Alberta’s Election & Keystone XL

For those of you who are unaware, Alberta has been governed by the Progressive Conservative party for 40 years. So same government, since before I was born.

The hard truth is that if you want to have an impact on who is elected premier in Alberta, you have to become a member of the party and vote for their leader. The first ballot was last Saturday, and I signed up and voted for Alison Redford, the most progressive of the bunch. She is the only one that says anything about sustainability, and she is the only one that agrees that we need to get more teachers back in schools (with my son’s kindergarten class at 27 kids, I agree).

In party leadership elections, if one candidate does not get over 50% of the vote in the first ballot, then the top three contenders move to a second ballot. So Alison Redford came in second, and we vote again this Saturday, October 1st.

So who came in first? Gary Mar. He is the least progressive of the bunch, but the name that most people recognize, as he has been in government for a long time.  I heard comments he made on the radio about the Keystone XL project and Alberta’s oil sands, so I decided to write him a letter:

Dear Gary Mar,

I heard your recent comments on CBC radio about the protests over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. These particular protesters (as there are many) are Albertans who feel that we should not be shipping our raw bitumen to Texas for refining, that we should be refining it here in Alberta instead, to create jobs for Albertans. Your comment was that it was not an “either/or” scenario; that we can ship the raw bitumen to Texas and refine it here in Alberta as long as we continue to increase the development of the oil sands.

I believe that this situation is an “either/or” scenario (or better, a “neither/nor” scenario), for the following reasons:

  1. The pace of development of the oil sands has already happened too quickly. Habitats are being destroyed. Certain animal populations, such as Woodland Caribou, have been put into endangered status due habitat loss directly attributable to oil sands development. We think that Alberta’s wilderness is vast and resilient. The fact is, it is not.

  2. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Fort McMurray cannot keep up with the required growth in homes, roads and schools. Communities there are fragmented with transient workers who never intend to put down roots, urban work camps are everywhere, 20% of the residents have no fixed address, and alcohol and drug addictions remain high. Will this community pay the price?

  3. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Proper water monitoring procedures and programs have not been put into place. Dr. Schindler of the University of Alberta conducted the most extensive study ever conducted in the area, and his results revealed that the current program is hugely lacking. Even former federal Environment Minister Prentice agreed that a better system is required to properly monitor the water pollution in the area.

  4. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Forests are being peeled back, faster than they can be reclaimed. Habitats are being lost forever. An ecosystem is very delicate, once you destroy it; it is unlikely to return with the same vigor. The amount of reclaimed land is a tiny percentage of the total land used by the project.

  5. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The water and air pollution are directly impacting the health of people who live downstream from the oil sands. The residents of Fort Chipewyan have abnormally high rates of cancer, cancers that are specifically linked to petrochemical exposure. Why has development charged ahead without full consideration to the lives of these people?

  6. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Tailings ponds are growing larger and larger. New technology to replace the 30 year old technology of tailings ponds is not being widely used. Tailings ponds are leaking into the river and water systems, as evidenced by Dr. Schindler’s important study. What if tailings ponds broke their containment, unleashing rivers of pollution? What is the plan for that?

  7. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The oil sands are already emitting more carbon emissions than the entire country of Switzerland. Why are we rushing to emit more? In a world where the countries of this planet are looking for cleaner and greener ways of producing energy, why is Alberta banking their future on being the supplier of the world’s dirtiest oil? What if we wake up one day and the world has moved on? Why would we put all our eggs in one dirty basket?

  8. The pace of development has happened too quickly. There are already 392 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the sky. Climate scientists agree that we need to reduce this to 350 parts per million to keep the warming at only 2 degrees. If we don’t change course, we are headed for a planetary warming of 6 degrees, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. 97% of scientists agree that carbon must be reduced to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change. If we pump all that oil out of Alberta’s sand, and put it up into the sky, we will most certainly warm the planet past 2 degrees. We most certainly will put future generations in a dangerous position. Imagine, years from now, the world putting partial blame on Alberta, for its reckless plundering of oil sand. What will our children’s children think of us, when they inherit a hot planet?

Further, Alberta does not need more jobs. Even as the economies of the world are crumbling down around us, Alberta has jobs. We have more jobs than people. So much so that you are campaigning to change foreign worker laws to enable the oil companies to grow larger, faster. You have missed the key point. The economy is there to serve the people of Alberta, not the other way around. If we are charging ahead with growth in the oil sands, reckless in the face of the wildlife, human, community, water, ecosystem and carbon emission damage that it is causing, most surely we would not do it over and above Alberta’s need for jobs. Where is the common sense? Do you have the best interest of the people or the oil companies, at heart?

There are a growing number of Albertans, who no longer agree with being the peddler of dirty oil. There are many Albertans who want to be part of the solution to climate change, not the cause of it. There are many Albertans, regular hardworking people, who disagree that Alberta’s future must be in oil sand to be successful.

If you are elected Premier, I hope you will look into the eyes of your children, and do what is best for their future. We must think long term, for their sake. We need to invest in a better world, a cleaner and greener world, where the threat of climate change remains a threat and not a reality.

For the sake of my two young children and children everywhere, I hope you choose life and sustainability over climate change. Oil revenues are just not worth it.

Sincerely,

Sherry

Edmonton, Alberta
Wife and mother to 2 young Albertan children

 

Live in Alberta? Want to vote for Premier on October 1st? Just show up your polling station with $5 and you are good to go.

March for Melting Ice

A male polar bear

Image via Wikipedia

Polar sea ice.  What does it mean to you?  Vast areas of white, white, white, never-ending?  Cold temperatures and a blinding wind? A home for polar bears in the north and penguins in the south? 

Polar sea ice caps our planet, top and bottom. It keeps the water at the poles cold. When it is cold at the poles and warm at the equator – you have the perfect engine to move water around the planet. These currents oxygenate the water and allow aquatic life to flourish. These currents shape our weather. These currents are vitally important to life on Earth, both in the ocean and on the land.

So if the poles warm up, what happens to the currents? What happens to the level of oxygen in the water? What happens to the health of the oceans? What happens to the weather?

It all changes.

So what is happening anyway with our poles? Are they really warming up as fast as some are saying? Is the sea ice melting? Can the sea ice freeze up again?

Well, there is news out today that the Arctic sea ice is set to break some records. It could be lower this year than it has ever been in over 7,000 years. It is set to break the previous record set in 2007.

Yikes.

File:2007 Arctic Sea Ice.jpg

Meanwhile, the animals suffer.

There is news today that chinstrap penguins in Antarctica are starving, as their diet of krill has been diminished. Krill populations have decreased up to 80% since the 1970s in some areas, associated with the continual decline in sea ice.

There is also news out today that king crabs are now moving into the Antarctic, as they can survive in the warming waters. The flora and fauna of this ecosystem are very fragile, and not accustomed to this new predator. The sediment of the ocean floor is changing, as the king crabs eat and forage what was previously left behind. Certain local species are going extinct.

Meanwhile in the north, polar bears continue to lose their hunting grounds, as they depend on the ice to hunt seal. They also have to swim further and further between ice floes, sometimes they drown.

It is all changing.

How much of this is our fault? How much of this is my fault, me personally? If one million penguins die, or one thousand polar bears, what is my contribution to that? If another horrible storm hits, and people die or are displaced by the wreckage, how much of that is due to the choices I have made in my life?

Some of it is my fault. I know it is.

What can I do? How do we collectively start taking climate change seriously? What will it take? When will we realize that we only have this one Earth to live?

Inaction or action? Bystander or change maker? Consumer or creator? What path will I take? How will I live this life?

Well I plan on taking part in 350.org’s Moving Planet: a day to move beyond fossil fuels. There are events going on all over the world, and I want to be part of this global day of action. I want to stand up. I want to be that someone who did something, whose voice was counted.

I want to march.

I plan to take my kids, scooter, tricycle and all. Here in Edmonton, we are going to meet at the abandoned Esso station on Whyte Ave at 11:00 am and walk, cycle or run to the Alberta Legislature building, along with everyone else who wants a clean, green future for their children. Let’s do it for those penguins and polar bears as well.

Who will join me?

Apple Tree

I feel like I am finding my way. Things are coming together, unfolding more or less how I hoped they would. I had a dream and a desire to localize my eating, and now that the growing season is underway, I am learning more and more about how it actually can be done.  I can play an active role in provisioning food for my family.  I started on this journey last year, wanting to make a difference for the environment, for climate change, for our future.  This has progressed into looking at the world differently, looking at nature differently, and looking at how we sustain ourselves with food differently.

I want to go and pick an apple tree. Last year, the idea of picking an apple tree that was not even mine, would have seemed ridiculous and even a waste of time. Why would I spend time in a tree, when I can buy as many apples as I want at the grocery store? Besides, what would I do with all those apples anyway? Where would I put them, how could they possibly not go to waste?

My neighbours have a beautiful old apple tree that they inherited when they bought their house, and it produces hundreds of small, sweet, crispy apples. Last year they picked a few but left the vast majority of them up on the tree to rot and shrivel. All winter I looked up at the dried fruit on the branches and wondered – could I pick their tree next time for them? Could I split the harvest?

In the spring my neighbours and I were chatting about gardening as I planted my vegetable seeds and seedlings. They mentioned their tree in passing, and that I could pick it this year if I wanted. I gladly agreed. This weekend I noticed that the apples were now turning red and that they should probably be picked soon. While I was watering my plants my neighbours came up to the fence and mentioned that I could pick the apples now, if I still wanted to. I did not even have to ask them about it again, something I was working up the courage to do… it’s like they read my mind or something! I thanked them and told them I would pick them a box as well. They did not seem that interested… Then I told them I was going to make apple sauce and apple butter – would they like some jars? They jumped at the suggestion and were really excited about the exchange.

So last night I looked up at the tree, with its big dark green leaves and rosy apples dripping down in clusters from every possible branch, and thought of the possibilities. This afternoon I hope to be up in that tree, with leaves in my face and the smell of live apples all around. I will come down from that tree with more apples than I can imagine – boxes and boxes of them. They will represent a good portion of my fruit stores for winter, when local fruit will be impossible to find.

I can see this tree from my bedroom; I watch it through all the seasons. I can stand in my garden in spring as the blossom petals flutter down over me and my yard. I look up at the limbs in the summer as I pick my own raspberries along the fence, and notice the little green globes growing bigger and bigger on the heavy boughs that droop down over. I see its bare branches for most of the year, reaching upward and out, in stark contrast to the snow all around and the bright blue sky. Now this tree is heavy with apples, ready to be picked, ready to be stored. How many boxes can I harvest? How long will it take? How many little red spheres will prove impossible to reach from my ladder? I have no idea.

The plan? Dole them out as crispy, sweet snacks to my children for as long as they will last fresh. Make apple crisp. Make apple butter – something I have never tasted but have heard amazing things about. Make apple juice perhaps? The vast majority though, will be converted into apple sauce. My kids love the stuff, and I hope to be eating homemade apple sauce in January, when the memory of this green tree bobbing with apples is all but a distant memory. I even bought a food mill last night to make the work easier and faster. Peeling and coring? Not required with a food mill, apparently.

I have never done any of this before, but plan to have fun trying. How many jars will I be able to put up? Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you will excuse me, I have a date with an apple tree.

Berry Me

Out here on the Canadian prairies, we can’t seem to grow much fruit other than berries. We can squeeze out apples okay, and the odd person has a pear or plum tree that manages to survive, but other than that – it is berries all the way. Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, choke cherries and Saskatoon berries, to name a few. Because I want to eat as local as I can, I am getting in on the berry action by growing some in my yard and picking some at local U-pick farms. There is nothing better than live berries off the vine!

Raspberries – we have grown raspberries in our yard for a while as a raspberry patch came with our house, lovingly planted by the family before us. It has been a good year for them due to all the rain, making those berries relentless in their need to be picked. Everyday new ones ripen, and if you miss a few days you kick yourself, as they start to wilt and rot. It was a goal of mine to have very little raspberry wastage this year. Alas, waste did occur. Sometimes I just didn’t make it out in time, or was out of town… I did manage to pick quite a few though, and my kids have had freshly picked raspberries on their cereal for weeks.

This year I topped up my raspberry collection by going to a U-pick (Roy’s Raspberries) and picked 5 lbs in only 30 minutes, all for only $18! These berries were so easy to pick (unlike my patch where the canes are falling all over each other). I will make some of them into jam, and will freeze the rest for winter smoothies and baking.

Now for strawberries – I planted a patch this year of 16 plants, some June bearing (which is actually July here), some ever bearing. They are doing marvellous! With their big shiny triple leaves, lots of white flowers, and now suckers everywhere ready to make new plants for next year – what’s not to love? Here are the plants earlier in the season:

I pinched off some of the flowers this year (on the advice from a book I read) to strengthen the plants to ensure a bountiful harvest next year. We will see! As it stands, my kids love these berries so much that every time we are outside they go snacking. They call it the strawberry store. Let’s just say that precious few berries ever even make it into the house. So I want to expand the patch next year, I just need to find/decide on a spot.

To supplement our strawberry store, I went U-picking with the kids twice – once around town (Happy Acres U-Pick) and once near my parent’s cabin at the lake (Moe’s Gardens & Greenhouses). We jammed some, ate some, froze some.  Here are some berries mid-jam:

On to Cherries – I have a Nanking Cherry tree in my yard that I bought about 7 years ago for its display of flowers in spring. It delivers on the flowers alright – it is my absolute favourite part of my yard in early spring!

But I never knew until this year that its berries were edible. No idea! So I tried them for the first time this year. Pretty good! A bit tart, but very juicy and succulent. My kids also liked picking these off the tree and popping them in their mouths, although my three year-old had problems with the pits. After considerable snacking, I picked the tree clean and got only 2 cups, from which I made a single jar of jam. Maybe the bees forgot to visit my tree?

Blueberries – the low bush variety grows wild here, and as kids we used to pick them in the pine forest next to my parent’s cabin. They are really tiny though, and took a long time to pick. Plus the bears really love them, so depending on the time of year, you could run in to one… So I decided to plant my own and got 2 high bush varieties that produce lots of slightly bigger berries. I bought special ones that are hardy to -35ºC (-31ºF) so that they would stand a chance here (Polaris and Northland, with Polaris being my clear favourite). Unfortunately, my two bushes together have produced a grand total of about 15 berries. I know it is the first year and all – but 15? Come on! I think I planted them in the wrong spot, they need more sun. I plan to buy 2 – 4 more bushes next year, but need to weave some magic in order to find a spot for them in my small urban yard. Back alley? Next to the sidewalk? Crammed into a garden bed?

A maturing Polaris blueberry (Vaccinium corymb...

Image via Wikipedia - Polaris Blueberry

On to Saskatoon berries – these grow wild! There are dozens of trees at my parent’s cabin, something I had never realized before. I have grown up there in the summers, and never knew the bounty of fruit that lay hidden in the forest! But this year I have been noticing nature around me more, appreciating it, looking deeper in the forest to identify different types of trees. Hidden amongst all the others, there they were, standing tall with dark purple berries aplenty. Can you spot them?

So there is no need to find a place in my yard to plant these – I can forage! I picked enough for a batch of jam in July, my mom picked bunch for another batch of jam this weekend, and my sister and I picked even more. What else should we do with them? Saskatoon berry syrup? Freeze for baking? Maybe a bit of both. Saskatoons have a unique tart flavour that is quite decadent when sweetened. Plus they are native here, they grew here first. I like that idea, we don’t get much of that here… So as I picked them in the forest, listening to the waves lap up on the beach a few meters away, I imagined myself 300 years ago… would I be gathering berries for my family this way?

All in all, it has been a berry good experience (I know, I know, I couldn’t resist).

The Way We Green

This is a panorama of the downtown Edmonton Sk...

Edmonton Skyline, image by Steven Mackaay

I wrote before, about the green developments going on in my city. One of the most important and exciting items is an environmental strategic plan for the city, called the Way We Green. It is a very important vision for the future, and a vital step toward sustainability. I was so excited when I read it, and have been following its developments closely.

It is not approved yet by city council. Last week there was council discussion on it, which was open to the public. Not surprisingly, new home developers came in droves to speak out against it, and one local paper ran a front page story with the caption “Green Plan Hammered” and a picture of a hammer on the cover. Yes, I know, really original, read the story here.

Edmonton is a sprawling city. Spraaawwwwling. Of course the developers don’t want the city to give up its sprawl, it is to be expected. So we grow straight out, unchecked, instead of developing our communities from the inside. Everyone puts up a big fuss when the odd apartment building is erected outside the downtown core. Not surprisingly, taxes climb higher as the city struggles to maintain the vast network of roads and the related snow removal and pothole fixes that go along with it. Utility distribution fees are also higher, as more gas lines, electrical lines, water lines, cable lines and phone lines are built. Indefinite sprawl is irresponsible to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, let alone the environment.

The Way We Green strategy is going to be presented again tomorrow to Council. Scared that it actually might not be passed, I decided to fire out a quick email to my council representative, Ben Henderson. I voted for him last fall, had his sign on my lawn and talked to him on my door step. It was worth a try:

Hi Ben,

I emailed you a couple months ago about the gravel pit in the river valley. Thanks so much for your reply. I have another concern regarding The Way We Green.

I really believe in this strategy for Edmonton. Several major Canadian cities are implementing similar strategies, as you are probably aware. Vancouver wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Calgary is making strides. Toronto has some great things going, with zipcars and bixi bikes available everywhere, as well as a vibrant local food plus program that verifies and labels local food in the grocery store. Many municipalities around the world are stepping up to the plate when their provincial and state and national governments are not.

Climate change is an issue that I worry about a lot. What kind of world are we leaving to my two young children? I know that most scientists agree that we have to act now, we have to act soon, and that there is no more time to mess around. Bringing in a progressive strategy like the Way We Green is a very, very important building block for our city. The climate change problem is a global problem, but requires local governments and local communities to solve it. The way we build homes, the way we plan communities, the way we get around, the way we produce our food – these are all local issues and need the leadership of the local government for solutions.

Urban sprawl cannot continue indefinitely, it is irresponsible to both the taxpayer and the environment. I think you agree with me on this one, as we had this conversation during the election campaign on my doorstep! We need to look at new ways of growing our city, perhaps up and in, as opposed to out, out, out. In the meantime we might get to know each other better, build our communities and feel like we are part of something great. We need to support our local food systems for food security in the long term, and this cannot happen when we continue to pave over our precious arable land with more suburbs.

The Way We Green is so very important, I really hope that Council will see it and continue with their vision of a bright future for Edmonton and Alberta. I understand that the document is going before Council again tomorrow, and I just wanted to let you know that I wholeheartedly support it, and would ask you to support it as well.

Sincerely,

Sherry

Strawberry Fields Forever

Local strawberries, grown here – have you ever tried them?

Now that I am in the process of converting to eating local food year round, I have got to plan ahead for those long winter months. So when local strawberries come into season, I have got to get them now, while the getting is good!

The strawberries that grow around here are small, sweet and juicy. When you bite into them they are red throughout, with no white bits on the inside like the grocery store variety can have. They do have a shorter shelf life, which is why you can’t find them in the grocery store. You can find them at the farmer’s markets though. Even better – you can pick them yourself!

This week we are out at my parent’s lakeside cottage with my Mom, so I looked up some U-pick farms in the area, using the Alberta Farm Fresh website. I called, and the lady told us to come on down! There are berries on the plants! The season is just starting up! So my Mom and I loaded up the kids and off we went.

The farm was located about 15 minutes from the cottage, set in among rolling green hills. It had rained earlier that morning, and the sun had just come out, making everything shine brightly. We each grabbed a pail and the lady showed us how to pick the fruit – you just pull back green leafy top cover to reveal large clusters of red fruit underneath, lay the fruit in your hand and grasp the stem with your thumb, and the strawberry just rolls into your hand. She had lined the rows between her plants with straw, keeping the berries clean and our boots mud-free. She also told us that her plants were not sprayed and that everything was organic.

The kids loved it; they thought it was cool that they were on a real farm! Where real food grows! They were very excited about the prospect of eating berries that they had picked themselves. In no time at all we had picked 4 pails, which turned out to be about 20 lbs of fruit.

When we got them home we all had a strawberry snack. Then my Mom and I started scouring cookbooks for recipes for strawberry jam. Let the preserving begin!

My Mom made 6 jars of strawberry freezer jam. The strawberries are frozen in fresh, creating a brightly coloured jam that is not cooked.

Lacking freezer space, I started off by making a classic jam recipe, the kind they used to make back in the day before you could go to the store and buy a box of pectin off the shelf. With this method you cook the berries to release their natural pectin. This recipe used 2 cups of sugar, lemon juice and 8 cups of berries. The result was a wine coloured jam, with a deep flavour and caramel tones.

Next I made a jam with a higher amount of sugar, using the classic method again (no pectin). This recipe used 4 cups of sugar, 4 cups of berries and lemon juice. The added sugar added extra brightness and clarity to this jam, making it look like the berry bits were floating in ruby red jelly.

I finished off with making some preserved strawberry sundae topping. This recipe called for orange juice and orange rind, along with a bit of syrup instead of sugar. The idea was to hold back on the sweetness, to allow the fruit flavours to come through. This preserve was the lightest in colour, and the berries were left almost intact. I plan to use it over ice cream and also to stir into yogurt. Who knows, maybe I will even try making yogurt myself!

I froze the rest of the berries, hulling them and laying them out on cookie sheets to freeze individually first before bagging. I got two large sized freezer bags out of it.

We ate lots of berries fresh as well, as snacks, as desert, in a bowl full of milk, overtop cereal, in fruit salad. Delish. These berries were so sweet it was like eating fruit candy.

This was my first attempt at realizing my goal of a pantry stocked with local food for the winter – thirteen pretty red jars of local sweet strawberries.

Mmmm.

Greeny Blues

Do you ever feel like being green makes you blue?

When I first started out on this green journey 7 months ago, I felt powerless and alone. What a massive problem – what can my tiny voice do? I am just a regular mom. How is changing my actions going to affect anything? I am just one person among billions.

Then I found a community of like minded people, first with fellow bloggers, then among family and friends. I needed to try, to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I committed to change my ways.

This propelled me for several months. It was exciting! I was changing my lifestyle left, right and centre. Lights off, laundry hung up to dry, heat turned down, no more plastic bags, no more food in boxes, more bus rides, less mall shopping, more local shopping, more farmer’s markets, no new clothes, more gently used clothes, no more Styrofoam, no more paper napkins, way less food waste…

And then finally – I built myself a real vegetable garden to call my own.

It was fun. I did things one way for a decade, then bam I changed it all up. It threw my husband for a loop – why all the change?  He thought I was crazy. But for me it felt really good, I was doing something about this problem called climate change. I didn’t feel powerless anymore. I had a purpose. I had a reason for my actions. This was incredibly fulfilling.

However along the way I also learned a lot more about the state of our little planet Earth, this small marble of life in a Universe so vast…

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Image via Wikipedia

I learned that we need to be really scared about the future. I learned that there are great political, social and economic forces against the reduction of CO2, forces so strong, and so well-funded, and so engrained in our very culture. These forces happen to be also very good at spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the science of climate change.

I also learned that we don’t have much more time. I learned that our window for turning things around is not measured in decades, but in mere years.

We only have a few years to change.

On one hand I am defiantly hopeful, that there will be enough of us on the good side, on the side that chooses life and sustainability, over convenience and consumerism. That more and more people will figure out what I figured out 7 months ago, and make changes, and inspire others to make changes, who will inspire others, and this whole thing will tip, so that more of us want to do something about it than don’t want to do something, that more of us will look beyond the borders of our little lives and realize that we are part of something bigger, something magnificent and fantastic and we will collectively realize the power we have to change. We will act for each other, for our children and our children’s children. We will act for humanity itself.

On the other hand I am scared. What if enough people don’t join in? What if the governments of the world take just a bit too long to act? What if we keep burning and burning oil, putting more C02 into the sky, and don’t stop before it is too late? We all know that the oil is going to run out one day, and we will have to transition to something else. What if we don’t make that transition when there is still a world worth saving?

Hence, the blues.

Have you ever just cried … for the world? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed about it all, and it saddens me so deeply and greatly, that I just cry. I cry for the children. I cry for their future.

Am I crazy?

I want to do more, I resolve to do more, I have long lists of things that I want to accomplish, letters to write, actions to take, committees to join. But I struggle. Being a busy working mom, there is just not enough time in each day to do all that I want to do. My minutes feel like tiny raindrops of gold, so precious, so few, so easily lost.

How will I live this life? How will I make a difference? How will I contribute to this groundswell of people now growing steadily, of those committed to living green, spreading green and building a sustainable world for our children? Imagine being a part of something so amazing and magnificent? Imagine being part of the movement that ushered in the solution, in the face of the greatest problem to ever face humanity? I know the stakes are high and the hour is late, I just need to find time between doing the laundry and doing the dishes to pitch in.

Plus I look around me, and everywhere I go, there are constant reminders of how far we need to go to turn this thing around. Pick a category: Food. Transport. Consumerism. Energy. Economy. It all has to change – radically.

We will get there. We have to. The enormity of it all though, has this greenie feelin’ a bit blue.

Make Your Bed – Part II

The garden beds have been constructed (see Part I) Whew. After long winter months of dreaming where I would put them and what they would look like – they are done.

Now I have to fill them with dirt.

I should mention that I decided to follow the Square Foot Gardening method, developed by Mel Bartholomew. I read several books over the winter on backyard gardening, and this one really stood out. This type of garden takes up less space, is totally organic, doesn’t need much weeding, and produces a relatively large amount of food in a small space.

The idea is that you build a wooden raised bed, 4 feet long and wide, giving you 16 square feet of growing area ( I did a 3 x 5 and a 3 x 7 to fit my spaces). You mark off these square feet using thin strips of wood or string, creating a grid. Within each square you grow a different vegetable. So for example, in one square you can grow 16 carrots or 16 beets or 9 onions or 8 peas or 9 bush beans. So if I designate 3 squares to carrots, I could potentially get 48 carrots out of it. For the larger plants, like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and potatoes, you grow one plant per square. It saves space because there are no rows between plants. You also never walk on it, so the soil stays light and fluffy. The bed is raised, making them easier to reach.

I like how this system works. I can grow whatever I want in whatever square I want. For some reason, my brain likes the combination of spontaneity, combined with the systematic organization of a grid.

The other thing about Square Foot Gardening is that you use a different type of soil medium. You don’t use dirt from your garden. You make your own dirt. The soil medium is made up of 1/3 peat moss (or its more sustainable counterpart – coir), 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost. The peat moss keeps the soil light, the vermiculite holds a tremendous amount of water and also aids with breaking up the density of the soil, and the compost gives your plants all the food they need – organically of course.

I totally bought into this idea. I want my garden to be organic. I want my soil to hold the perfect balance of water and air. I want my plants to have enough water to sustain them. In addition, I won’t have to worry if my soil is too acidic or too alkaline. I won’t have to worry if I have too much clay, sand or silt. I won’t have to worry about all the weed seeds in garden soil.

So, I went on a mission to find my ingredients. Mel says to use at least 3 different types of compost, to ensure that you get a balanced mix. In the end I used about 4 types. The peat was relatively easy to find, but if I could have done it again I would have looked harder to find coir (peat bogs are not very renewable and hold 10% of the world’s fresh water and coir is simply the left over husks from coconuts).

Vermiculite was another story. I phoned around to almost every greenhouse, garden centre, hardware store in my area. Most did not carry it. If they did carry it was only in small 20 litre bags. I needed 550 litres! I found one supplier that carried it in 110 litre bags, so I bought up 5 huge bags. It turned out it was the wrong type – fine grain instead of medium or coarse grain, which according to Mel is a very important distinction. So I returned those and purchased 25 of the 20 litre bags. I purchased 18 bags of compost and 4 bales of peat moss. Here is what a few bags of it looked like before I got started:

With the ingredients finally in hand I set out to make dirt. The idea is that you dump equal amounts of peat moss, compost and vermiculite onto a tarp, and then roll it around.

It helps to have a helper, preferably an adult. However, my 5 year-old boy was ready and willing to get the job done, so help he did! He dumped the vermiculite (it is really light), watered the pile to get it moist, and held up two ends of the tarp while I held the other two ends and tugged and pulled and kicked it until it was mixed.

I did this 12 times, and made 12 batches of dirt. I hauled each one over to my garden beds and pushed and heaved the tarp until the dirt was deposited within.

For the container garden we filled each of the six bins with a pail, scoop by scoop. We got our hands really, really dirty.

The neighbours came by and asked what we were up to. “We are making homemade dirt!” my son told them. “It has compost, vermiculite and feet moss!”

At last it was done. My driveway was a complete disaster, dirt remnants everywhere. Every muscle ached. But it was a good thing. I felt good. My body felt good.  I set out to accomplish something that weekend, to create garden beds in my tiny yard, and I made it happen.

Now look:

Stay tuned for Part III – planting!

Make Your Bed – Part I

My muscles ache. I feel a heavy tiredness within my body, and an excitement of what lies ahead.

That’s right. I am setting up my garden.

Over the last few weekends, I have built my garden beds. Two weekends ago, I built my wooden raised beds. I went to the hardware store (kids in tow), purchased lumber, and the nice guy at the store cut it for me on the spot. Then we had a flash snow storm. Undaunted, I built two wood frames in my sunroom, and as the snow fell all around me, I switched back and forth from feeling crazy for building a garden when there is a foot of snow outside, and excited that I was pushing through with this project, despite the weather. My son helped – he handed me the screws as I needed them.

When they were done I felt pretty proud of myself. I had dreamed up this idea back in December, and here I was, making it happen. I did it all by self. I drilled, I fastened, I built. 

Here they are, propped up waiting for the snow to melt.

The weekend before that, I got busy making 6 large container beds that can sit on my patio. My patio receives the best sun, so containers I must have. These are self-watering, a premise I had not heard of until I found the Urban Organic Gardener – he grows food on his balcony in home-made containers. Intrigued, I read The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible and Fresh Food From Small Spaces and they both explained how to build containers yourself and both told tales of all the great food you can grow. In some ways they preferred a container garden to an earth garden, as the soil warms up earlier in the spring, the water is easier to control, and the plants are easier to reach. You can make them yourself or buy them. There are commercial self-watering containers available, such as the Earth Box, which some farmers even use. There are also basic pots available at garden centres that have the self-watering feature. It is the new thing!

To make my containers, I got the largest bin I could find, cut down edges of the lid so that it would fit inside the bin to create a false bottom, cut two large holes in the lid, and then inserted a small colander under each hole. I also placed 3″ pots upside down in each corner, to help hold up the false bottom. The idea is that the reservoir below is filled with water, and the water seeps into the colanders that are filled with soil, and then wicks up through the soil in the colander and then into the container. So how do you get water into the false bottom? Well you can either make a hole in the bin near the bottom, or you can insert a pipe that is watered from above. I decided on the pipe, as it would be easier to water and would not interfere with the reservoir size.

Sounds great right? Well it turns out that cutting the plastic lid is pretty hard. I used industrial cutting snips with no avail. Total bust. So I decided to try sawing it, and that worked better, although it was slow going. In the end, I sawed 5 of them, and my husband (through some Tom Sawyer trickery) sawed one. I went through two blades on a hack saw.

My son also “helped” with these. I would not let him operate the saw, but I let him help me cut the pipe, tandem style, back and forth. He liked that. Then at one point he took my marker and drew a picture of me cutting all my boxes:

Yes, I am a builder mama. The garden beds are built.

Next stop… dirt.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Letters to Leaders: Green Party Debate

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So, for those that don’t know, there is a federal election underway here in Canada.

About 5 years ago, I decided that I would vote based on my number one issue of concern – the environment. I knew that other issues were important (healthcare, education, economy) but were not in as dire a state of mismanagement. We depend on the environment for our very life, yet we are not acting as responsible stewards. Something has to be done about climate change; there is no way around it. Why doesn’t this issue dominate election coverage? It just doesn’t, and I don’t get it.

So in every type of election for the last 5 years or so, I put my voice and my vote down for the environment. Most of the time, this means voting for the Green Party. In most (all) cases, I knew that the person I voted for did not have a chance to win, but I wanted my vote to count towards this issue. I wanted the people in power to take note of the percentage of votes they are losing to the Green Party and to the issue of the environment.

In the last federal election I voted for a party that I had never voted for before – the NDP. The candidate was by far, the best representative towards my number one issue – the environment. She had a good chance to win. She had experience in environmental law and protection, ran her platform as a defender of the environment, and offered up a voice of opposition against the pollution from the oil sands. So, I voted for Linda Duncan and she won, and is currently the only Member of Parliament in Alberta that is not Conservative. She has been very active in defending the environment over the last 3 years.

So here we are again – election time. There are candidate signs popping up in my neighbourhood. Election ads are underway, election coverage dominates the news. Who do I vote for, how do I get involved and how can I further my number one goal – action on climate change?

I will be voting for Linda Duncan again, and she has a reasonable shot to win. I want to support her, and really believe in her message of transitioning to a clean economy, cleaning up the oil sands and ending fossil fuel subsidies. My hope is that she can continue to pressure the government on issues that they would otherwise not consider, and that this will result in more action on climate change.

I also support the Green Party though, and was dismayed to hear that the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, will not be allowed to take part in the Leader’s Debate on April 12. She participated in the debate in the last election, and received almost 1 million votes. Polls indicate that she currently holds between 8-10% of votes today.

Therefore, as part of my Letters to Leaders series, I emailed the three main networks in Canada – CBC, CTV and Global – indicating my disappointment that she is not allowed to take part:

April 4, 2011

To whom it may concern:

I am disappointed that Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, will not be allowed to take part in the upcoming leaders debate. I think that this is the wrong decision, and that it would be in your network’s best interests to allow her to debate for the following reasons:

1) She represents over 1 million Canadians who voted for her in the last election. Based on the percentage of Canadians who actually vote, this is a significant percentage. Excluding her excludes the voices of all of these Canadians. This is not democratic.

2) She brings a fresh, new perspective that an increasing number of Canadians identify with – environmental stewardship and protection. Few can argue that the environment is the root of all life, from which everything else is possible. It is imperative that the voices of Canadians who speak up for the environment are heard.

3) She represents the future. The future that my children and future grandchildren will inherit must certainly include a clean, green economy. Action of on climate change is required now, to avoid a catastrophe for future generations. Excluding Elizabeth May excludes the voices of Canada’s children, Canada’s future.

Many Canadians who do not identify with Elizabeth May’s message still agree that she should be allowed to debate. Most agree that her inclusion would make for a more interesting, livelier debate. In addition, she will be the only woman in the debate, offering a different perspective than the four other men.

Please switch your position and invite Elizabeth May to the debate. Please recognize that she represents a large number of Canadians, as well as future generations of Canadians. Please keep democracy alive in Canada.

Sincerely,

Sherry

If you would like to add your voice to allow Elizabeth May to debate, you can:

  1. Email CBC (ombudsman@cbc.ca), CTV (programming@ctv.ca), Global (viewercontact.globalnational@globaltv.com) and CBC Radio (ombudsman@radio-canada.ca) and voice your concern
  2. Participate in this poll by CBC
  3. Go to http://demanddemocraticdebates.ca to sign the petition
  4. Go here for even more good ideas

It is a great feeling, participating in democracy in a bigger way than just stepping up to the ballot box. It feels good to have a voice!