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  • 12 Jun 2018 10:17 AM | Anonymous

    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 | Anonymous

    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.

  • 03 Jun 2018 9:08 PM | Anonymous

    Members' Corner is a new, monthly list of recommendations on our favourite sustainability-related resources.

    You Should Read: How To Have a Zero Waste Kitchen, by Tony Naylor at The Guardian

    Ruth Briggs, member of SPEC’s Board and Energy and Transportation Committee

    Are you sure you can't eat that? Food waste is a huge problem globally, and while most of us have compost bins here in Vancouver, some of the things we're putting in them could end up feeding us instead. Canadians are among the biggest food-wasters in the world, with an estimated $31-billion worth of food thrown out in Canada every year. And 47 per cent of that waste happens at home! Here are some diverse tips from top chefs about how you can reduce food waste at home, including ways to use vegetable peelings for flavour and what to do with stale bread.

    You should visit: Our Social Fabric at #340, 1275 Venables

     St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2C9

    Magali Vander Vorst, SPEC Board member

    It’s a non-profit that gathers unused fabrics from brands – some brands are so big they can’t even disclose them – the movie industry, and more. If you are crafty or need a project for the summer, this is a great place to start. They are awfully cheap and the passionate staff is always willing to give you tips for your project. I went there and bought a 4-meter long fleece fabric from MEC that I used to make a case for my large foam pad and, voilà, now I have a guest mattress! As they say on their site, textiles represent “a staggering proportion of the solid waste stream: approximately 16kg per person, or a total of 33,600 tonnes in Metro Vancouver in 2006.” What better reason than that?

    You should watch: The Peel Project by Calder Cheverie 

    Richa Chuttani, member of SPEC’s Energy and Transportation Committee

    The Peel is a project, and subsequently a film, about one of the last “untouched" watersheds in Canada. It is not your typical documentary full of dry information. It is a raw, but beautiful, story of six “Canadian” artists, who are sent on a twenty-day journey through an arctic river’s eco-system to look for inspiration. With little experience in portage or with wilderness, they try to interpret and narrate their experience in their own way and in their own artistic media.

    The film delicately taps into the ever-unanswered question of what it means to be Canadian and what it means to be Indigenous in a commodified natural landscape. It is a good roundabout around the politically-centered discussions about the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

    You should read: I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, by James Hoggan 

    Magali Vander Vorst, SPEC Board member

    It is about the wrong ways the public, politics, and scientist are communicating our severe environmental issues and how to improve these communications between the two extremes. It’s especially interesting because it’s not just about the environment but about how some stakeholders manipulate messages to polarize society – and I found myself victim to that too! The book makes you realize we are not as opposed as we think, we have just been manipulated. These teachings can be in your everyday life – even during your elevator conversations. It’s a must read if you want to convince your uncle to recycle his plastic cupcakes boxes at the next birthday dinner.

  • 01 May 2018 10:47 AM | Anonymous

    By Andre Jankowski, from SPEC Energy Committee

    Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular in Vancouver. The annual sales of EVs are rapidly increasing reflecting the growing desire among the population to switch over from gas and diesel powered cars to EVs powered by clean electricity. The most commonly cited concerns inhibiting decisions to purchase an EV are: cost of EVs, battery range, and availability of charging stations. While the first two concerns are largely in control of the EV’s suppliers, the availability of charging station is dependent mainly on local authorities and property owners.  Making charging stations easily accessible, particularly at home for overnight charging, or at work for charging during work hours, will help many people decide to purchase an EV instead of a gas or diesel powered car.

    While the installation of an EV charger in a house is not very complicated and can be accomplished relatively quickly by an experienced contractor, installation of chargers in condominium parkades is more complex to design, construct, and manage. According to the 2016 Census, 62% of Vancouver dwellings are apartments. This percentage is increasing. All new condominiums are required to provide electrical outlets for parking stalls, to facilitate car charging. However, parking stalls in older buildings are not likely to have electrical supply connections, sized for EV charging. Beside technical issues, there are other, administrative issues that strata corporations have to grapple with, issues like metering of power consumption and cost sharing. But do not despair! Metro Vancouver has prepared a comprehensive information package for us. If you are a resident of a condo or a strata council member or a property manager, have a look at information contained in this link:

    Installation of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations on Strata Properties in British Columbia

    This is a great place to start your project!

  • 13 Apr 2018 7:03 AM | Anonymous

    By Carole Christopher

    Carole is SPEC’s President and sits on the Food and Environment Committee. She is also an important part of SPEC’s Elder’s Circle program.

    Now that you know how much energy clothes dryers use, perhaps you’re motivated to try more energy efficient options. Here’s a few tips that will save energy and save your clothing from damage to fabrics from dryers.

    Tumbling clothes for five minutes takes the wrinkles out. I use my dryer for short spurts to get the wrinkles out, which is the major advantage of dryers over air drying. Clothes, bedding, other linens, and towels only take a couple of minutes once the dryer warms up. During that time, I hang all the items that shouldn’t go in the dryer or don’t need to be de-wrinkled. Then I hang the clothes from the dryer. Hopefully there is an area where you can hang clothes to air-dry after the five minute de-wrinkling. More than five minutes is not necessary and over-drying makes the fabrics wrinkles again.

    I have clothes hangers of various types but not wire hangers in the laundry; plastic hangers for t-shirts, shirts, jackets, sweaters, etc; two pant hangers (meant to hang pants in the closet) which I use for pants, towels, napkins, pillow cases, even sheets that I triple -fold. Yes, it takes longer to dry sheets that way but they do dry. Why bother to de-wrinkle socks and underwear? I just hang them on a compact little hanging device made for these items. Other things that are not meant for dryers include tights, fleecy clothing, and most (particularly wool) sweaters. I use padded hangers for sweaters or lay them flat.

    Admittedly I live in a private home where I have the luxury of a laundry area but I’ve set this kind of system up using bathtubs or showers. A sturdy shower curtain rod will hang a lot of laundry in the bathroom. An enclosed tub is a bit more difficult, but one option is buying retractable laundry lines to hang up in your shower.

    An exception to the five minute rule is anything with down or feathers like jackets, pillows, and duvets. They need low/medium heat and tennis balls (or dryer balls) to bounce around and keep the downy feathers from clumping together. But once they regain their look of fullness, they can finish drying wherever you can hang or spread them.

    Sun drying also damages fabrics but I dry outside when possible. I still give them the five minute de-wrinkling treatment before I hang them outside. I have a collapsible clothes rack along with some hangers that I take outside. If you can get things outside, you’ll probably love the sweet smell of sheets and clothes dried outdoors. Enjoy your “Right to Dry.” And please let us know any additional tips you have to promote this sustainability campaign.

    If you would like to read the previous Right to Dry blog post, click here.

  • 27 Feb 2018 4:54 PM | Anonymous

    By Olga Lansdorp

    Olga is the program manager for SPEC’s Climate Change Adaptation for Small Scale Farmers program. 

    It was a cold, windy morning in late January, but that didn’t stop the farmers, presenters, volunteers, and other interested parties from coming to the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby, BC. It promised to be a day filled with talks, discussions, and activities around the topics of soil, drainage, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and farmer resilience, with plenty of time for networking and chatting in between.

    The day came to a running start with an activity by Emma Holmes, the Organics Specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture. She asked attendees about their challenges and what types of extension services they would like to see, which started an atmosphere of discussion and participation that lasted through the rest of the day.

    Next up was a highly popular workshop focused on farmer resilience. Kimi and Kareno of Sweet Digz Farm in Richmond led the session, which focused on work-life balance, taking care of yourself, and tools to make it through life as a farmer. Many participants commented that tidbits learned from this workshop were the most important things they learned at the Symposium.

    This was followed by presentations about soil, compost, drainage, and IPM, all of which the audience listened to attentively, and participated in activities and discussions. Included in that was the passionate talk and discussion about soil health by DeLisa Lewis, the keynote speaker for the event.

    Lunch was provided by Potluck Café and Catering, a social venture based out of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver which gives meaningful employment to marginalized people. Coffee was donated by Trees Organics Coffee and pastries were donated by PureBread. Conference attendees ate well, and used breaks and meal times to connect with one another in discussions and conversations that flowed freely, and lamentably had to be broken up to allow for the next activity.

    Some of the takeaways from the event were that many farmers are seeking an online platform on which to ask questions, as well as wanting more on-farm visits/extension. Many also expressed in the surveys that they would like to have more events where farmers come together like this one, or of a more casual nature.

    Overall SPEC considered the event a big success, and hopes that we can host more similar events in the future!

    A big thank you to our supporters who made this event possible: Growing Forward 2, Government of British Columbia, Young Agrarians, Vancouver Urban Farming Society, UBC Farm - Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, E.S. Cropconsult, Vancouver Farmers Markets, Whole Foods Market, Vancity, KPU Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, University of the Fraser Valley Agriculture Centre of Excellence, UBC Botanical Garden, and BC Farmers Markets.

  • 07 Feb 2018 4:47 PM | Anonymous

    By Art Bomke and Wayne Temple

    Art Bomke is a SPEC Director and co-wrote this piece for the Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust newsletter. You can find the complete article here

    In the Beginning: It’s hard to believe that nearly 25 years have flown by since the inception of the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust (DF&WT). In spite of all of the tensions and misunderstandings of the day, there was truly a window of opportunity in 1992 to mobilize a community conservation effort. Arguably the most important contribution was from Mayor Beth Johnson’s Delta Municipal government led by Councilor Wendy Jeske. Delta provided a conciliatory meeting environment, as well as technical and legal advice that enabled farmers and conservationists to come together to work out the details of an organization that would even-handedly strive to conserve and enhance wildlife habitat and support the sustainability of Delta farmers and their land base.

    Landscape Approach: The principle espoused by the founders was that wildlife conservation efforts were best served by engaging and supporting the farmers who manage most of the uplands across the Fraser delta. This represented a policy change on behalf of the Government of Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Regional Manager, Art Martell, and his staff deserve credit for shifting emphasis from the purchase of farmland to supporting conservation programs on farmer owned or rented land. Also, the vision for a landscape approach centered on the skills and knowledge of Delta farmers must be credited to the farmers themselves, notably Hugh Reynolds, John Malenstyn and Robert Savage.

    Wayne’s World: Coincident with the efforts to preserve and enhance wildlife habitat, the UBC Soil Conservation Group was working under the auspices of the Delta Farmers Institute to develop practical approaches to reversing soil degradation as exemplified by poor soil structure, impeded drainage and declining organic matter. Much of the on-farm project work was led by Dr. Wayne Temple, a versatile researcher who was as comfortable on a tractor as in the lab or at the computer. From this joint effort arose two programs that did double duty in improving soil health and creating habitat.

    Greenfields: For a number of reasons, the Fraser delta had a high proportion of bare soils, especially during the rainy season. The Greenfields Project pioneered over-winter cover crops to protect soils, add organic matter and provide upland forage for waterfowl. It morphed into the longstanding Winter Cover Crop Program of the DF&WT.  

    Read More

  • 06 Feb 2018 9:45 AM | Anonymous

    Presented by the SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee

    For Vancouver residents hoping to reduce energy consumption at home, switching from a clothes dryer to a clothesline is an easy and affordable option. Yet some residents hoping to use clotheslines are being denied their right to dry.  

    If you live in a strata complex and have tried to hang-dry your clothing outside, odds are you have been reprimanded. That is because B.C. allows residential buildings to ban clotheslines for aesthetic purposes. Many stratas have a bylaw which states:

    A resident must ensure that no air conditioning units, laundry, flags, clothing, bedding or other articles are hung or displayed from windows, balconies or other parts of the building so that they are visible from outside of the building.”

    However, it is important for residents to have the option to use a clothesline, both for saving energy and money. It is estimated that clothes dryers make up 9% of residential electricity consumption in BC. If just half of condo and apartment owners in B.C. line-dried their clothes for even one quarter of the year it would result in savings of 60 million kilowatt hours every year. That is over 1 million kg of CO2e GHG emissions per year!

    The governments of Ontario, Nova Scotia and six U.S. states have passed legislation to overrule clothesline bans and SPEC’s Energy & Transportation Committee believes that B.C. should be next. The committee is currently working with a team of UBC students to research the importance of having the right to dry, with the intention of petitioning the public and bringing the results to the Vancouver City Council.

    If you want to learn more about Right to Dry, come to the next Energy & Transportation Committee meeting on February 21, or stay tuned for updates on our research.


    Jon Howland’s Original Report on Sightline from 2012: http://www.sightline.org/2012/05/16/does-bc-mean-bans-clotheslines/

    Business in Vancouver follow-up to Howland’s article:


    Credit to Rob Baxter from Vancouver Renewable Energy and SPEC’s Energy Committee for assisting with research.


    Additional article from BuzzBuzzNews Canada:


  • 04 Dec 2017 9:07 PM | Anonymous

    This summer, Shambhala Music Festival celebrated their 20th year anniversary at Salmo River Ranch, and in honour of their anniversary Shambhala launched The Greater Good Contribution Contest.

    The Greater Good Contribution Contest celebrates Shambhala camps that make a positive impact on the Shambhala experience, local communities, or abroad. The three winners of the contest are awarded $15,000 split amongst first, second, and third place to donate to their charity of choice. This year, The Party Pocket Camp won first place, with $10,000 donated to their charity of choice: Society Promoting Environmental Conservation!

    We at SPEC are so grateful for this recognition from fellow environmentalists, and want to highlight the Party Pocket’s story as an inspiration for how sustainability can be a part of partying.

    Check out this story from Andee, a member from the Party Pocket crew, about how their camp got started.

    A big thank you to Shambhala Music Festival and the Party Pocket!

    This past summer we wanted to camp with a large group of friends but we were hesitant that it would be messy and stressful. No one wants to party like that! So we started getting together on planning after making a Facebook group. I made a friend who is the leader of a large and well known camp to ask for tips and tricks. He said the most important thing was having a mission - something we could all agree and focus on. That was when we decided to take sustainability really seriously as a camp, as we do in our lives. It inspired us and we started figuring out ways to manage waste in the bush and making commitments to properly recycling anything possible. We picked up some reusable plates/bowls/cutlery and some laundry bins that we could use as organized waste bins. All were on board for how we were doing it, we have a very strong team!

    At Shambhala, we encouraged our neighbours to use our bins and did educational outreach where we could. We had a large crew to save space for and teach about our mission as well. My partner and I went around cleaning dance floors and included other dancers in the process. Dance floor and festival garbage has always upset me on a deep level and I am so, SO happy that we could make a legitimate and tangible difference this way.

    Shambhala recognizing that their waste stream organization is flawed is a huge win for transformational festivals, as well as the Salmo River. Acknowledging us as winners means they want our help, that they want to be better. Liz and I, as well as The Pocket, are incredibly excited to take our camp missions to the next level next summer and we hope to do it with you!

    And the camp’s sustainability mission does not end at Shambhala. Andee also runs a street cleaning initiative called The Butt Touchers, which picks up and recycles cigarette butts from Commercial Dr. and many Party Pocket members are also involved!

    If you would like to read more about how the Party Pocket made a difference at the festival, Shambhala has a great description of the camp on their website.

    So where does SPEC come in? Evan Cronmiller, another member of the Party Pocket, said SPEC was a logical choice of charity since we share similar values concerning sustainability, waste management, and other things "green". He and other Party Pocket members were “thrilled to have won the contest and to be able to donate the winnings to a worthy cause such as the SPEC.”

    SPEC is so grateful for this recognition, and we want to thank Andee and Evan Cronmiller for sharing their stories and choosing SPEC as their preferred charity, everyone at The Party Pocket Camp for being sustainability superstars, and Shambhala Music Festival for this generous donation! 

  • 20 Nov 2017 10:22 AM | Anonymous

    By Chris Gooderham, a member of SPEC's Board and the Energy & Transportation Committee

    As road traffic in the Vancouver area increases with the use of more vehicles, bicycles, e-bikes, skateboards, and other modes of transportation, taking a good look at the "Motor Vehicle Act" is long overdue. Simply put, the Motor Vehicle Act needs to include all types of transportation methods and be updated regularly to ensure safety. 

    Not too long ago, I was driving my car one rainy evening and I approached a roundabout that I had used many times on one of our many bike routes. As visibility isn't great, I'm going quite slow, and upon entering the roundabout, I come in contact with a cyclist. Fortunately, we both stopped before any impact. Why did this happen? The cyclist forgot to turn on his headlamp and he was completely invisible to me. Luckily for both of us, he and I were travelling at a speed that allowed us to react in time and avoid injury. 

    The biggest misconception is the Motor Vehicle Act does not apply to cyclists, as they aren't motor vehicles. This of course is false, and one of the many reasons the Motor Vehicle act needs to be updated.

    Please take a moment and reach out to your MLA to ask for their support in getting the Motor Vehicle act of BC updated through the HUB community link.

    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 December 20th at 2305 West 7th Ave. Please double check the events page closer to December to confirm the date. 

    Chris previously wrote on this topic in August; check out that blog post here.

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