By Amrita Pooni
Amrita is a student entering her final year of university. She is majoring in a B.A. of International Relations at the University of British Columbia. She is currently interning with the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) as the facilitator of the annual Westside Community Food Market (a partnership with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House).
Personally, to know the exact person who has harvested the veggies I put into my meals or the snacks that I ate during lunch has provided me with a new perspective on what I am eating. It was amazing hearing people’s stories of how they got started with the market. When I listened to the conviction behind people’s personal stories, it showed me the passion people have for the work they do and that was reflected in the products they made. Renee from True Nosh, coming from a family with a history of diabetes, decided to make a company that helps balance your blood sugars and prevent ups and downs. Roger from Farmhouse Bard discussing the power of food in helping people grow and bringing people together. Sheila from Zero Waste Christmas who as a child of Depression-era parents always saved and reused wrapping paper from gifts, but decided to take it further last year by sewing gift bags for all the little gifts. It was thought provoking and I found myself questioning every purchase that I made and where I chose to spend my money in my everyday life. It lead me to make certain lifestyle changes such as supporting my local coffee shop instead of a chain coffee shop. Learning theoretical concepts in class is one thing, but having the opportunity to actually take action and see ideas come to fruition, has been life changing.
Did you know that the BC Motor Vehicle Act here is 60 years old? The way the roads are being used has changed, and so should the rules that govern them. Please take action today. Check out what our friends at the HUB are proposing, lets make our voices heard, and ask our government to take action. Let's be part of the solution and not the problem.
If you are interested in this topic and want to volunteer and meet like-minded people join us at our next SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday August 16 at 6:00PM, at 2305 West 7th Ave. Or email us at email@example.com to learn more about volunteering with SPEC.
The SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee
The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health combine to host discussion on catalyzing social connections
In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation presented the results of a survey of metro Vancouver revealing that people in the region identified their greatest concern as a growing sense of isolation. You can read the entire study at: https://www.vancouverfoundation.ca//sites/default/files/documents/VanFdn-SurveyResults-Report.pdf
Since that study, social isolation and ways to remedy it has been the subject of frequent discussions. In December, 2016, the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver presented CONNECT: Catalyzing a Social Movement, a day-long event that offered a range of activities to engage and teach participants about making connections. The conference was facilitated by The Leverage Lab, a project incubated by SPEC, and Richard Drake, Coordinator of the SPEC Elders Circle, co-hosted the workshop on inclusiveness.
The conference brought together people from diverse backgrounds to share music, food, and workshop experiences. Workshops were presented by academic, non-profit and government practitioners who study, advocate and deliver services to vulnerable populations or who are responsible for preparing for events that threaten our normal systems of communication, transportation, medical support, food security, etc. Participants explored our collective impact on energizing a movement around social connectedness in the Metro Vancouver region.
Workshop topics included:
measuring social connection,
Besides the workshops, there were a number of ‘connecting experiences’ that quickly crossed the barriers of separateness and put participants in touch with each other. I met several new people, some peripherally but with four new people I exchanged cards and put them immediately on a list to follow up with to build on our common interests.
This is a good news story at a time when we seem to be pulling apart and straining the seams of our social bonds. Kudos to the local political and health authorities for addressing the barriers of isolation and separation. These barriers make us vulnerable to messages of fear that lead to suspicion of differences and indifference to vulnerabilities. We can bring civility, preparedness and resiliency into our relationships through housing and other programs that rebuild our sense of ‘The Commons.’ And we can revitalize bonds of trust, mutuality, and safety that are the heart of community and allow us to respond effectively and compassionately to crises.
The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health are seeking ongoing feedback and connection with citizens about this issue and these concerns. SPEC, an urban environmental organization recognizes the profound link between social and environmental sustainability and supports all elements of this outreach to citizens. If you’re someone who feels drawn to start a neighbourhood conversation or learn information and/or skills that support these connections, download the city’s VanConnect APP at http://vancouver.ca/vanconnect.aspx Or you can call or email SPEC. We are partnered with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House in an ongoing outreach to our urban community to make and sustain the connections of social harmony, resiliency and environmental integrity.
— Carole, SPEC President
Society Promoting Environmental Conservation – now in our 48th year.
www.spec.bc.ca or firstname.lastname@example.org
Article from Vancouver-Point Grey Community Office Fall 2016 Newsletter, David Eby, MLA
We had a quick chat with Oliver Lane, Exec Director of SPEC on the role of this great organization in the community.
Q. What’s the best thing about working with SPEC?
A. The people. It is a pleasure to work with staff and volunteers that bring such a diversity of knowledge, interests and culture and that share values and a passion for sustainability. SPEC is like a container for great people and great ideas to flourish. And we do our best to support that.
Why did you become a farmer?
“I left my office job to look for more fulfilling work in the environmental sector and through volunteering discovered that organic farming satisfied the environmentalist in me as well as giving me a sense of satisfaction that comes with hard, physical work, and seeing concrete results of your efforts.”
What are the main challenges you face as a farmer?
“Balancing work-life in the summer – there are endless tasks (and weeds) but not making time for myself only results in burn out. Another challenge is financial stability.”
Aside from fresh local food, what other values do you provide to your community through farming that people might not know about, for example, a place for pollinators, supporting biodiversity?
“My farm is one of two small mixed organic farms in my area of Richmond surrounded by blueberries and cranberries creating an ideal environment for pollinators and birds improving biodiversity.
Through my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, I introduce people to eating in season, new vegetables and varieties of familiar veggies, and an appreciation for good food.”
How can people in the community support urban agriculture, food security and healthy ecosystems? What is your call to action?
“Talk to your farmer! Ask about practices, connect with them, Certifications are not everything, and you can learn a lot about what grows well, when. Plus a lot of us love to talk about what we do, this is a labour of love.”
“I used to work in a government office doing IT and found myself looking out the window all the time longing to be in the fresh air and sunshine. I started volunteering with the permaculture Vancouver meet-up group and loved the experience of gardening and growing food in the community so I decided to get into it commercially.”
“Having stable and affordable access to land is a challenge. We are on a short term lease so reluctant to invest in infrastructure and permanent/long term plantings of perennials (fruit trees, nuts, berries…)”
“We keep beehives and chickens at our farm and have flower gardens and hedge rows. We try to make habitat for bats, dragon flies, butterflies and other critters, birds and pollinators.”
“Try growing something! Herbs and tomatoes are what I started out with on my apartment balcony. Community gardens are great places to meet other gardeners and see what grows here. Come visit our farm – we have volunteer days and are happy to connect with people.”
It has been a fruitful, and veggieful, year at the school gardens!
— Nikoo, School Gardens Program Coordinator
The SPEC Elders Circle is a new initiative within SPEC that’s rooted in the belief that elders and society have much to gain by elders embracing their wisdom role and offering insight and knowledge to younger generations drawn from life experience and accumulated learning.
When I was about 55, (I’m now 75) I began to notice that the major topic of conversation with retired friends was travel. I was uneasy about the carbon intensity of air travel. But I was in denial and shy to raise embarrassing questions, so I quietly brooded on my own questions. We all agreed that we’re living in a great place and raved about how good it was to get home. So why were we traveling so much? Were we too narrowly focused on the next adventure and not on the legacy we’re leaving behind? Were we modeling an ennobling role as elders or the more dubious freedom of no longer having a meaningful role?
Travel, while enjoyable, didn’t resonate with the deeper dimension that I was pondering as I pushed past the retirement age. As a kid, I was taught to respect my elders and the words “elder” and “wisdom” have always communicated something about older age that was attractive to me. To be a senior is not necessarily to be wise. On the other hand, it’s the tradition of every culture that elders carry knowledge of a life lived, that they have passed through the fires of individuation and self-preoccupation to a greater perspective on what really matters, that they have gathered, sifted, and have something of substance to share.
The great psychologist, CG Jung describes the 2nd half of life as the period when we make significant and discriminating insights about meaning, spirituality, and wisdom. While it’s not true for everyone, the elder years are those in which we’re most likely to harvest the fruits of wisdom. David Suzuki calls it the most important time in his life and a time to speak from the heart.
I was 65 when I began to use the phrase, “reclaiming elder wisdom.” I started a blog by that name with the strong intention of sharing my view that this is a dignified role which we should neither squander nor surrender to the notion it’s no longer needed. I never wrote that first blog entry and never carried on that conversation. It took the interest of a younger woman to draw out of me this wish for a dialogue around our elder legacy and to help me secure a grant to start an Elders Circle in SPEC. It is becoming a reality and our first meeting with interested elders will happen on June 23.
As an intern at SPEC, I´ve received so much information about everything environmental. And there is something important I would like to share with you. Monsters are real.
For this year’s 2016 Earth Day Celebration, four of us (SPEC volunteers Carol, Hisayo, and Shona) took part in two events. The first one was at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.
All over the world such events make us more aware of what is going on this planet of ours. How does the Earth feel today? Good? Bad? Does it have a stuffy nose and watery eyes, or is it healthy as a nut?, as we say in Swedish.
Lunch was a good example of how a whole school can reduce their waste. Participants got more than one reminder before the event to bring our own plate, utensils and a cup. They provided the food, but we would provide no waste. And people did that. The food was vegan and gluten-free, so I was happy, as I could enjoy it as well.
A few minutes past twelve, suddenly the lunch room was overwhelmed by the noise of students flooding in through the doors, and then the event started.
One thing I noticed was that the students too had their own jars and forks with them. Most of them had thermoses instead of plastic bottles or paper cups. I was really happy to see that.
At one display table, students made their own signs promoting more bicycle usage, as well as an experiment. It was two see-through water bottles. Both had water in them with a sign that said: Do you taste the difference? One was bought bottled water and the other was tap water—the water you get directly from your faucet. I loved the student’s creativity and cleverness.
By the way, do you know how big the state of Texas is? Now imagine it twice the size, made of plastic waste, and put it in the ocean. Remember, I told you that monsters are real.
In one study, it found that the average family uses around 500 plastic bags a year. To show just how much plastic that is, SPEC volunteers took 500 plastic bags and made a monster out of it. Hisayo had the great honour to representing trash that day.
The second event was at Laura Secord Elementary School where we talked trash. Lit-t-erally.
As the students gathered closer to the board and the projector screen lit up, all eyes focused on the topic of waste — the waste we produce at home, in school, at work, and when we go out. That waste has to end up somewhere, right? This was the topic of the workshop. What happens to our waste?
Here is one story that I would like to share with you. In 1986, there was a ship named Khian Sea that left Philadelphia with toxic ash because the city didn't want it, and neither did New Jersey. Or any other city for that matter. So Khian Sea started to sail to different countries and places to dump the ash somewhere, and no one wanted it. Greenpeace writes in their report back in June 2010 this: "Two years, three names, four continents, and 11 countries later, the troublesome cargo was still on board. Then, somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Sri Lanka all the ash disappeared. When questioned about this, the crew had no comment except that it was all gone."
And it wasn't the only one. In the report, you can also read about other ships from the Italian hub, the Mediterranean area and Africa.
Before I depart back to Sweden, I'd like to share this thought with you. During my intern-ship, I’ve learned that not everyone needs to be in love with the Earth, but it is important to remember that we all enjoy living here. Right?
—SPEC Intern Jamie
In the beautiful Botanical Garden at UBC, SPEC co-hosted a Water Day Event on March 22, in which everyone had the opportunity to hear more about water conservation.
The evening started with Steve Litke from the Fraser Basin Council. He gave an interesting overview of the new BC Water Act. He talked about the progress made and the challenges that remain. He also shared some ideas on how we could govern our water resources more effectively and provide fair access to the multiple water users in the region.
The City of Vancouver had two speakers present, Jennifer Bailey and Shelley Heinricks. They said that one of the most important things for us to remember is where our tap water comes from. If you look to the North Shore, you can see the beautiful, gorgeous mountains here in Vancouver… ever think that these mountains are life-givers?
Metro Vancouver has three watersheds that provide our drinking water. Watersheds can be described as a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water such as river or lake. Here we have three, from west to east, they are Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam.
What are you most willing to do? In the event room, there was a suggestion box, where you could choose from six different ways you could save water. From taking four-minute showers, to not flushing the toilet on yellow (“let it mellow”), and installing low flush toilets. Which would you choose?
Conserving water is important for businesses too. Two speakers from well-known hotels, Paul Hemmings from Delta Suites, and Joe Weiss, from Hyatt also spoke.
In less than ten years, Hyatt has decreased its water usage by more than 55%. In 2006 each guest used the huge amount of 700 liters of water, approximately per night. Last year, the amount was at 264 liters of water, per guest, per night. That means we can all do our part in water conservation—including visitors.
My father did it when I was a kid. He would come and knock on the bathroom door after ten minutes, and tell me that time was up. “You take a shower, but you don´t live there” was the motto in our family.
During the break, we all had something to eat from the buffet table that was filled with goodies. Gratefully, my friend Lisa and I, dug in. We went outside to stand in the patio whilst eating as the sun started to go down for the day. There, we talked to one of the guest at the Water Day Event.
Let´s call him Bob. Bob was not up for taking four-minute showers. He liked it too much. And he was very clear that not until everyone started to pay for their water usage, he would not give up his right to stay an extra minute, or ten, in the morning shower.
I felt compelled to talk about what we could do and not what we wouldn´t do. Like my father did with my siblings and me.
Water Metering. Our family had a meter in our row house when I was a kid. Every month we paid a water fee. It was based on the average usage for a family of our size. But at the end of the year, the-water-company-people would come to our house to see how much we actually used. Because we all used less water than average amount, every year my family got money back. Some of our neighbours—with fewer family members—had to pay more, since their usage was much higher. After the Water Celebration event, I called my mum. I told her that today I am so grateful for her and my dad teaching me how to conserve water. Sometimes it was about saving water, sometimes about saving money, but in the end we did both.
At the end of her speech, with a laugh, Dr. Jiaying Zhao looked to the two speakers from the City of Vancouver and said, “If taps are clear [transparent] people would use less water.” And that´s kind of what a Droppler device is about, a new way to save water (see link). The device actually listens to water sounds in the environment, and offers visual feedback of water use in real time, in order to reduce water consumption, according to UBC´s page about Droppler. This is what Dr. Zhao is currently working on.
Oliver Lane, our SPEC ED, and Dr. Tara Moreau, from the UBC Botanical Garden and a SPEC director, talked about how they engage businesses and their employees in conversations on local sustainability. They talked about taking action and responsibility. They showed props they use to discuss the roles of our forests in protecting our water systems. It is really interesting— and you can take part yourself by registering for SPEC’s Sustainable Communities Field School. Make sure to take your colleagues and employees with you.
As the evening was about to end, one of the things Dr. Tara Moreau said, stayed with me. “Leave the sprinklers on for an hour – how many tubs could you fill?” If you want to know the answer, City of Kirkland (Washington State) has a great site you can look at.
Water conservation, in my opinion, isn't about not wanting you to take a hot shower, or not wanting you to make sure that the dishes are clean. It´s about making you aware of the water you use, and if you don´t need it, turn off the tap.
Like Bob said: “I could turn the tap off more, and not have the water running, while brushing my teeth.” How about instead of “could” let’s just do it.
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