“Holy F*** it’s Hot!”

Hotter and drier: a common theme that’s hitting the West Coast’s summers. To many, this change is for the better; who doesn’t love a seemingly everlasting, sunny summer after a long, rain-drenched winter? However, the ever earlier summers we are experiencing as climate change progresses may not be so sunny for farmers.

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Along BC’s coastline, the spring and summer growing seasons are starting earlier each year as well. It was Tamara who pointed out that her strawberry plants were already producing large, juicy berries, something that used to not occur until June. So there are “positive” effects to climate change in that sense: there is an opportunity to grow more food in BC with an extended growing season. However, these longer, drier summers that facilitate those juicy, local strawberries in the middle of May also mean longer periods without rain. This can create prolonged droughts and eventually strain the water supply. It was Adam, who is in charge of Linnaea’s Production Garden, that noted he used to not have to start watering the garden until June and now has to much earlier due to the sporadic spring weather. Growing more food is great, but becoming dependent on food being grown in areas with increasing water scarcity can lead to scary consequences (see California).

At one point, we were standing in Linnaea’s Production Garden, listening and watching as Adam showed us his detailed records from the previous years, which he uses to compare with the current year (he’s still a firm believer in paper copies). While his choice in language might not be suitable for all audiences, Adam’s message was clear: it’s getter hotter and fast. It seems each year is achieving a new hottest temperature record, with 2016 well on its way to being the new hottest year on record. The effects of climate change are already hitting the Cortes farm: last summer was the first year the cistern they use for the Production Garden ran dry. Despite the garden’s opportune location right above the water water, Linnaea, like many other farms, is already feeling the increasing pressure of water scarcity.

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Of course this does not mean all is lost for food production on the west coast. Adam explained to us that it is easier to make the necessary adjustments required under a changing climate with smaller farm systems. Indeed, out of Linnaea’s 316 acres, only around one is reserved for the Production Garden. Adam also advises paying close attention to the phenology and use nature’s cues when past records might not be applicable anymore.

It is important to remember, as we all praise the longer, drier summers we are getting accustomed to, the long-term consequences. Yes, it can feel amazing to shed the layers in April, as we did this year, but at what cost?

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One Last Kudos

I went into this course fully anticipating it to be my last Environmental Studies course after being accepted into a program where I wouldn’t be able to continue with my ES degree. And at the beginning of the course I was ok with that. But spend a week on Cortes, cut off from your day-to-day life, surrounded by inspiring people and their stories, and you just might see things differently. Things that seem crucially important can lose their meaning pretty quickly when you take a step back and see things from a new perspective.

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So with that I’d like to share a few of my many take-homes I brought back with me:

  • Compost toilets can be beautiful (and smell free thanks to a three chamber system)
  • We should all live in tiny homes—especially with the way housing prices are rising
  • Improvisation is key (especially when the sheep break their door at night)
  • Question everything—authority, society, William the bull… you name it!
  • Teamwork, teamwork and more teamwork (I think everyone drank the community kool-aid)
  • There’s politics everywhere (even when making cheese)
  • Trust your gut (it may be wrong but that’s ok)
  • We’re all entitled to our own opinions and tastes–If you want to eat deer testicles do it!
  • Leave time to ruminate on things (cows do it, so why can’t we?)
  • Jump in the ocean as often as possible—it feels good, I promise!
  • There’s always time for a kudos

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And with that, I give one last kudos to the Linnaea stewards, the people of Cortes, my teachers, Hannah, Mike and Kat, and my classmates. I don’t know how, but somehow, this bred-to-be business girl gained a new perspective this week. Where it’s going to take me now, I’m not quite sure, but I’m excited to find out.

The Dilemma of Assisted Migration

During Oliver Kellhammer’s guest lecture to the class he discussed the idea of assisted migration—where humans facilitate the migration of species to a new area they are well suited for. Perhaps a great idea as biodiversity becomes threatened, but also perhaps a huge moral dilemma. All around the world, people are very attached to their native species. Here on Southern Vancouver Island, people go to great extents to protect Garry Oak ecosystems because of their cultural significance. However, the reality is that Garry Oak ecosystems are getting harder to sustain due to changing cultural practices and climates. Still, if one was to propose introducing a new tree species that could potentially compete with the Garry Oak, even if it was proven that it would grow successfully and be a good addition to the ecosystem, there is not doubt it would encounter immense amounts of resistance.

However, there is no argument that climate change is threatening biodiversity. Under changing conditions, some native species are becoming less suited to their traditional environment and this is where assisted migration could potentially help. Rather than using resources and energy to attempt to sustain native species that are loosing their ecological foothold, new species can be introduced to maintain biodiversity. With assisted migration it could be possible for people to pick and choose which species to establish based on their hardiness and potential productivity. Species could be simply moved across their natural range, their range could be extended or they could even be moved from far outside their established range, depending on the form of migration.

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Oliver Kellhammer stands in front of a Metasequoia tree, a species that is native to China but, as he demonstrated, can grow well on Cortes Island. 

The varying levels of assisted migration come with varying levels of associated risk and ethical dilemmas. No one can be certain of an outcome when introducing foreign species into an ecosystem. Still, it also remains to be seen the full extent of climate change’s impact on ecological systems. If left alone, we risk jeopardizing biodiversity even more. I can understand both sides of the debate as no one wants to see native specie, like the Garry Oak and Red Cedar, that have immense cultural significance, be threatened by exotic species. But at the same time, if species are unable to survive where they traditionally have because they simply no longer suit the environment, does it not make some sense to introduce new ones and salvage some ecological health? The question of when is it appropriate to grow exotic plants that have become more suited to the environment over native plants is yet to be answered. Is there a point at which overall biodiversity becomes more important than cultivating native plants?

A Walk in the Woods with Oliver Kellhammer

Try to describe Oliver Kellhammer in one word. It’s pretty hard. Oliver is an artist, ecologist, musician, permaculturalist, activist, etc.

After captivating the class with a lecture on his use of nature and ecology as an art form and as a way to challenge societal norms, we were lucky enough to tour Oliver’s property. To the untrained eye Oliver’s house may look like any old cabin in the woods. But it isn’t. Take a closer look and you’ll discover multiple varieties of bamboo around the house, each with their own purpose. Kiwi bushes grow up around his deck, creating a perfect sanctuary to “crack open a beer,” as he explained. Just beyond his house, trees, from various parts of the world, have been specifically planted to test their compatibility with the Cortes climate. Yes, it can be hard to see past the overgrown grass, but when you do and venture into his orchard, you can discover apple trees that have been carefully grafted together to suit the environment.

Yes, Oliver’s property was captivating, but it was our time spent walking through the regional park Whaletown Commons that I came to realize just how impressive this man was. While we walked, he kept up a consistent monologue on plants we past, his own story and the history of Whaletown Commons. Oliver and his wife, novelist Ruth Ozeki, played a major role in the campaign to create Whaletown Commons, which, up until the creation of the park, was owned by various logging companies who had already selectively logged the area. As you walk along the trail, you see a handful of massive stumps of what once were grand Red Cedars. Oliver has an endless bounty of knowledge that we were only able to skim the surface of. The banter only stopped when we past an elusive slime mould, apparently one of his favourites.

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Oliver points out one of his favourite specimens, the slime mould.

It’s safe to say Oliver well surpassed any expectations I had for him; he, like his property, is much more than meets the eye. His plants of choice are challenging nature’s prescribed boundaries and his art is a political protest in disguise. All of it has a message similar to his closing remarks to the class: always continue to question politics and society and never be satisfied with how things currently are.