Category Archives: URBAN FARMING

harvest : life lessons

life lessons from the garden

It finally rained last night. The morning brought with it a bite of breeze off the ocean that can only mean one thing : summer is nearly gone.

That means rains on the horizon, cooler nights and frost to come. Time to get in the harvest. What little of it there is.

This year has been the saddest in the garden.

My beautiful, rich, hard-won soil has been mostly blanketed in sod in preparation for sale. Our usually bountiful tomato crop that would normally see every flat surface in the house rolling with heirlooms, is this year but a few lonely strays, huddling together on my windowsill.

It just doesn’t feel right. It has been a difficult summer.

Despite everything, out I went this morning into the dew in my flip-flops and jammies to harvest the herbs. Heap after heap piled onto the front stoop : rosemary . . . bay . . . thyme . . . sage. The bees are still busily working what is left of the oregano flowers. I left it to them. I’ll miss them when I go.

After coffee and banana bread the boy and I headed down the block to our blackberry spot, where, as usual, I was the only one foraging.

For the first half hour the boy ate them faster than I could pick them, poking my bottom and prodding Mooooore! whenever I went too slow. He finally collapsed in a snoring, sticky, purple heap and left me to pick in peace.

It gave me time to think about the lessons the harvest will teach him.

Make Hay

There really is a time for every purpose. No time underscores that more for me than harvest time.

Last night driving home from a family dinner I saw men in the blueberry fields at last light – a Sunday evening and there they were, bringing in the harvest.

The blackberries will only be on for so long, a few weeks more and the herbs will begin to wither and die. Whatever my son undertakes in his life, be it love or work, education or family, I hope he will remember to make hay while the sun shines.

You never know what tomorrow will bring.

blackberry picking in east vancouver wild blackberries

Don’t Rush

The Slow Movement doesn’t believe in everything at a snails pace, despite it’s name and logo. What it values is  Tempo Giusto . . . the right time.

Everything in life has it’s proper pace. We may have to work quickly to bring in the harvest, but we don’t always have to rush.

Today I picked blackberries while my son slept, worked slowly but methodically so as not to prick my fingers (too much) and listened to the bird song rise and fall over the traffic.

Opportunity often looks like work

Most people don’t recognize opportunity when it comes, because it’s usually dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work – Thomas Edison

My husband is a farm boy at heart.

He’s a businessman now, self-made, and he works his ass off for everything we have. Although I am of course grateful for the fact that he provides for our family, I am even more grateful for the values he models for our son.

Growing up on the farm taught him how to work hard and to understand that if he wants something, he’ll have to work for it.

He sees opportunity everywhere.

Work isn’t always hard

Our culture, and many others, seem to place value on a masochistic view of work. We have to be slaving away, chained to our desk to be working.

Work = toil.

That’s often the case, (God knows I hated my job) but not always.

Work can be pleasurable. It can even be a joy. In fact, the most rewarding, fulfilling work often doesn’t feel like work at all.

sleeping off the blackberries

Don’t begrudge the low-hanging fruit

The low-hanging fruit will fill your basket (and your belly) just as surely as the higher-hanging fruit will.

It’s important sometimes to gather what you can with the least amount of effort and risk. Just because it isn’t as hard to attain, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

Take only what you need

Take what you need and leave the rest for the rest.

The birds and neighbours and wasps and other critters have just as much right to the berries as we do.

Greed is born out of fear and an ignorance of true need. Know your needs intimately, and you will be less afraid of not attaining your wants.

You won’t need them.

Be grateful

The fact that a tiny seed transforms into a plant that will nourish us is really nothing short of a miracle. That we can walk the sidewalks of urban East Van and glean beautiful, juicy blackberries for free is certainly something to be thankful for.

A spirit of gratitude keeps us humble.


Nature / the universe / god / whatever you want to call it, surrounds us in abundance everyday, we just have to look for it.

I hope my boy will approach the world with open eyes that can always see the plenty that surrounds him.

homeless chicken sanctuary? really?

Failed backyard farms lead to growing number of homeless animals Is how this goofy article starts out and it only gets better from there.

This is ridiculous. Euthanizing roosters????

What a disgusting waste of a life. Roosters make delicious, nutritious soup.

Here in Vancouver there was discussion of a chicken sanctuary when the backyard chicken bylaw passed. I’d argue we already have one.

It’s called the food bank.

Here we are facing a food crisis, record numbers of people are relying on food banks, many of them children and we’re worrying about finding funding for homeless livestock?

Are we that out of touch with our food?

Apparently we are.

Domesticated livestock exist because they are food animals for people. If we didn’t eat them, they wouldn’t be here. Period.

This notion that life can exist without death is disconnected from reality and frankly, arrogant on our parts. Other living things need to die so that we may live. Thinking ourselves smart and at the top of the food chain doesn’t remove us from the circle of life.

(And if you say – Hey, I’m vegan, nothing that wants to live has to die so I can eat! Well, frankly, I’d say you’re kidding yourself and you’ve probably not spent enough time in the garden. If you did, you’d know plants want to live, too. And a strictly plant-based diet gets tricky without the soil nutrition supplied by animal waste.

Don’t get your panties in a twist, either. I’m not anti-vegan. I’m just saying’. Lets all be realistic.)

We don’t need more livestock shelters.

What we need is education and support for folks who want to raise livestock so that they treat their animals properly and don’t make stupid choices like buying baby chicks when they’ve never had chickens. This support needs to include access to livestock auctions and to humane, safe, small-scale abattoirs.

The article wraps up with this silliness:

“You can’t sustainably raise an animal in captivity.”


Good grief.

Is this opposed to all the wild beef, chicken, pork and dairy cattle out there? What?

A small, integrated, deep-organic, pasture-based farm is the most sustainable means of producing food. A well-managed farm system requires little, if any, input from off-farm. There is no waste. There is no need for harmful petrochemicals.

There are animals “in captivity”; eating grass, enjoying the sun and fresh air, until it’s time for them to grace the dinner table and for us to give thanks.

The War Against Urban Farming Continues on Vancouver Island

It never ceases to amaze me how threatened some folks are by the notion of urban farming. What could possibly be offensive about folks producing clean, local, nutritious food?

And yet, here we are.

It seems Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw have been fighting this fight forever. They grow organic food for market on their two and a half acres outside of Nanaimo, BC.

They have dealt with continuous complaints from their neighbour and have battled with the most backward, parochial City Council I’ve run into in some time. These folks missed the memo that we’re facing a food crisis. Apparently the neighbours perfect ( and wasteful ) lawn is more important than their citizens right to safe local food.

I’ve discussed the issue with a number of Council members by email, and laughed out loud when one described Becker and Shaw’s activities as “urban farming”. Two and a half acres??? Are you kidding me!? He wanted my thoughts about livestock in an “urban” setting. Ha. If only he could see the three-ring circus of fowl in MY backyard (which is a HECK of a  lot smaller than two acres and a lot more urban that rural Lantzville ).

Good grief. A little perspective would go a long way here.

If you would like to let the Lantzville District Council know that it is time to abandon their war on “urban” farming in their community, you can contact them at

Here’s the update on the latest drama at Compassion Farm:

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urban homesteading-itis

I think I have that.

It’s always worse at this time of year. Now with a baby and spring on the doorstep it’s worse than it’s ever been.

My house is a mess. Now that the sun has come out, my garden is awash in weeds.

What were cute little balls of fluff 8 weeks ago are now a horde of hungry hens eating me out of house and home.

The slugs have eaten every tender morsel my hubby has set out under the row covers, despite his homemade beer traps (which are eating up our rapidly diminishing stock of home brew).

The rhubarb is poking its head out and I still haven’t gotten around to canning the harvest I hastily chopped and tossed in the freezer from last spring. It stares at me accusingly every time I open the door.

My basement is overrun with pots and seedlings and grow lights and every type of veggie baby imaginable.

I haven’t blogged in what seems like dogs years.

I read other blogs by other women who are at home with kids, doing the urban homestead thing and writing to boot. Their lives always sound so adventurous, productive, industrious.

Nothing like the chicken-without-a-head I am on a regular basis.

How do they do it?

I look around my house – at the floors that need scrubbing, the half-done mound of laundry, dishes in the sink, the general disorganization, the time I spend working instead of playing with my boy and think about the fact that it is quarter to five and I haven’t even thought about dinner . . .

All I can think is – Why do I do this to myself? Is it worth it? Maybe I should just leave the renegade homemaking to the renegades and call Molly Maid. Really. They have a special on. I could just do it. No one would have to know.

Last night we ate organic homegrown quail that we carefully brined and rested for two days. Organic. Clean. Beautiful. Homemade croutons and a ceaser salad with dressing made from scratch with eggs from our own hens and garlic I grew myself.

Tonight all I want is to order pizza.

We are planning on another child and I can’t foresee a future with another baby where the sky does not fall down around me. I cannot imagine how I will juggle our urban farm (which frankly is almost exclusively my hubby’s domain since baby number one), my busy household, my writing, and my marketing career. I look ahead to school days and our discussions about homeschooling and I just want to throw up.

I know I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work at home and raise my child. I just don’t know how to make the most of it. How to be a mom without becoming a martyr.

Where is the middle ground? Where my house is tidy, if not spotless, the garden is tended and the food gets put by on time? Where I don’t have these moments of overwhelming guilt and frustration because my life is coming apart at it’s over-ambitious hand-sewn seams?

How do I get there? How do I cure my urban homesteading-itis?


plastic pot alternatives : soil blocks

soil block seed starting garden tool

The second plastic pot alternative is one we’ve been coveting for sometime. If you read any Eliot Coleman, you’ll have heard of the marvellous soil blockers.

If you haven’t read any Eliot Coleman, put away this blog and go to the library RIGHT NOW! Seriously. Go.

To me, this is just genius.

No plastic. No paper. No pots at all!

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