On the news this morning: Canadian beekeepers (who tellingly, refer to themselves as a “community” rather than an “industry”) are launching a class action suit against the makers of neonicotinoid pesticides, for the damage (havoc) their products have caused to bee populations.
I’ve been thinking about the Doomsday Seed Vault lately. Officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, it was started in 2008 and now contains upwards of 1.5 million distinct seed samples, serving as a kind of safety deposit box of plant diversity.
I wonder who it’s beneficiaries will be. Aliens? The handful of survivors of the next Ice Age who’ll be charged with re-wilding the Earth? Given that the highly-secured bombproof Vault was financed by Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation and the Syngenta Foundation – the latter parties being deeply invested in the patenting and genetic engineering of plant seeds and the sale of chemicals – I suspect the “benefactors” already have their own Master Plan for the seed stockpile. Sigh.
Cindy Filipenko asked me recently to recount how last weekend’s Slow Food Cycle got started. “Every time I say something these days about Slow Food Cycle, it sounds like it had radically political roots,” I replied. It didn’t. I wasn’t politicized about food and farming 10 years ago. I just wanted to deepen my personal relationship with this place, and maybe become a better cook and gardener, less reliant on frozen pizza for sustenance.
But the more I read about the money behind the Seed Vault, provincial farm legislation, the bee crisis, the pesticide-drenching strategy of non-organic BC blueberry farmers to combat the Spotted Winged Drosophila, the more afraid I am of collapsing in a heap of despair. And the more I appreciate living amongst dry-humoured hard-working organic farmers, community gardeners, seed-swappers and Farmers Market supporters.
This May, at the Women’s Institute Plant Sale, I picked up one of Anna Helmer’s marigold starts. I have managed to keep it alive, despite the toddler’s attempts to eat it, deluge-water it, and dig it up, and it is now a monster of blooms and vigour – nothing like the tragic little marigolds one picks up from any major Canadian retailer to protect the lettuce from slugs. (Note: most of those plants have been treated with neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that renders them fatal to bees and other pollinators. Resume foetal position.)
The marigold seeds were originally given to Jeanette Helmer at a seed swap she hosted. Jeanette showed Anna how to save the seed and plant it, and now Anna starts a hundred plants to give to friends and the WI Plant Sale.
“I love them,” Anna told me. “They are such a good landscaping solution – with minimal attention they get really big and bushy and block out all kinds of things. At their flowering peak at Slow Food Cycle Sunday, magnificent Taj Mahal Marigold hedges protect broken-down machinery, compost heaps piled high with weeds just pulled in a frenzy of preparation, and maybe my sister who isn’t really a people person.”
Years ago, when I interviewed Lil’wat storyteller Marie Abraham, she said to me, “I’ve listened to stories since I was a child. Our parents didn’t read to us. They told stories. It was our family thing. Both my parents were very good storytellers, as well as my grandmother on my mom’s side. My grandma was our cultural centre. She was a walking talking totem pole!”
That idea, that ordinary people, rather than an edifice or an institution, are the custodians of culture, took deep root in me. And the more I think about the Global Seed Vault, the more I want to pull seeds, untreated unengineered seeds, out of frozen storage and start passing them around, swapping them, saving them, sharing them. PLANTING them. Engineering a different kind of future by growing from swapped seeds, year after year. And this is what keeps me from that curled heap on the floor: a big bushy marigold, some Pemberton potatoes and a dozen tomato plants that were gifted by a friend (thanks Rachel and Derek!) in an experimental garden, that couldn’t feed my family, yet, but that anchors me to this place, this earth, this community, and a future that just might be okay.
I rediscovered a favourite journalist/writer this week, in the kind of happy happenstance that doesn’t occur for Presidents, when a rain day cut climbing short and led us to the Squamish library for an afternoon at the magazine stacks with the latest issue of Vanity Fair and a profile of Barack Obama.
Prior to snagging the journalistic coup of 6 months access to the President, Michael Lewis wrote about Daniel Kahnenman (Thinking Fast and Slow), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in Moneyball. He wrote The Big Short, The Blind Side and a brilliant memoir of fatherhood Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, that my husband and I still talk about.
He’s a beautiful writer.
I think, he’s my guru. I think, I’d like to be him.
Then I think, I live in Pemberton.
A little tricky to get access to Presidents and Governors from Pemberton.
And I’m not inclined to leave my little patch of Coast Mountains dirt-paradise for the corridors of power and cynicism.
Anyway, what’s significant here isn’t the same as what rates to the editor of Vanity Fair.
But it still matters.
Our small town and our modest lives matter.
As much as Obama and Arnie and Moneyball.
The ripple of our actions might not go as wide, but they are felt as profoundly, sometimes more so, in our little pond. Jess and Graham and their crew of volunteers building a BMX track, or Anna and Niki galvanising farmers and artists and chefs and community leaders to host another Slow Food Cycle, or the crew at the Mt Currie Health Centre looking after all the new babies and new parents, or Jeff and Annika committing to the 10 year incubation of a Skate Park… all have an impact here.
And those stories and people are worth writing about too.
So thanks for your beautiful craftsmanship, Michael Lewis, and your insights into the Oval Office and Wall Street and all those power-bases that I will never go to. And if you ever want to know what’s happening in my ‘hood, give me a call.
You never know. If you find yourself sick and cynical of the traders, the greed, and the hyperpace, you might even find yourself wishing you were me. (Teehee.)
Yesterday, I planted some seeds in the garden. Cold-hardy things that the seed packets promised could be started in April. I just couldn’t wait any longer.
Today, I woke up and ran outside, to see if anything had happened.
All the garden bed had for me (NO signs of life! no sprouts! no little seedlings!) was one word of counsel:
A little reminder from the universe to slow the fuck down, let things happen in their own time, keep logging the hours of tending and nurturing even when it feels like nothing is coming of it, trust momentum, keep showing up. Patience.
Thanks, garden. As you were.
The challenge? Remind dog-owners to pick up after their pooches.
The solution? Ruby. Champion for the Turd-Free Trails Forever movement.
I mean, how could you resist?
(File this under Local Government Best Practices.)
Unofficially, it was a chance to ask local people, the ones who don’t sit on the sidelines and rattle their fists, but who roll up their sleeves and jump into the business of growing, making, moving and shaking, what inspires them.
At almost 15,000 hits, 74 posts and more than 30 profiles, the end of the year and the onset of winter seemed a good time to wander back through the archives and revisit the 5 most popular interviews so far.
Western Promises celebrated its one year anniversary this November as quietly as it opened, but its fans aren’t known to be too shy about shouting their praises for the funky little restaurant. One lunch, a customer left with a shout-out to the kitchen, “Thanks, Michael. My mouth just had an orgasm.”
Michael Guy’s passion for hard-working food shines through in every bite. But I loved his commitment to his adopted home the most:
“Why Pemberton? There is no place I would rather be…in 50 years I hope to have my last breath somewhere here staring at the mountains and thinking about what a decent life I’ve had.”
When Percy Abraham and Corinne Von Dehn set up a home massage studio last summer, named “Kula” for “community” I got a sneak peak into their philosophy on wellness and work-life balance, and got the chance to ask Percy something that had long been on my mind, “How much does it weird people out to have a male massage therapist?”
A reasonably large percentage of female massage recipients are not entirely comfortable being touched by a man and a probably even bigger percentage of male recipients are the same. While respecting everyone’s choices, I try not to let gender interfere with what’s really at stake here : healing.
Before Amy Hazeldine was the feature artist in Mountain Life magazine, she was the feature artist on Choose Pemberton, revealing her perfectionist tendencies, her Icelandic inspiration, how much she geeks out on glazes, and how, after plenty of creative trial and error, she’s finally found her path.
I’ve worked as an environmental educator, spent four summers in Nunavut in diamond exploration camps as the cook, worked on the assembly line making tire parts, and I’ve done my Whistler time as a bartender and server. Out of all the hats I’ve worn, the potter’s hat is my favourite fit.
Lisa Komuro Ankeny does so much work behind the scenes to make Pemberton a better-looking place, it was great to spin the karmic wheel back in her direction. Her enthusiasm for Pemberton is inspiring (“Pemberton is amazing,” she told Choose Pemberton, “It seems like this little town is bubbling over with creatives. It’s as if everyone here makes something, has a garden and is an incredible athlete. It’s a beautiful place to be.”) but I most loved her insight on how to juggle life as a graphic designer, a mother, and an artist:
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I’ve never been able to juggle – not even the scarves back in P.E.
3 days a week of daycare, coffee and some late nights do the trick. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What do legendary ski mountaineers do when they grow up and have a family? Why, they keep skiing, attend the Youtube School of Artisan Ski-Making and begin handcrafting wood skis from the Coast Mountains’ forests. Is there a top secret formula?
No, no secrecy in the process. Just a crazy old ski bum with his head down in the basement, breathing sawdust and trying to come up with a ski that will suit.
And that’s just a sampling of the amazing growers, makers, movers and shakers of Pemberton.
My passion for the project was fuelled by a conviction that if you want to live somewhere amazing, then you have to support the people who are trying to do amazing things.
But the project also reiterated for me that my favourite writing projects are often pure portraiture, simply letting people tell their stories, in their own words. It helped me to discover that the art of great storytelling really grows out of the art of listening. And it reinforced, without a doubt, that when I landed in Pemberton, I had truly come home.
Local honey, a bag of fresh greens and peppery little radishes – that was my haul from the first Pemberton Farmers Market for the season. (Wednesday nights, 4pm-7pm, outside the Pemberton Valley Grocery store.)
So, now we’re fully stocked on salad greens – exposing the joy and the challenge of eating locally, in season – the tomatoes are still weeks away from being ready. But if refraining from eating tomatoes out of season will keep the polar bears alive, I can suck it up. Michael Pollan backs the eat-local-for-climate-change call up with an invitation to also “Eat your View” – to preserve agricultural landscapes by eating from local farms.
As a soft-core locavore, I have been gradually eating myself local for a while now. Which is why it’s so exciting to see Pemberton’s food ecosystem flourishing with local restaurants like Western Promises, Mt Currie Coffee Co, The FoodLovers Bistro, the Pony and Mile One Cafe popping up, sourcing produce from new farmers like Ice Cap Organics, Rootdown Organic Farm, Riverlands Market Garden, Skipping Rooster Organic Farm, the Bathtub Gardens (joining the local stalwarts Helmers, Across the Creek, North Arm Farm, and Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef) and from local food producers like Blackbird Bakery, Bubbees Honey, the Flour Pot and Schramm Vodka. Especially when all of those new growers, makers, movers and shakers are under forty years old.
When Feet Banks, editor for the award-winning Mountain Life magazine, asked me to do a summer write-up of cool local foodstuffs, I was stoked. I love turning the spotlight on these passionate producers. The hardest part was deciding what to leave out. So I focussed on smugglable foodstuffs – the stuff you could take with you if you’re visiting family or friends this summer. The angle was inspired by an old ski client who seriously had smuggled 1kg of English breakfast sausage into Canada, because he did not believe that Canadians could make sausage good enough to fuel his skiing’s caloric requirements.
I’m going to Australia for a visit in the fall, so I began to wonder what will I be stuffing in the pockets and crevices of my pack? I imagine me and the Customs dude at our inevitable encounter: “Ma’am, do you have anything to declare?”
Innocent face: “No.”
“Well, why is your bag clinking?”
Break out the dumb and confused face.
“How about I ask you again? Do you have anything to declare?”
“Actually, I do. I’m a locavore.”
The first time I rode A River Runs Through It (fist-pump! Cleared the bridge! Husband pushed his bike across… ), I should really have been somewhere else. I had blown off the second half of the Slow Food Cycle, an event I had organised, to switch the road cruiser for a squishy bike and go charge with some friends. It was a blissful day of riding. But it was kinda naughty.
I think that kind of punkass commitment to mountain biking should make me eligible to win Bike Parks of BC’s Ultimate Summer of Free Ride contest, that was just announced today. Alas, I work for the marketing agency that is helping run the contest, so I am automatically disqualified.
As such, I will redirect my passion to spread the word around. This is the most amazing prize. A summer of downhill bliss. I would enter if I could. You definitely should.
WHAT WOULD YOU BLOW OFF THIS SUMMER TO WIN BIKE PARKS BC ULTIMATE SUMMER OF FREE RIDE?
Get Hooked Up With Cash, Accommodation And Season Pass At Five B.C. Bike Parks
Bike Parks BC is throwing down a season pass at five of BC’s best lift-accessed bike parks – Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Silver Star Bike Park, Sun Peaks Resort, Fernie Alpine Resort and Mount Washington Bike Park – plus
$1,000 spending money, two nights accommodation at each resort, DH rig rentals, a half-day with a guide for a proper introduction to the mountain and even two lift tickets at each park for the winner’s riding buddy to be used over the 2011 summer season.
“This year we are looking for Bike Parks BC’s most fanatical and obsessed riders,” says Martin Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Mountain Bike Tourism Association. “The big question is what exactly would you blow off to take on British Columbia’s best bike parks this summer? Your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary, your best friend’s wedding, the birth of your first born?”
So ‘fess up. What would you blow off to ride all summer long?