Learning by living

Taking the PDC brought me back to an old train of thought I have had to put to bed way too many times: What is it about the university education system that is so removed from reality? And if its so broken why am I still there? These are questions every student has had from one time to another and some choose to leave it all behind. Others take the bad with the good and push on. Having completed my fourth year of school and with one still to go, I still question the classroom setting as the best choice of my time.

The PDC at Linnaea, like most field schools, offered a handson learning experience unparalleled with other classes. We put the classroom knowledge from spring semester into practice by identifying plants, helping weed rows, and observing system designs. This was a great step up from watching slides go by on a projector screen, but it also motivated us to put our knowledge into practice in our own lives. I think every one of us was inspired by the creativity we experienced on Cortez. And whether we are already putting our knowledge into use or we are still feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being back, I imagine each one of us will find some creative outlet for what we have learned.

Learning plants with out eyes, hands, nose, and mouth. 

It wasn’t just the hands on aspect that made this course so special. This blog assignment is a great way for the knowledge and energy students put into their work to be shared with one another and the broader world around us. Our final research projects as well, will be shared with one another for the benefit of the whole class as we move into the future and find ourself interested in each others topics.

In conclusion, University is not all bad. This class after all was run through UVic. And many profs are taking huge efforts to give students a different kind of learning experience. I do admit though I am excited for being done the trials and tribulations of undergrad and moving into work where the efforts of my projects come to fruition with more than just a letter grade.

Thanks Steph for taking us on an unconventional learning path. You rock!

Beauty in the eye of the beholder


What is the meaning of life? This is the age old question humans have wrestled with since time immemorial. And without a definite consensus on the answer, the pursuit of this question has spurred in people an inner alchemy that often results in brilliant works of art. Many of our guest teachers on Cortez shared with us their artistic visions and revealed to us the land they are so intimately connected to. All their sites that we visited demonstrated a remarkable reflection of their designers inner creativity. Some of them were chaotic, and some were well manicured, but all of the places we visited communicated something more than just pure utility.

Pieces like this bring life to the farm and give it a sense of place. Also, check the dental hygiene on this guy. 

Oliver Kellhammer, conceptual artist and plant genius, opened us up to his ideas on the subject, and illuminating they were. He has been pushing the envelope in defining what is beautiful for quite some time now and he shared with us some of his more radical ideas. Flipping through his powerpoint slides, we were shown photos of degraded environments. Piles of garbage ditched in empty lots, metal factory waste called slag, and invasive weed plants capitalizing the disturbance. He calls these hyper environments or ruderal landscapes, drawing attention to the remarkable adaptability of nature to the detritus of humans material culture. For Oliver there is more than meets the eye to these places. He suggests an appreciation for these disturbed sites can spark an acceptance of the dark side of human nature, and create peace with what most of us find disgraceful.

Following this opening of our perspectives we visited some places (including Oliver’s property) that demonstrated the unique interaction of human history and nature’s resilience. We saw a tennis court overgrown in moss and hardy plants that had punctured through the cracks. Later our attention was drawn to the various differences shown in second growth forest compared to old growth. These showed us first hand the ephemerality of human alterations to the environment and the triumph in natures ability to heal.

These bottles in Oliver’s back 40 that are being swallowed by the forest floor. How do you react to a heap of garbage like this in an otherwise unspoiled environment? Is it simply an unfortunate mess, or is there more to it?

The understanding of impermanence in nature is inherent in the systems of permaculture and has propelled us towards designing for sustainability. But upon deeper reflection it also inspires in us the quest for something more, beyond mere survival. I see this pursuit reflected in the making of art and designing landscapes that express our values. Cortez embodies the high value its residents give to art, and in doing so leaves its visitors with a glimpse into something more.

Flying with the Birds

Acro yoga has been a passion of mine over the years and I love to share it with people whenever the opportunity presents itself. During our PDC this past week at Linnaea Farms, such an opportunity presented itself in the form of a ‘skill share’ with other fellow students, and soon to be acro yogis. The workshop style event started off with our good friend Michelle showing people the ins and outs and ups and downs of headstands. Most folks were pretty familiar with some inversion or another, but for others upside down was an entirely new perspective.

Next we dove head first into bird pose. This is the good ol’ airplane your parents flew you in as a kid. A little daunting at first, everyone eventually warmed up into it and swapped off being the base and the flyer. As people became comfortable with the basics we transitioned into a series of new poses and sequences. Forward leaf, reverse leaf, throne, wale, high star, candlestick, prasariti twist. Many teatered on the brink of collapse as they strived to find balance. Once the form was realized together partners took a deep breath and marvelled at the relative ease with which the postures could be held.

Although our introduction was brief, many got a sense of the playfulness in which acro is done. Wherever I have done acro people have been incredibly welcoming and kind. It is a collaborative process in which people exercise trust in one another and push their personal limits. Once a basic familiarity is achieved, there is a real sense of the limitlessness of the art form. If Sri Dharma Mittra’s Master Yoga Chart documents 908 basic yoga postures, how many are possible with two people?

In the closing circle of our PDC course, many people shared how meaningful it was to live in close community for a week. I think acro has a great capacity for offering this intimacy of living in day to day life. You get to know people really quickly. When done with care and good communication, acro can be a great way to enjoy the benefits of physical activity with your peers.

Making Hay

Thousands of years ago the domestication of animals completely revolutionized the way humans feed themselves. The discovery and subsequent cultivation of hay assisted this process by supplementing animals’ diets in regions with insufficient vegetation. In colder climates it allowed animals to overwinter in a barn and chow down on the previous seasons harvest.

The Linnaea Farm does just that. Hay is used as fodder for the animals and forms a thick bedding on the concrete floor. In order for this to happen, a great deal of work goes into the production of hay the previous season. In fact, Linnaea produces 600-800 bails a year and usually only has to buy around 200!

These old tractor attachments all work just like the day they were bought. Some are 50 years old! Clockwise from top left is a mower, tedder, bailer, and rower.  

Hay is best to cut right before the plant goes to flower. That is when it is most nutrient dense and has grown the most, making the harvest per acre as efficient as possible. Then there are four stages of tractor work to convert that grass into hay. First it is mowed down in rows with an attachment to the tractor. Next, another machine called a “tedder”, fluffs all the grass making it faster to dry out in the sun. Third, a rower comes around collecting it all into strait lines. Last but not least, a bailer rolls it all up into transportable bails and moves it to the storage floor of the barn.

The 1000 or so bails needed for winter is enough to sustain 9 cattle. It takes a lot of energy in the form of people, machines, and land to sustain this process. For the people here at Linnaea, the rewards outweigh the costs, as they enjoy the food products, income, and lifestyle the cows offer them.