Rising Above Plastics by Reclaiming Your Green Thumb
It’s wild to think that it’s only in the last century that we’ve become dependent on food travelling from all over the world. Previous to this, we were mostly sustained by the fruits of our surroundings, what grew without our interference and what was cultivated by our own and neighbouring hands. Now, on any given day, we are most likely eating food produced by people and landscapes unknownst to us, maybe not even aware of what region our food comes from unless we read the packaging. This disconnection has spurred many consequences, from the erosion of our personal health to the degradation of all of the earth’s systems.
Like the poisonous apple in the fairytale of Snow White, a vast amount of food consumed by the world has been tainted, through genetic modification, the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, and the addition of harmful additives and antibiotics. On the flip side of this, food is not always a byproduct of an abundant planet like it used to be. Sadly, it is often squeezed from eroded soils and animals, and through its production, processing, and transportation, our industrialized food system only continues to worsen the state of the systems needed to grow healthy foods. To add to this situation, an overwhelming amount of food now comes wrapped, packaged or strapped to a wide array of plastics. A recent read of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired a deeper search for local solutions to these issues, as Kingsolver states: “Locally grown is a denomination whose meaning is incorruptible. Sparing the transportation fuel, packaging, and unhealthy additives is a compelling part of the story, but the plot goes well beyond that.” Lucky for us, we can understand this provocative plot through this coast’s own local food movement.
To learn more about the resurgence of the west coast’s local food movement, Surfrider caught up with Leah Austin, a Community Coordinator for the Tofino Community Food Initiative (TCFI). The TCFI is a “not for profit community group that formed in 2009 when a bunch of dedicated individuals decided to lay down their shovels and set about dispelling the myth that it is near impossible to grow food on the West side of Vancouver Island.” The TCFI is a major player in growing this movement on the west coast, providing education to students and the public, running agriculture initiatives, offering workshops and events, supporting neighbourhood nodes of food growing, and working with the District of Tofino to create more edible gardens in public spaces.
With a duck in hand, Leah explained how local food is one of the key answers to eradicating plastic pollution: when we pick, serve and sell food fresh from the earth around us, we eliminate the need of sentencing our food to plastic confinement so that it can survive travelling long distances. Thus, growing and processing our own food is essential to combatting plastic pollution. When going to markets or local health food stores, we can also bring in our own containers to stock up on what we need. Similarly, as seen with the TUCG Box Program, the boxes the food is provided in can also be taken back and reused. Leah also pointed out that in a local food growing system, there is a need for communication amongst members so that excess portions can be shared. This too also facilitates the equitable distribution of food, and again, eliminates the need to package food in plastic and/or throw food out.
By growing local food, we also work to eliminate food waste. When we grow food ourselves and rely on food grown from farmers we know, we are more likely to honour the time, energy and connection behind this sustenance. With a strong local food movement also comes increased composting opportunities, as compost is an essential aid for nurturing rich soils. Ironically, in Canada, 31 billion dollars worth in food is thrown out annually, which is equivalent to 40% of the food consumed. What gets thrown out along with this food? A whole lot of plastic. According to Stats Canada, “food packaging waste comprises approximately one-third of all Canadian household waste, and only 20% is recovered for reuse and recycling. Unfortunately, food waste and plastic waste are connected and both have been increasing over time.”
Like all system change efforts, youth are key to seeing that changes can be sustained over the long term. The TCFI know this well, as they just planted a food forest at the Wickaninnish Elementary School, an exciting addition to the school’s garden which they also revitalized, of course, with the assistance of all students! Both of these projects get students involved in and excited about the food growing and harvesting process, a skill that has been lost amongst many individuals in the western world since becoming dependent on imported and packaged foods. Students learn how to eat right out of the garden, and the fresh taste and fun of this gets the kids hooked. Want to get your kids to eat their kale and veggies? Send them to a garden patch! TCFI is also working with Ultramarine to create stepping stones for the food forest out of plastic marine debris that has been removed from local beaches through Surfrider clean ups. This plastic is finding a new use, but perhaps it is also foreshadowing the future, where plastics are relics of the past, just like fossils found in sedimentary rocks that we also walk on. This is what a bright future looks like: people harvesting food where they live, and where they are an agent in co-creating and co-managing healthy food growing ecosystems.
To claim back and reskill our green thumbs, we also need education and trainings made available to all ages. This month, the TCFI is organizing the West Coast Farm & Garden Show at the Tofino Botanical Gardens from February 22nd to 24th. This multi-day event is plush with workshops, presentations, an off-the-grid dinner event, film event, a farmer's co-op, and seed swapping table! This is our region’s opportunity to learn more and get involved in the local food movement, with workshops on growing food, beekeeping, composting and food preserving! Presentations and discussions on local food systems will also give attendees the chance to dig deeper into this topic, and will help folks gain a more critical eye for understanding the world of food and our active place in it.
As the Tofino Community Food Initiative teaches us, rising above plastic pollution, and many other forms of pollution mentioned earlier, comes with taking back our rightful powers to grow our own food and using our diverse skills to make what we need for our local communities. While reflecting on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Leah expressed, “food is pleasure, food is connection”; local food fosters stronger connections within communities, and a stronger connection with the earth. At the end of the day, it is these relations we need to heal in order to prosper: our relationship with ourselves, amongst each other, and with the planet. These reasons exemplify why growing local food is a necessity, and how our path to sustainability needs to include local, organic, ethical, and plastic free foods. Fortunately, the path here has already begun, and is waiting for us to dive in hands first.
To learn more and get involved with the Tofino Community Food Initiative, visit www.tofinocommunityfoodinitiative.com
You turned the dial to cold, and carefully tuned the settings to low water and slow spin. You bought the most eco-friendly soap – or, better yet, you made your own ocean friendly concoction following recipes that promised to undo the west coast dirt, salt and sweat warping your clothes. With the drying rack ready for the cleansed items, you think “another day, another environmental deed.” Many of us went along like this, unassuming of the dark and dirty secret, one that has mainly been invisible until recently, when we discovered one of the most prolific forms of ocean pollution is being caused from quite an unassuming suspect: washing synthetic fabrics.
Microfibres have certainly added a new dimension to the concept of dirty laundry, so when did this phenomenon begin? We did not always cover ourselves in petroleum, we looked to the natural world to conceal our bare bodies. Until the 1930’s, humans used fibres from animals and plants for clothing, with cotton and linen from the flora world, along with wool and silk from fauna. Of course, these types of fibres can break down in the natural environment, they biodegrade and are assimilated back into earth’s systems. In 1931 everything changed when Wallace Carothers, a chemist working for Dupont, discovered nylon, a synthetic fibre made from petrochemicals. From this time, more research was undertaken on synthetics, and by the 1950’s both acrylic and polyester had been invented, and usage of this type of fibre soared as it could be created quicker, was cheaper, easier to wash, stain resistant, and antimicrobial. However, just like all of the other applications fossil fuels are used for, the consequences of using this material are far reaching, and we are still working to understand the full picture of this detrimental pollutant.
Though a lot of the world still isn’t aware we are wearing plastics, studies on the pollution caused by synthetic fibres is not new. Scientists at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of the Highlands and Islands have been observing microfibre pollution since 1976, observing the presence of fibres in benthic invertebrates like worms, crabs, lobsters, and sponges. Since the study began, the organisms tested at the study site have been consistently ingesting fibres. Now, scientists estimate that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean are a result of washing synthetic textiles. Why is this an issue? Like all plastics, microfibres do not biodegrade, and once they are in an aquatic environment, their absorptive surface soaks up all types of chemicals, from PCB’s BPA, and persistent organic pollutants. Their minute size also makes them available to a broader spectrum of marine life, and when building blocks of the food chain, like zooplankton, are consuming plastics, the impacts ripple upwards throughout the web of life. Unlike a large barrel or intact buoy, microfibres are also incredibly hard to remove from the environment. As it stands, there is no effective way to remove microfibres from the ocean, and their omnipresence only continues to worsen: a study done by Orb and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, tested tap water samples from around the world and found that 83 per cent of the samples contained plastic microfibres. Studies around the world have also found microfibres as well as in bottled water, honey, salt and beer. For us here on the coast, they have also been found in shellfish and salmon, according to the Vancouver Aquarium.
The concern for microplastics in the water began with microbeads, an unnecessary synthetic product added to toiletries, which became banned in Canada in January, 2018. We must continue now with microfibres, which pose an even larger threat. This comes down to actions at various levels, the first starting in our home, with purchasing clothing and other cloth items made from natural fibres. Checking the tags of items we purchase, both new and used, to see if it’s made from wool, bamboo, hemp, or another natural fibre. As we find ourselves in another New Year, we can also pledge to not purchase any fast fashion items in 2019! Of course, many of us do not have the resources to only purchase natural fabrics, so we can also prevent microfibres by using microfibre filters and/or catchments. One great option is the Lint LUV-R, a washing machine extension that catches microfibres before they leave the waste water pipe. The Guppfriend is another great option, a wash bag that prevents microfibres from leaching into the water. Then, all of the microfibres can be captured by the lint trap. Additionally, the Cora Ball is another tool to mitigate this pollution, a ball that captures microfibres, but only around 35% of what is emitted.
After taking a look at what we can do in our own lives, we also need to add pressure and ownenss to the textile industry, who continue to profit on cheap threads at the expense of the environment, and most often, at the expense of underpaid labourers. Greenpeace is among many organizations campaigning to “detox” the fashion industry, whom we can support and get involved with. Businesses can also help lead the way on this, by using natural fibre based linens, selling natural fibre clothing, and using microfibre catchments in their laundry systems. Through the Ocean Friendly Business Campaign, many businesses are mitigating microfibre pollution by installing the Lint LUV-R microfibre catchment system, including Live to Surf, Ocean Outfitters, Ocean Village, Hello Nature Adventure Tours and Middle Beach Lodge. Similar to the microbeads case, we also need to put pressure on our government to regulate textile industries, create incentives for mitigating microfibre pollution, and supporting technological advances that will prevent this type of pollution. In regards to the latter idea, ideally, appliance companies will start building the solution into their products, with washing machines that filter out microfibres. All of these measures have also become a whole lot more possible, as our MP Gord John’s Motion-151 was unanimously voted for in the House of Commons last month. This Motion is calling for a national strategy on plastic pollution, which is now going to be put into action! Like other environmental issues, concrete change means that individuals, schools, businesses, industry and government all need to be involved in finding and implementing permanent and sustainable solutions!
Are you interested in addressing plastic pollution? If so, we would love for you to join our Rise Above Plastics Team! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. If you’re a business wanting to mitigate microfibre pollution and you want to find out more, email email@example.com!
Towards a Protected Ocean
As we dive deeper into the era of the anthropocene, the question of how to transform our relationship with the earth becomes more and more pressing. This includes the major ideological shift needed, from viewing the earth as a factory farm to continually extract from, to truly understanding it as a living being with inherent worth. Along with this shift, what are some of our major tasks as human beings? Surfrider Foundation understands these tasks as protection and restoration; to protect the integrity of existing ecosystems, and restore ecosystems that we have damaged. Considering the former action, protection must be accomplished with environmental justice in mind, and needs to be done quicker and more strategically – as the spirit of urgency hangs in every molecule of air we breathe. Looking at what is being done in Canada, what are we doing to see these environments can be preserved for the next generations to live by? Before continuing here, it’s imperative to first recognize that the land that has been claimed, bordered and defined as Canada is Indigenous land. The same applies for waters within “Canada’s” jurisdiction, these borders are constructed and exist as part of a colonial legacy. When this article refers to “Canada”, please bare this in mind. Now, one of the mechanisms implemented by the federal government is Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) through Canada’s Ocean Act, which, according to Surfrider Foundation Headquarters “function as safe havens for marine life, where the ocean can rebuild and restore itself. Marine Protected Areas help marine ecosystems withstand the impacts of pollution, development, overfishing and climate change.” According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) these tracts of oceans become legally protected, but permit a certain degree of activities depending on their impact on the ecosystems being protected.
In 2010, Canada committed to the marine conservation targets established under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This agreement, commonly known as Aichi Target 11, commited Canada to conserving 10 percent of coastal and marine areas through Marine Protected Areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020. This target appears manageable, but, as we know with other agreements like the Paris Accord, these targets can still manage to be unattainable by our government. At the end of 2015, Canada only had 0.96% of marine territory protected, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was able to reach an interim goal of 5% protection in just two years.
With just over a year away until we clank our champagne glasses to the sights and sounds of 2020, we still have a lot of work to reach a full 10% protection of waters. Part of Canada’s plan to reach this is the largest MPA ever proposed, currently known as the Offshore Pacific Area of Interest, which lies adjacent to the coast of Vancouver Island (please note, this proposed MPA is different than the proposed fishing closure on the continental shelf off the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island). This area makes up 2.43% of Canadian waters with a size of 140,000 km2, but the only the benthic zone will have protection from human activities, including longline fishing, bottom trawling, mining and mining exploration, as well as shipping. This region has been chosen for its special seafloor features, mainly being 13 seamounts and a series of hydrothermal vents, which significantly support the ecological integrity of the Offshore Pacific Bioregion.
Why are these features outlined as needing the most protection? According to NOAA, a “seamount is an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity. Scientists recognize these structures as biological hotspots that support a dazzling array of marine life.” These submerged giants provide habitat for many species, including sponges, sea stars, urchins and deep-sea corals. Seamounts are known as the oases as the sea, akin to finding a lush garden amidst an unquenched desert. The biodiversity of seamount habitats is created by the shape of the immersed mountains; due to the steep slopes of seamounts, nutrients are carried from the depths of the ocean in a process known as upwelling. This cold nutrient-filled water rises to the surface, which then provides food for marine life, allowing for the proliferation of phytoplankton, which in turn attract all levels of the food chain.
To add to this phenomena, hydrothermal vents are openings in the sea floor where mineral rich water flows out, forming at zones where seawater encounters magma. You can imagine this like a large plume of opaque smoke emerging from the sea crust, and flowing out into the ocean like a chimney and its smoke in a night sky. The mineral rich water is extremely hot, and also carries a lot of chemicals which contribute to the ocean’s composition. In this seemingly hostile zone, many organisms have been discovered, whom depend on the chemical processes and interaction of sea water and magma. This feature was only discovered by scientists in 1977, which illuminates how much we have to learn about the profundity and intricacies of the planet we call home.
We are on a long journey to understand the unknowns of the ocean, but the more we learn, the more acute the need for protection becomes. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “protected ocean ecosystems provide resilience against climate and other environmental changes, filter and cycle waste and nutrients, and provide homes to the marine species that feed and sustain our communities.” Larger MPA’s, like the proposed Pacific Offshore Area, are also more effective for the ecological benefits, which flood beyond the MPA borders. Currently, the DFO is still in the consultation process for this MPA, but the future is looking bright for this proposal. If this MPA is implemented, its long term success partly depends on the local understanding and support for the designation. For coastal Vancouver Islanders, this proposed MPA seems far from the waters we surf, fish, adventure, and overall depend on. However, the implementation of this MPA will help us gain a greater understanding on how to protect the Southern Shelf Bioregion our surrounding coastal waters are a part of, and how to go forward creating greater networks of protected areas amongst the oceans we depend on.
To learn more about the MPA designation process, visit http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/aoi-si/offshore-hauturiere-eng.html
Easing Into Autumn With Action
Waking up to wolf tracks, seeing the sun rise and set, watching the fog roll in and out over the landscape, disconnecting from technology, and sleeping on the earth are among the many facets of remote cleans that the Surfrider Pacific Rim volunteers have been able to soak up the past few months. We are both thrilled and sad to see the bulk of the remote shoreline clean up season come to an end, and as we lament the completion of summer, we also lament the end of these adventures until the dawn of next summer. This summer season, we were able to complete six organized remote clean up trips, equalling a total of ten days. Our focus this year was in Clayoquot Sound, returning to areas that we had not reached during the Hanjin debris clean up in the summer of 2017, this included: Bartlett Island, Blunden Island, Vargas Island, and Chetarpe Beach on Vancouver Island. We thank the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, Jamie’s Whaling Station, as well as Patagonia for sponsoring these clean ups!
Instead of opting for helicopters for debris removal, one of the boat captains we work with, Marcel Theriault, AKA Maple Syrup Marcel, was confident that we could collect all fifty-two super sacs, along with loose debris, with sheer human power. So, over three days, a crew went out to collect all of the debris, which Marcel stored until September 5th on his barge. On this day, we loaded all seven tonnes of marine debris onto two of Kingsley Trucking’s B-trains, with one excavator, six pairs of hands, one barge, and an immense amount of sweat! These trucks usually leave Tofino empty, so without using any extra resources, they are returning with full tucks loaded with debris! In addition, a lot of marine debris that is removed from shorelines is often transported to another environment - the landfill. All of the marine debris Surfrider Pacific Rim collects is sorted and sent to The Ocean Legacy Foundation who recycle marine debris into new resources for companies including Lush Cosmetics. So, all of this marine debris has now been recycled over this past last month!
As autumn is a contemplative time, we can further understand the act of restoring remote shorelines through the lens of deep ecology. This theory was was coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, which posits that as humans we must transform our relationship with the environment, from seeing it as a resource that is meant to serve us, to understanding that it has inherent worth outside of human usefulness. We are no greater than any mountain, forest, beach or meadow. In fact, we have a whole lot more to learn from the rest of the biotic and abiotic life forms on this planet, if we could find the time to listen to their lessens. So, doing clean ups to restore shorelines where no people live, only visit, is an expression of this idea. Yes, we may camp, forage, and gather other food there, but we restore these places from plastic pollution because these ecosystems deserve better, they deserve to flourish at all times - not just when we are present and active. What’s important from this idea is that the clean up is not a means to an end, the results from this experience are translated in a way that can provoke system change, working to solve the root of the plastic pollution problem.
So, what have been the usual suspects of our collections? Petroleum products made up 90% of what we collected, including styrofoam, rope, hard plastics, along with 4,654 plastic water bottles. We will be using these statistics and insights gained from the remote clean ups to enact positive change, from raising awareness in our Youth Environmental Stewardship Program, to holding industries who work on the water accountable, running campaigns that are working to eliminate single use plastics in all businesses in the Pacific Rim, and and at the most crucial level, working to enact local bylaws as well as provincial and national policies. Right now, this includes working with the District of Tofino and the District of Ucluelet on their Motion to regulate single use plastics as well as supporting MP Gord John’s Motion-151, which is calling for a national strategy on plastic pollution. In regards to both of the District’s Motion, as an action plan is solidified this month, we want to ensure the students are educated on this shift, seeing that the changes work for all local businesses, and that we work with individuals across communities in the Pacific Rim to address the unique challenges people may face in no longer having access to certain forms of single use plastics. So, from the remote and local cleans that we execute we are able to gain data, and use this data to springboard more action, and this action influences the implementation of bylaws and policies. Now, this is a process for environmental change we can all participate and rejoice in!
Women’s Surfing: More Than Meets The Eye
In our misty corner of this blue planet, the female surf scene thrives, from professional surfers, photographers, entrepreneurs, and competitions. Women have truly broken into the male centric world of surfing, casting a whole new light on the sport, and in diverse ways which is dependent on place. Doing this Pacific Northwest style, in the temperate air and fog, is the Queen of the Peak all women surf competition, which is running from September 27th-30th 2018, its ninth year in a row. This competition is all about “showcasing and celebrating the amazing female talent we have on the west coast. Women from all over show up to be part of this event, inspiring, encouraging and celebrating their love for surfing, the ocean and the community.”
Just as female surfing flourishes, it’s also apparent the number of incredible women activists on the coast, which brings one particular wave of feminism and environmental theory to mind. In the 1970’s ecofeminism was conjured to describe the connections between women and the natural world. This theory posits that there is a direct correlation between the oppression and exploitation of women and the environment. Both women (as well as minority groups) and earth’s systems have been seen as infinite resources to fuel growth in the industrial age, which understands growth as linear. The flip side of this theory uses the connection between women and the environment as one of the root solutions to solving ecological and social injustice, as these afflictions are ultimately one in the same. As scholar Ynestra King states, ““ecofeminism is about connectedness and wholeness”.
How does surfing fit into the ecofeminist picture? Surfing undoubtedly connects people to the sea, and is a sport bridges the human-nature divide, as one rides a wave, it is clear there is no separateness. Women's surfing in particular continues to break down barriers around gender, geography, culture and economy, with women surf camps popping up and thriving all over the world, from Iran to El Salvador. This movement is empowering females and minority groups all over the world, helping individuals to claim their voice, to express creativity through the movement and form of the sport, as well as gain inspiration that is fuel for action in protecting and restoring the great blue sea.
Within this evolution, what makes the Pacific Rim scene special? Krissy Montgomery, owner of Surf Sister and organizer of Queen of the Peak shared that this area is raw and rugged, and the women here aren’t afraid to be a part of that. Unlike warm locales where people can “look the part” but not necessarily be an authentic part of the community, here, once you are in a wetsuit, there’s no pretending. Queen of the Peak honours this conscious community of women surfers, who are also activists, entrepreneurs, artists, gardeners, politicians, mothers, sisters, aunties - individuals who are all passionate about this place, and through surfing, can tap into the reality of this landscape, which is endlessly electrifying. And as ecofeminism would extend to say, the best kind of female surf competition is also a celebration of the ocean, beaches and waves, and brings along everybody for the journey. When discussing this with Krissy, she affirmed this idea, “it’s a contest for women, but an event for everyone.”
One again, Surfrider is stoked to be present at the competition, lowering the amount of waste produced, providing education on coastal stewardship, offering ways to get involved in programs and campaigns, healthy treats, refreshments, activities for groms, and ensuring the beach is sparklier than before the event took place! Tofino Yoga will also be offering free beach yoga for attendees! We look forward to seeing everyone at the event, which will once again strengthen our community of stoke and increase our zest for our biggest supporter, the ocean. The winner of the longboard division in the 2017 Queen of the Peak, Leah Dawson, has probably said it best: “If someone watches me ride a wave, I want them at the end of it to know that I’m in love with the ocean.” A sport and competition is soulful when it can make you love yourself, humanity, and the planet more than ever before. Now, that’s something we can all rejoice in!
The beauty of surfing is that we get to spend hours out on the waves, feeling a ripple glide under our bodies that was created thousands of miles offshore. Our moments on the sea organically bring us back to a sense of interconnection, that we are intimately tied to our surroundings. Though we receive unlimited benefits from the salty expanse of water, we rarely reciprocate this care. In fact, we live in a bizarre time where it’s the norm to use something for minutes and then throw it away, where it will most likely find its way downstream in the waterways that sustain us. Mass consumerism depends on this attitude, and this perspective understands growth as linear and earth’s systems as infinite – to both supply our demand and absorb our waste. Of course, these notions are both false and dangerous and have led to the depletion of resources and pollution of land, sea and sky.
Just as the answers to our personal problems are often provoked by jumping in the sea and being outdoors, the solutions to our larger issues can also be found by looking to nature. A large answer to solving pollution and waste lies in the circular economy movement, In The Optimistic Environmentalist, Dr. David Boyd states that a circulareconomy “recycles materials infinitely, relies on renewable energy, minimizes and eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, and eradicates pollution and waste through careful design. Inspired by living systems, it provokes new designs, materials, systems, processes and business models.”
A large contributor to a circular economy is cradle to cradle design, which posits that materials must be made with 100% recycled content or 100% compostable content. When a product’s usefulness comes to an end, it must be able to be manufactured into new products or composted to create soil and grow new crops. Many corporations are now weaving cradle to cradle design into their operations and using this design as a stamp of their social and environmental responsibility. An example of this can be seen in many restaurants across the globe who are lowering their waste to a pound and less a month through cradle to cradle design and efficient use of resources, where all food scraps are sent to farms to be composted, emulating the natural cycle where waste becomes food.
In Tofino, Surfrider Pacific Rim is adding momentum to the circulareconomy movement. Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, with over 4 trillion disposed globally on an annual basis. Surfrider set up the Hold On To Your Butt Program, where cigarette butts are collected from public and private property, and then sent to Terracycle to be recycled into plastic lumber for building. In the last year, we have recycled 160K butts. Surfrider also coordinates the Wetsuit Reincarnation Program, wetsuits are a petroleum product and once they have been worn down and rendered unusable, they are often sent to landfill where they will live on indefinitely. Through this program, suits are collected and sent to SUGA in California who recycle the suits into high quality yoga mats. Once a yoga mat is also worn out, it can continue to be recycled into new mats, cradle-to-cradle! Surfrider Pacific Rim has recycled 1500 lbs of wetsuit just in the last year! You can drop off unusable wetsuits at Surf Sister and Pacific Surf School, as well as Relic in Ucluelet. Through the Ocean Friendly Business Campaign, all writing utensils can also be dropped off at Ultramarine Art Supply to be recycled.
A new emerging field of progressive recycling concerns marine debris, a pollutant that is taking over the oceans, beaches and coastlines of the world. The plastic marine debris crisis is the linear economy being thrown right back at us, in this case, being ejected from the ocean and onto the shorelines of our most beloved hangout zones. Surfrider Foundation, among many other organizations, are working to conduct clean ups as well as address the roots of the marine debris issue by eliminating products like single use plastics. Once debris is picked up off the beach, where does it go? It usually gets transplanted to the nearest landfill, an environment that we have sectioned off as a sacrifice zone. Now, nonprofits and entrepreneurs are working to recycle marine debris, including Ocean Legacy Foundation in Vancouver, whom Surfrider works with. They divert 90% of the marine debris they receive from the landfill, by working with partners including Foam Only and Lush Cosmetics.
The saying “come full circle” means for something to complete a full cycle and return to its beginnings. We witness the magic of this with water that transpires from plants or evaporates from the ocean and eventually returns to land and sea through precipitation. If we’re lucky, we can get caught in this unfolding process, like when we’re surfing and the azure skies pour down on our souls and boards; water returning to its beginnings. A world ran in a circular system eliminates pollution that clogs landscapes, the ocean, atmosphere, our minds and bodies. In a circular economy, once a product is used, it will be broken down into raw materials to be used again. Our ocean’s greatest hope is that humanity will return to these roots, where everything is used and respected, and everything is imbued with value.
Tapping Into The Truth of Plastic Water Bottles
Written for Surfrider Pacific Rim, Tofino Time, May 2018
Canada is endowed with the longest coastline and the most freshwater lakes in the world, which leaves no doubt that the people who reside within these constructed borders are water people. As these people, our experiences are defined by the type of water we live by and engage with – whether that is by the ocean, lakeside, or in the mountains where water is white and lays itself along the land’s curves. Although we are water abundant, our relationship with this life force is anything but crystal clear, and sadly, the unwavering support water gives us is not exactly reciprocated. Our main use of the element H20 is the foundation for all other applications: to live, we must drink water. We can’t very well water our lawns, hot tubs, chia pets, slip ‘n’ slides, or anything else without being hydrated ourselves.
So, where does the water in Tofino come from? It comes from a reserve on Meares Island, which is transferred to the Bay Street Pump House, the Ahkmahksis Water Treatment Plant through submerged pipelines, where it is treated, stored and delivered to Tofino for consumption. This water source lives under the gaze of the rainforest, fed by our rainy skies, and purified by the intact ecosystem it is a part of. The testament to this sacred water spring lives in the locals: people often say, “wow these coastal folks look so young and healthy”. The reality is that there probably is something in the water!
Though we have access to this amazing water source, both residents and visitors still turn to bottled water. Yes, it is recommended to have some in storage in case of an emergency like a tsunami. However, a vast majority of the time plastic bottles are purchased to drink on the daily. Now, ask yourself, where does this water originate from? Many water bottle companies use water sources from some of the most drought ridden places in the West. The prime example of this is California, where water sources that are in a severe state of lack are exploited for people who have ample water – like us. The costs do not stop here, it is estimated in North America that 60-70% of plastic water bottles sold are not recycled, they end up in landfills and our waterways. The carbon cost of this product is also grim, the Pacific Institute has calculated that the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic bottles every year in the US (many of which are exported to Canada). Then, you have to add the fossil fuels used for transportation of water bottles, refrigerated units to cool the bottles, and energy used to recycle bottles if and when they make it that far.
What about pollution? One plastic water bottle can break down into enough small pieces to be present on every mile of every beach in the world. This seems incomprehensible, in B.C. alone it feels as though we have countless beaches, and it would take ages for one person to traverse every mile of these sandy shores. From our over reliance on this product, it’s not surprising that plastic bottles have become one of the most common forms of plastic found in our seas and coastlines. In 16 days of remote clean ups, Surfrider Pacific Rim collected 30K plastic bottles – and this is just from the surface; it’s estimated around 10% of what’s on the surface is accessible to be picked up. This is also a low amount compared to many places that exist within convergent zones, like Hawaii, or places that have lack of recycling infrastructure, like Indonesia. For these places, finding 30K bottles in the expanse that we did would be a blessing.
Plastic pollution is also occurs closer than any beach: within our own bodies. Recent studies have shown that 90% of plastic bottles are contaminated with microplastic pollution. As these findings have just been released this year, we have a journey ahead of us to figure out what the implications of this are. As the precautionary principle would suggest, when the ultimate effects of these tiny plastic fibres are unknown, we should veer away. Dr. David Boyd, a lawyer for Ecojustice who resides on Pender Island states our shift back to the tap,
“Tap water is almost always a superior choice both environmentally and economically. Hundreds of cities, responding to pressure from residents, have phased out reduced spending on bottled water. Hundreds of restaurants have introduced similar policies, encouraging customers to drink free tap water instead of expensive bottled water. Vancouver residents exemplify the trend of choosing tap water more often, with bottled water purchases declining from 21 percent to 11 percent of water consumption in the last three years. This is part of a nationwide trend, reported by Statistics Canada, as bottled water consumption is on a steady decline from a peak reached in 2007. Bottled water sales have also fallen in a number of western European countries, but in the US and many developing countries, sales are still rising”
The more we learn about the adverse impacts plastic has on ourselves, our societies, and the planet in which we depend, the more this trend will increase. This trend needs momentum and it needs all of us, so when we drink water from the tap here in Tofino, let it be an exercise for a couple different causes. Let it be a practice in gratitude for the clean and accessible water we have been granted from Meares Island, as our fortune is unfamiliar in many countries in the world, and even within our own borders. Let drinking tap water also be an exercise in rising above single use plastics, which have become one of the most hazardous pollutants on the planet. Let drinking tap water be the literal and figurative start to our journey in standing up for the health of our oceans and freshwater systems that sustain our every moment.
If you think we need more water dispensers in Tofino, or if you’re a business that would like to sponsor a water dispenser, we want to hear from you!
This world is not black and white, it is a polychrome of shades – or a spectrum, kaleidoscope, rainbow, whatever your imagination prefers. Considering the strange and interesting truth of our reality, things are often not what they seem, contradictions are present, and there are all kinds of mysteries and obstacles for us to navigate along humanity’s adventure on earth. For the surfing community, one of these contradictions and mysteries is that of sustainable surfing – a sport that literally brings people back into the sea and inspires the masses, yet is largely driven by consumerism and materials that reap negative consequences on the very place it needs to exist. As the word sustainability has blown up and is one of the biggest buzzwords to leave our mouths, it has righteously found its way into the surfing industry over the last few years, and leaves us with many questions of where we’re at today.
The early surfing days carried a light footprint as surfboards were engineered out of native trees, long before the days of airplanes and automobiles. Centuries later, the surfing industry has become dependent on non renewable resources that are increasingly controversial as our collective environmental crisis worsens. Modern surfboards are made out of polyurethane and polystyrene, plastic materials made out of fossil fuels, which are toxic to extract as well as process, and never biodegrade. However, this development has helped the sport of surfing evolve and has made it more accessible – in the Pacific Rim alone, thousands of people are able to get in sync with the sea through a borrowed board. But as resources diminish, and surf breaks become threatened by rising sea levels, the multi billion dollar surfing industry is being challenged on its environmental ethics.
Many surfers carry a love for the planet and protecting it, which has led to developments that carry the intention of helping to return the sport of surfing to its roots. One of these includes Sustainable Surf’s ECOBOARD project which is focuses on “reducing carbon footprints, increasing the use (and reuse) of renewable, recycled and upcycled inputs, and reducing toxicity within the surfboard manufacturing process.” Boards often include plant based biodegradable resins, plant based content or wood constituting at least 50% of the board. Boards that manage to successfully achieve the above criteria become certified as an ECOBOARD, helping guide consumers through their choices. Through the use of ecologically conscious materials, ECOBOARD’s educate people on humanity’s impact on the ocean, and how we can mitigate the harm done by what we choose to buy.
So the ironies within surfing are well on their way to be solved, right? Surfrider caught up with Stefan Aftanas from Aftanas Surfboards in Tofino to get his perspective on sustainable surfing, and if the latest innovations are the ultimate answer. He gave a forewarning that we may not like what he has to say on the subject, and within moments, he disclosed that his boards are not ECOBOARD’s, and that he feels they are not the cure to surfing’s environmental dilemma. He first gained insight when using biodegradable content for boards, “sugarcane based foam – which would decay at astounding rates, I made 10 boards with it…then couldn’t sell, couldn’t fix, could only throw out.” He also wonders if today’s ECOBOARDS are as durable, as they are made out of materials that have not yet suffered the test of time. They could have a usable life half that of a surfboard made traditionally. “There are more than a few 20 year old boards out there going strong. My opinion – keep it usable.”
Aftanas approaches sustainable surfing by using traditional materials and attention to detail during the manufacture process to create long lived and loved surf craft. Stefan stated Aftanas is all about “creating a product that has longevity. If I make a longboard, I expect that longboard to last for 25 years”, and if that board breaks, he can fix it and ensure it lives on. In making boards, Stefan pays close attention to the process, “when we build boards, I make sure we are building boards with the best and safest materials, like UV curing resins”. UV resins (resins that cure in the presence of ultraviolet) shorten cure times from hours to minutes, severely reducing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), and shorten the time it takes for a surfboard to reach full strength. The result-fewer chemicals, less off gassing and a stronger surfboard. The traditional chemical used in curing polyester resins is MEKP or Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide. The curing process, using peroxides, can take up to a month and requires energy (in the form of heat) to encourage the curing process. During the entirety of this time VOC’s are being emitted. Many VOC’s are air pollutants, and when combined with nitrogen oxides (which are released from sources such as motor vehicles) they react to form ground level ozone, which is a major contributor to wave destroying climate change.
Stefan grew up with parents who were into recycling and grandparents that would reuse cans until they would degrade and be able to crumble back to the earth. Everything at his store gets recycled, and the store itself has been built with an impressive amount of reused material. He is passionate about reducing, reusing and recycling waste. He joked, “if someone asked me how I sleep at night, I’d say it was because the thousands of boards I’ve kept out of landfill.” Aftanas never tosses out boards, they even take broken soft tops and refurbish them to new. Once a board is past the point of no return, they sell them as signage, a great way to share the surf aesthetic, and prevent any boards from polluting the environment.
Surfrider Foundation loves progressive recycling practices, the Pacific Rim Chapter facilitates the recycling of cigarette butts into plastic lumber, wetsuits into yoga mats, along with other items like pens and markers through the Ocean Friendly Business Campaign. One initiative that may work for everyone is California based Waste to Waves, which uses “recycled styrofoam and bio based, zero VOC resins”, eliminating the need to produce more styrofoam and harmful resins. According to surfboard shaper, Glenn Pang, the recycled boards ride just as well as fresh EPS boards. They have a collection site where they accept any styrofoam used in packaging, and then condense the foam into solid blocks for shaping. Stefan wasn’t familiar with this, but he felt it sounded promising. As he pointed out, a lot of the impact comes down to our own individual consumption and behaviours, both within and outside of surfing. Our solutions involves a combination of tactics both new and ancient, like progressive recycling for items that have become part of our everyday lives, going back to using and reusing everything we own, abiding by the zero waste ethic, and simply saying no to consuming at all. Often, it’s easy to believe that our answers are “out there”, waiting to be solved with a technological fix or conference agreement. At the end of the day…and surf, it comes down to each one of us and how we choose to tread on the planet and shred on the waves!
Overseas as a Surfrider Soul
I am thrilled to be writing these words in celebration of a full year volunteering with Surfrider Pacific Rim! This Surfrider journey continues to enrich my life in all kinds of ways, and though my efforts are still with this sweet organization, I left Tofino this winter to work for Greenpeace New Zealand. I’m an outreach campaigner, so I have humbling job of going to people’s houses, telling them about the issues threatening New Zealand, like deep sea oil drilling, and inspiring them to get on board as Greenpeace members. Needless to say, there are many ups and downs, all kinds of weather, and the only thing you can really completely influence is your own inner landscape. You definitely get to learn a lot about a country and it’s people this way, and find out what makes people upset concerning environmental issues. Sometimes they feel anger that we are bargaining away the lives of future generations, or that their kids are more at risk of suffering the many consequences of climate change and pollution. Some individuals are purely concerned with the economy, so they are upset that something like an oil spill would be disastrous for the tourism industry and their own source of income. You also learn how people want to get active, sometimes they ask, “so do you guys do like beach cleanups, can we get involved in one?”, I have to laugh and say “no we don’t, but there’s an organization I’m a part of back home..”
Travelling as an outreach campaigner, I’ve made countless memories with people that I’ll forever feel a glow when recalling. For instance, I signed up this grandmother who is from Samoa, she was so excited to talk to me and join the organization as she has a big family and really values protecting them and the ocean. After welcoming her to Greenpeace, she had the biggest smile and waved her fist in the air and exclaimed “power to the people!” She gave this shy laugh after, put her hand on her heart and waved goodbye. As a visitor to New Zealand, I couldn’t feel more blessed to have been part of that situation. I feel it’s connections like this, and the insight we gain along the way, that really illuminates our travelling experience.
Since I have been touring around New Zealand in my time off as well as with my work with Greenpeace, I’ve spent a significant amount of time at hostels, so I’ve been a part of, and overheard, many discussions on the ethics of travel. As I poured my cereal one morning, an interesting statement caught my attention, “some people travel and they don’t care about the culture they are in. They want to just go to say they have been there, to take photos with their selfie stick and move on.” I’ve reflected on this idea both in my adventures abroad and while living in Tofino, when we venture to a new part of the world are we primarily concerned with snapping another photo for social media with the egoic satisfaction of checking another place off of our list? Or do we genuinely care about the place we are visiting, want to learn lessons from the land and the community, and be part of locally organized efforts to make the area we are visiting healthier? Taking a trip anywhere, it’s paramount that we ask ourselves what our intention is, and think about how we can operate in a way that is beneficial to the locale and culture that supports our existence while we visit.
One of the ways we can be part of the positive momentum of a place we visit is through voluntourism. Of course, the voluntourism term itself has gained negative connotations since there are continuing issues with people who travel to a locale to take part in a project that does more harm than good to the community in need. So, like anything, there must be a strong level of mindfulness involved. It is essential that we research and then depending on what sparks our curiosity, get connected to Indigenous led businesses, conservation projects, and/or grassroots organizations that understand the history of the area and system they are operating in. There’s a beautiful quote by Spanish poet Antonio Machado that speaks to this idea, “traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.” I think our poet friend is right; we have the choice to follow a more conventional travel path – and not that this is inherently wrong in every instance, but we also have many opportunities to blaze our own way and find ourselves hidden amongst the golden idiosyncrasies of a place we are visiting. This could be at a funky ecovillage farm, in an off-grid treehouse, a dugout canoe, the hollow of an ancient cedar, a coastal cove that is the site of a beach clean up. We can find ourselves getting all kinds of lost and found as we become actively involved in local systems that are positively shaping our surroundings. I love this little guru, Eckhart Tolle, and he sums it up quite well “life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.”
Getting involved in voluntourism does not have to be begrudging work..you may get dirty, or rather, earthy.. but really thats a sign of a good time. From my experience with Surfrider, I can tell you, you can be on a tiny little remote island, crawling around where the sandy beach meets the thick forest tree line, climbing upside down in between piles of stacked driftwood, scavenging debris from out of the crevices. Despite the obvious sadness and overwhelming nature of ocean pollution, I have found being in these proactive and sometimes wacky circumstances has conjured so much laughter and inspiration in my life. When you work with a team of people doing environmental work like this, you can’t help but feel that you are a part of something in this universe that is so much bigger than yourself. Traveler Lindsey Renton came to Tofino to do some volunteering with Surfrider, and when asked why voluntouring appealed to her she told us, “It’s what we would do anyways….. contributing and helping clean up the places we deeply care about and supporting local communities. Meeting like-minded souls that also care about mother earth and keeping our oceans clean, while doing our part for our environment feels deeply satisfying on so many levels. It should be mandatory to spend time, money and energy on cleaning up the environment. We all live here and need to contribute what we can.”
At all kinds of times in our lives, we ask, what is the meaning of our unlikely existence?! From working and volunteering environmentally I’ve gained the idea that we are meant to find our own way to contribute to the great conversation, which is the unfolding story of the earth. If you are reading this, then you are part of it. How lucky is this! We get a chance with our current body and mind to influence this story, we may choose to add to the mystery, enhance the beauty, and even make it a little, or a lot, better than before we arrived. Fortunately for us, in this glorious town we have an incredible and creative activist community, and Surfrider is gearing up with all kinds of ways to get us involved and adventuring
Your Escape Is Where The Truth Lives | Solscape, New Zealand
Sol n. The sun
[Soul] The essence of something; its driving force, heart and soul.
Scape n. & v. [Land]scape,
[e]scape; harmonious diversion from conventional forms and patterns.
Solscape: simplistic to luxurious eco accommodation. Space for raising awareness, rest and rejuvenation.
Solscape looks like it emerged out of a dream, perkily sitting on a cliff that overlooks Ngaranui Beach outside of the little surf town of Raglan, New Zealand. This sweet space was constructed with the intention of being a working, breathing model of a way to exist in a way that has a low impact on the earth. Solscape provides yoga, well-being practices, surfing, the “Conscious Kitchen” which uses all vegan and organic ingredients grown from the on-site garden. My favourite meal, a vegan cheesecake ornamented with colourful spring foliage came with the caption, “they say beauty is on the inside, so eat more flowers.” Solscape uses water heated from solar panels, utilizes water catchment, and buildings are all ecologically conscious – from the earth domes constructed out of…earth, to the up-cycled train cabooses, once fuelled by coal, now a low energy accommodation, as well as the luxurious Eco Bach’s, a modern green building model that is powered by solar and has been constructed out of earth bricks as well as natural and recycled timbers. Solscape is part of many emerging spaces that want to teach and embody the ways to live harmoniously with our inner and outer worlds; changing the way we think about whats possible in our zany voyage through an unfolding universe.
I decided the way to ground myself upon arriving in New Zealand from Canada would be to stay at Solscape, where I could rest, eat well, surf, walk and write to my hearts content. On my second day, I caught up with the manager of Solscape, Beth, who told me a story about an all girls field trip to Solscape, a memory that continues to inspire her. When student groups come through, her and the owner Phil bring them to the front lawn (image below) where they can sit to discuss the earth and our existence. They asked the present group before them “how do you feel about the state of the planet?”and “how do you feel about the state of humanity?” Beth explained that this particular group was from a wealthy school, and were pretty aware from writing sustainability papers. She continued, “They are 14-15 year old girls, they are like ‘we are scared, the ocean is polluted, the forests are being cut down, the ice is melting, the species are dying.’ After going on the tour around here and talking about all of the things you can do to make a real difference, how you can get involved and how you can make it real fun, seeing them being empowered is one of the coolest things I have witnessed. Giving solutions that are simple and straightforward, but actually really beneficial, empowers people a lot.” She told me this can include “changing the way you’re eating, voting with your money, saying I’m not going to support a and z bank because they have massive fossil fuel investment, I’m going to put it in a cooperative, im going to use solar energy, I’m going to say no to plastic when I go to the supermarket, I’m going to use solar hot water when I build my house, when I build my house I’m going to build it in a way that harvests energy efficiently.”
This story about the school kids visiting really resonated with my own experience with environmental studies. When I became a university student I was shocked to learn about everything threatening the earth, I feel everything was taught at such a rapid pace that my soul couldn’t keep up. Like the highschool students, I felt afraid and even alienated from the possibility of making any sort of difference. Looking back, I feel there was not enough solutions taught to us. It would have been incredible to have a course on activism and how you can change the world through changing your own life. From my own strained, imbalanced experience, I how important it is that we are educated on the ways we can positively impact the planet, not just how much of a deficit we increasingly create. Of course, its essential to understand the hardship and the losses that characterize the environmental crisis in all of its wild complexity, but it cannot be all there is. Not if our hope is to wake people up. Solscape is rad for this reason, it teaches the solutions by being the example. You can go on a walk and learn all about green engineering and building through the signs set up around the property, meanwhile, the walk itself provokes your spiritual sense of well being. You can learn about the ecology of the environment Solscape is situated in, and simultaneously witness how humans have positively contributed to the landscape by making beneficial choices around land management. You can take a workshop on permaculture, and your brain will be powered by organic food grown a few steps away.
We often think that escaping one geographic location with all of our set routines to another place can solve our problems. Of course, there are many people who have to flee from their home country for social, environmental and political reasons, and in this scenario, leaving a place can drastically help people. For the rest of humanity who travel for enjoyment, I believe there is a common pattern of using travel as a glorious short term escape, an episode of bliss that lasts the blink of an eye, with a return to a home life that is lacking enthusiasm. According to Echkart Tolle, “enthusiasm is intensified enjoyment of what you are doing”, and this state can be provoked by anything that we do. The truth is, at home, and the places we go, all have something to teach us; all have the capacity to help us attain wholeness and happiness. With Solscape, the point is that the escape provokes a diversion from patterns of life at home that may not be favourable for the well-being of the self and surroundings. Through the lifestyle and workshops experienced by people at Solscape, they become the living example, and the true magic happens when people colour their home life with what they have learned. Solscape is one of many spaces emerging all over the planet that are manifested with the intention to provoke change in people, to help us realign our inner and outer living systems, and to help us gain clarity on how the interconnected nature of our reality is not something to fear, but something to take advantage of.
Check more out at http://www.solscape.co.nz.
The networks we live in and amongst make us stronger as individuals and as a collective. Of course, there are dark sides and details to networks like the internet, and maybe the truth is that anything we interact with becomes a reflection of our diverse nature, and thus can become a tool for all that we engage in – from destructive to positive behaviour. For the purpose of this blog, and to educate each other on how to positively transform the planet, the following will focus on the latter, from the technological to the fungal!
World wide communication is more accessible than ever before through the internet, which continually expands the amount of information available at our fingertips. So, in terms of social and ecological justice causes, we are more aware of the movements that needs our attention; within seconds we can link up to a network of people who stand behind a cause we feel called to. To use my own life call of environmentalism as an example to illustrate this, we can look at the specific development of ecovillage communities that are increasing all over the globe, which provide many answers to our current environmental issues. Ecovillages look and operate differently dependent on the culture, history and environment they are situated in, but they have a shared focus on creating conscious human communities that live symbiotically with the land through principles of permaculture, which can be succinctly described by Graham Bell in “The Permaculture Way” as the “conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way”. My dad discusses this movement as the “permaculture prescription”, playfully nudging at the darkness of the pharmaceutical industry while pointing towards how permaculture can be positively prescribed to regenerate landscapes, human communities, and our individual health.
Within the umbrella of permaculture, food forests are an essential part of ecovillages and are dependent upon one of the most spectacular networks in the ground. Food forests are characterized as a forest system that grow multiple kinds of food, acting as a habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators, chickens, goats and song birds. Food forests dispel the myths cultivated from corporate monoculture, that extensively growing a single crop with intensive methods and using fertilizers and pesticides is the most productive. I feel its a lesson learned at the detriment of too many beings: isolate and disconnect something and you take away its purpose to thrive.
Now, prepare to learn one of the zaniest words: mycorrhizae. This word encapsulates the various ways symbiosis occurs between mycelium (the vegetative component of a fungus that consist of a network of fine white filaments called hyphae) and the vascular system of a plant. Basically, how mycelium and plants work together to make each others lives better. The soil created from mycorrhizal aided food forests shows how cooperation amongst living beings affects the whole living planet. Mycologist Paul Stamets explains this so well, “soil is a major CO2 sequester. Oxalic acid crystals are formed by the mycelia of many fungi, and many other minerals to form oxalates, in this case, calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate sequesters two carbon dioxide molecules. Carbon rich mushroom mycelia unfold into complex food webs, crumbling rocks as they grow, creating dynamic soils that support diverse populations of organisms”. Pardon the science lesson, but its essential to this point: the fungal-plant network called mycorrhizae builds healthy soils that are a foundation for forests, including food forests built in ecovillage communities, which simultaneously acts as a climate change mitigating agent.
Mycelium is crucial for the ability of a forest to flourish. Plants use mycelium like their own internet, to communicate and share nutrients. This means the mycelia network is essential for human thriving since the functioning of our individual systems depends on the energy we intake, which of course, all stems from flora that is eaten directly by us or other creatures we consume. This simply illustrates one of the many wonders in the web of life, how all parts of the whole are in conversation; telling stories both individually and together. We are networks within networks. Paul Stamets explains, “I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These memberships are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long term health of the host environment in mind.” It’s true that humans are more closely related to fungi than any other kingdom, which our dependency on networks attests to. When we are born we are weaved into this cosmic dance, and through learning the details of this dance I’m reminded to “show up fully”, which means to participate as much as I am able, and to spread this message to all that I encounter.
In the midst of writing this article I was lucky to spend time at Hollyhock, a retreat on Cortes Island, where I attended a conscious filmmaking camp (coincidentally the same island where Paul Stamet’s resides part of the year). Hollyhock is a hub for networking, hosting workshops and gatherings that bring the diversity of humanity together to coalesce and connect by the Pacific sea and in and amongst the kaleidoscopic flower gardens and forest. To discuss networks, I interviewed CEO of Hollyhock, Dana Bass Solomon. She confirmed right away my most important question, that yes, networks are integral to positively transforming the planet. Now, let your mind hoolahoop around the various networks that support its very thought processes, and dive into what you care about. There is no other time than now, sweet friends!
Transforming Oceans: WOW 2016
Written for Tofino Time Newspaper in honour of World Oceans Week, June 1-8, 2016
The truth of our times involves many losses; it’s important to recognize this reality, whilst understanding that our unfolding path is not all doom and gloom. Stop and look around you, spin 360 degrees, dance a little..or a lot! If you’re reading this in Tofino there are trees filling your periphery and the ocean is a walk away. These elements are everything, from the air we breathe to our creative inspiration. While this is something to celebrate, we may take it for granted, and forget that the beauty we are held by is a result of Nuu-chah-nulth Nations who have been cultivating biodiversity here for thousands of years, and in recent decades, allies who have stood in solidarity with these Nations to protect the environment from resource extraction. We are not passively observing a pristine wilderness, no, we are in fact active co-creators of the planet. This piece is a testament to that sweet truth: we can use our agency to become engaged in positively transforming the planet. In honour of World Oceans Week, which starts today, June 1st, and International Surfing Day on June 20th, the following words highlight individuals who are cultivating awareness and regenerating the livelihood of the ocean, and are having fun in the process!
Featured on TED Talks in 2015, Jason Decaires Taylor is an artist who creates living underwater sculptures, that double as a form of marine conservation. His work generates environmental awareness and the wise lesson that humans can be a positive contributor to our ever-evolving planet. He crafts sculptures out of earth friendly durable concrete, which comes to life in the ocean as microorganisms colonize the hard porous surfaces. This becomes the foundation of a coral reef, creating new habitats in areas that were previously void of life. In his TED talk, Taylor explains, “the really humbling thing is that as soon as we submerge the sculptures, they aren’t ours anymore, because as soon as we sink them, the sculptures they belong to the sea. As new reefs form, a new world literally starts to evolve”. I called Taylor over in Spain and asked how dealing with the ecological challenges of our time expands our creativity. He explained that the sense of urgency motivates him, “If there wasn’t such necessity, I wouldn’t produce so much […] We are reaching a critical stage. At art college, I felt I was just creating more stuff, then I realized I could use it for conservation and environmental issues. I felt good creating again.” Take his piece, The Anthropocene, a human figure curled up on the hood of the car asleep against the windshield. A diversity of flora and fauna live on the outside of the sculpture, while the inside has become a habitat for crustaceans like lobsters and sea urchins. These sculptures cultivate new life, promote healthy oceans, and work to divert human attention away from existing stressed reefs. No wonder people, and the creatures of the sea, are stoked on Taylor’s underwater artwork that is transformed by into new coral reef habitats for everyone to enjoy.
Our daily lives are filled with the ability to network with people all over the globe, which strengthens our pursuits as we stand together across continents. Our global network truly speaks to a quote used in a book on ocean conservation and neuroscience, Blue Mind, “we are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep”. While working on Surfrider’s Straws Suck Campaign this spring, I learned online about local and international youth in Bali who are behind Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a nonprofit organization determined to eliminate the use, sale and production of plastic bags in Bali by 2018. The two founders and sisters, Isabel and Melati Wijsen, are some audacious little characters, driven to inspire millions of youth to act on their passions, and spread the action of eliminating plastic bags in their home countries. I asked the sisters how creativity has manifested in their campaign, they told me, “We as the youth, as young change-makers, like to keep things fun and exciting all the time! We are always coming up with new ways to do things, we have done flash mobs, street campaigning, we make fun videos where we get everyone involved”. They also spoke about the Plastik Tidak Fantastik Festival they recently organized, held at the Green School in Bali. The festival held workshops to teach kids how to make rubber jewellery, turn recycled goods into crafts, and threw in some healthy competition with trash sorting challenges. The culmination of these workshops was the Trash Fashion Show, the height of excitement at the festival, which showed off all of the pieces made entirely out of trash by the kids. This festival attracted a ton of attention, raised funds for the campaign, and helped gain the support of the Bali government. They explained to me the importance of thinking outside of the box, and for the younger readers, they left this advice: “Kids can do things. We do NOT have to wait until we are older to make a difference, the time for us to act is now. Whatever it is that you are passionate about, go for it, make it happen. Start with one thing. Us kids may only be 25% of the world’s populations, but we are 100% of the future.”
Embodying the adage that “there is no such thing as trash, just things in the wrong place” is Tofino’s local flotsam artist Pete Clarkson, who makes art from the marine debris he collects off the west coast of Vancouver Island. He recently completed “Swept Away”, a debris installation at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, which is a memorial for the Japan Tohoku Tsunami of 2011. To discuss ocean regeneration and creativity we went to his ‘Washed Up Workshop’ studio space, a cornucopia of visitors from near and far, much like us who live here. Pete told me the story of his arrival to the Pacific Rim, and how working for the parks he was astounded by the amount of trash washed up on what are considered pristine beaches and shorelines. At first he found this depressing, a global issue that would be impossible to solve. Then, his perspective took a 180 degree as he realized what was one day garbage, another day was a resource to be used artistically and to spark dialogue. Clarkson explained to me the key of this: the ocean transforms. Clarkson articulated the details of this to me under the shade of his wide brimmed hat, “when I find an object along the shore that’s been out in the ocean, it feels transformed to me already. I prefer to use it being ‘cleansed’, or ‘freed’ from its previous connotation. If I find a fishing float, I do not see it first as that, I see it as a raw material with no previous bounds, and can be used in any way shape or form”. The flotsam art Clarkson constructs brings awareness to the issues facing the ocean, while contributing to the global effort to clean up the ocean, beaches and shorelines. His artwork reaches people’s humanity as they observe a piece and then understand its composition is a result of the pollution we have tainted the sea with. To make something beautiful out of what is largely considered a burden speaks to the enduring spirit of humankind, one of many lessons Clarkson teaches us. On the ocean being a wild teacher, Clarkson shared “I never would have imagined I would learn so much, and be taken on such a journey through debris on the beach. There’s a lifetime of lessons, and a lifetime of art to be made. It’s constantly refreshing for me, even the tiniest object has a story and something to teach me.”
Now to bring this story full circle, I want to draw your attention to a beautiful examples of ocean regeneration and the arts which continues today in Tofino, which is the Nuu-chah-nulth art of making dugout cedar canoes. Tsimka Martin’s business T’ashii Paddle School takes visitors out on dugout cedar canoe tours around the Tofino inlet, which teaches them about the environment, stewardship, as well the worldview of “heshook-ish tsawalk” – everything is one. Dugout canoes exemplify this worldview: cedar trees grow to gargantuan sizes from being fertilized by nitrogen rich salmon carcusses that are brought into the forest by a diversity of west coast fauna.These trees are then harvested and shaped into canoes that return to the ocean to unobtrusively navigate the waters. This is the embodiment of how the land and water systems are weaved together, which continues to inspire Indigenous cultural arts worldwide. Tsimka explains how revitalization of her Nation’s culture and environmental regeneration are one in the same, which depends on reverence for the environment. This speaks to the instructions given by environmental icon Rachel Carson many decades ago, “the more we live to see the wonders of the planet, the less taste we have for destruction”. This statement has rippled through time and continues to resonate as strongly as it did in the 1960’s. We can live to see the wonders of the planet, as many people come here to do. Moreover, we can engage whatever forms our talents, passions, skills, and creativity take to conserve these wonders, and as Indigenous cultures of the coast teach us, to cultivate these wonders. As the people above show, the fierce obstacles that define our time provoke us to grow our creativity, transform ourselves, transform the oceans, improve our local surroundings and global whole. Now ask yourself, what do you love doing?
Thanks to Isabel and Melati Wijsen, Jason Decaires Taylor, Pete Clarkson, and Tsimka Martin, and the millions of others who continue to inspire and renew the planet through creative endeavours !
Heshook-ish Tsawalk: Everything is One
There is something in my soul irrevocably stirred by Indigenous cultures that continue to share their culture and knowledge with me. Maybe its my European lineage that runs through my blood, an ancestry that was part of spreading the ideology of extractivism, an ancestry of unjustly taking from the land and from people. The darkness spread by this could be indefinitely listed, its legacy lives all around us, though, is not felt equally. I struggle to identify with that heritage, I feel critically disconnected. I prefer to discover more from other cultures, like the worldview of Indigenous cultures that I’ve grown up around, including the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe Nations in Northern Ontario and Nuu-cha-nulth nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I have grown to be an ally of the Indigenous cultural revitalization and decolonization movement, which is simultaneously a process to regenerate the planet. Reflecting on this, and thinking about this space where I write about environmental transformation, I decided to navigate these ideas by touring the pacific waters where I live in a traditional dugout canoe with Tla-o-qui-aht business T’ashii Paddle School.
On a summer-like day this April, a small crew of us set out on a traditional dugout canoe in the Tofino Inlet with a new guide to T’ashii, Clayton, from nearby reserve Ahousaht. He shed new perspectives on familiar spaces, and told family stories, from canoe racing to animal transformations. In the very front of the canoe were two friends – a couple, both laughing and enjoying the moment. Behind me was Clayton, sharing with us beautiful knowledge on cultural stories, lessons, and histories embedded in the landscape. In her latest book on capitalism and the climate, Naomi Klein gave one of the conclusions of our eras biggest dilemma: only love will save us. Ultimately its our love for existence that pushes us to persevere to protect it. I thought about Indigenous cultures who are among the most powerful leaders in creating action on climate change, and the host of other environmental issues underneath the ever-diminishing umbrella that is our atmosphere. After colonialism, Indigenous cultures could very well not share any more information, open their hearts, and canoes, to outsiders. Here on the coast, among many other places, this is not the case. Of course, there is caution to what is shared, but the care for the land continues to be more powerful, and a source of tenacity for Indigenous Nations on every continent. The love for the beauty of humanity and the earth that keeps cultures persevering despite crazy odds. I think one of the most powerful ways this is embodied in the present is through Indigenous cultural revitalization, which is simultaneously a process to regenerate the planet.
We glided through the black ocean waters, holder of our existence as well as the earths deepest secrets. On the topic of climate change, I asked Clayton what he thought the role of Indigenous nations is in challenging the issue of climate change, the issue to exacerbate (+ connect) all issues. He explained that its how his people travel, for instance, he mostly bikes and walks everywhere. At that very moment we were not telling stories in a vessel fuelled by oil and gas, we were travelling in a dugout canoe. The owner of Tashii, Tsimka Martin, added to this as we talked about how Indigenous cultures are rooted to place; many wonders of the planet, like Canada’s remaining rainforest, still exist because of the defence of Indigenous people, and supporting allies who live here. Many sacred places continue to be part of the billion year dance of evolution on behalf of the defence of the people who have evolved with those spaces for thousands of years. We leave urban cityscapes and suburbanized zones in search of these protected places that inspire every cell of our being. For an overwhelming amount of people, the intrinsic connection between our presence and our environment is not represented in our quotidian thoughts and actions. For descendants of Europeans like myself, we are not rooted, and as transportation becomes cheaper and more accessible, the craze for travelling climbs higher among those of us considered “peesh-mupped”, a Tla-o-qui-aht word that Tsimka told me is used to described people who are not rooted.
T’ashii also does stand up paddle boarding tours around the inlet! Photo via tofinopaddle.com
This conversation brought my mind to wonder about the term “wanderlust”, worn fashionably by travellers of all kinds, from elites to gypsy vagabonds. I feel it overtake me, too. In a way, I think the desire to keep travelling, and seeking more is a result of this not being rooted. Travelling can reawaken reverence in our somnambulant bones, and in one way it benefits humanity when its done respectfully – for example, when people from afar come here and learn about Nuu chah nulth culture through local businesses like T’ashii Paddle School. Unfortunately, many travellers are not motivated to learn more about the decolonization/revitalization movement. Travelling and expanding our sense of the world can fill us with gratitude, however, no matter the outcome, it still amounts to more greenhouse gas emissions warming our undeserving turtle island. The issue of travelling is not black and white, I think its important that if we do travel that we do it coming from a place of mindfulness and care. Travel to learn about cultures, travel to help heal the land where you visit, network and make connections with other people that are a part of this movement and by doing so strengthen solidarity. Influence other travellers to do the same, we teach and learn from every person we encounter. Travel in your back yard and go on a tour like T’ashii. We must make sweet use of everything around ourselves. When we do put down roots, even for a short time, we can learn to become conscious of our relationship with the land and surrounding community. The connectedness to place is a wise lesson we need to reflect on and learn about in supporting Indigenous allies in this age of decolonization, cultural revitalizion, and the pursuit to positively transform our shared planet.
Tsimka explained to me in her home that Tashii means path on land or on water. These paths are interwoven in this temperate rainforest region, from the salmon that fertilize the cedar trees, to the cedar trees returning to the water as dugout canoes. On local ecology, Tsimka explained that its
“great more people can learn about it, people are waking up to it. A thought came to mind how Indigenous knowledge and Traditional Ecological Knowledge often has to be proven by science to believe it, in some ways, thats valid, depends case to case, because there was such a huge interruption, time for us to be re-observing those things. To us its ongoing study and observance, the two are coming together more, philosophy of heshook-ish tsawalk, being shown more through different examples – salmon is a huge one, so massive and so scary. Salmon are like the last of the buffalo then all you have is farmed cow, or farmed fish. Here in Clayoquot Sound, the salmon fish farming industry is huge and a large part of the local economy, but undermines the economy of our environment as the wild stock of salmon continue to massively decline”.
Heshook-ish Tsawalk is the worldview of Nuu chah nulth nations which means everything is one. Nuu Chah Nulth writer Richard Atleo sheds light on the connection of science and Indigenous worldview, “recent discoveries in physics now challenge earlier ideas that space and physical objects are separate. It turns out that they are not. Einstein’s theory of relativity says that matter cannot be separated from its field of gravity. This theory shattered the nineteenth century assumption that space and matter are separate. Fritjof Capra maintains that the reality of the universe is not so much described by matter and space as by a quantum field in which are found local condensations of particles (matter), or concentrations of energy that come and go” xiii. We are learning from a variety of sources that nothing is separate, everything really is one, Indigenous worldviews and quantum physics tell us this same truism. As Tsimka eloquently put it, “cultural revitalization and environmental regeneration one in the same, true indigenous identify is all about that. Word environment did not exist, so weaved into culture, so in tuned and in harmony”.
I sat in tears as I began to write this words upon finishing the dugout cedar canoe tour. Clayton was touched by our interest and love in the tour he gifted us. My heart continues to expand as I learn from the lessons of Indigenous nations around me who still share their perspectives, which are so valuable to the soul of the planet and for the transformations needed so desperately. I finish writing these words today in inexplicable gratitude. This morning at a Green Breakfast environmental meeting in Tofino held at Common Loaf Bakery, Naomi Klein happened to be hanging out. I was so awestruck to see a hero of mine, an incredible environmental writer and supporter of Indigenous cultural revitalization. I told her how I quoted her earlier in this piece, so for her, and every other person who reads these words, saving our planet depends on love for ourselves, each other, and the diversity of wonders on this planet – a delicate, wild, web that spins stories, culture, and indescribable beauty.
check out T’ashii’s Tours and Blog here – https://tofinopaddle.com
Further Reading … and Watching!
Indigenous filmmaker Alice Obomsawin…all of her films are absolutely stunning and capture the history of Indigenous nations in Canada, which shares the very underrepresented and undertaught realities of the first people of Canada.
Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City. Edited by Lisa Charleyboy.
Richard Atleo. Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth worldview.
Jeff Corntassel. “Re-envisioning resurgence: Indigenous pathways to decolonization and sustainable self-determination”.
Reverence for All at Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary, Maui
Approaching a turquoise temple, trimmed with gold, at its greatest height sits a lotus flower with a crystal too large to wrap your arms around, an embodiment of Om Mani Padme Hum meaning “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus”. I walked along the fertile ground to this temple, unknowing of the mysteries that cohabit the soil beneath my feet. I was approaching the heart of a space called Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary, located in the Valley Isle of Maui along the iconic Hana Highway. After reading about it in a health magazine I decided I would hitch hike to its Saturday tour. I arrived early so I rolled around on some grass outside the property, watching some nearby goats, reading some Deepok Chopra. I wandered into the vast property and met the owner, a man named Blue Mountain, who carried with him the presence of a spiritual reverend. He guided me towards the fantastic turquoise temple, where he showed me around his family’s art gallery. Living at various heights throughout the room were these organic flowing sculptures, living an extravagant tantric existence. Wait, what? I had taken notice of one of these sculptures in the driveway, that was frozen in a posture of pleasure. Blue Mountain calls these pieces of art Kundalini sculptures, which balance both male and female energy. From one perspective, the sculpture takes on the form of male anatomy, and from another perspective, it embodies that of the female. It was at this point that I realized the pattern between conscious spaces I had been visiting like AFS, spirituality and sexuality. The openness and beauty of it all. I was transfixed on this idea when Blue Mountain invited myself and other visitors to his table to discuss the tour and details of the farm.
Historically, AFS was planted on what was previously a pineapple plantation. When soil samples were taken, there we no levels of toxicity, but the soil was depleted: acidic, no carbon, no life force. Blue Mountain explained that Ahimsa means honouring all life as sacred, so the farm utilizes techniques that embody this value in building the life force of the property. AFS uses a permaculture approach, which advocates observing the ecosystem you are cocreating, becoming conscious of its qualities, topography, patterns, and use this knowledge as the foundation of creating an efficient and dynamic system. AFS is not only conscious of its 25 acres; it focuses on reducing a carbon footprint by using renewable wind and solar energy. The farm also grows its own soil amendments instead of shipping fertilizers and conditioners in from far off places using fossil fuelled transport; Ahimsa strategically plants the soil amendments next to the gardens and orchards it will be used on. AFS avoids the use of pesticides, instead they foster healthy populations of predator insects like ladybugs to control pests like aphids, which demonstrates a permaculture approach to pest management which is becoming more widely accepted. I don’t think its necessary to quote Silent Spring here; the effect of chemicals like pesticides have continued to wreak havoc on the balance of ecosystems, yet spaces like Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii continue to use pesticides and herbicides to control unwanted species and invasive species. Blue Mountain pointed out something new to me: a certified organic farm can even use compost that contains animal parts like bones, blood meal and feathers which are “byproducts of the meat industry that can be contaminated with antibiotics and other chemicals”. In trying to regenerate the planet its key that we eliminate contradictions and hypocrisy, like big environmental nonprofit organizations accepting funding from ethically questionable corporations, whose operations contradict the mission of the organization. This is akin to organic farms relying on ethically questionable, unsustainable and potentially hazardous material. Its time to hold organizations, government, corporations accountable and implement policies that ensure transparency. We cannot continue to swallow our hypocrisy, we have to recognize how we operate and work through it. Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary embodies this value, which is one of its most admirable qualities.
AFS continually cultivates the life force through composting, vermiculture, remineralization, strategic cover crop plantings and microrrhizal fungi which is the fungal network in the soil, which, like the internet operates for humans, aids the connection and communication between plants. Ahimsa Farm’s informative booklet states “biodynamic preparations and Korean natural farming methods are also being used to build life in the soil. The farm features aquaculture ponds supplying nutrient rich water via gravity fed irrigation.” Seafood and fish comprise the highest source of protein for human consumption on the planet, and unfortunately the fishing industry has depleted wild fish and seafood populations from overfishing as well as from the consequences caused by in-water open net fish farming like the salmon farming that continues all over the world in places like Norway and British Columbia. A solution to this is aquaponics and recirculating aquaculture systems where nutrients from fish waste are used for plant production. Fish like Tilapia, which are vegetarian, are becoming popular at conscious farms like AFS, these fish can be fed food grown on site like coconut, ground peanut, moringa, etc. Blue Mountain and his family also implanted biochar in the land, a technique that has become well known through Indigenous farming techniques in the Amazon. Biochar is beneficial to mitigating climate change as it holds carbon in the soil, also turning agricultural waste into biochar reduces methane, which is another destructive greenhouse gas. Biochar enhances soil fertility, boosts food security, preserves cropland diversity, and reduces the need for chemicals and fertilizers. It also improves water quality by helping the soil to retain nutrients for use by plants, which on a farm, is extremely essential (biochar-international.org).We toured each of these facets of the farm, truly a cascade of ecoconscious developments.
On the (synchro)mystical side of the spectrum, which is where the funky stories live like a gnarled tree’s idiosyncratic branches, are the esoteric practices that have been used to generate life force on Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary. The visuals brought to mind by Blue Mountain’s esoteric farming tales are nothing short of cinematic; colourfully unfolding like a lumiere short. He told us how the farm sought the assistance of a wizard in regenerating the land, and upon arrival, the wizard passed on that the spirits of the land were pleased with his efforts. He spoke of the undines, which are beings that live in the earth who send plants out of the soil, and are responsible for the blossoming of trees in the wind. Writing this, I felt the need to google undines and uncover some of their coveted secrets. “The undines work with the vital essences and liquids of plants, animals, and human beings. They are present in everything containing water”. This makes sense, healthy soil is able to retain more water, creating a positive feedback loop as more roots can grow and absorb moisture. Blue Mountain also shared, or rather, entertained us, with his story of how the wizard instructed him to meditate while pushing deer antlers into the earth. People can speculate on the validity of practices that are spiritually based, but as Blue Mountain pointed out, we may not be able to empirically measure dreams, thoughts and emotions, but we all know they exist and we all continue to experience them. What is becoming increasingly evident to people on every continent is the importance of spirituality in rekindling our connection with the earth. Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary is among many I have been fortunate to visit who praise the importance of spirituality, is it a coincidence these spaces produce such abundance, creativity, and inspire such hope for the earth?
Our tour group weaved together our own personal story through the herbs and plants we collected and brewed into what I can say is the most delicious tea elixir I have ever had. We gathered holy basil, lemongrass, peppermint, spearmint, Hibiscus, st johns wort, ashwaganda, gocola, moringa, among others which became a conscious concoction for us to share in the temple as the finale to the day.After touring the developments of the farm, Blue Mountain led the tour group around a circle, where a sacred earth stone sat in every direction. We traversed this circle in a clockwise fashion, giving thanks to each direction. We then gave thanks to the micorhizzae and microorganisms beneath us, to the plants, animals, and beings that exist on our shared earths surface, we gave a wonderful thanks to our own sacred selves, then to the angelic spirits and other intelligences above us. Reverence at every level, from the tangible to the unseen, this was the most inclusive praise of gratitude I have taken part in. For something who loves both crop circles and mycellium, this is something I will never forget. We all held hands to close the circle, and gave a final statement on what we wished to work on within ourselves. Clarity, bliss, love, non-judgement were all verbalized from our minds intention, reminding us of all the qualities we are able to to evolve. The ghoulish grey skies took it easy on us, letting down a soft rain. I love the rain, and the atmosphere of that moment reminded me of home, I couldnt resist relinquishing a couple of my own salty tears. Thank you Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary for a wonderful experience, I look forward to coming back for a festival or some other species of event !
How to Embody Creativity and Abundance: Cinderland Ecovillage
In April of 2015 I was researching permaculture farms online and stumbled upon Cinderland Ecovillage, located near the town of Pahoa on Big Island, Hawaii. I have dreamt of visiting the Aloha State for quite some time always, and with my growing interest in intentional communities, my discovery of Cinderland sparked the exact opportunity I needed. Only nine months later I found myself in the rainforest of Cinderland at a community potluck set under dim lighting: surrounded by people sharing the harvest , fire dancing, where a couple of kids tempted me with magic tricks, and all vibrated in the cacophony of sound created by drums, shakers and the constant croak of frogs. A new friend beside me picked up a watch that had fallen beneath us, the clockwork had been removed, irregretably replaced by the word “NOW”. There are occasions when it feels like time stops; when we forget about its intrusive existence. “Now” is the answer to many of our troubles, now is the time to follow our passions, now is the time to start making the tangible changes the earth needs so much. To our fortune, these two examples are interconnected, as the wise beauty of Cinderland eloquently showed me. I sat feeling the timeless moment, delighted by my evening’s conversation with the owner and founder of the ecovillage, Jezus. In telling him about my research, he was generous to share his knowledge and experience as an ecovillage developer, which I luckily pass on to you.
Jezus explained to me that he came to Big Island to live off the grid. He was inspired by a man in Brazil who succeeded in transforming 1,000 acres of devastated land into a healthy food forest. He began by planting nitrogen fixing trees interspersed with rows of fruit trees. After this, all he did was Prune. Jesus explained something new to me: how pruning stimulates hormones in trees, so they grow and produce more. So from this planting, the area grew and regained the ability to retain water, capturing billions of gallons of water that became flourishing streams. This proved that regeneration could be achieved on a large scale, not just at the micro scale which had been achieved by small properties. In the year 2000 Jezus bought the land to start the ecovillage, which was bare lava rock. So, he also started by planting a nitrogen fixing forest which “gave birth to a food forest”. He explained that it takes 20 years of commitment to create a forest that is self-sustaining, which in retrospect to the earths billion year dance, is not all too long.
While we conversed, Jezus shed light on the importance of permaculture in changing how we think about food production in the age of factory farming and genetically modified food, which has been labelled by corporations as producing the highest yields. Permaculture disproves this, permaculture creates healthy systems and promotes treating people, animals, and land with compassion – contrary to the way corporate farming operates. Though permaculture is becoming an environmental buzzword, its philosophy has been around for a millennia. In the 1970’s Australian born Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined permaculture, meaning permanent agriculture. Jungho Suh points out in “Towards Sustainable Agricultural Stewardship: Evolution and Future Directions of the Permaculture Concept” , Mollison and Holmgren “often acknowledged that the idea of permaculture was inspired by traditional and Indigenous agricultural wisdom”. Permaculture is a science based systems way of designing agricultural systems so that they represent as well as harmoniously contribute to patterns and relationships found in ecological systems. Permaculture calls for thoughtful observation, mindful consumption, diversification, self-sufficiency, resource recycling, is not energy intensive and relies on renewable energy as much as possible. Suh articulates the parallels between Eastern traditional farming systems and permaculture, including the linkage between permaculture ideology, buddhism, and taoism. From what I have seen, I think it can be said that permaculture also parallels the wisdom of Indigenous agriculture, from coastal Indigenous nations in British Columbia to Native Hawaiian’s. I believe in the coming years this connection will be made more frequently in environmental discourse and practice.
I asked Jezus how ecovillages are significant to the current wave of environmentalism, and of course, climate change. Many of the ecovillages that are popping up across the planet use permaculture, since it is a system that can be implemented in any type of landscape. This is valuable in the face of our global environmental crisis because soil is regenerated and forests are created which means more carbon being sequestered. We have created an abominable amount of carbon in the atmosphere, on top of many other pollutants like volatile organic compounds that interact to create secondary pollutants, which we do not even know the full effects of. Of course, we need to change the way we power the world so that we do not continue to burn fossil fuels, but it is also essential that we fix the carbon back into the earth and in the process create food, habitat, and human lodging. And this leads to the social implications of living in an ecovillage. Jezus states that anytime you live in an ecovillage, you lower your carbon footprint. You share resources like carpooling, use water from water catchment, use energy from solar panels and biodigesters. On top of this, ecovillages are built to be conscious of the ecological system it is a part of, so people living there become more in tuned to their environment through activities like yoga, gardening and green building.
Yoga space at Cinderland: Build into the natural landscape, seen here with buildings incorporation of lava rock!
An ecovillage space often inspires creative impetus; Jezus believes there is a positive feedback loop between abundance and creativity. This means that abundance and creativity mobilize each other; leading to a greater diversity of creativity and fruits of abundance as well as a greater network of people involved as time continues. Jezus commented that the whole development of the ecovillage has been so fun, being able to co-create a space with so many people with different skills, passions and backgrounds. This reminded me of Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Laws of Success, the second law being to Give What You Seek. “In our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives”. The word affluence means to flow in abundance, which Cinderland certainly is. We shared the most incredible vegan spread, a potluck worthy of spontaneous tap-dancing, a lot of which had been created from what was harvested at the ecovillage.
The creativity and abundance relation is an illumination of the infinite amount of potential on the planet. I think it is easy to become stagnated by the overwhelming numbers that signify impending planetary doom. Its good to be aware of the reality, and the grieve over what has been lost, but there is hope weaved in and around our individual and collective potential. We are all active agents on this planet, and we many people have the privilege to choose to be contributors of a healthier planet. It is up to us to get involved in initiatives that are motivated to regenerate the planet, initiatives that, by the way, are not factored into climate change projections. I believe Cinderland Ecovillage is among many spaces that are challenging the narrative that cataclysmic climate change is inevitable, that there is no hope, and then nothing we do can make a difference. This is not naive optimism, this is the best kind of pragmatic thinking.Like the clock gestured to me at Cinderland, the time is now. I could go on in extensive detail on the amount of work needed to heal this planet, but I don’t need to. We know that already. The time is now to use our passions, to manifest everything we want for ourselves, and use that inner power to co-create a more wonderful, diverse, celebratory, healthy, abundant, creative and united earth.
Check out Cinderland’s website:
http://permacultureprinciples.com – Thinking Tools for an Era of Change
Jungho Suh.”Towards Sustainable Agricultural Stewardship: Evolution and Future Directions of the Permaculture Concept”.
Transformative Festivals: MANAFEST, Big Island
All festivals are transformative: they bring people together with a similar motivation and from this cultivate an experience, a certain way of being, a space that becomes a living entity in itself. When I saw posters on the Big Island of Hawaii for a festival concerned with renewing and regenerating the planet called Manafest, I knew I would be there.So, there it was, under the full moon, at the feet of Mauna Kea and in the lap of Goddess Pele on January 26th was Manafest, a festival held to celebrate abundance and creativity, to raise the collective consciousness through honouring the Sacred Feminine with music, educational workshops, the healing arts, nutritional food as well as yoga and dance. Manafest stands apart from many festivals in that it was a holistic, spiritual, intention powered festival, manifested by seven women’s vision who together are the Sisters of the Tribe. The educational workshops took place during the day, everything from a soul striptease workshop to how to honour honeybee consciousness, on the sacredness of water to how to monetize your health and wellness business. There was such a luscious variety of topics to learn from, I was wishing I had a clone, or multiple, so I could make it to every workshop and absorb every ounce of knowledge being shared so generously. I just had to remember no matter what my decision was, every workshop speaks to unity in diversity; all workshops are a reflection of the same greater purpose. Like any festival, there was merchandise and services offered, but they were all rooted in holistic wellness. There was conscious coconut water, honey made from a bee activist and educator, healing tents that offered aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, all local vegan and vegetarian food, tarot and palm reading, a clothing optional spa for women in the day, with all gender welcome at night. Between workshops I wandered and wondered among this beautiful reality, the festival even served water that was from water catchment treated with UV light and charcoal. Again, so thoughtful, showing that every detail is important as the other, right down to the last drop of water.
To Goddess Pele ~ “But there is an even deeper, and somewhat darker, side to our forgetfulness of the sacred within creation. When our monotheistic religions placed God in heaven they banished the many gods and goddesses of the earth, of its rivers and mountains. We forgot the ancient wisdom contained in our understanding of the sacred in creation – its rhythms, its meaningful magic.”
I have always had a love for plants, and as time goes on, increasingly for the knowledge and wisdom they embody. So, the first workshop I went to was on the uses of Hawaiin herbs and plants with Aunty Lynda, called ‘Ke Ala La’au Lapa’au – The Path of Hawaiian Herbal Medicine. The group walked around the aina (Hawaiian word for land) festival grounds, led by the teacher, going from plant to plant discussing the many hidden talents they carry. The teacher of the workshop told us how in Hawaiin all plants are regarded as relatives, they are ana akea’s, which means aunty. And with the many ways they are able to heal, mend, feed, and inspire us – they are like the best kind of family member that you can depend on for everything. It seems many of us have forgotten this, and in turn, have lost how to reciprocate this care for a kingdom that has, and continues to, nurture every part of our being. While at this festival I was so lucky to become closer with noni, holy basil, guava, tea leaf, banana, lavendar, lemongrass, green papaya, moringa, turmeric, among many other plants and herbs! Let the fruits of knowledge grow in abundance! Then dance for the fruit’s abundance!
The dance of abundance
A super memorable space of the festival was the Red Tent, and the intention of the Red Tent was to both honour the goddess of fire in Hawaii, Pele, as well as the community of women at the festival. Throughout the day, the Red Tent was a celebration of the various stages of growth in women’s bodies. There was the Maiden Ceremony for girls entering into puberty, as well as a Crone Crowning Ceremony for women in the later stages of life, post menopause. Throughout the day there was time to tell stories, laugh, cry, heal, and share wisdom. I was super lucky to meet and befriend Chloe Bee, a facilitator of the Red Tent, who I talked to about the lessons learned from that powerful space (check her site out at http://www.rbbotanicals.com). She told me how she learned about the importance of moving emotion; when we have a space to express the deep emotions inside of us, we can then focus more clearly on our passions, and become activated by our passions more effortlessly. Its like all water, it is meant to move fluidly, to circulate, transform. When it is stagnant, it loses the qualities associated with health and vitality. Chloe also articulated how the menstrual cycle is marginalized; we hear this term applied to groups of people but never to a bodily process. Yet its so true, menstrual cycles are such a taboo subject in many societies – its treated as something to be hidden and silenced instead of treating as the sacred cycle that it is.
The Red Tent in the dark. Mystery glows from candlelight ~
Chloe and I talked this out on the stunning black sand beach of Kahena on the following Sunday, where the sound vibrations of the drumming circle thrummed around us. We linked the beauty of the Red Tent to the theory of ecofeminism, an environmental theory that connects the marginalization and oppression of people with that of the earth. The natural cycles and rhythms of the earth have long been ignored, much to our own dismay, and in going forward it is paramount to get back in tuned with our bodies as well as the earth systems we are a part of. Ecofeminism posits that humanity must transform how power relationships are negotiated; the oppression and abuse characterized by modern society’s hierarchical and patriarchal social system founds that same destructive relationship with the earth. All people and earth relations are ruled by a power-over mindset, where anyone and anything is expendable to make profit. In order to reestablish a regenerative relationship with the planet we must heal our social relations, which shows that ecological justice and social justice are one in the same pursuit.
Conscious music festival, featuring the Goddess Pele in the bottom centre, and acroyoga!
The festival was motivated to revere the sacred feminine, but this does not apply exclusively to women, rather it is an energy that flows through all things and all people, as does masculine energy. Recognizing these energies provokes what the festival is harkening to is in it’s name, Mana, which means power that comes from within. We live in a world where so many of us are taught that power is dependant on subordinating others; that power exists in a hierarchy. This power-over paradigm is what fuels our extractivist based economy, both people and the earth become expendable in order to propel an illusory fantasy of unlimited growth. More people are waking up to the truth that real power comes from within, and it is tied to the love for one’s self, fellow humans, and the earth as a whole. Its one thing to praise this in our speech, but attending Manafest, cultivating inspiring friendships with people like Chloe, and overall spending time so close to the source of creation – an active volcano, I began to realize how this truth is practically fulfilled.
Mauna Loa Crater, the active volcano on Big Island, Hawaii. The source of creation itself!
I went to Hawaii with the intention of learning more about ecovillages and cool farms, which I did, but I never anticipated the lesson I would learn about the importance of loving myself. If I want to be part of the movement to heal the planet, than it makes sense that would be founded on a loving and nurturing relationship with my own body, mind, and soul. Its so ironic that one of the greatest facets of life we procrastinate is properly taking care of ourselves. I realized this at Manafest, on Big Island there is an omnipresent mantra about the sacredness of the self; there is a fierceness about it there which is truly a distinguishing quality. This seemed even more supported by the universe’s clues, I kept stumbling upon a favourite book of mine, The Four Agreements. I saw its simple but powerful title spelt out on a fridge at the heart of a secret ecovillage on Big Island. The first agreement is “Be Impeccable in Your Word”, which means to speak with love and truth. Do not use the word against yourself or other people, which can be spoken or created in your thoughts. When we think negatively about ourselves, we perpetuate a negative reality. When we hold ourselves sacred, and treat ourselves with love, this reverberates outwards and affects our environment. Sandra Ingerman articulates this in Medicine For The Earth“the out world that we live in is a reflection of our inner state of consciousness.”. We are currently discovering so much about how our inner selves creates our outer reality, this is occurring in the science – spirituality binary collapse through ways of knowing like quantum physics and the revitalization of Indigenous knowledge. So, I left Manafest and the incredible Big Island of Hawaii with even more fervour for protecting the environment, accompanied by the realization that my empowerment to heal the planet begins with myself.
Free Spirit Spheres
Truth is often stranger than fiction, we see this with places on the earth that look like they could belong to a fairy tale. We are currently living out a pretty crazy reality, our near future could play out in a multitude of ways. This unknown can petrify us, but it also mobilizes us. Stanley and Loy articulate this, “we need to ask ourselves: in whose interests are we sacrificing the ancient contract with the future of our species? Why can’t we find the courage to face the facts, and throw off the dominion of the fossil fuel industry? That kind of authentic challenge would reinvigorate the human spirit” (Spiritual Ecology). I believe this unknown future, this challenged bestowed on a majority of people on the planet, is most definitely reinvigorating humanity’s spirit in a plethora of ways. A fantastic place doing just this is Free Spirit Spheres near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. Our imagination is perpetually inspired by our surrounding environment, and hence the movement towards biomimicry in technology and design. Free Spirit Spheres embodies this, as it consists of multiple sphere buildings, each one hung up between three trees using webs of rope. The sphere hangs much like a nut in a tree, it is supported by the trees but does not affect their health. When I asked owner and builder Tom Chudleigh about this, he stated that the trees are aware of their presence, and when the spheres are built, they adapt accordingly. This fits into a realization, both new and ancient, that plants have a consciousness. Spiral staircases are built around one of the supporting trees, leading to a suspension bridge attached to the sphere. Its such a magical design, yet it follows all of natures patterns from spheres to spirals.
My photo of a sphere: capturing the built shapes inspired my nature’s designs
I loved talking to Chudleigh about the philosophy of the Free Spirit Spheres, he believes in the importance of treading lightly on the forest floor. People do not disturb the forest floor because they are suspended above it, yet they are simultaneously restoring their connection with the forest. The forests of the wold are a source of wonder, adventure, wisdom, oxygen and habitat. The spheres rekindle this understanding in people, reminding guests that separateness is an illusion. All is connected, and all is alive! Chudleigh explained to me in one of the spheres that conventional buildings are made up of all separated walls, often differentiated by colour and function. The spheres only have one connected wall, with enough room for one to two people to sleep, read, hangout, snack, etc. As I moved around inside of the sphere and noticed the amount of bounce happening, I couldn’t help thinking about other activities in the sphere that could make it look pretty alive from the outside..
Which leads me to another humorous aspect of the spheres I wish I had realized for my own property. Free Spirit Spheres is dealing with its waste responsibly, the owners built multiple composting toilets, shaped to look like mushrooms! What an ingenious idea. The owner told me regular outhouses are boring, the mushroom aesthetic is more harmonious, and mushrooms grow off of organic matter that is breaking down. So, the design was pretty darn suitable. The owners also refurbished old trailers to make beautiful kitchens, showers and patios! As a good friend of mine often likes to exclaim, there is no such thing as garbage, just things in the wrong place. As an environmentalist, an unglamorous fascination with waste is always present, so I felt stoked to be in a space that cared so much about our inner and outer environment, from invigorating the human spirit to waste management.
This trip shows the widespread shift towards sustainable lodging on a globalized planet, with humanity increasingly driven by travel. We do not need to build more westernized resorts that take up a space of another culture, and sustainable lodging like the Free Spirit Spheres shows how creativity blooms under ‘limitations’, in this case, the movement towards building smaller and being more space effective. After working around the spheres with Tom, I saw a big dinosaur skeleton wearing a christmas hat. I asked him the story behind this, he simply explained “oh thats from the old owner, a biker from Hell’s Angels. He also dug a mote around this entire property”. This reminds me of a lesson, every space has its idiosyncrasies; particularities…characteristics that make a place humorous and strange. Keeping an open heart in expecting the unexpected definitely invokes these experiences in the places we immerse ourselves in. This draws me back to a point I often make, I guess because I really believe in it. Tom created the Spheres so that people would tread lighter on the forest, which reminds me of a way to articulate my point. I think we are in that time when we are trying to find balance between raising our consciousness surrounding the many challenges we must deal with, while keeping a light, but strong, heart that is able to enjoy experience and laughter which is so fundamental to making our lives worthwhile.
A Gem in Clayoquot: Tofino Botanical Gardens
Tofino, located on the west coast in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, is an emerald in the crown of British Columbia; considered by many an apex of ‘wild’ beauty. It is a kaleidoscope of lush mountains, pacific ocean, far reaching beaches and luxurious temperate rainforest. It is the sultriest of spaces, and I believe because of this, passion is provoked within the diversity of souls who live and visit there. To compliment this, Indigenous Nations that include Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht have been co creators of the Clayoquot Sound landscape and biodiversity since time immemorial. Through perseverance against great odds, which continues through systemic oppression of Indigenous people in Canada, many nations are working to educate and revive the languages and cultures seen in Tofino with dug-out canoe carving and tours. In addition to this, the people who have settled here from near and far have also helped to shape this space the last century – from funky buildings, to installation art and majestic gardens. After writing down those three examples, I realized the majestic gardens here encompass the funkiest buildings and some of the best installation art (as well as artist Joe Martin’s dugout canoes)! And this realization is exactly why Im here now, to discuss the transformative locale that is Clayoquot Sound through the Tofino Botanical Gardens – a place that invigorates visitors wonder and awe.
A view from TBG. Photo Credit: Tourism Tofino
Learning through experience is one of the neatest facets of being alive, and The Botanical Gardens is one of my favourite places to do that. TBG has twelve acres of the temperate rainforest, that exists between the Pacific Rim Highway and the ocean inlet which is famous for its mudflats and all the curious creatures the mudflats attracts. It is a nonprofit registered charity, whose mission is to “inspire conservation of the world’s Temperate Coastal Rainforests”, and it does this in an array of fantastical ways. TBG is the host space for the Nature Kids Program, which an educational program for children, which connects kids to their ecological surroundings – allowing them to foster deeper connections with their rich environment. From this connection the play, grow, learn to be their authentic self, and with all of this learn the ethic of respect and reciprocity with the earth. The Botanical Gardens is also the home of the Raincoast Education Society, which began in 2000 with the motivation to help co-create an environmentally sustainable future, and inspire people near and far to become stewards of a healthier environment. They do incredible research, and hold courses on the many features that make up the coast: from migratory birds, mushrooms, to seaweed. One of my favourite educational lectures held by RES was on the ongoing radiation monitoring on the coast. This talk revealed the truth about the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan which has led to an outpour of radiation into the Pacific Ocean, travelling with the currents to far off unsuspecting places. It turns out, ongoing scientific studies are proving this radiation is not a significant threat to the health to our coasts. What the science revealed was more of a wake-up call to the threats we do need to be concerned with, like tanker traffic from an increasingly fossil fuel dependent economy. This study also brought light to the unknown; so many people were, and continue to, fear the worst from this disaster based on their own assumptions. Learn more about the ongoing monitoring being done by RES here: http://raincoasteducation.org/radiation-monitoring. All of this education embodies the power of courage in speaking our truths at this time; spreading knowledge to each other – which includes the growing children who we are nurturing to become the stewards of the now as well as the future.
Many events that are social, political and environmental also take place at the gardens, this summer included hosting the Green Party town meeting where I was lucky to meet the amazing Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party. We discussed how to achieve a new government as well as the philosophies of the green party which connects environmental health, sustainable economic growth and social justice. An Aeriosa Dance Society performance happened a few weeks later, a group that does aerial dancing in non-traditional environments; pushing the boundaries of how we experience the art of dance. This year in Tofino, the performers danced between the tops of Sitka Spruce trees – probably one of the most aesthetically stunning performances I’ve witnessed. What ignites most excitement in people who live here and visit is the annual Lantern Festival, one of the most magical days of the entire year in Tofino. The gardens become a continuous installation piece as they are filled with thousands of paper lanterns. These lanterns are not your ordinary kind, they fit in more with the realm of Tim Burton films with their imagination and originality. Himalayan Lilies, pirate ships, robots, owls, villages, jellyfish are among the lantern creatures that populate the space of the gardens – making a surreal world for all of those that encounter it on a midsummer night. Add a laser show in the forest, a dance party, poi and fire dancers, live music, and little kids dressed up like its halloween and there you have the main components of the Lantern Fest. There is something in the air of that evening that you can never really explain, a certain absorbed by the subjective experience. You will have to see for yourself while even staying at the Botanical Garden’s EcoLodge, which strives to improve ” energy efficiency, protecting the natural environment, conservation of natural resources, and support of our local community.” Take a wander.
I believe all of this speaks to this quote, “a mind that is stretched by new experience cannot go back to its old dimensions” – Oliver Wendell Holmes. When we learn, play, and enjoy human creativity that compliments our outer environments – we come to realize how vital it is to our well being that we protect the source of all this pleasure, which is the earth itself. When we thrive, we are capable of an infinite amount of creation which breathes cultural life onto this planet. I used to think the earth would be better off if all humans vanished (or got kidnapped by an intergalactic intelligence). Im happy that I’ve realized that humans can be co-creators of a vastly complex earth, adding our own flare to the matrix. Many Indigenous Nations like the ones of Clayoquot Sound have been doing this for a long long while. With Indigenous cultural revitalization, many other people are listening to ways of knowledge that exemplify how humans can be participants in ecological systems – participants that give back instead of constantly taking more than we need, which we have found out is ironically leading to our own demise.
At this time, we have so much work to do. I feel its important to feel the pain for the world, and even grieve for our losses, but life is too wonderful a gift to spend all of it mourning. If we have zeal for the planet, love for all of the activities and things we can create and experience, then we are more likely to become part of the largest movement the earth has ever seen. The Botanical Gardens, a space that has been cultivated to inspire all of this, is one of many on the planet that works to restore our sense of passion and fun, and help us get back to the truth that we live on a planet worth loving and protecting.
In The Spirit of Synchronicity: OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake
Late in my university career I became interested in places that share and transform space in the spirit of collaboration and renewal, so I began foraging for information on these spaces, which led me to world of ecovillages. Ecovillages are intentional communities that are built using permaculture principles, described as a “creative design process based on whole-systems thinking that uses ethics and design principles. It guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics” (http://permacultureprinciples.com). Permaculture is holistic in nature and connects everything from the well-being of the human body and spirit to the ecological landscape it is situated in. Ecovillages, and thus permaculture, restores the idea that humans are not meant to be separate from nature in order to preserve it, humans can be active co-creators of healthy ecosystems. Though, this is not a new perspective; many cultures all over the world have lived by this ecological worldview since time immemorial and persevere against great odds to continue this way of existence. I am filled with gratitude to learn about this in my community amongst the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations in Clayoquot Sound who are revitalizing their culture, seen with dugout canoe carving and tours. This is part of the Tribal Park system, which unlike the traditional park system, recognizes humans as part of the environment. This revitalization resists neocolonialism that is in the formation of corporations like Imperial Metals that want to dig up the mountains and taint the sea. However, Ill get into what ecovillages can learn from Indigenous nations in a later blog, for now..
I started learning about a nearby permaculture location called OUR Ecovillage, in Shawinigan Lake on Vancouver Island. They were holding their annual Zimbabwe Music Festival in July 2014, I cant honestly say I know what that entailed at that time but I was intrigued then as much as I am now about the role of the arts in strengthening our bond with the earth and each other. So, on my time off of work, I hitch hiked across the island to figure out what the whole thing was about. O.U.R Ecovillage, which stands for One United Resource, was founded in 1999, and since that time has been through many phases of development on its bountiful 25 acres. In my time there, I was blessed to be gifted tours and knowledge concerning how to grow effective food forests, how to ethically keep agriculture, among many other details on how an ecovillage operates day to day. The community there believes in the idea that we are all teachers and learners, and in fact, that we learn the most by teaching. This reality is manifest here in these very words! It is a sumptuous atmosphere to be in, with dopamine being released in the brain by the cornucopia of information revealed around every corner.
Upon graduating in May 2015, I returned to OUR Ecovillage say a brief hello with my dad. We decided we would tour farms and ecovillages on Vancouver Island, as well as other surrounding islands. I started to talk about Starhawk with volunteers, an amazing author, political and environmental activist, feminist, and author. At a time when I felt despair from learning about the environmental crisis in first year university, Starhawk’s words of wisdom changed my entire perception from a hopeless stagnant state to one of positivity and realistic optimism. Starhawk visits O.U.R. Ecovillage once a year to help teach the Permaculture Design Certificate – Earth Activist Training.This courses is dependent on earth based spirituality, and teaches rainforest ecology, how to heal soil and cleanse water, gardening, natural building using cob, as well as permaculture projects in diverse landscapes from Kenya to the Middle East. The course is strongly rooted in in unifying social and ecological justice, and thus demonstrates to all participants that scarcity and separateness are an illusion. Everything is alive, and the life force flows through the interconnectivity of all things!
Amazon Rainforest: Sacred Zones Not Sacrifice Zones
The Amazon Rainforest embodies a stunning quote by Mark Nepo, “In many ways, our stories are part of one story. Our surprise at the beauty and fragility of life is part of one chorus of awe”. The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, where interconnection between flora, fauna, and the abiotic systems they evolve in thrives. In 2012, I reached an apex of study, which is many environmental student’s dreams, to study biodiversity and conservation in the Amazon Rainforest. My group, from the University of Toronto, travelled to Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS), a biological field station established in Amazonian Ecuador in 1994 by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in collaboration with Boston University. TBS is located within the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, which has served to protect the Amazon and the Indigenous populations that have lived there since time immemorial.
When I went to the Amazon in May 2012, I had torn three ligaments in my left knee playing volleyball at my host University, USFQ, only four days earlier. So, I ventured onto the rugged trek on crutches and leg brace, not fully realizing how difficult getting into the iconic Amazon would be. In eight hours we reached our destination, my schoolmates ran around in euphoria, and I, looked around while projecting my own dance onto the forest. That night, I prayed to the Amazon – famous for its healing powers with plants one dreams up in fantasy fiction writing. I dreamt that night that I got up out of bed and walked around my cabin without my crutches, and looked at the mirror at my miraculous self supporting body. I woke up in the morning, and for the first time in five days (the doctor said I wouldn’t walk for at least three weeks, and should be sent home), I could walk! From that point on I joined all the activities offered by TBS, from walking on extensive boardwalks in the canopy of the rainforest strata to swimming in the Tiputini River that flowed past the station.
Up in the canopy of the Amazon, leg brace and all !
Tiputini Biodiversity Station serves as a space for scientists and educators to learn and teach the rich knowledge held by the Amazon. Scientists study everything from animal behaviour to global climate change, which has produced discourse that shows the importance of preserving the Amazon Rainforest – for its own inherent rights, for being the largest carbon sink on the planet, for the tribes that live there, for biodiversity conservation, the list goes on. As TBS states on its mission of advancing science and environmental education, the “greater the understanding of the functioning of rainforest should provide the basis for sustainable management into the future”. Protecting this forest is not an easy feat, and has become increasingly controversial in a world run by an extractive based global economy.
Ecuador, like many countries considered “undeveloped”, there is inner and outer pressure to alleviate poverty and become part of global trade. With this, there is the socio-economic dilemma of preserving ecosystems, and the cultures that have co-created these ecosystems versus extracting the land for resources to export. The Ishpingo Tiputini Tambococha, or ITT oilfields in the Yasuní National Park in eastern Ecuador, hold nearly a trillion barrels of oil, about a fifth of the country’s total reserves. This has been estimated to produce up to 18 billion dollars in revenue. President Raphael Correa recognized this amount in light of the worth of the rainforest, which cannot even be properly quantified into dollars, especially considering climate change. Correa then lifted the moratorium on oil drilling in the Amazon and created the ITT Initiative, which called on the planet to donate 3.6 billion dollars in exchange for the protection of the Amazon. Indigenous and environmental activism and solidarity promoted this initiative, as well as the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. Upon learning all of this, my classmates and I organized our own fundraiser, with funds being split between the ITT Initiative as well as for the vulnerable TBS that had become such a gem in our hearts. Unfortunately, only 8 million was raised, so the dilemma of extraction versus preservation continues.
My photo: Outside of the rainforest on the Napo River
Tiputini Biodiversity Station recognizes that short visits from people near and far cannot cure the woes facing the Amazon. However, for a short time it immerses people in one of the most magnificent places on the planet, raises awareness about the issues facing the forest and the wisdom behind why we need to save it. These visits transform people’s inner space, shaping their values and expanding their worldview. The motivation to dig up the only sacred spaces left on earth, using the riskiest methods like fracking, is a narrative that is manifest in the Amazon, as well as every other continent on the planet. Our action to say no to extractive practices in our back yards is in solidarity with all other places facing the same issue. Sacred places and people can be protected while an economy is developed, and this will depend on renewable energy production, low impact tourism, and sustainable, honourable harvest from the earth. I can tell you from experience, studying in the Amazon has definitely magnified my passion to save the coast of British Columbia and be part of the growing climate movement. We are all connected by a thousand invisible threads, let your passion strengthen the tapestry that is the web of life.
To learn more about protecting the last sacred rainforests on the planet, check out these links!