What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen???!

Many of us have already spoken to our time with Oliver Kellhammer… and alas I am going to, too. We can’t help it. We were all inspired! Thank you, Oliver.

tennis forest
Nature re-establishing itself on top of an abandoned tennis court

“What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen?” Oliver asked us. He meant this about people—what can we create, how can we explore and learn, when we are given a space to experiment? An example he gave was Tempelhofer Feld, the abandoned airport, where some German men who like the sun built a reflective box to sit in. Also the commons in Vancouver that function as a park but also an art project, where people are welcome to be creative and do what they want. Oliver showed us a picture of a funky sculpture. “What the heck is that?” he said. He didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have existed if there hadn’t been a space like that for it to exist, and that was enough for him. He mentioned that we need to create autonomous zones within capitalism, places where people can be left to do their own thing.

This makes me think of nature too! What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? Oliver took us out to see an example: the 30-year-abandoned tennis court on the property neighbouring his. Over time, nature moved in. Dirt covered the asphalt and trees began to grow.

oliver scraping
Oliver scraping away dirt to reveal the asphalt beneath. After 30+ years, it’s now begun to crumble and break down. “There’s always something that’s going to come eat up the shit you do,” he says.

In the face of climate change, it’s easy to be discouraged by the loss of how things used to be, a big one being the loss of native ecosystems. But I hear these words again, What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? Oliver told us about pheasants living in urban environments, and how they’ve become more hearty and resilient than pheasants in rural settings. Or the fisher, the “weasel from hell,” and how it has reappeared and is thriving in abandoned industrial sites. “Invasive” species moving in and proving to be better suited for the climate trajectory of the future than the native species currently being valorized and prized above them. Nature cropping up in places we thought it couldn’t anymore, where it’s able to experiment and do its own thing.

Animals don’t stay the same; everything in nature is adapting. What can happen when crazy things are allowed to happen? This! This world! It’s allowing crazy things to happen! Who would have thunk that an abandoned airport could become a bird sanctuary? That a forest could begin to grow on top of an asphalt tennis court? The anthropocene is a crazy thing that we’ve (unfortunately) allowed to happen, but in a way, it is giving nature a space to experiment and get creative. But nature has always been creative; and it’s where we humans get our own creativity.

Though climate change is distressing, it’s keeping us on our toes. And all the best people, and all the best parts of nature (which is all of it, really) are turning it around and using it as a way to make crazy things happen.

tennis edges
Ferns lining the edge of the tennis court

And I think about permaculture in all of this, how it’s all about mimicking relationships found in natural ecologies and using patterns in nature when problem solving and designing. And I have hope that the craziest thing of all will happen—we will find a way to remediate what we’ve done to the earth, even if not in the way we might expect. Nature is getting super crazy and creative as it looks to adapt to the changing world, and maybe we need to look more closely at these patterns, ones that perhaps we used to view as unfortunate fingers pointing out all we’ve done to harm the earth. Instead, we can learn from them… the problem is the solution after all.


Ruminations on Invasives …

As a student in Environmental Studies I feel like it has been drilled into me that invasive species are “bad”. Evil species hell bent on taking over the planet! I’ve been taught to shudder a little bit when I came face to face with English Ivy or Scotch Broom … At least I was. That all changed when I met Oliver Kellhammer. Oliver talked about how while it is important to value native species, it is not always realistic in the long run, or even moralistic. Humans have a tendency to idealize certain periods in history and Oliver suggested that this is the case with certain pre-colonial ecosystems on the West Coast. In fact, he argued that by idealizing these native plant-dominated ecosystems we are actively fighting against the natural push of evolution and change that occurs across every ecosystem over time. Moreover, we should keep in mind that not all so-called invasive species are so much invasive as they are “tropical” species that can bring new and different things to the ecosystem they now find themselves in. The term “tropical” was first used by Oliver during his talk and it is something that made me really start to re-think how I think about “invasives”.


Upon returning home from Linnaea I saw the English Ivy crawling up the rock face by my house and continued to puzzle over how we should think about these introduced species. I decided to do some research to see what other people had to say. As I looked, I found that there were many cases where, indeed, researchersare saying that these invasives, while not necessarily part of a native ecosystem, can be highly beneficial to the soil and native species in a region. Take, for instance, this article about the beneficial relationship that the local bird population forms with the honeysuckle plant in the Pennsylvania region (https://www.livescience.com/30119-invasive-species-plants-good.html) or this article that provides a variety of other beneficial effects of invasives (https://www.wired.com/2011/02/good-invasives/).

While I am certainly not saying that we should let Scotch Broom further proliferate across Vancouver Island and the west coast, there are certainly some positive impacts that invasives can have to an ecosystem. For instance, invasives can provide additional ecosystem services that native species cannot (as in the case with the honeysuckle plant in the previous paragraph), replenish regions that have been previously thought irrevocably damaged by humans (ruderal ecology), and even sustaining and adapting ecosystems that are struggling as a result of climate change. It is also important for us to remember that many plants and species that we know and enjoy are non-native in variety as well.

To be honest, I still don’t know how to feel on the issue. I am passionate about encouraging the return of native species around where I live and making sure that invasive species are not going to, as aforementioned, take over the world. However, I’ve found that my perspective on what “invasive species” are has been changed and I’m opening my mind to include the possible positive impacts that non-native species can have on our ecosystem.

Animal Systems

One of my favourite lessons on the farm had to be Animal Systems with Tamara. I grew up around animals my parents have always had horses, sheep, and chickens and my best friend’s family owns one of the largest dairy farms on the Vancouver island. The use of animals for labour and production has been a part of human history since modern humans began to abandon the traditional nomadic way of life and settle, domesticating animals as an alternative to the energy intensive process of hunting them. Agriculture is possibly one of the most intensive and most revolutionary revelations in human history and it is a practice that continues to evolve. One of the most interesting concepts that Tamara spoke of was the idea of rotational grazing. I first came across the concept in my first year of university at Dalhousie University where it was being studied as a possible solution for stopping desertification from occurring. It was fascinating to see the practical application of this process and that it really did seem to work. It makes me ponder why this practice isn’t used more! It is clearly a far cheaper and less labour-intensive way of fertilizing than running a tractor to spread manure which most industrial farms do. I was also kissed on the face by a cow that day which was pretty neat; its not the first time this has happened to me, but its always nice to be loved. I don’t have any photos of that so if anyone does, send them my way!Rebellious Herd

Permaculture Ponderings


Now that the field school has concluded and life is beginning to slip back into its natural rhythm (consisting mostly of work and sleep), I find myself thinking about permaculture far more than I did before. I’ll see or do something at work and think to myself “Hey, that’s permaculture!” These little moments of epiphany have got me thinking about what permaculture really is, but more so, what permaculture is to me. I think it’s fair to say that everyone approaches the concept of permaculture in a very different way it’s one of the things I like about it, a permaculture design can be as imaginative and unique as the individual whom has crafted it. I believe that I likely look at permaculture in a different way than most but in many ways, I think I view it in a very similar way as well. Permaculture to me is a way of thinking, it’s a way of reconciling (in the Canadian big C kind of way) my fiscal Conservative values, Libertarian Social Values and my environmental values which are way out in left field so too speak. I have always been surrounded by nature. I don’t like living in the city; it’s simply an unavoidable evil I must deal with if I want to go to school and as such I have always felt that we need to protect the things that make British Columbia and Canada some of the most beautiful places on earth. I have long subscribed to the idea that it is not possible to have economic prosperity without environmental sustainability and it is something that I think Kevin and the Klahoose First Nation not only subscribe to, but highlight rather effectively. The First Nation has been able to generate prosperity through industrial means yet in a sustainable way, through small selective forestry endeavours to hydro electric projects and non-invasive low intensity aquaculture. I also have a lot of respect for the fact that the First Nation has been able to create economic stability while simultaneously maintaining and promoting the history of their people. I also admire Kevin’s determination to work with the members of the First Nation through consultation and his desire to bring people back home. Permaculture is a lot of things to a lot of people But I would argue first and foremost that it is a way of thinking, that it is a way of challenging the status quo, and in most cases, makes our world a little more sustainable and a little less scary.

Wiggle Room

The hope in cities for me lies in spontaneous and passionate creation. The kind of creation that Oliver spoke to, and demonstrated in his public art works and community gardens in Vancouver and Toronto. I really started listening the morning of our conversation with Oliver Kelhammer when I realized that he was the person that had instigated the creation of one of my favourite roosts in Vancouver, the Cottonwood Gardens. I had never really thought to investigate the story behind those little plots and winding paths; figured that they were part of a municipally-funded project to brighten up a rather dreary part of the city, I guess. I was overjoyed to see pictures of the collaborative and subversive beginning of the place, with community members taking advantage of a new space to exercise their autonomy in the city and share their knowledge. It’s a radical idea: open space, in the city, for people to do what they do. Whatever that might be. And it may be that no one even knows what that might be.

Ever tried to put on some pants but there was a plant??! I know I HAVE!!

Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin is another great example of this creativity that Oliver brought up. It is my understanding that this space was hard-won, wrenched from the grasp of a gaggle of salivating developers by the PEOPLE. That’s what I imagine, anyways.

Tempelhofer was a parade ground initially, then used as an airport, and today it is a zone for recreation and experimentation. There are community gardens, pop-up markets, naked sunbathers, walking and cycling trails, windsurfers, concerts, and to top ‘er all off, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area. It strikes me as admirable of the city planners to open a space for all that and more amidst the bustle of the capital of Germany. City planners are all about place-making, it’s kind of like water in permaculture: the idea isn’t to facilitate a landscape conducive to people rushing about without interaction or engagement, they want people to slow, s p r e a d, sink. However, the importance of pointless space can’t be overstated. Redundancy is resilience! Urban engagement comes from the freedom to express and experiment, people are going to do this no matter what because we are beautiful and creative little bugs, but it’s even better if it’s city-sanctioned! After speaking with Oliver it wasn’t at all surprising to me that he left Cortes for NYC. He clearly thrives on the energy of the city, and sees hope for the future in subversive ways of living in all kinds of environments. Or maybe he just does whatever the slime mould tells him to do.

Japanese Mountain Yam


The Japanese Mountain Yam (Dioscorea Japonica) or Jinenjo Yam, is also known as “Yamaimo” in Japan, as well as the “East Asian Mountain Yam” elsewhere. The yam can often be mistaken and mislabeled as the Chinese Yam as they are very similar visually. It is native to Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Northern India. Due to its sparse and wide spread nativity throughout southern Asia, there have been 4 accepted forms of subspecies of Dioscorea Japonica which include:

  • Dioscorea japonica var. japonica
  • Dioscorea japonica var. nagarum
  • Dioscorea japonica var. oldhamii
  • Dioscorea japonica var. pilifera 

Jinenjo is a hearty and productive perennial root crop that can be grown in full sun to partial shade and between heartiness zones 4-10. Because of this wide range of heartiness, the yam can be grown in a vast amount of climates, making very accessible to farmers all around the world. Historically, people have thought that yams were only able to be grown in tropical climates, but the Japanese Mountain Yam due to its heartiness can be grown all over North America and even in the Cascadia regions close to home.


The tubers of the plant grow at the base of the vines like a cluster of sweet potatoes. The vines will grow upwards of 4m tall. It also grows small tubers on the vines that look similar to air potatoes. These are often suitably used for seeding the plant. If the plant is desired to be maintained as a perennial, at least one tuber must be left in the ground, or cut the top third off one or two tubers and replant them.


The plant is comparable in visuals to that of a taro root, making it easy to describe to those who may not be familiar to the appearance of the plant. The plant itself has edible roots which are the plant tubers which are most commonly consumed. The air potato-like shoots are also edible but not consumed nearly as much due to the inferior size of the fruits.


Interestingly enough, the Japanese Mountain Yam is the only known yam to be consumed raw. Traditionally in Japan, it is often served cut or shaven julienne-style raw and either served with an egg on top, or with various other sauces including soy sauce or wasabi and eaten as a light salad/appetizer. Also has been eaten with steamed eel and diced cucumber.

In terms of its medicinal uses, many studies have shown that it could be a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, and may also be beneficial for intestinal health and oxidation prevention.


Jacke, D., & Toensmeier, E. (2005). Edible Forest Gardens (Vol. 1&2). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publ.

Toensmeier, E. (2007). Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Planetary CPR

Everything Oliver spoke about came back to an unrelenting respect and appreciation for the dynamism of the world. I found our conversation with him encouraging and inspiring, and reflected on how his view on ecological restoration stimulated and challenged my own. One thing we seemed to be in agreement about: the ecological and social systems in which we are embedded are perpetually in motion, so why do we idealize one configuration of an ecosystem over another? Critics of traditional environmental restoration argue that the very idea of a historical baseline is arbitrary and unscientific. To a certain extent, I agree. What was so ideal about the specific arrangement of biomass somewhere post-ice-age, pre-colonization? It seems that a certain degree of human fragility makes its way into the science of restoration; a little raw piece of our collective and historical consciousness that says, “how it was before us, that was pure.” Unpacking this further, it seems to assume that humanity is apart from nature; something that imposes itself upon the helpless landscape as a parasitic other. The point in making this distinction is not to minimize the destruction caused by human systems in the world. It is only to question the assumption of a practice that is becoming more and more relevant every day. It’s as important to understand the underpinnings and context of your restoration as much as it is important to think about the effects in the future!

Hey! This guy’s native! Right?

Oliver’s work in the urban landscape was, in his words, “giving a voice to nature”, but I also took it to be a statement about the role of nature in our cities and in our cultural imagination. The very beginnings of conservation lie entrenched in the idea of pure and pristine nature. But realistically, if that ever did exist (debatable), it certainly doesn’t anymore. How can we retrofit our conservation ethic, still reaching back to antiquity and calling up images of worth-protecting landscapes like cascading waterfalls and stunning mountain peaks, and start caring just as hard about the second- and third-growth that surround us? 

Emma Maris, in her book Rambunctious Garden, has some hopeful words about the future of restoration and the value of taking the idea of nature to the streets and incorporating (and thus giving value or a “voice” to) the natural world that perforates our urban landscapes. We are within the natural world, and it pokes through our concrete and shades our sidewalks and buzzes down our streets.

So…maybe we have a saviour complex. Maybe we need to do some reevaluating of what “nature” means to us. But restoration can still be good, I think! And the conversation we had with Oliver really drove home some aspects of the practice that really make sense to me. I can see a hopeful future through his eyes, especially when he throws around happy little terms like “planetary CPR”. I love that one.

Just do it

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After completing my time on Linnaea Farm I feel elated, inspired and motivated by all the positive initiatives being carried out by the individuals we encountered. However, I cannot help but feel perplexed by a thought that has stuck in my mind since the beginning of our course. How much of permaculture is privilege? The folks of Linnaea are in an exceptionally lucky position that allows them to do what they do. Max and Heidi are in a similarly fortunate position whereby they live on Henry’s farm in exchange for work and other services. Land is a limited and shrinking resource that is only attainable for a few. I disagreed with Max’s comment that we are facing a population problem rather than an abundance problem. True, enough food is produced to feed the world but I do not feel the human population size is at the heart of our greatest issues. I do agree it is a human problem in that human actions have led us here and therefore we too should share nature’s suffering (ie. ingesting contaminated foods). But I feel that our greatest problem is a systemic one. The structures that govern coupled with globalization have entrapped much of society in on an going cycle of growth by marginalization. As Charlie so poignantly noted, for some Indigenous peoples reproduction is a form of agency – a continuation of cultural values, languages, and traditions. Max said “there are too many people on Earth for any food system,” but I argue there are too many politicians on Earth for any food system.

I guess permaculture does not really translate into privilege in totality but I still can’t help but question just how accessible these practices really are? I suppose at the end of the day it comes down to what we are willing to give up in order to give back to the Earth; what we are doing to enact our individual and collective agency. Despite these quandaries, the greatest lessons I took away from my time on Cortes was that opportunity is everywhere and to just START. Even in the smallest of ways, it is better to do than not to do.

Plant Project: Fuki




Petasites japonicus, commonly known as sweet coltsfoot, Japanese butterbur, giant butterbur or bog rhubarb, is a perennial herbaceous plant native to Japan, China, and Korea. The plant was first introduced to British Columbia (BC) by Japanese immigrants. Fuki blooms during the early Spring or even late winter. This plant can grow in just about any soil type but prefers moist to wet conditions typical of woodlands or bog areas (Petasites japonicus, PFAF Plant Database, n.d.). While it prefers medium to full shade it can also thrive without any shade, so long as the conditions are wet enough. This wide range of tolerance to environmental conditions may attribute to why the plant is considered an invasive species in BC. As one of its common names suggests, this plant is quite large in stature reaching a height of 3 feet and the leaves can be as large as five feet in width (Petasites japonicus – Plant Finder, n.d.).

Due to their extensive root systems this plant can spread rapidly and improve soil stability. Because of this, fuki can be utilized in gardening as a protective barrier against pests, wind damage and encroachment of grasses or invasive species (Simpson, personal communication, May 22, 2017). They can also be used so stabilize the banks of streams and around the edges of ponds. The tall stalks and wide leaves make a perfect play place for small children, under which they can hide from the sun or their parents. Apparently giant butterbur is sometimes used as umbrellas by children in Japan! (Petasites japonicus, PFAF Plant Database, n.d.)

The stalk and the flower of fuki are both edible. The term fuki is actually the name for the Japanese dish of cooked Petasites japonicus stalks. The stalks, similar in structure to celery or rhubarb but much larger in size, are boiled and peeled before consuming. Fuki is typically then stir fried and served with rice. The stalks can also be added to miso soup for flavouring. It is important to note that the leaves do contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage (Petasites japonicus, n.d.). The flower buds are considered a delicacy in Japan, which are also boiled or used for tempura.




Petasites japonicus. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved 23 May 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petasites_japonicus

Petasites japonicus – Plant Finder. (n.d.). Missouribotanicalgarden.org. Retrieved 23 May 2017, from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a645

Petasites japonicus Sweet Coltsfoot, Japanese sweet coltsfoot, Butterbur PFAF Plant Database. (n.d.). Pfaf.org. Retrieved 23 May 2017, from http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Petasites+japonicus






“Botanical Interventions”

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This morning (May 26, 2017) we were graced and honoured with the presence of Oliver Kellhammer who spoke to us of autonomous spaces, experimental landscapes, and natural regeneration. The first portion of his talk was particularly meaningful for me – as I listened to him speak of an early project he undertook in Strathcona Park I came to realize I was sitting before the man who created a space near and dear to my heart. The Cottonwood garden in Strathcona has become a safe place for me, and my dog; a place of contemplation and exploration. Fenced in between industrial box-like buildings and concrete commuter corridors lays an oasis thick with fruit trees, shrubs, and leafy greens. Mulch pathways course throughout, welcoming the wandering traveler. Community created but instigated by Oliver, this autonomous space exemplifies our capacity for opportunity, in terms of food security and sovereignty, collective agency, and social justice, as we move into the future chained alongside the repercussions of continuous climate change.

I felt inspired by his call to bring back the commons, to challenge authority and governing structures by doing first and seeking permission later. His idea of “weed sanctuaries,” in which he just “lets sh*t happen,” got me thinking about the manicured nature of our industrial food system compared to the ‘messy’ food forests of permaculture gardens. By allowing nature to take over and do its thing we are not only giving a voice back to nature we are enabling the inscription of its language on the landscape. Autonomous spaces and experimental landscapes are in essence classrooms that help us relearn what it means to be connected to nature. To be connected to place.