruit have high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties/effects with serious potential in the future.

Goumi berries are an incredible source of essential fatty acids, which is an unusual trait for a fruit and contain ascorbic acid and carotenoids as well. Seeds of the fruit are also edible, having high protein and fats, yet tend to be fibrous. Traditionally in China and Korea the leaf extracts were used to treat coughs, diarrhea, sores and itching.

Goumi used originally in Asia as an ornamental plant, has many incredible properties that make it an excellent choice for including in permaculture designs, especially on coastal climates when it can withstand salty environments. This plant seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to include in every permaculture site, because of the endless list of positive qualities and seemly absent negative qualities.

References

Baessler, L. (2016, June). Goumi Berry Shrubs- Tips on Caring For Goumi Berries. Retrieved from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/goumi-berry/goumi-berry-shrubs.htm

Samuel, J. (2013, May). Goumi- Nutrition and a Nitrogen fixer. Food Forest NZ. Retrieved from http://foodforest.co.nz/goumi/

John, K. (2012, February). Permaculture Plants: Goumi. Temperate Climate Permaculture. Retrieved from http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2012/02/permaculture-plants-goumi.html

Shin, S. R., Hong, J. Y., & Yoon, K. Y. (2008). Antioxidant properties and total phenolic contents of cherry elaeagnus (Elaeagnus multiflora Thunb.) leaf extracts. Food Science and Biotechnology, 17(3), 608-612.

Lee, M. S., Lee, Y. K., & Park, O. J. (2010). Cherry silver berry (Elaeagnus multiflora) extracts exert antiinflammatory effects by inhibiting COX-2 and Akt signals in HT-29 colon cancer cells. Food Science and Biotechnology, 19(6), 1673-1677.

 

Courtney Jones

WILD

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Digging for clams / totally digging life

Yesterday we saddled up in our cars and drove down to Manson’s landing to meet with ‘Meat Punk’ Max. I was under the impression that we were going do a nature walk and talk about all the wild plants you can harvest, but instead we engaged in a very personal and in-depth conversation with Max and Heidi about their commitment to the most fun, delicious and satisfying way to live”. I was impressed with how honest they were and therefore how vulnerable they became to a group of 20 understanding yet opinionated permie-students.

Hunting is a touchy subject, it gets a bad reputation because of malpractice (trophy hunting) and a common lack of respect for the animals. Max and Heidi kind of consider their role in the ecosystem to be predatory – they say “Taking a life is an unavoidable part of being alive, it’s better than taking away an entire habitat”. I thought this insight rang true, we might not think twice about a new subdivision going up but are alarmed by the thought of somebody shooting a bear for food. It’s important to recognize these possible double standards before reacting, because every way of life has an impact in this world.

Bella asked if Max had any rituals around killing an animal and I liked the response: he felt uncomfortable taking somebody else’s ritual and hadn’t developed any of his own, yet there was definitely GRIEF felt for the animal. I appreciated how they are defining their own terms of living off the land and not confining themselves to one way of doing it. They are tying all these different concepts together: working on a farm, hunting, foraging, not hesitating to take advantage of what the modern world has to offer them. They aren’t trying to return to being strictly primitive because, let’s face it,  that isn’t the reality of the human condition, we can’t just easily return to something from which we have been SO far removed. Also obviously we all want to see our families and drink coffee AND eat peanut butter. These desires shouldn’t provoke guilt and are entirely human.

Heidi and Max have an admirable compassion and respect for the wild and seem truly see themselves as embedded ecosystem. They are happy to be learning constantly, trying things out and seeing what works for them, as we all should be doing! They are not only mimicking nature but just using what Pacha Mama has! Accepting how it is and taking what is given, with not many answers but definitely a story.