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  • 09 Oct 2018 3:15 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    Members' Corner is a monthly blog series where SPEC members share their favourite sustainability-related resources.

    You should read: the article “The Future of Cities” by Taras Grescoe

    Art Bomke, SPEC Board of Director and Food & Environment Committee Co-Chair

    I think this is especially relevant in Metro Vancouver as we approach the October 20th municipal elections and face ballots with a multitude of candidates. Most are seeking to make changes some of which could reverse the progress made to facilitate the ability of citizens to reduce their dependence on the automobile. One new party, Coalition Vancouver, is seeking to wedge their way into power with threats to tear up bike paths and create policy that favours cars. This Walrus article makes the case for a city that “prioritizes active transport, transit and intelligently planned density.” Let’s make candidates clearly indicate their stand on transportation and hold them accountable upon election.

    You should know about: Bâtiment 7 in Pointe-Saint-Charles - Montréal

    Betzy Salas, from SPEC's Energy Committee

    It is an old abandoned railway building, which after 10 years of litigation was donated to the community to be a factory of collective autonomy. After 10 months of work this building was restored using mostly recycled materials or manufacturing faults. This building uses renewable energies for the production of energy. Hydronic heating system with a source of natural gas energy, also the use of Geothermal and Biomass.

    You should read: “Climate Change Needs Behavior Change”, a report by Rare

    Robin Hadac, SPEC Communications Coordinator

    There has been a lot of sobering news on climate change recently, which has a lot of people searching for answers. If you are like me and looking for immediate action you can take, I highly recommend reading RARE’s comprehensive report on the impact individual behavioural can have on climate mitigation. They came up with 30 behaviour changes that you can do as an individual, clustered by category, and ranked in terms of plausible-optimum scenario emissions reductions. Number one? – Reducing food waste, which they found could be equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 70.5-93.7 gigatons!

    If you read the report and feel inspired to take action, SPEC’s Waste Committee will be using this report to guide their upcoming projects. Drop by the next meeting to get more involved.

    You should use: Ecosia

    Magali Vander Vorst, SPEC Board member

    There’s nothing better than the feeling of saving the environment without even lifting a finger. Or saving it by just lifting one. Using the search engine Ecosia.org you are planting trees every time you hit Search. Instead of using good ol’ Google you simply use this site and scan still find that brunch restaurant menu, check the weather forecast or find answers to any other questions you normally ask the G giant. At a rate of 45 searches per tree, this German-based foundation has already planted over 35 million trees since 2009 – and I take ownership for at least ten of those, so far. Another added bonus is that they don’t sell your data to advertisers, unlike most search engines, so not only are you making the world greener but also safer for you.

  • 02 Oct 2018 12:12 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Dr. Carole Christopher, SPEC President

    Ballots will arrive in October for the referendum on Proportional Representation (PR.) It’s an opportunity to express your point of view on whether to change our electoral system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to proportional representation (PR).  

    Both Systems have their proponents and their critics. Under FPTP, “the winner takes all,” irrespective of the percentage of the popular vote.  In a PR system, votes are distributed according to how people actually vote. FPTP has the advantage of familiarity. PR has the advantage of fairer distribution of actual votes.  

    SPEC favors PR because it allows people to 'vote their values' and it promotes parties working together.  However the purpose of this writing is not to convince you, but to explain the process.  

    The referendum ballot has two parts:

    Part 1 - asks you to choose between First-Past-The-Post and Proportional Representation.

    Part 2 - ask you to choose among three options for how to make the necessary changes if the majority vote in favor of PR. All three lead to the same outcome- a transition from FPTP to PR.  No one is definitively superior to the others. They are unfamiliar to us but they are all drawn from the experiences of countries around the world who use PR.  And they are crafted to reflect conditions in British Columbia, particularly to balance the very different sizes of populations and electoral ridings in urban and rural areas.  All three options facilitate a transition from FPTP to PR.  

    Some people may decide not to vote because they can’t decide which of the three options they favor. That would be a mistake.  You can skip Part 2 and your ballot is still valid.

    A couple of other things to consider in voting:

    1.  The rules around all voting procedures in BC, (FPTP or PR), are closely supervised by Elections BC, an independent and non-partisan office of the legislature that set standards and monitors the rules around every provincial election.

    2. Helen Clark, the Ex-PM of New Zealand (which has a PR system) was asked at a Vancouver seminar this summer whether PR systems are vulnerable to parties with extreme views taking over the government?  Among several things, she said; 

    • Even if an ‘extreme’ group rises above the threshold of votes to reach party status, it is better to have them in government where they are accountable.  
    • FPTP is no protection against extreme views, as evidenced by the 2016 election in the United States.
    • Around the world, there is more evidence of extremism in FPTP than in PR systems.  

    The three options in part 2 of the referendum ballot are the most confounding for people. Here is an unbiased resource on the three options from ElectionsBC. 

    In the Next newsletter, we will take a closer look at the three options.

  • 15 Aug 2018 10:44 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By SPEC President, Dr. Carole Christopher

    Fireworks. I found myself consciously not watching the fireworks this year. A couple of decades ago in the early years of this annual event, I went with friends to Vanier Park to see the fireworks. I was hoping to reconnect with an awesome experience in 1976 in Riverside Park, New York City, where a huge crowd watched the fireworks celebrating the US bicentennial above the Hudson River.  Those fireworks were decidedly less pyrotechnic than now but it was a profound gathering of the community with great love of country fueling a remarkable civic experience.  It left an indelible impression on me. 

    The event at Vanier Park started off well enough but within 10 minutes I could no longer see the full effects of the fireworks looking up through a great stagnant haze of smoke. It totally shifted the experience for me. The most memorable and pleasurable part of the evening was the stimulating night biking back to our W. Point Gray home. I’ve had very little appetite to rejoin the crowds in subsequent years.  Since then, I’ve occasionally enjoyed the fireworks from the distance of our front balcony where we had a clear view between the trees, but the inevitable and lingering cloud of haze over the city has produced a mild aversive reaction in me. That’s a slightly precarious thing to say about an event that attracts over a quarter of a million people at every showing. Yet this year, I feel compelled to say a couple of things about this annual event. 

    The fireworks this year took place when the whole Metro Vancouver region is in stage III drought conditions, under an air advisory alert, and under serious threat of fires. Over the years, as the summer draught and fires have worsened, I’ve wondered if we can do this much loved celebration in a way that takes account of and adds to public awareness around the seriousness of these threats? 

    I heard an interview recently with the owner of the Christine Lake Lodge, currently threatened by fires. She spoke simply and matter-of-factly of the necessity to revamp their schedule so that August is not a time in which the lodge depends on tourism for its operation. I admired her capacity to take stock of realities and revise accordingly.

    With this on my mind we went to Victoria for the August long weekend, breaking a longstanding tradition of staying home over holiday weekends. On Sunday evening we went to the inner harbour to hear the Victoria symphony and view the fireworks. I hadn’t mentioned to my partner my misgivings about fireworks and was going along with his plans for an enjoyable evening.  And, indeed, it was! I stood in a large crowd where we luckily found a place to tuck in with a perfect view and good listening range. A family of three, also from Vancouver, tucked in beside us. The fireworks came just as a gorgeous sunset gave way to dark and the orchestra stopped, giving way to a collective silence broken by appreciative gasps of visual pleasure. It lasted about ten minutes and we turned to our neighbours, all gushing agreement, “that was just the right amount of fireworks!!” The haze was just starting to form but not the murky cloud of smoke. Rick and I mused as we walked home on the felt sense of a coming together into the commons. 

    I’m not expecting an avalanche of support and indeed I may get an avalanche of disagreement that we need to do any Rethinking of our Vancouver annual fireworks event. If it’s going to continue, which is almost a certainty, is there a way to do it that is less likely to collide with the draught-air pollution-fire triad that is now a predictable feature of Vancouver summers? I think it’s worth examining.

  • 14 Aug 2018 12:59 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    An inside look on how Emily Carr Elementary completely revamped their waste system and diverted 800 pounds of recyclables from the landfill.

    Cadine (left) with the team of student volunteers that sort classroom waste and recycling.

    Emily Carr Elementary School is on a mission. Two years ago, the school took the Zero Waste Challenge to divert recyclables away from the garbage bin. Over the next 730 days, students saved approximately 800 pounds of plastic, foil composites, styrofoam, felts, and glue sticks from the landfill.

    The idea started with school and student support worker Cadine Boechler. Looking around the school, with all the preventable garbage being sent to the landfill, she saw both an opportunity and a necessity to change the current waste system.

    She built new waste sorting stations for the hallways and classrooms using recycled materials, and created signs with waste items glued on so the kids could recognize where their waste was supposed to go. Every station has separate bins for garbage, blue-bin recyclables, organics, soft plastics, and foil composites—like chip bags and granola bar wrappers. In addition to these bins, classrooms also have bins for felt pens and glue sticks.

    Cadine built this waste sorting system in the main hallway.

    Once the waste sorting systems were in place, it was time to get the students involved. In order to make sure all students were participating, Cadine recruited a team of student volunteers to go to each classroom and teach about the new system and how to correctly sort waste into the bins. Throughout the school year, as classes produce and sort their waste, every month a couple of students from each class bring their bins outside to a recycling collection area. Another team of regular student volunteers sorts through the classroom bins to make sure there is no contamination, then adds the recycling to the appropriate bins. These bins are then collected and transported by Pacific Mobile Depot once a month for $30/month.

    Two student volunteers sort classroom recycling into blue bins.

    We got the chance to visit Emily Carr Elementary and chat with Cadine, the mastermind behind this project, about the new waste system and the impact it is having on the students.

    What made you decide to do this Zero Waste Challenge?

    I decided to do this Zero Waste Challenge when I noticed that the school landfill bin was full of packaging that could be recycled. I thought that the program fit into our school’s environmental goals and connected well with our curriculum, which teaches about taking care of the environment and social responsibility. It just seemed like the right thing to do considering the state of the planet, and a great way to teach the students that it is possible to create solutions.

    How has the sorting system impacted how the students recycle and think about waste?

    The system has been really transformative for the students. When the grade 5 group went to camp they decided, without any instructions from the teachers, to save all their packaging and bring it back to the school.

    Have you received any feedback from parents?

    I have had feedback from parents about how the program has really impacted their home life in a positive way. They now save all their packaging and do drop-offs on the weekends! One of our students in grade 2 even spoke to his strata council about increasing the recycling in his building and another has implemented some zero waste practices in her guide group!

    What advice would you give to teachers hoping to start a similar program in their school?

    My advice for staff who would like to implement a similar program at their school is to have the program be student-led and run. I believe that the success of our program is due to the fact that we had peer educators teach the students workshops about the program and why we are doing it. Our students are also the ones who facilitate a monthly collection and take bins out and back at lunch and recess, so they really own the program and feel proud of what they are doing. I would also say to keep trying new ideas – our program has evolved a lot over the last few years – and to keep acknowledging the students’ participation. I keep track of how much we have saved from the landfill and we just celebrated our 2-year anniversary and, in that time, we saved about 800 pounds from the landfill – an amount that can fill our school office from the floor to the ceiling!

    If you have questions about starting a similar system in your school, or about general sustainability in Vancouver schools, please contact the VSB’s Sustainability Office at .If you have questions about starting a similar system in your school, or about general sustainability in Vancouver schools, please contact the VSB’s Sustainability Office at sustainability@vsb.bc.ca.
  • 12 Jul 2018 4:55 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    Members' Corner is a new, monthly blog series where SPEC members share our favourite sustainability-related resources.

    You should watch: Merchants of DoubtMerchants of Doubt

    Amarita Pooni, Westside Community Food Market Coordinator

    A documentary that looks at pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about topics like toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change. It is really interesting how it correlates the actions of creating doubt in the tobacco industry with that of climate change. While it does discuss other topics as well it bring to light the tactics used to prevent legislation moving forwards against climate change. Discusses the impact climate change has on local community.

    Watch here.

    You should read: The known unknowns of plastic

     pollution, by The Economist

    Carol Cohen, SPEC volunteer & Master Recycler grad

    This article is about some (perhaps less known) facts about plastic pollution and the ways that it is not as bad as other kinds of pollution, without minimizing the problems with plastic. I like the article because it presented some new information to me and some perspectives that gave me new food for thought about this topic.

    You should watch: DamNation

    Robin Hadac, SPEC Communications and Volunteer Coordinator

    For anyone interested in waterways, fisheries, and the history of dams in the United States, you should watch the short documentary DamNation, by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight. Largely focused on Washington state, the filmmakers look at a number of case studies where the installation of dams decimated local fish runs and flooded key ecological habitats. The film also shows how quickly local fish runs are revitalized when dams are removed. The documentary unfortunately does not touch on BC dams nor the environmental impact that the Site C dam will have on the Peace River, but it is easy to see how BC could learn from the repeal of the dam-craze in the United States.

    You should watch: Before the Flood, by Fisher


    Magali Vander Vorst, SPEC Board member

    First of, it has Leonardo DiCaprio, so that’s a powerful reason right there. 

    If that’s not enough – for some strange reason – then you should watch it because it gives a clear view of day-to-day things that we do that can make a difference at a global scale if only we made the smallest effort to change them. From incinerated rainforests in Indonesia to eating habits in the US, the film tackles a variety of issues and gives well-researched numbers to help you realize the magnitude of many underestimated problems. The documentary is not only depicting a dim future, is also giving you the tools to change that fate.

  • 03 Jul 2018 4:51 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    We recently posted a blog post by SPEC’s President, Dr. Carole Christopher, on creating dialogue and building solidarity across differences. While the post mentions the Kinder Morgan Pipeline issue that seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days, the arguments raised in the blog post are just as relevant for the fight against Site C.

    Therefore, we want to share some things you can do in order to stay informed about the current Site C situation and get more involved:

    1. Pledge to follow the court case that the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have launched - they are going to court on July 23 to seek an injunction on the dam: https://witnessforthepeace.ca/

    2. Join a crew of people up north to the Paddle for the Peace, which is happening on July 14: https://paddleforthepeace.ca/

    3. Read these two new books that have come out: Damming the Peace, edited by Wendy Holm and Breaching the Peace, by Sarah Cox.

  • 19 Jun 2018 11:02 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Robin Hadac and Nikoo Boroumand

    At the Farm to School BC Spring Celebration, one of the schools SPEC works with, John Norquay Elementary, was awarded the highest award for a school garden. The Farm to School BC Pollinator Award recognizes Farm to School programs and school teams that act as pollinators within their community: buzzing around their gardens, kitchens and classrooms to build healthy food systems, transferring and sharing knowledge, fostering thriving learning environments, and supporting the development of young healthy “seeds”, who will grow up to one day offer the fruits of their labour back to the environment and community.1

    This esteemed award went specifically to John Norquay’s school garden committee, which includes Valeria Kao (parent volunteer), Linda De Jardin (grade 6/7 teacher), and Ivy Chang (K/1 teacher) as well as the involvement of many others at the school, such as Gary Loong (grade 5/6 teacher), the school librarian/resident garden carpenter Mark Warkentin, the very supportive current principal Tim Krug, the former principal Margaret Jorgensen, and the former vice principal Sharon Vieira, and at least 15 teachers that have been involved in the garden program each year. The gardens at John Norquay are a testament to the teamwork and collaboration this school embodies, and this award reflects the strength of their community.

    Pictured: Val (parent volunteer) accepting the Pollinator Award on behalf of John Norquay’s School Garden Committee

    How Norquay’s Gardens Blossomed

    John Norquay started their garden four years ago with the strong support of their teachers, like Linda De Jardin and Ivy Chang, and parent volunteers, especially Valeria Kao. Val applied for funding to start and grow the school garden over the past four years, leading to 18 garden boxes, 2 garden storage boxes, a 3-box compost system, 4 fruit trees, winter hoop houses, 8 grow lights for indoor seedling cultivation, a mason bee home, a large rain-covered blackboard sign, and an annual supply of soil amendment.

    Each year, about 15 classrooms manage and maintain the gardens, including 8 classrooms that engage in the SPEC School Gardens Program. Teachers bring their students out into the garden and plant seeds, grow food, and harvest the food for the end of school year harvest celebration. The 8 classrooms engaged in SPEC garden lessons come out in the garden in the Fall to learn about saving seeds, composting, and preparing the gardens for the winter. In the Spring, they learn to direct sow cold weather crops, start and take care of seedlings in the classroom under grow lights, transplant seedlings, and learn about pollinators and beneficial insects. Last year, they even built an insect hotel for the garden.

    Pictured: Kindergarten and grade 1 teacher Ivy Chang brings her students out into the garden and allows them time to explore and become comfortable and respectful around plants and insects. She teaches them which plants and flowers are edible right from the start of the year, and continues to bring her students out weekly to go around the garden and munch on a variety of edible plants. By the end of the year, the kindergarten and grade 1 students are fully versed in the plants growing in the garden.

    Linda involves her grade 6/7 class in making sure all of the boxes are well watered throughout the Spring. Val teaches the students how to set up the watering system and trains them in effective watering techniques. Other grade 6/7 classes are often involved, and the grade 7s train the grade 6s so that they can take over the watering for the next year. This year, Gary Loong's grade 5/6 class have been trained and sharing the big task of watering the large garden.

    Students who are not a part of the garden program with their class are able to join a garden club that Linda and Ivy run during lunch time. The garden club learns to save seeds, grows and transplants seedlings, and takes care of the garden.

    For the past three years, the teachers get together and plan a harvest celebration in June, with the help from Val and other parent volunteers who pick up extra ingredients and find tables and dishes. Each class picks one or two vegetables from the garden and uses it to make a dish with their class. Last year, teachers set up stations with each dish, and the classes rotated around and learned about the different vegetables being used in each dish, fun facts about the vegetable, and how the vegetable was incorporated and prepared into that dish.

    Even the school librarian plays a part in the gardens. The librarian is a trained carpenter and helped students construct trellises for the garden boxes. He is also called upon whenever there is a repair to be made in the garden, which he happily helps with. And he has an unofficial tool library which has been handy in the garden for things that come up unexpectedly.

    Community Pollinators for Food Literacy

    The importance of community is reflected in the accomplishments of everyone working with Norquay’s garden. It is easy to see how the garden team functions as pollinators in their community, build healthy food systems and supporting the development of students who will grow up and give back to the environment and community, making them a perfect fit for the Pollinator Award.

    And the impact of the gardening program on students can be seen almost immediately. This Spring, Val found funding to have Lori Snyder deliver native plant walks to every single division in the school (over 20 divisions), after which students have been seen identifying and tasting local plants in the schoolyard. From SPEC’s perspective, it is easy for Nikoo, the Program Coordinator, to see how the students learn and grow with the garden throughout their time at Norquay. Not only can students identify which vegetables and herbs are growing in their garden, but they also understand the time and hard work it takes to deliver fresh, healthy, and tasty food onto their plates.

    1. The First Annual Pollinator Award went to a program that exemplifies the four Farm to School pillars: healthy, local food in the bellies of students; hands-on experiential learning in the garden, kitchen or community; school and community connectedness; and supporting sustainable regional food systems. (See https://farmtoschoolbc.ca/three-core-elements/ for more detailed description of these F2S pillars).

    2. SPEC would like to thank our funders for supporting Nikoo and the School Gardens Program: Acme Delivery Company, BC Gaming Community Grant, Gaia Green Products Ltd., Home Depot, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, School parents, SPEC individual donors, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and Telus Community Board. 

  • 12 Jun 2018 2:51 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Dr. Carole Christopher, SPEC President & Elder

    Image: Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Expansion construction. From Burnaby Now.

    SPEC opposes the local pipeline expansion on the basis of environmental risk. But we also believe that the deeply polarized public discourse around this and similar projects is a major factor stalling efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We view sustainability as not just a set of positive ecological actions but also positive social actions, including reaching across the chasm of differences to promote respectful dialogue and de-escalate toxic discourse. We believe it is possible to forge understandings of different viewpoints and win respect on all sides, irrespective of the outcome and that this is a crucially important historical moment in which to develop our capacity to handle difficult conversations with a spirit of human solidarity.

    Last month I heard an interview on CBC Sunday Edition with three Indigenous entrepreneurs who spoke about the increasing prosperity of First Nations through greater control of resource development on reserves. Listening, I nodded in agreement. After a long and brutal history of eviction, exploitation and genocide, I support the right of indigenous nations to control and prosper from resources in their jurisdictions. Then the issue of pipelines came into the discussion. The three guests were among the 40+ First Nations that have signed agreements with Kinder Morgan along the inland route of the pipeline expansion.

    It was asserted in the interview that the opposition to the pipeline in BC was led by “self-interested activists.” I was disappointed in this characterization on two counts First, the opposition has been led by coastal First Nations who have brought law suits against the project and have maintained an ongoing vigil at the site of Kinder Morgan operations on Burnaby Mountain. For some reason, their leadership is often ignored by levels of government, the local media and certainly by advocates of the pipeline. It is a clear disservice to leave this information out of the discussion and to ignore that indigenous people in BC are also asserting their right to control development in their territory. What seems a reasonable assumption is that both inland and coastal First Nations have weighed the risks and benefits of the project and arrived at different perspectives and we come to more measured and less bitter outcomes when we credit all perspectives as expressing values that are important to the different players.

    A second disappointment was the choice to characterize non-indigenous opponents as "self-interested activists." This frame was developed by PR firms working for the tobacco industry to cast doubt on the motives of opponents. It is now being heavily deployed in the service of the fossil fuels industry. Implying that activists are “self-interested” while those pursuing economic gain are not is a line of reasoning that should collapse under the scrutiny of a single careful thought. Yet, the persistent labeling of activists has undermined public trust in a category of people who are very often speaking on behalf of a public good and sacrificing their own time, energy and money and sometimes facing stiff legal implications to do so. That is not to say that business is not a public good or that activists don’t also label opponents but there is a huge discrepancy in their relative capacities to launch expensive PR campaigns to undermine public trust in the other.

    It is possible to take exception to a point of view without labeling the person unfairly and falsely. I was at a housing town hall recently where a person behind me shouted “liar” at another participant who asserted that everyone he spoke to held his view. Clearly the shouter felt his view was not represented in the sample but did that entitle him to accuse the speaker of lying? The speaker probably associates mostly with people who think as he does, resulting in a biased sample. But equally likely the shouter also associates with people who agree with his views. The more contentious the issues the more likely we only read, listen, and discuss our views with those who think like us. Confirmation bias is an extremely common human tendency leading us to only see or even seek out what we already believe and ignore other views.

    When PR firms set about to build a public consensus that activists are “self-interested” and untrustworthy, they do so in a cynical manner. Most of the time when we label and attack another person, we do so because we’ve not learned good dialogue tools and we resort to poorer, less effective tools including toxic and weaponized language against one another. And we do that primarily because we experience some level of fear.

    When fear arises, some run away, some freeze and some become more aggressive. Knowing that might help explain what happens in public debate such as I’ve described and why it’s creating a polarized and toxic public square and driving us apart when we need to come together and collaborate on some pretty crucial concerns. The path to a sustainable future must include social as well as ecological solidarity. In order to develop a global response to the growing climate crisis, we need to build a capacity to express clear and sharp differences without engendering deep and entrenched divisions.

    I saw an inspiring example of this when I went up to Burnaby Mountain in late April. I was impressed by the clear and distinct point of view expressed without name calling and with respect and good will towards all. The eldership and youthful leadership of the Tsleil Waututh was impressive and set a tone that was followed by all the players. Concern for the “commons” was the hallmark of the day and I left buoyed by the experience of human solidarity. It reflected a deep commitment to a better way. Can this way withstand the challenges of the wins and losses we will inevitably confront? Time will tell if we can pull ourselves together and pull this off, but I believe it’s a worthy place to focus our energies in this historical moment.

  • 12 Jun 2018 10:17 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Olga Lansdorp, Tara Moreau, and Robin Hadac

    Today, there is a group of individuals representing educational institutions, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, and other groups with a focus on small-scale, diversified agriculture, who are all aware of what the other organizations strive to accomplish over the next five years. They are also aware of the funding opportunities slated to come through from the Ministry of Agriculture in the near future, and thus are primed to collaborate and take advantage of funding opportunities. Six short months ago, things were less organized and less cohesive…

    It all started with a conversation at a SPEC-organized Small-Scale Farming Symposium in January 2018 (Figure 1). The event was targeted at farmers themselves, and included presentations and discussions about soil fertility, soil drainage, farmer resilience, pest management, and specific farm questions. At that symposium Tara Moreau (UBC Botanical Garden and SPEC), Emma Holmes (Ministry of Agriculture) and Karen Ageson (Farmers on 57th and Vancouver Urban Farming Society) discussed the idea to have a meeting for people involved in promoting small scale farming. The idea was to support the supporters, or at least bring them all together to discuss a coordinated strategy for supporting small scale, diversified farmers.

    "The idea for bringing together all the folks working in small-scale agriculture was brought forward by Tara Moreau, a SPEC board member, at the recent Farmer-to-Farmer SPEC symposium. SPEC, along with other organizations, was very helpful in assisting me in coordinating the event and making it a successful meeting series. The meetings have already led to greater organization and collaboration and will hopefully continue to lead to a connected and thriving network of people and organizations supporting small-scale agriculture in B.C." -Emma Holmes, Organics Industry Specialist at B.C. Ministry of Agriculture

    The idea caught on, and the list of invitees kept growing as organizers reached out to stakeholders involved in small-scale farming. On April 5, 2018, the first Meeting of Leaders in Small-Scale Agriculture was held at the UBC Botanical Garden. At that meeting 20 stakeholders representing BC Association of Farmers Markets, BC Ministry of Agriculture, Certified Organic Associations of B.C., FarmFolk CityFolk, Foodlands Cooperative of B.C., Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Small Scale Food Processors, Small Scale Meat Processors, Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC), University of British Columbia, UBC Botanical Gardens, University of Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Urban Farmers Society attended. Each stakeholder introduced themselves, projects they are currently working on, and shared their five year vision for agriculture in BC. Emma Holmes outlined the Federal government’s upcoming funding programs; we left the meeting ready for more.

    This led to the second meeting on May 8, 2018, aimed to take the discussion a step further and seek our opportunities for collaboration. There were 24 people in attendance, representing educational institutions, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, and other interested parties, with a similar attendance to the April meeting with the addition of Smithers Farmers Institute, Fields Forward Society, Lillooet-Pemberton-Whistler-Squamish, Thompson Rivers University, and Young Agrarians. Many ideas were discussed at the meetings, and break-out groups focused on farm schools, research, and agricultural extension. Attendees left the meeting excited by the possibilities for collaboration. At SPEC we consider this initiative, the idea for which was sparked at a SPEC symposium, a great success.

    The January 2018 symposium was part of SPEC’s Climate Change Adaptation for Small Scale Farmers project. This project was made possible thanks to funding from Vancouver Foundation, Whole Foods Market, Vancity, the Gow-Jarrett Millard Family, and the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

  • 05 Jun 2018 12:49 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Magali Vander Vorst, SPEC Board Member

    Image: Regan in the Tupper Secondary School’s Teaching Kitchen

    Patricia Regan is the chef and teacher at the Tupper Secondary School’s Teaching Kitchen, where they serve 120 to 140 meals a day and barely use any single-use plastic. Regan is a passionate educator who brings her sustainability values to the school’s kitchen counters.

    When she started this job back in 2011, she walked into a kitchen with minimal recycling, overflowing bins, and piles of single-use plastic containers, not unlike most commercial kitchens in Vancouver.

    But unlike most chefs, Patricia decided to change that and started asking herself one simple question: Is there another option?

    Change is not easy in any industry, but it’s especially challenging when you have to juggle staff members, process lines, tight budgets, and customer expectations. “When you are busy, it’s not easy to change [a habit], it takes mental space to do it,” says Regan of her students’ first reaction to having to change their ways. “What I had to do was plan ahead, not do everything at once, and have all the answers ready.”

    This is how she first got rid of the plastic boxes for the sandwiches: they used to pack the sandwiches in ‘sandwich hangers’; clear boxes that let consumers see the product they were getting. She suggested using paper bags instead. She convinced her students to start using this new packaging and created a process they could adapt to easily, without taking any extra time. This was a challenge on its own, but only the first of the many roadblocks she had to deal with. The most important one was that consumers lamented they couldn’t see what the sandwich looked like anymore.

    Most industries, once faced with the customers’ unease, revert to their old habits. But Regan, who is not one to give up easily, asked herself again, "is there another option?” And so, she got printed signs with a picture of the food and placed them next to each type of sandwich.

    Result? They had no change in sales, and they went from spending 42 cents on each plastic hanger to 5 cents on each paper bag. Thinking back, Regan says “it just didn’t feel like a good use of plastic.”

    This first change was the most challenging for Regan as her students never thought of doing things differently than what they were used to. Then “you start doing things that make sense and people understand.”

    Image: Reagan helping one of her students.

    Regan started looking for other improvements. Much of the kitchen’s food comes packaged in plastic bags. She explained that they had to “clean and hang them inside-out if we wanted to reuse them, but there was no space in the kitchen to hang all those bags to dry. And, if you throw them in the garbage, they get moldy, and they can’t even be recycled.”

    While Regan was looking for yet another option, the solution came in the shape of a new cooler the kitchen was purchasing. This one had metal walls, and Regan quickly figured out a solution: “My sister gave me magnets for Christmas, and we now use them to hang the bags on the side of the cooler, it’s easy to get the students to do this and it doesn’t take up space.”

    This creativity and determination has driven many other changes in the kitchen. For example, cookies are not individually wrapped anymore – which is not only a waste of plastic but also takes time. “We are down to one single plastic item for every meal,” and I’m pretty sure the days for that one are numbered.

    Now, the kitchen waste has gone down from six bags of garbage per day to one, and sometimes even half a bag. But, as Regan says, “this shouldn’t be the exception.”

    “Plastic is not going to be around forever,” in fact, many countries are already regulating the use of plastic, banning its use for some situations or even banning plastic bags and cutlery altogether, such as in France. *

    Changing small daily habits – like what we buy or the packaging we use – doesn’t only reduce waste but influences the habits of those around you. And all we need to do is ask ourselves a simple question: is there another option?

    Did you find another option? Tell us about it by tagging @SPECbc on Twitter.

    *Update: Vancouver is not far behind. On May 16, 2018, Vancouver City Council voted to ban plastic drinking straws and polystyrene foam containers, as well as limit the distribution of single-use plastic bags and cutlery.

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Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

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Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

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