Revamping Ideals

The idea of a house made entirely from cob is very appealing. Its properties of being so workable and adaptable, one mass built by hand from the materials at your feet acting as a functional shelter and expressive tapestry or creative outlet. It became representative of everything that permaculture and natural building represented to me, from the connection to earth to the functional sustainability. However, according to Mark’s crash course on natural building, it is not all that suitable to Vancouver Island and there are many superior methods that are more appropriate for the West Coast’s climate and available resources. I was surprised that he was presenting stud framing as a natural building technique. I have generally associated stud framed homes with everything that is wrong with our current construction methods, from the high amount of toxins to the unsustainable use of resources. I imagined it to be something that a self-proclaimed natural builder would stay away from, but today I found myself standing among the bones of a house that was barely distinguishable from any other conventional home, being constructed by a natural builder. Aside from its appearance however, it is far from a conventional home. All the wood was sourced and dried on the property on which it stood. The insulation was made from wood chips covered in clay, a method called chip and slip, which was insect resistant and suitable to the island’s mild climate. The layout was meticulously planned to capture sun in winter but provide shade in winter. The only thing that was missing was a compostable toilet (darn).

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Chip and slip wall (from Pinterest)

 

While it may not have been the cob house that I was imagining, it was far more functional and practical on an island that is covered in forest.

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Plant Punks and Guerrilla Gardening

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Near the end of our time on the beautiful Cortes Island we met Oliver Kelhammer for a module simply named “botanical inventory”. While some of that did occur such a simple title feels insufficient to describe the actual proceedings. This time was spent exploring a mix of plants, climate change, and political activism. I have always been familiar with guerrilla gardening but it always seemed to be nothing more than sprinkled seeds at night and hoping for the best. During the course of this module we were instead introduced to a completely different style of mixing gardens with politics. We first saw the more ‘prototypical’ guerrilla community garden with a run down lot of hardscrabble earth being slowly transformed into a lush garden paradise. The endeavor was only possible with a disregard for zoning law and perhaps more importantly the support of the community. It was amazing to see how this degraded and likely dangerous space was slowly transformed into a thriving community hub. By the end of Oliver’s involvement with the project it was grandfathered into existing legal frameworks and for all intents and purposes looked exactly like any community garden despite its subversive beginnings.

Taking the idea of guerrilla gardens and community stewarded spaces a step further we were introduced to the “Means of Production”. Mired in Marxist rhetoric the garden space is a commons for people to grow the physical materials they need to build various arts and crafts. I found this new imagining of the community garden to be both revolutionary and enthralling. We may be increasingly alienated from our labour but it is projects like this that address so many of the points Marx was making when he waxed poetic about the machinery of capitalism leading to alienation. Reconnecting the individual to nature? Check. Connecting the individual to the self/to their own labour? Check. Connecting the individual to their community/fellow workers? Double check.

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Image #2: Oliver Kellhammer, “Means of Production” Garden.

 

-Jenna Mooney

The Nature of Resiliency

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While on Cortes Island we stopped at the Klahoose First Nation band centre to speak to the chief; Kevin Peacey. While there he spoke to us about the Klahoose Community Forestry project. As settlers it often seems strange and at odds when we hear about resource development projects headed by First Nations. This strange and antiquated stereotype of indigenous people as merely existing on the environment instead of being active stewards of it still persists despite ample evidence otherwise and despite knowing better I still sometimes find myself fall prey to it.

However, that is not to say that this forestry project is not inherently different from many of the other ones in the area. Instead of destructive clearcuts they engage in selective harvests and operate in a strategic manner that takes the environmental impact of forestry into account. This is not the only industry at Klahoose either. The nation has also been involved in the harvest of “geoducks” (Panopea generosa). These clams are found all around the nation’s waters and are highly valued in Asia, thus making them a valuable commodity. At odds with this is an unfortunately familiar story of a reckless corporationand a negligent government which has proven time and time again that they have no regard for the rights of First Nations.

Stuck in the middle of this issue is the Klahoose First Nation and their right to economic self determination. We often talk about rights to land or knowledge but often forget the economic realities at play. This is particularly the case for remote communities that need to coordinate and meet the basic needs of a full municipality while operating with small staffs in often economically depressed areas. That is why it is so inspiring to see a first nation take the lead on these sorts of projects with so much gusto and what appears to be success. During our visit Chief Kevin left to take a call with the federal government regarding the geoduck issue. Treaty negotiations are in the works and other nations have already gone to courts over this exact issue. What the future holds is not exactly clear, but the resiliency and fortitude I witnessed during our brief visit means I am placing my confidence in the Klahoose First Nation and not the colonial government or the corporations they serve.

 

DSC_1100-Jenna Mooney

So much to do…

So much to do, so little time. It is a problem that urbanites might imagine being unique to cities, leading them to fantasize about escaping to a simple, slow-paced life on a farm. It’s certainly something I have often daydreamed about when studying or working long days. However, it is evident from spending the past week on Linnaea Farm that life on a secluded farm is anything but a vacation for the stewards.

One tip that seemed resolute among the stewards: focus energy on what you do best and let others in your community take on the roles that are less suitable to your skillset. For example, although Tamara is fantastic at raising her livestock, she shies from the task of ending the lives of the animals she has raised since birth. That task is left to Jeff, who apparently doesn’t mind the job. With the weight of her endless responsibilities, I am certain that even the hardest farmers would excuse her for avoiding the burden of killing the animals she cares for.

The Stewards at Linnaea Farm have managed to live in close quarters together because they each find a role on the farm that does not interfere or compete with others. Each steward has their own niche, and while there may be minor overlaps, it seems like for the most part they manage to support each other by focusing on what the farm needs. This focus of time and energy helps with cooperation and overall productivity of the farm, allowing the small community to be healthy and happy.

This focus of energy is something that plants do well under ideal conditions, each species filling their particular role in nature. This is an admirable trait that we can learn from both plants and the stewards of Linnaea Farm.

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Plants and people focusing on what they do best

 

 

Reflection

“Meat-Punk” Max. Likely the most hard-core nickname I’ve ever heard. In my mind it painted an extremely radical, wild, rugged, almost intimidating figure. But after a couple of minutes meeting with Heidi and Max at their homestead, I felt very comfortable. I thought Max had a very calming presence and listening to him speak was fascinating. He was so honest; with us, but especially with himself. The path the conversation and other student’s questions took Max on inspired me.

Accepting being an amateur

Being a generalist should be more exciting than it is hindering. I beat myself up way too often because I feel I am not as experienced or as knowledgeable as the person beside me. But in the future I will now try to remind myself more that being an amateur in a certain area is not only okay… It is exciting and motivating! There is so much to learn (and there will always be more to learn). Following your own path will take you down roads that no one has ever been down. Trial and error is necessary and good. Max said “nature is always in control”, and once realizing this, we can learn to be more accepting of not knowing or being an amateur.

 It is only fair

We can never fully escape the toxins that humans have created during this recent era. Living these privileged lives should (probably) come with the repercussion of experiencing these toxins. As part of the human race, we (somewhat) have a duty to ingest or experience the ugly or potentially harmful parts of the world now. This is a part of fully feeling the place that you live. It is only fair.

Our visit with Max and Heidi left me full. Many emotions or dark parts of my brain I often can’t ever put into words they were so gracefully able to describe. I am grateful for the way their words made me reflect my own thoughts and actions so deeply.

Apart from all the profound thoughts they put into my head, I also learned to never judge someone by their hard-core nickname before meeting them again.

IMG_6318.jpegJulia Bayne

Social Permaculture Daydreaming

I’ve taken public transit everywhere since I was 13 years old, which means I’ve spent roughly 2000 hours of my life listening, watching, and analyzing the interactions public transit has to offer. I often play this game in my head where I imagine, for whatever reason, everyone gets trapped on the bus for an extended period of time and we are forced to cooperate. I imagine we develop a micro-society, where certain people have certain roles based on their strengths, talents or skills. Concepts of social permaculture, which are rooted from the permaculture principles, form the scenarios I make up in my head. Social permaculture often considers small-scale interactions, and is built to be prepared for extreme situations, building resilient connections and relationships to carry on long into the future.

Many interactions I witnessed on Linnaea farm over the past ten days reminded me of my daydreams from the bus. Linnaea farm invites anyone and everyone to their magical space, demonstrating they use and value diversity, benefiting off the variety of people and energy that flows into their community. It is an inclusive, educational space that seeks to integrate rather than segregate, and have their doors open to the public at all times of the day. The relationships already established by farm stewards were strong, yet flexible. Brent, the longest current Linnaea farm dweller, expressed there inevitably have been slight disagreements and need for discussion between farm stewards over the years. All sides of the conversations were able to apply self-regulation and accept feedback, as well as learn to be mindful, and apply small and slow solutions to pieces of a growing relationship. Learning to understand different peoples personalities, especially personal strengths or finding out what energizes a certain individual, much like learning their ‘pattern’, helps to design a sturdy relationship. The farm stewards demonstrated many social permaculture principles, and witnessing them so attractively in action was inspiring.

Much like the farm stewards, the relationship formed between all the students represented social permaculture principles. Living in close quarters with over twenty other twenty-something year olds was not a familiar situation. We all creatively used and responded to this change, taking advantage of the connections and relationships that were beginning to bud early in the week. I noticed that all the input individuals were giving to the conversation or activity were always acknowledged… everyone wanted to catch and store the energy others were resonating, hoping to produce no waste (aka. never shutting down someone else’s idea). We were all very determined, all present for similar reasons, all striving to obtain a yield of new knowledge and meaningful experiences. I am grateful for my observations and interactions I had on Linnaea farm. Undoubtedly, my future public transit daydreams will remind me of the social permaculture principles I witnessed on Cortes.

Julia Bayne (Words: 470)IMG_6671.JPGIMG_6710.JPGIMG_6447.JPG

Multi-loves for a Multifaceted Individual

By Oona-Vaughn Murray-Dyde

Having one skill, just one, that you are extremely extremely good at, just your thing, your skill, the thing that you can do. This is great but how do you pick? How do you choose this thing for your passion? Does it choose you? Are you born into it? Are some people meant for one thing, while others 5 and others 20? Tamara gave me hope with this. It seems that just about everything you could dream of, Tamara has her foot (or at least part of it) on the topic. Though it was all SO fascinating, the one specific thing that stuck to me was her medicinal knowledge. The more importantly, Tamaras medicinal knowledge was her knowledge of place. Her awareness of  where and how she communicated with the land seemed to fit so perfectly into her extensive knowledge of medicine and herbology. These two skills created one large strong suit. I’ve often struggled a lot when it comes to not having a set skill, but rather, a wide variety of things that I’m mediocre at. With a short attention span and a constant craving for movement,  I find myself picking at things but never settling. Is this a good thing? Will this benefit me in the long run? Will I be able to develop all the skill I need over a long while? While I pick and choose? I have not decided it just yet. Seeing how skills are sets, units, pairs of two of more learnt things that create one big human. Looking at skills as experiences allows me to look at them through a lens of choice. To choose to have an experience, to allow it is to take on an opportunity to absorb a skill into your life (just like I am absorbing this lamb into my face apparently).

 

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Who knew?

Upon arriving at Linnea, I had only hear radical things about “Meat punk Max” yet I had zero expectations of what we would learn when meeting him in the flesh. But yes, it was radical. Every pause that both Heidi and Max took, I felt myself prepare for something to slip out that would provide an instant epiphany. With care, each question was answered, seeming honest and true. It was hard not to get swept away in Max and Heidi’s creation. A couple quotes stuck with me from their talk:
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“don’t trust anyone to have it figured out for you”

“accept what you have and making it what you need and create what you want”

“look beyond what you “should” do”

“stop being afraid of muddling through without experts and guidance, its not necessary

And most radical of all…

“people don’t have to be slaves if they can feed themselves”

Now this all seems so logical for me now as I sit down of course, but to have get my brain there on its own? I don’t know if that would have happened so fast and yes, it is one thing to say it, but to live it seems to be more of a skillful act. This brings me to the psychological shifts that have been brought up by all the people we have met at Linnea so far.

A shifting of mindset to me is not only a mindful exercise but also a reworking of exposure and experience. This led me to thoughtfulness and intention. All these statements above spoken by Max and Heidi seemed to come out with such care and intention. Feeling stagnant in my goals and perspectives seems to be an annual experience for myself following the end of the school year. Seeing the physical results of alternatives mindsets of lifestyle and way of being has given me space for my mind to soak up the possibilities for myself and the space I create around me.

By Oona-Vaughn Murray-Dyde

Retrofitting Relationships

Permaculture, it seems, places less focus on relying entirely on new things as solutions, but more so about working with existing elements and making shifts or small changes to retrofit what is already there. After the Natural Building day spent learning from Mark, the gears around the concept of retrofitting have been turning, so I looked up the meaning.

Retrofit (verb):

  1. To furnish something with new or modified parts or equipment not available at the time of manufacture
  2. To install new equipment in something previously manufactured or constructed
  3. To adapt to a new purpose or need

That third meaning of retrofit struck me as something that could be applied to non-material things. Skimming over the nitty gritty of climate change, food systems, and capitalism; In general, it is clear that humans need to do some serious retrofitting.  However, as we have learned throughout this course, there is no such thing as a prescriptive “one size fits all” permaculture solution. One constant though, whether you find yourself on a remote forested Island, or downtown Manhattan, is that relationships will always be the glue, or the foundation, of any system.

Whether we were learning about rotational grazing, Vancouver Public Art, tiny homes, or roadkill gleaning, the one recurrent lesson from Linnaea is the importance of cultivating and caring for relationships. Permaculture is not about self-sufficiency. This message played out in many forms while on Cortes; Tamara and Adam had chickens for a while, but then opted to have others could provide eggs. Mark’s tiny home is made of salvaged materials, made possible only through the waste of others. Heck, education and knowledge-sharing is at the very core of Linnaea Farm.

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After this week, I was also struck by how fast relationships may evolve and adapt (demonstrated in our wildlife trails to our tent homes, left). It’s really incredible looking back on how friendships sprouted in just one week on Cortes. We all went from nervous semi-stranger classmates, to cuddling up watching the Royal Tenenbaums together, or grooving around to Scott and Jamie’s Spanish song. People are like onions; most are secretly full of knowledge, stories, talents and skills not to be so easily overlooked.

Then there are ecological communities. Jodi and Dahlia shared their experiences not just raising chickens, but also the ravens, eagles, and red winged blackbirds that became part of their backyard bird crew. Later that evening on Linnaea, I sat in silence on the log by Gunflint Lake as the swallows put on a show in the air above. The sound of a passing car rumbled as loud as an airplane; a shocking reverberation compared to the hum of dragonfly and hummingbird wings.

I made a little pact with myself then; that I would take the effort to understand these communities more deeply. Step one has been to take Hannah’s advice and start keeping a phenology journal. Daily life becomes far less mundane when you find yourself amongst plant communities that were previously unnoticed. Maybe the first step to retrofitting relationships with each other, the birds, plants, and all the little bugs in between is simply observing and listening a little more closely.

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Brittany, Hannah, Scott and Jamie learning from Dahlia and Jodi

-Julia Comerford

Sustainable Sustenance

Returning to the city after a week spent on Linnaea farm, was a bit of a culture shock. Coming home to a mostly empty fridge and realizing that I must now forage for my own food (aka visit the grocery store) made me reflect on the time we spent with people who are challenging this standard.

Spending the morning with Max and Heidi discussing the ways that they ‘live off the land’ and acquire almost all of their food from alternative sources, made me reflect on our dependence on grocery stores. The majority of food they consume, (apart from some necessities, such as olive oil, coffee and chocolate) they obtain in ways that are not widely accepted by our society. They grow their own produce, forage, hunt, and eat the stuff that other people don’t want to (cough cough, roadkill).

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Max and Heidi’s ‘cheese cave’ where they store food they have made throughout the year. 

This process means that they are in the hands of nature and have to be accepting of what’s available and seasonal. In our society it has become standard to have tropical produce available to us no matter if it’s the middle of winter. Finding a ripe avocado in January at the grocery store is completely possible, it was grown in some warm climate thousands of kilometers away and probably costs an arm and a leg but it’s still offered. The way that our food system operates, the food that we eat every day is shipped in from around the world so that we have access to a wide diversity of choices. Max and Heidi have nearly totally shut off these inputs by focusing their efforts to eat what the environment has to offer. Eating seasonally and what’s available entails a serious cutback in choice, instead you have to adapt and learn to appreciate what’s at hand and fresh.

A major takeaway from chatting with Max and Heidi is challenging your mindset and being open to new ideas.  So much of the way we eat is based around a social construct of what’s considered right and wrong. Even if it’s as simple as eating leftover curry for breakfast, dumpster diving, or as drastic as eating a bear, challenging preconceived notions about food can limit the amount of waste we produce and promote a more sustainable system.

/// Izabella Rae