Category Archives: mindfulness

Food Solidarity

Last week my bin from On The Move Organics arrived and inside was a fennel bulb. This one right here. Now, I don’t hate fennel it’s, as my beloved likes to say, just not one of my favourite things. I do the bulk of the cooking for me and my family so our menu skews to what I like and do. There was a time not too long ago I would have just thrown it into the compost pile but this time, this time I thought for a minute about how far this organic bulb had travelled to get to me. It was grown in California USA shipped to London On Canada then packed up for me and brought to my door. Tossing out perfectly good food is wasteful and, I’m starting to think, pretty damn rude and also incredibly privileged.

I mean, I have the ridiculous luxury of choosing what I eat, not many people in my community can say that. We have hungry people who come from all over town for the local church’s Saturday night hot meal and here I am being picky about the fresh food that magically arrives on my doorstep every week.

Over a year ago I decided to get my first bin of veggies delivered and at first was a bit overwhelmed that the veggies kept coming. Now I get the bigger family bin and sometimes I order two. We go through all those veggies no problem now. In fact, much of our bin goes into the dinner meal the day it arrives. This week the zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes all went into the pasta sauce along with some of the kale. NOM NOM NOM

So last week the fennel went into a layer of potatoes, onions, mushrooms, peppers, kale and celery that roasted under chicken topped with a jar of butter chicken sauce. I ate it, it was overall a good meal, I didn’t get excited biting into kale but it was fine.

It dawned on me that by ordering a fixed bin, by eating local in season when I can, I’m exercising a TINY bit of food solidarity with people who have no choice in what comes next. I pay more for my organic produce so that the local food system is sustainable. By investing a bit more, because I can, I can help grow food sovereignty. This choice to spend more means great jobs growing, distributing and cooking great food are available to people in my community. I can’t grow all of my own food. Sure I tinker at it because I the luxery of failure, so I’m not forced to eat in season but I want to shift more to that. Going with a place that has set bins is one way to give up some privilege, a tiny amount really, to eat what’s in season or available, like most people around the world do.

Food solidarity for me is recognising our food system is broken and we all have a part to play. I’m growing my part by volunteering in the community on The Carolinian Food Forest, growing some of my own food and ordering local, organic food when I can afford to. I can’t always and that’s ok too. so when I can afford it, It honour that opportunity and the fennel, well, the fennel tasted a lot sweeter for it,


My garden keeps working on me

Since the awesome Forest Garden Convergence in June I’ve been seeing my garden in a new light. There’s been a shift in my thinking about how densely to pack the plants in, about what’s being pulled and what I leave to grow. I’ve started thinking about which foods I already eat that are perennials (like asparagus, berries and nuts) and how I can get more perennial foods in my garden.

kale thyme sage garlic chives polyculture

More than that, my relationship to food is changing, I’ve started asking “how far has this travelled to me?” and “what does this food do for me?”. I’m appreciating how much work goes into growing food and I’ve become a bit more miserly, making sure nothing goes to waste.

I love growing things, something I discovered when we lived in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. Playing in the earth drops me from from hectic to reflective almost immediately and I’ve been looking for more things that trigger the relaxation response. I feel that deep sense of calm and well-being when I meditate, chant, work on my yoga practice, read and even staring into my aquarium.

.planted tank June 29 2014

I see my blood pressure drop as I eat a more plant based diet and I’ve been able to engage my self-discipline to mange my over-eating and use of alcohol. My blood pressure is dropping and my weight is shifting, decreasing by 6%, from simply being mindful.

As I try to apply the principles of permaculture to my garden and to myself. The most transformation has been on me, my thoughts and actions, what some folks call internal permaculture. I’m hoping to get a copy of this great book to keep growing my ability to nurture myself.

Forest Nutrition

Shantree made a compelling case for eating a diet primarily drawn from perennial foods in the late afternoon in the cherry grove. We sat in the dappled shade, surrounded by paw paw guilds and a variety of currant plantings.

He talked about how annual crops, like corn and soy bean, are in the ground for only a short amount of the year and therefore don’t have as long to establish the relationships with bacteria and fungi that Paul’s earlier presentation talked about. An excellent observation. He then went on to say that perennial plants can reach deeper into the soil to draw up trace nutrients and that made sense to me too.

At the beginning of the day Eric’s video referenced that perennial foods sequester carbon effectively and Shantree built on that noting how soil that is left exposed in annul cropping looses organic material to wind, water erosion and breakdown from the sun’s rays. He then walked us through a Paw Paw tree guild that one of his students had planted a few years ago. It was a lush planting of iris, mint, currant, lamb’s ear and about 5 other ground cover and herbaceous plants.

I walked away knowing more about aromatic plants, the 2:1 ratio for guild design 2 under-story trees for every canopy tree, 2 shrubs for every under-story tree, 2 herbaceous plants for every shrub. It’s all about the herbaceous and ground-cover layers, that’s were the diversity really ramps up in forest gardening.

There was so much information shared in such a short time I could write for hours, about the vast number of berries in the Carolinian Forest (I want to say more than 100 but it’s escaping me now), about how as we work our garden it works on us, on how seeing, smelling, tasting are all ways to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

It was a great way to end the seminars of the Forest Garden Convergence.

Getting to know Shantree

For the 11 am session at the Forest Garden Convergence I chose the Forest Garden Walk-About with Shantree Kacera. He had a keen sense of time appreciation earlier in the morning which was juxtaposed nicely with his kind voice and flowing hair.

Shantree lead us through The Living Centre‘s herb garden explaining the changes that have happened on the site over the past 30 years. Both he and Lorenna stated  earlier in the morning that they grew soil on the land. That resonated with me as when we first moved to the house we rent in London’s Old North the soil was incredibly poor, hard packed clay in the back and front, gravel on the south side and a putrid smell came out of the 100% shade north side. I had decided to add mulch and compost and build the soil before trying to grow anything at all. 3 years in and most gardens are looking pretty lush.

As we moved from one garden to the next we passed fruit tree guilds and a 3 phase asparagus guild that students are experimenting with.

Throughout the tour of much of the eastern side of the land Shantree told stories about specific tree and how they demonstrated the softening of the elements, planting layers to create dappled shade, to disperse torrential rains, to buffer against the wind to make micro-climates.

I got to see so much in real life that I had only read about or seen photos of and the tactile experience was wonderful. A key insight he shared was that as we designed our gardens we needed to make room for succession, how the growing plants will change the environment making our first designs irrelevant.

I think that complexity and flux are partly why forest gardens are so interesting to me, you really never finish and it is never the same garden twice.

I’m too young to have teenagers and too old to do it?

Turns out, if you raise kids, one day they become teenagers. Trust me. It happens. I feel like it has not been long enough since they were born. How is it my eldest completed his first set of highschool exams? I’m typing listening to him and his friends celebrate the successful completion of thier grade 9 exams. They are all lovely humans who make me laugh. So nerdy, so into games and each other. It really does make my heart swell 2 sizes.

I also find teenagers EXHAUSTING. They talk & move fast. They eat every 90 minutes or so and enjoy teasing each other and anyone else in the vicinity. They wrestle & grapple and sit on each other. They have no sense of personal space with each other yet refuse to cuddle with me on the couch. The contradictions pile up.

Then there is the smell. It’s part cumin, part parmesan cheese and a bit of old hockey equipment. My kids don’t even play hockey. What is that about? Fungus? I know they showered! We even do a smell test to make sure they’ve used soap. We praise them for not smelling bad. We just want neutral smells now, once we wanted them to smell good. You have to set the bar to achievable goals and neutral is a stretch most days.

Don’t get me started with the music. The youngest among us could name every song that played on the radio on Saturday. I honestly couldn’t tell the songs apart. When did I get so old? I’m 39 for crying out loud. I actually do try to keep up, I at least know who Imagine Dragons are, well, I know their song “Radioactive”. I’m calling that a win.

I bought a slackline so we could work on balance together. I also know I won’t be doing this anytime soon: I was pretty pumped about being able to stand on it for a moment when the kids went right to walking and skittering back and forth, first try!

I have friends my age with toddlers. My partner and I decided to have our kids when we were young so that we could keep up. That was silly. I’m sorry to inform you THERE IS NO KEEPING UP. To those who will be even older than I when your teenagers arrive, may your deity have mercy on you and give you help.

There are occasional moments when I can sprint along with them but I need days to recover. I love my kids’ friends and I want everyone to feel welcome but I must be making the curmudgeon face by mistake. They often ask me when they need to leave. I’m happy they’re here, I’m just old and ornery.

I think I'm way cool, turns out I'm not!

I think I’m way cool, turns out I’m not!

I make up for it by offering pie after a big breakfast (sorry to their parents) and by giving them the space to do their thing. I try not to meddle and let them work out conflicts but it seems a bit beyond me to grasp all that is happening in my kids lives right now.

On the one hand I’m on the young side to have teenagers but on the other I feel just a tad too old to be keeing up with them.

buying more local handmade, more often

I’m cradling an exquisite mug I bought from the London Clay Art Centre run by the London Potters Guild. The photo doesn’t do Elly’s Pottery Productions justice but you get the idea.

You can contact Elly via email EllysPotteryProd"at"

You can contact Elly via email EllysPotteryProd”at”

It’s a delight to drink from, to hold and to look at. My partner and I have both had full time jobs for the past 7 months (after 12 years of contract work, being students and other cobbled-together financial solutions) and I am mindful of the privilege that brings. We recently sat down for our annual budget deliberations to see if our spending aligned with our values.

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
―     Joe Biden

We value time together which means our default is to eat out when we can. It is the Achilles heel to our otherwise frugal impulses. The kitchen in the house we rent is small, it makes food prep cramped and by necessity a solitary endeavor. Good food takes time and, with both of us working outside the home, a very late dinner indeed. But I’m off on a tangent so back to budgets and values.

We buy second hand, receive hand-me-downs, make stuff and try to buy quality when buying new to reduce our consumption overall. Our vacation plans are car trips to see family back east, nothing involving flying or hotels, it’s just too much money & resources.

For Christmas our stockings were filled with great goodies from Weezi’s like handmade soaps & journals made from upcycled books. We had chocolate made at Habitual Chocolate & coffee from Fire Roasted Coffee Company . It was all delightful and I got to look the people who made these wonders in the eye and thank them. I get to share the stories of what a great Christmas we had thanks to their good the next time I’m there. I know the money I spend at local shops gets reinvested into my community.

We’ve recommitted to not eating out as much to ensure we have the money to buy local and handmade when we can. When we go out to eat we choose independent restaurants that are locally owned, like Winks Eatery.

Our mug supply had been suffering from some serious attrition so when it came time to replenish I decided to follow through on that ongoing commitment and get handmade mugs. It turned out Elly was working the shop that day and we chatted about how the blue glaze changed as it got wet, how that matte finish felt in my hand and my love of coffee.

This beautiful and practical art is now part of my morning routine, it fits just so in my hand. It has a nice heft to it, like drinking out of it means something. It grounds me in the moment. The smell of the coffee, the feel of the glaze on my lips as I sip coffee organically grown, fairly traded and locally roasted. I feel connected to my community, I’m in the moment, far from my anxieties and worries and I’m very thankful I can afford to buy things in line with my values most of the time.

Rehearse the good stories

Turns out memories are not static, they change as we re-tell them and we re-feel them too. So I decided to start choosing which stories I focus on. I decided to tell the ones that show people’s good side because I had started doing this for myself.

I choose to tell funny stories or that story about how nice you were, the time you rose to the occaision, the first time I saw you smile. It helps me cultivate a generosity of spirit, it helps me extend the benefit of the doubt to you and even muster up enthusiasm for the very odd things the wonderfully quirky people in my life do.

I have dropped the deadweight so now I don’t have to tell as many stories about people being awful. I still speak out to end violence against women, name racism and oppression but this is not the realm of our chat today. This is about the family you choose to surround yourself with, the people you love and the lost art of story telling.

’tis the season of coming together, the kids are home from school and you are apt to see a lot of your extended family of choice this season. I want you to try the following. Over the next few days look for the moments that make great stories about the people you love then tell them to other people.

Yes, your drunk uncle passed out on the chesterfield at noon. This is a boring story. He does that every year, no one is surprised, it’s not funny ad you missed the bit where taught your kid to play the spoons last night. That’s why you invited him, right?

Forgive people the stupid little annoyances, don’t tell those stories until they become “A Big Deal” and everyone is mad. Extend them the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Taunty Nat did drink too much wine back in 2002 on New Year’s Eve (and in 2011…) but if you are still telling that story in 2014 you may have missed that she’s a bit nicer than she used to be.

Don’t regale people with the fact that your beloved is a pain in your ass, tell them about the moment at 3am when you had the best chat in years simply because both of you couldn’t sleep. Tell the story about how you and your cousin used to play Frogger until your thumbs cramped and when you played with your son last night those great memories came flooding back.

So, go on, go find the great stories. Rehearse them and tell them until your friends beg you to stop bragging what a great holiday you had. They really don’t mind.