Poet Laureate Rocks the Shore

A sunny Sunday on Dallas Road – we gathered to watch the unveiling of the latest Victoria poet laureate legacy art installation. This was a poem by Yvonne Blomer whose term ended in 2018. It’s perched on a grassy spot on Dallas Road, overlooking the ocean.

The big reveal: Yvonne introduces the project and then cuts the ribbon and enlists the help of her husband and father to unwrap her poem.

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Field 5 Farm Tour.. malt, whiskey, beer, flax…

Saturday was a beautiful day for a farm party and tour of the facilities at Field 5 Farm, where Farm Folk City Folk was also showing off a new mobile seed cleaner. Farm and city folk gathered to sample some local whiskey and beer made from Field 5 malts, enjoy some music and learn a bit more about local grains and watch some seed cleaning demos.

Mike Doehnel, last seen at a Kneading Conference some years ago in Mount Vernon, is now farming with Field 5 and gave some info about what’s being grown and the challenges of harvesting small scale for different purposes. Two different flax plots growing, one for a cover crop and the other for the very flax farmer I’d seen (during last month’s North Saanich Flavour Trail at Sandown), whose interest is in producing local linen. Photo above shows black oats, and here Mike talks about khorasan wheat, an ancient grain.

Lisa Willot (FFCF‘s Vancouver Island Seed Security Program Coordinator)checks on the equipment in the mobile seed cleaner, which she’ll be taking on the road soon. It will allow small scale producers to save more local seed. Which improves local food security by allowing farmers to plant more locally produced crops adapted to changing climactic conditions.

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White Rock reading for National Organic Week

I was delighted to have a chance to read with local (Surrey BC) poet and civic treasure Heidi Greco, a fellow foodie and activist in all good causes. We decided to celebrate National Organic Week with a poetry conversation at White Rock Public Library on September 17.

Our poetry extended into a bit of baking, and we provided cookies as a reward to our delightful audience.

We made it a poetry conversation, alternating poems and thoughts on trees, food and matters ecological. Was busy reading and talking so not much time for photos, but here we were beforehand!

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Where does all the garbage go?

I learned the important connection between food and sewage years ago when I came across the excellent documentary Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes. The film of course talked also about garbage disposal and the endless growth of landfill waste which humans create so easily and dispose of so badly.

So I was pleased to finally be able to catch a Hartland Landfill tour, which I’d heard was well worth taking. So much has already been written and said about the growth of food waste in well-fed nations I won’t belabour the point here; but just to say it seems we are not willing or able to manage the food we buy, grow or manufacture, and despite composting pick-up systems now in place, too much of it still finds its way to places like Hartland, where it generates greenhouse gases.

So one of the features that most intrigued me was the methane capture system – basically a series of pipes laid into and across the ever growing garbage mountain, feeding into an electricity plant – which powers (so far) about 1600 homes in the area, with plans for expansion. However, as long as food waste – the primary source of this methane – can be diverted into composting programs, the growth will slow.

Our tour bus spent time sitting at the top of the current garbage mountain, so we could watch birds scavenging and scattering. Our guide told us that birds of prey (from the Cowichan Raptor Centre) come to keep order later in the year, and this program of Natural Predation is by far the most effective preventive measure they have found. The birds who feed on our garbage end up the worse for it because of consuming microplastics and toxins.

I was also encouraged to see inspectors checking each load that was deposited by garbage trucks. Because space is limited by planetary constraints, our municipalities have strict guidelines about garbage vs recyclables and compostables; the guidelines are enforced through fining the trucks that pick up our bins. A 2016 study of Hartland found that organics, paper and plastics made up half of what is thrown away by locals; hence our blue and green bin pick-up programs.

Even so, unless consumers and businesses change their ways by reducing their annual waste load of 400kg/person to 125kg, Hartland expects to run out of space by 2045. At this point the waste will be destined to take over some of the local hiking and bike trails on a neighbouring mountain.

Adjoining the current mountain is a new valley being excavated ready to fill; in the background are sea, sky and mountains. And here’s what the power station looks like. There’s a nearby leachate pond as well, which is toxic fluid runoff, contaminated by

The landfill site is also a busy recycling centre, trying to reclaim as much as possible from consumer waste – people can bring in plastics, metal, clothing, paint etc to a public drop-off area, and the centre distributes and sorts it for whatever further life it might have. There’s composting available for larger scale drops, for a fee.

Here’s a closing thought: one of the items that has been deemed not recyclable is a damaged blue box!

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Aeroponics in Victoria

Tomato and basil plants growing aeroponically

Basil and tiny tomato plants

For the first time in a long while I went on a farm tour of sorts last Thursday. This one was a tour of an aeroponics project run by Harvest and Share Food Relief Society. It’s housed on the grounds of Victoria’s Government House, next to its vegetable garden and Victory Over COVID Garden.

While I am not generally a big fan of artificial growing media (more on that shortly) this one was set up with the worthwhile goal to provide fresh greens to local food banks and community kitchens during the summer growing season. Currently they’re growing basil, baby romaine and tiny grape tomatoes.

The setup involves aluminum pyramids with planting holes spaced 6 inches apart; each of the 25 planters can hold 136 plants. The plants are started in peat plugs, set into small plastic baskets that fit the planting holes. Foam (styrofoam) is often used in such systems, but can’t be cleaned or easily recycled. The system is lightweight and planters can be tipped up or moved to allow maintenance of the spray nutrient system that feeds them.

Aeroponics pyramid planter growing lettuce

Baby romaine lettuce

Aeroponics planters, man showing plant pot

Planters & pots

Aeroponics pyramid planter

Plants seen from below

The plant roots extend into the growing space where they are misted with a liquid nutrient running through a pipe system beneath the planters, set on timers and propelled with a pump system. The excess liquid runs back into a collection bin where it is filtered and recycled. The nutrient liquid is changed at regular intervals, and the misting system needs checking and cleaning as it can get clogged.

Like many food growing innovations, some of the preliminary research into this method of food production came from the cannabis industry (Michael Pollen remarks on cannabis-grower-inspired horticultural innovation in Botany of Desire)

Aeroponics planter showing plant roots

Plant roots within the pyramid

Aeroponics pyramid planter watering system

Misting head and pipes

Aeroponics system inflow nutrient bin

Nutrient recycling bin

The original design of this system was set up for growing basil; plants with larger leafy systems need to be spaced more widely. For example, the planters do work well with potatoes, which will extend inside the pyramid with the leafy matter above, but the plants need to be spaced more widely and/or positioned where their bushy leaves don’t intrude on what else is growing in the same planter. Other plants have been tried, including broccoli and squash, but speed and quantity are the goals in the current setup.

Hopes for the future are to extend the growing season by building a greenhouse (the system is located on the cement pad once used for the greenhouse that served the Government House kitchen).

There are compromises in every agricultural method. Aeroponics is admired for its clean, water-conserving and productive features and small footprint. The nutrients in the foods grown are believed to be similar to those in soil-based methods, although of course it depends which nutrient mix, which growing conditions, and which soil you are talking about.

However, held to a sustainability lens, this particular system does depend on peat plugs, plastic pots, plastic piping and electricity to run; and relies on an imported liquid nutrient mix. So it will never be free of external inputs as a soil-based farm can be. Done on a large scale, it can take farmland out of production and damage the health of the soil beneath its operations as readily as any other human activity. Moved indoors / into a greenhouse, additional requirements include heating and dehumidification systems = more electricity.

Growing without soil means that humans must attempt to mimic nature in providing the nutrients for plant growth; our species has determined there are 17 (or maybe 18) essential plant nutrients, but in the soil of course there are far more micronutrients, as well as microbial helpers working synergistically to nourish plants and build soil, adapted to different soil and climactic conditions. To my mind, there are as well question marks around the source (sustainability) of the ingredients in the nutrient mix, as well as the risk of diseases that can be swiftly circulated through a closed system.

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