INHABIT: A permaculture perspective

Who doesn’t love a good documentary to get your inspiration and motivation and feel-good juices flowing?  This happened for me Friday night with INHABIT: A permaculture perspective, screened by Wildsight at the lovely Studio & Stage Door theatre.  Now, I am by no means a permaculture expert, but I am someone who cares deeply for the environment, sees the destruction of our current monoculture food systems, and sees the necessity of biodiversity; I mean, really, if you have ever walked in a natural space like a forest or a wetland, you will see hundreds, maybe thousands, of different species of plants and animals living in one space – that’s what nature is and that is how it thrives.

What jumped out to me the most in this documentary was that so many people on Earth think that somehow we are a separate entity from these natural systems; we somehow exist independently and we won’t stop until we “rule them all”, like somehow we are entitled to own and run them as we see fit.  This could not be the further from fact.  We depend on the land, plants, water, animals, and the very soil beneath our feet.  What are we without it?  Every choice we make impacts our home somehow.  Luckily there are many people on Earth that see it as the circle it is; that we are all interconnected with all other living and nonliving things.

The film highlighted various individuals or families, mostly across the United States, taking small spaces, urban spaces, rooftop spaces, and unused spaces, and turning them into a polyculture haven.  Images of barren, abandoned and seemingly unusable spaces, transformed into living gardens that produce food and an ecosystem for all sorts of creatures.  One homeowner had a very small, sad looking lot, which is what many people have, but with determination and heart, his family turned it into a jungle of food producing gold; countless fruits, vegetables, trees, shrubs, plants, now inhabit the place that was once a rectangle of a lacking, lonely lawn.

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INHABIT documentary

Something else that stood out to me was the wastewater in New York City.  When it rains, that rain travels into the same pipes and same destination as their wastewater systems; of course, in NYC, a paved landscape, the water has nowhere to go because very little soil is exposed or left, so off to the drains it goes.  And do you know where this heavy accumulation of rain and waste water end up?  The ocean and other waterways, of course!  Where else would they pump it to?  Not only is this hazardous and detrimental to marine ecosystems, but it is also very unnecessary, as there are alternatives to soak up that beautiful rain water before it just gets pumped away.  Think about it.  What could a city do to use this rainwater instead of waste it?  A city of a million buildings.  Rooftop gardens!

What was most impressive is that these people just started with heart and an idea.  They observed the land and its patterns.  They knew what they wanted to do with it, and all it took was a redesign process to encourage growth, production, and biodiversity, but in a way that was beneficial to the soil and land instead of robbing it of all its nutrients and top soil.  These people changed food production from a destructive to a regenerative design.  From agriculture to permaculture.  And that is a beautiful thing.

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INHABIT documentary banner

highlighting green business: Soulfood

This has been a long time coming.  For years, if there was a special occasion, we would drive the kilometers to Kimberley to visit one of their unique restaurants; I felt like our own city lacked versatility in restaurant options, and the food and waste philosophy did not quite align with mine.  It was about time that such restaurant would come along in Cranbrook and (hopefully) start a new trend.  Introducing: Soulfood.

Soulfood is a restaurant that has a welcoming and warm atmosphere; a place where you can see their passion for food and environment, and that their practices reflect their philosophy.  Smiling faces all around, friendly service, and always something new in the works.  I can’t decide if the best part of this place is the food, versatility, green practices, or philosophy.  I suppose these are all connected back to where this place originated.

I decided to contact Soulfood to ask them some questions about their beautiful business and how it all got started.  They were kind enough to take the time to answer my questions.  As always, they have new plans on the go!

What sparked the dream behind Soulfood? 

Soulfood started after a local food and permaculture event that Christel & Tamara attended.  A group of us got together to try and bring local, organic food into our community.  The dream was to open a Food Hub where farmers could drop off all of their produce, meat, etc, and then businesses such as bakers, butchers, cafes and grocery shops would set up shop at the same location and use this local product in their business.

We got pretty far along the planning stages but then a number of life events happened and the plan died off.  Christel, Caitlin & Tamara all met up a year or so later, after talking to one another at the farmers markets and still seeing a need for more in the community.  Instead of going the big food hub dream we thought we would start a little smaller with the cafe idea.  It was important for us to be able to go to a place that we felt comfortable serving the food to our families. We all eat organic and local at home and we wanted to be able to enjoy this food out in the community as well.

We believe that how you choose your food can be a big factor in reducing your impact on the environment.  Choosing local reduces a lot of emissions from travel. You are also supporting your local economy.  Organic choices means less chemicals in our environment as well as our bodies.  There are ethical and environmental reasons for choosing local, holistically farmed meat.

Our food philosophy is good, clean, kind, food.  Good for the environment, good for you, tasty good, clean as in organic and minimally processed, kind as in fair prices to farmers and workers, and humane farming practices.  Food as in REAL FOOD.  From the Earth using old school sunlight, dirt and water!

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This table setting is making me hungry.  Credit: Soulfood

How does Soulfood reflect your own philosophy on food and waste?  

We are all passionate environmentalists as well as foodies, so it was important to us for many reasons not to waste food.  We make soups based on excess produce and we make broths with our veggie trimmings.  We compost everything!  We are mindful of the packaging that our food and supplies come in, but this is something we need to work on with our suppliers.  We use cloth napkins and cloth hand towels in the bathrooms.  We don’t have plastic straws; we use stainless steel straws.  We have beeswax reusable wraps that we use in store, and are working towards phasing out plastic bags.

Most of the decor in the restaurant has been re-purposed.  The ladders and bed frame on the ceilings were all found on our properties, barn wood, and the chairs were left at the restaurant; we sanded them down and stained with tea and a beeswax finish.

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Re-purposing chairs… because why wouldn’t you?  Credit:  Soulfood

What is the next step for you or what do you hope to achieve?

We are currently working on a program to get rid of disposables altogether.  We use compostable cups, containers and cutlery but there still are a lot of resources that go into making those.  We all know reduce, reuse, recycle so that’s how we operate; focus first on reducing unnecessary waste, then choose things that can be re-used before choosing things that can be recycled.  Everyone has mason jars lying around their house so let’s put them to use; they are the perfect receptacle for coffees, smoothies, and elixirs.

We are going to offer a lending library and a deposit program on mason jars for take out drinks and work on phasing out paper cups.  As for the takeout containers we are not sure what to do there; maybe a lending library of glass containers or a discount for people who bring in their own takeout containers.  We are open to suggestions!

We change our menu every two weeks so we are always printing new menus.  The paper is recycled post consumer and we compost the old ones but it still would be great to have a reusable option.

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Yummyness with a reusable straw!  Credit:  Soulfood

Our community has been supportive and welcoming to the Soulfood crew, and even if a lot of people are not aware of the green steps Soulfood works hard to achieve every day, they come to Soulfood with a shared mindset and a connection to place, food, and positive energy.

As a zero-waster, I could not be happier to support such an amazing crew of people who work hard to provide healthy, wholesome, and local food to our community, and who have a heart and eye for the environment.  Soulfood has come up with incredible alternatives to disposable items, such as using only glass to serve their drinks, stainless steel straws, composting wherever possible, cloth napkins, cloth towels, as well as not plastic wrapping their daily baking.

They strive for zero-waste and hope to be the first zero-waste restaurant in our local area.  With taking steps within their restaurant, and working together with their suppliers, such a goal is not far-fetched.

If you are ever in the local area, make sure you stop by and visit Soulfood on Baker Street.  You will not be disappointed.  They have many unique food options that are simply delicious.  Their drink menu is just as creative.  The atmosphere is relaxed and positive.  Their decor is beautifully re-purposed and natural looking.  They will soon be open for dinners, their patio is ready for you to be enjoyed in the sunshine, and often there is live music for you to kick back with on the weekend.

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No plastic wrap here.  Just delicious treats.  Credit: Soulfood

Thank you, Soulfood.  I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Check out Soulfood’s Facebook page, Instagram, or their blog on their website.

food waste

Driving home last night from a meeting, in which we conveniently discussed food waste amongst other things, I was listening to CBC and the topic of food accessibility came up.  The stat is 4 million people in Canada are not getting enough food.  Provinces were graded on their cost of and accessibility of food; Ontario performed the best, and Manitoba the worst.  In a zero-waste journey, one is always thinking of ways to reduce waste in all aspects of life, including food waste.  Food waste is such a huge topic because we are failing in so many aspects of food security.

Food security on a global scale is… well… lacking to put it mildly, and it goes beyond the headlines that are presented to us.  Two examples that stick out in my mind are Venezuela’s food crisis, and the extreme famine in Yemen and surrounding areas that are in a state of emergency due to food shortages.  People are starving.  The reasons differ, from cost to accessibility, from corruption to atrocious agricultural practices, from lack of storage capabilities to war, poverty, etc…

When I hear, see, or read of these awful things, I always come back to food waste in the country I call home, and the big question: how is it that there are so many people without food, yet we throw nearly half of what we produce in the trash?  To be fed to the landfill.  To be unused.  Grown, maintained, and tossed.  For NOTHING.  Here you go, Earth, have some methane gas because although we used copious amounts of resources to grow this food, we just don’t want it anymore for literally no reason.

Apparently this is an over thirty billion dollar problem in Canada and nothing is being done about it.  Globally, over one billion tonnes of food are thrown away each year; can you even comprehend such a number?  And in our day in and day outs we may not even see what businesses throw away each day, but the pictures that are presented once you do some research are astonishing.

Supermarkets filling their dumpsters with items that are one day over expiry, farmers not being able to sell their products because corporations have an expectation of banana curvature and specific roundness, magazines “modeling” food for beautiful pictures just to throw out everything they presented so gorgeously for a glossy centerfold.

It also goes back to independent practices.  As a teacher I see a lot of food waste daily in the classroom.  Sometimes kids decide if they don’t like apples anymore or whatever is in their sandwich that the best place for that food is the garbage.  But what have they been taught at home about food waste and food production?  What have they seen adults modeling in the area of food waste?  Do they know any better?  Are they just copying what they see us doing?  We have spent a lot of time throughout the school year talking about what it takes to grow food, how many resources, and also what we can do instead of throwing out a whole apple or banana.

Composting is not the answer either.  Though I am a compost enthusiast, it is not the answer to food waste.  Just because your green pepper is starting to look a little wrinkly doesn’t mean you should just toss it in the compost bin.  I will say it is a better option than the bin just because it is able to decompose in the compost instead of rotting and producing methane gases in your plastic trash bin.  However, we can do better.

Use what you buy or buy less.

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Get creative with your meals and keep track of the food that is about to spoil.

Don’t get too hung up on recipes; stretch them, add to, or change it up.

Buy local, and ask for culled fruits to make jams or what have you.

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Educate yourself on what is being done about food waste where you live.

Evaluate your own habits and change something.

Buy the lone bananas.

Grow your own food.

There is not one quick solution, but it starts with your own habits.  You may not be able to stop your supermarket tomorrow for wasting food, but you can do your part in your own household, and you can also share your voice.  Ask businesses what they are doing to curb food waste.  You can also refuse to support businesses that are doing nothing.  People everywhere are starving, so how is it acceptable that nearly half of our produced food is thrown away?

Some countries are taking a stand.  In Europe, some countries are at least thinking of ideas, like offering tax breaks to businesses that donate their leftovers, or even making it illegal for supermarkets to waste food.  It is something.  We have to do something.  Our current practices are not sustainable and who are they really benefiting?

A quick tip sheet from the David Suzuki Foundation.

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Food waste infographic via coolharvest.org

the kid at the top of the hill

After April bringing plenty of showers and cool weather, spring decided to show up in full swing this first week of May.  The sun was shining, the air warmed up, and the annual flood of the wetlands began to recede.  Leaving for school one morning, I felt a jolt of energy because the sun had already crested over the mountain, the sky was blue, and the air smelled sweet.  That morning I decided to take a different route.

Turning right, I drove up the hill instead of down the hill.  Kids were making their way to various schools, in cars, or on foot, just like I was.  I reached my turn off and noticed a group of kids biking to school.  I felt happy that kids were still biking and walking to school and making the most of this beautiful day.  One kid was leading the pack, riding in the middle of the empty road.  I was just about to turn off when he or she lifted their arms in the air, as if cheering, while gliding down the hill on the bike.

They may have just been showing off “Look, no hands!” to their friends, but it looked like they were looking at something and raising their arms in a cheer.  While my vehicle was stopped to let them pass, I quickly turned to look down the hill to see what he or she was looking at, and it nearly stopped my breath.

I know we live in a beautiful area, but sometimes you forget just what impact that has on your heart and soul when you really see it.  I saw a valley kissed by golden light, surrounded by mountains on each side.  The tips of the peaks were still frosted with ice and snow, standing strong on either side.  The sky was the perfect blue, and for a moment everything felt still, alive, and magnificent.  I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face before I turned off on the next road.  That kid made my day.

Naturally, I began thinking of gratitude and appreciating the small things in life.  The small things are really the big things that you didn’t think mattered to you as much as they do.  Often we let the day in and day out take over, we spend more time in our heads than in the physical world, and I think often we skim past the small things that make us feel gratitude.  But these are the things that really count, that make you feel alive, that make you think, damn… this is what it’s all about.  Like,

the sound of the rain at night through an open window

when the first seedling appears in your tray

the smell of the forest

counting how many different bird sounds you hear in the wetlands

when the first geese return to their nesting spots and you hear their honk in the distance

when your cat wakes up and tries to meow but it comes out really hoarse

the sun cresting over the mountain

a buzzing garden full of bees

seeing your first hummingbird attend your flowers

the first cup of coffee

waking up from sunlight instead of an alarm

crunching a leaf under your shoe

when a friend tells you they miss you

the smell of fresh bread

dew on the grass

water vapour rising from a lake on a warm morning

In our society we seem to need more reminders to stop and listen to the Earth.  It talks to us every day!  If you just stop to listen, look, and hear, you too could be the kid at the top of the hill.

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Can you spot the bee?

What makes you feel gratitude?

products to live without

I haven’t written a rant for some time… I was slow to see the hit show Mad Men. I found it difficult to watch a bunch of white, sexist, racist, entitled, whiskey-swilling, chain-smoking, philandering men develop ad campaigns to sell Americans things they didn’t need. But then again, I think that was the point—to shine…

via 21 Consumer Products You Can (Likely) Live Without — The Zero-Waste Chef

I have reblogged a few posts from The Zero Waste Chef.  I love reading her recipes, tips, and rants about all things zero waste, namely zero waste in the kitchen.  A super resourceful place, and frequently when I read her posts I find myself saying “YES!”.  Especially with this one!  Recently I wrote a post about items to do without in the home, and soon after I read this post by the Zero Waste Chef.  Lots of great points here too.  Yes!

What items can YOU do without?

Earth Week in the classroom

Happy Earth Day 2017, everyone!  What a lovely day dedicated to the Earth and a time in which we can reflect on our current habits and try to change one thing to become more sustainable or at least less damaging.  Cloth shopping bags?  Travel mugs?  Reusable water bottles?  Composting?  Rain harvesting barrel?  Garden?  There are endless things you can do that go beyond plain recycling.  I think no change is too small.  If you care just a little more this year, it could make all the difference.

It is too fun including students in the Earth Month/Week/Day, whatever you want to call it, process.  They have so many ideas at any age about what is not sustainable (even if they don’t know yet what that word means), and how we can better our practices.  A great place to practice these changes is at school.  That way they can practice almost every day and take their new ideas home.

We decided to have more of an Earth Month, and I suppose we even started on World Water Day when we began talking about water conservation back in March.  We could go back even further to October when we participated in Waste Reduction Week and found ways to reduce our daily garbage.  Since then our school has implemented Wasteless Wednesdays because our intermediate students strongly believed we shouldn’t just have one day for waste reduction – we should practice this all year long.  Students began replacing plastic baggies with reusable containers, using reusable water bottles, etc.

In October we also spent some time sorting through our garbage and tallying up what we produce most of (the biggest culprit was Ziploc bags).  We also went more in depth into composting, and what is recyclable.

But back to Earth Week now!  The students came up with many ideas of how to help the Earth.  Surprisingly, many of them said, “Hug a tree!”, which I have mentioned several times throughout my blog!  We decided we should pay tribute to these wonderful beings, and dedicated several painting lessons to just our evergreen trees.  In the fall we purchased three saplings locally that we will soon plant on school grounds.

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Our classroom is in a really nice, bright spot too, so most of the time when the sun is shining we open the door, blinds, and turn the lights off.  Unless students are reading or writing, there are usually few lights on because we do not need them.  I find this helps their focus too, and the natural light creates a better sense of calm.  It’s awesome!

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Many of the students maintain a garden at home (so awesome!), so I thought we had to plant something edible.  Tomatoes it is!  Many of them have sprouted, some have not, but we will keep waiting.  We do not have a garden at our school, but these will become gifts the students will take home instead.

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I saw a great idea on Pinterest to make a flower pot out of twigs.  We spent a sunny morning collecting similar sized twigs in the forest nearby and are now tying these together slowly to create our pots.

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Luckily, Take me Outside Day – spring edition – happened during Earth Week, which is more than fitting!  The outdoors can be used for much more than just exercise, and play, so we decided to take Math outside and create a money coin system using nature items like pinecones, rocks, sticks, etc.

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At the beginning of Earth Week, we were finding lots of garbage scattered on our school grounds, so my class decided to do something that would help both our school and the environment.  We took one big reusable bag and spent a sunny morning walking through the school grounds picking up any pieces of garbage we could find.  The students were not only surprised that older students were littering, but they were concerned that birds and other animals might think these items were food.  They totally get it.  It’s amazing.  We picked up a whole lot of garbage and sorted it after into compostables, reyclables, and trash.  Unfortunately, most of it was trash.

On Friday we did an entire school clean up of not only our school grounds, but also a park and forest nearby.  What we found most of were snack wrappers, like granola bar wrappers, and chip bags, that are of course not recyclable.

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What a fun week!  What did you get up to during Earth Month/Week/Day?

refuse, reduce, and save

Once I read somewhere that zero waste is expensive and only achievable by folks with dollars to spend on shiny stainless steel containers, bamboo furniture, top end reusable bottles, and other fancy non-plastic gadgets.  Now, I suppose it depends just what you are trying to achieve.  Trend?  Doing right by the world?  Or are there obstacles?

The thing is, it does not have to be expensive.  For me, it has been a way to reflect on what I have and to make what I have last longer, and to consistently be looking for alternatives.  There is always more than one way of doing things.  Simplifying and getting creative can save you money in the long run.  Here is an example of Kathryn at Going Zero Waste keeping track of her savings while cutting down and cutting out.

There are a lot of things I don’t feel the need to buy anymore.  I have not counted up the savings or done a compare-to, but here are some things I’ve been able to cut out or reduce and replaced with reusable options:

aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and other food wrapping materials:  To me, these are a waste of money and not a necessity, and also super wasteful, as most people just toss out the plastic sandwich baggies, and just keep spending to throw them away; it makes no sense!  I have replaced most food storage containers with glass, and some reusable plastic containers.  There are also many different ways of storing vegetables without having to use plastic – just ask the Zero Waste Chef.  As far as price is concerned, I either found my glass jars in thrift stores, or reused ones that store-bought food came in, like pickle or salsa jars.

paper towels, napkins, and tissues:  Not only are they expensive and wasteful, but a huge amount of resources go into making these paper products.  A lot of fresh water is used and wasted in production, including using it to rinse out excess bleach.  Great use of our drinking source?  I think not.  I have replaced these with rags, cloth napkins, and handkerchiefs when I need them; none of these items I spent money on, as rags are easy to come by, the cloth napkins were a second-hand gift from my sister, and the handkerchiefs were my Opa’s ❤

deodorant, lotion, and lip balm:  Ingredients of my former deodorant: cyclomethicone, aluminum chlorohydrate, stearyl alcohol, PPG-14 butyl ether, talc, hydrogenated castor oil, chamomilla recutita flower extract, bisabolol, persea gratissima oil, octyldodecanol, glycine soybean oil, glyceryl stearate SE, BHT.  Umm… what?!  Okay, so aside from these random thingamajigs in the product, it still left me with stinky pits at the end of the day, so there had to be a better alternative.  I make my own now and I have never smelled more neutral.  Woo!

Ingredients of my former lotion: glycerin, distearyldimonium chloride, petrolatum, isopropyl palmitate, cetyl alcohol, dimethicone, colloidal oatmeal, benzyl alcohol, sodium chloride.  Lots of strange ingredients, but mostly I just found it ran out too quickly.  So I made my own, as well as my own lip balm.  Lasts way longer (over a year now and haven’t had to make a new batch), costs less, and no tubes or bottles to toss out.  See my ZW Bathroom Alternatives for recipes.

cleaning products:  These are so expensive, they smell weird, and there seems to be one product for pretty well every separate piece of furniture in your home.  I have scrapped them all and have not bought any in years.  What I use to clean various surfaces are vinegar, borax, baking soda, and lemon juice.  Way cheaper, more natural, and gets the job done.

dryer sheets:  Expensive, smell weird, and are pretty toxic to the environment.  To cut out, I line-dry mainly, or if I ever use the dryer, I use wool dryer balls that can be used for countless cycles and can be composted once used up.  You can also make your own.

cosmetics:  I do not use that much anyway.  I still have ancient containers of eye shadow that go unused unless it’s Halloween or something.  I have stopped purchasing blush and just use tiny amounts of cocoa powder.  Next on my list is to make my own mascara.  I have never tried this, so wish me luck.  That will help me cut out yet another item.

processed food:  Food and I have changed our relationship drastically in the last years.  In order for me to cut down on excess packaging, I had to shop smarter and get creative.  I don’t need to buy chocolate syrup, I can make my own.  I don’t need to buy sour cream, I can make my own.  I don’t need to buy granola bars, I can make my own.  Etc, etc.  I’m not saying I buy nothing processed or packaged, but I have significantly reduced those items, which has saved me lots of money in making it myself, and of course has helped me avoid excess packaging (because bananas already HAVE a protective peel!).

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tampons and pads:  There are even alternatives in this category.  Super wasteful, full of plastics, bleach, etc, and not exactly a cheap necessity.  Menstrual cups and cloth pads is all I have to say about that.

water bottles:  Do we need to go there again?  If you have ever read any of my water posts, then you will know how I feel about plastic water bottles!  I bought a reusable water bottle years ago, and though it has been dented and has a hard time standing up straight, it is still serving me well as I fill it up in my home and take it wherever I go.  No water bottle purchases necessary.

My point is… there are alternatives.  Cut down and cut out where you can, and that will make all the difference.

Another thoughtful perspective on this topic by Paris To Go.

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