Planting the seeds of a sustainable community

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Erin Baumeister is a transplant.

She landed in Pemberton after a nomadic childhood — her dad, in global telecommunications, moved the family to Taiwain and then Israel. At 19, Erin, who had spent her youth taking camel-riding field trips with the Bedouin and fundraising to deliver school supplies to Masai kids in Kenya, found herself working in a hotel kitchen in Banff, wearing chef’s whites, growing her first garden and paying $1,200 a month to rent a really nice apartment.

“I wasn’t making any money. So I quit life and drove west. My goal was to work out how to not ‘work to live’ any more. I was experimenting with freeganism, driving around, living out of my car and I was introduced to the WWOOFing movement.”

WWOOFers are Willing Workers on Organic Farms (the acronym now officially stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who trade their labour for accommodation, food and learning and there Baumeister learned the basics of self-sustainability. “You don’t spend much on food and always know where your food is coming from. I’ve been gardening ever since.”

Erin is now 26, working in the kitchen at The Pony, and serving on the board of the Farmers Market. Pemberton, despite the robustness of her inner vagabond, has become home. “I’ve lived here on and off for five or six years. I tried to leave a couple of times. I spent a year in Australia, six months in Hawaii, but Mt. Currie keeps drawing me back.”

Her first summer in Pemberton was in 2010, living up the Meadows. She would hitch-hike into town for the weekly Farmers Market, with crates full of vegetables she’d grown in her garden, stacked optimistically beside her outstretched thumb.

“My way to change the world, since I started gardening,” she says, “is to encourage people to start being self-sufficient. Growing your own food helps you save money, cut carbon emissions, lessen your dependence on corporations. It’s a little way to help the problems of the world — it won’t cure everything, but it will help.”

That ethos, and a vision of Pemberton building on its amazing growing climate to become a sustainable community, and not just a housing project for Whistler, had been bumping around in her head for a while, when a friend, Autumn Barrett-Morgan, approached with the idea of starting a Seed Library. Within days, Erin was pitching the idea of hosting a Seedy Saturday seed exchange and launching a seed library to the Farmers Market board — it was greenlighted and her dream went from zero to 60 just like that.

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Seedy Saturday took over the Downtown Barn on April 2. I went with some envelopes stuffed with sunflower, cosmo, dill and tomato seeds — they were deposited in tiny little open shelves, and in return I was given tickets that I could redeem for other seeds. It was some kind of bonanza — my seeds had been extras, part of a prolific and abundant season when my garden pretty much went wild — and in return, I was gifted the chance to grow turnips, cauliflower, cilantro, squash and calendula from plants that all flourished in this particular climate. I picked up some sunchokes, a raspberry cane and locally saved heirloom watermelon and canteloupe seeds too. I walked away feeling rich with the potential of it all, a bulge of seed packets in my purse.

For Erin, Seedy Saturday was a success, too. Over 300 seed packages were entered into the exchange table over the course of the three hours.

Now her energies will be directed into getting the seed library off the ground.

With 100 packets of seed already in the library, thanks to the swap, and a website in the works, Erin wants to put the seeds of a sustainable community in everyone’s hands. Anyone can “borrow” seeds, plant them and then return them after the harvest. They’ll be supported by workshops and information.

Seed libraries differ fundamentally from a seed bank, which preserves varieties by holding seeds in the most perfect condition. “A seed library preserves varieties through propagation, open pollination and biodiversity, and that’s important in protecting the biodiversity of the planet — to keep growing the seeds so they can continue to adapt to their environment, to build slow tolerance.”

It’s analogous to the way Pemberton is becoming more adaptable, and hopefully more resilient, with every transplant like Baumeister who puts down roots here. The place isn’t frozen in time, the process might be a bit messy, but if we can share bounty, trade passion and cross-pollinate ideas with each other, we might just find ourselves taking part in a great collective becoming.

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One opportunity for evolving into a more self-sufficient community is currently being explored by the Village of Pemberton, in partnership with Stewardship Pemberton. Their Agricultural Parks Master Plan, a community-based agriculture initiative, will be presented to the public at Council Chambers, 7400 Prospect Street, on Thursday, April 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The is a daily blog dedicated to wellness, recreation, reconciliation and community awesomeness, built on the premise that we are stronger together. We’ve invited the Seed Library to become regular contributors to the blog and hope to share their updates and tips. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too.

Originally published in the Whistler Question, at

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