a The Learning Garden

Friday, June 30, 2017

Moving On

Dear Learning Gardeners,

Today is my last day as a tenured faculty member at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna British Columbia. I resigned from UBCO to move back to my hometown of Vancouver, and to focus on the environmental work that I have been dedicated to for some time now. 

Stay tuned for further adventures, and learning.

As we learned in the garden, life keeps moving forward, as I’m sure many of you are now learning in your work as educators all over the world. . . .

In 2005, we started the Learning Garden after the release of a serious IPCC report on climate change. The garden officially opened in 2006, thanks to the hard work of a very dedicated crew. Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was inspiring a sea change in how the mainstream thought about climate change. Pope Francis wrote a ground-breaking encyclical, Laudato Si, focussed on the impacts of climate change on the global poor.  At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal.

A lot has happened since we planted those first carrots. But, even as the current US President pulls the United States out of the deal...the ParisAgreement continues.

Today, twelve years after a small group of us walked bravely out onto that unused "back of the campus" piece of land, to create a drought tolerant garden, I still think it was the garden that influenced us more – than we could even design or model – it. 

I still believe, more than ever, that we can all, in our different ways, help make the world a better place. 

Working with people in all parts of the world now devastated by climatechange, has only reinforced my belief in the power of our work. No matter what happens, the sun rises. And no matter what happens, we can still plant something - purple carrots, chilies, maize, kale.  We can still write poems. We can still live poetically. 

Thank-you so very much to all of the students who worked on the Learning Garden, since 2005.  You are way too many to mention by name...you know who you are!  Class after class visited the garden each Fall, and each Spring/Summer brought the work (and the songs!) that helped those future visits bear fruit. 

Thank you, also, to the amazing UBC Okanagan Facilities crew who were always so helpful and encouraging, from the very first day. Thank you to the local small businesses who took the leap of faith to support the garden.

We all have our own memories of the Learning Garden, and it is a project that literally continues in the work and ideas of all who visited and found inspiration.

Thank you to the Syilx/Okanagan First Nation people on whose land the Learning Garden, and traditional Firepit, were placed. Thank you for welcoming my students and I. 

Thanks to the red-winged blackbirds.



Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 - New year, new plants!

May Update:

Hello friends! The 2016 year has begun with a great start. We had some lovely volunteers help turn over the beds and do some weeding for the upcoming season.

Thea and Tao prepping the beds in late April.
I was out of town for a few weeks, and while I was away, we had seedlings carefully tended by a volunteer which are now ready to plant. Snow peas and lettuce, which were planted before I left are now strong and tall, loving the freedom of a garden bed. Surprise potatoes left over from last year have sprouted and the raspberry and blackberry have avoided the deer's notice as of yet. We also have sunflowers peeping up from the beds, and I look forward to enjoying their sunny blooms again this year!

New additions to the garden for this growing season include a slanted cucumber trellis, some snow pea trellises, and an arbour to help the squash grow without taking up too much space.

New cucumber trellis made with used materials.

First Snow pea trellis made with found wood and used materials.  

We have confirmation from the Kelowna Food Bank that they will take donations from us, and I look forward to being able to take in fresh produce once the season gets going. 
Herb garden and sunflowers booming in the early summer.
The last update for now: the chestnut that was planted last year is growing strong.

September update:

It has been a busy year! The garden trellises are all made and can now be used in successive years to help maximize the use of the beds for veggie growth. The squash love to sprawl outwards, and now they have a big tall arbour trellis to climb. Unfortunately I wasn't able to build it until later in the season, so the squash didn't have a chance to use it this year. We had sunflowers popping up all over the garden beds and their sunny blossoms really lit up the garden again this year.
Snow peas are growing steadily!
New squash trellis and happy sunflowers.
Cucumbers enjoying the trellis.
The weather this year made for an unusual growing season, and some of the veggies that thrived last year really didn't grow well this year like the beets and peppers. Fortunately the snow peas, lettuce, chard, and potatoes all did really well. We were able to donate several large onions, carrots, and potatoes to the food bank. There is another round of potatoes along with leeks and several pumpkins that we will also be able to donate!

With the help of some volunteers we are able to get the veggies harvested and donated to the Kelowna Food Bank. The friendly staff in Facilities also helped us put up a few signs to remind students that the food, apart from herbs and leafy greens are being donated to the food bank.

Despite the less than ideal growing season, we were still able to grow a beautiful garden this year and now we have some nice growing structures to help the plants grow next year!

Thanks for the lovely season.

- Sarah

Monday, August 24, 2015

Veggies in the Garden - Summer 2015 Update

This summer has created a wonderful harvest in the Learning Garden. The wheat in the Celtic Spiral is tall, and the sunflowers that were planted earlier in the season by students have fully bloomed, providing a bright welcome to the space.

We have many veggies growing in the garden including watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, corn, carrots, beets, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, peppers and more! The herbs that were planted in previous years have been flourishing and this year we added a chocolate mint and lavender plant to the herb bed.

The snap peas have come and gone by this point, but the zucchini and cucumber have provided ongoing veggies to harvest. So far they have been eaten by the friendly deer that likes to frequent the garden and sample our vegetables, as well as some students, faculty and staff.

In the area between the Celtic Spiral and the pond, the area was covered in stone dust by Facilities Management in preparation for the Al King memorial lookout in the area. The clearing removed several lavender bushes and a saskatoon bush, but it also removed a lot of invasive plants that were taking over the area. 

The pumpkin and spaghetti squash plants have expanded out of the garden beds and spilled over on the the pathway.

The potato plants (purple, red, and gold) are all flourishing and we can begin to harvest them soon!

The moroccan spearmint has started flowering and is attracting a lot of bees, as are the purple coneflowers that were part of the herb bed.

The first round of carrots, beets, and parsnips are nice and big, and the second round are still little sproutlings trying to get established.

The zucchini, cantaloupe, and pumpkin are all in flower, which has been a lovely addition to the garden foliage.

The corn is growing, but the deer has been nibbling on the ends of the corn cobs so hopefully that means the corn is tasty!

That's all for now!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Welcome . . .

. . .Sarah Bird! 

Sarah is a UBC Biology graduate student, who will be working as an academic research assistant at the Learning Garden while I am away on study leave this year. This year, look for more organic vegetables and soulful involvement from environmentally-friendly, socially-conscientious students!

You are most welcome to the Learning Garden, Sarah!

Also with much gratitude to the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for their ongoing support of our little garden over the years. Thank you. . .

FYI: Learning Garden foragers - please keep in mind that the produce is being cultivated for students in need, for local homeless shelters and for foodbanks.

As I travel this year and continue to work this year in support of eco-justice, nine years after the LG began, our work only becomes more relevant

Peace and good to all,

Monday, November 03, 2014

Poetry & Eco-literacy Project

The English and Middle School Student Teachers Cohort at University of British Columbia Okanagan support the 43 missing student teachers in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.  Our poetry and eco-literacy community project support poems written on the boxes in the Learning Garden. Poems will be published and promoted in booklets, and also sent to the community in Mexico.

Mexican students in the rural education college disappeared on 26 September after being attacked by police in the city of Iguala, a city about 130km south-west of Mexico City. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, enraged by the attacks and the lack of information, have marched in protest across the country. Families of the missing students confronted Mexico's president. We are inspired by shows of support in Mexico and in other student communities, including: University of Texas, MIT, Harvard, and demonstrations in Buenos Aires,  London, Paris, and Vienna.

Today, our lesson exemplifies the need for eco-literacy, critical literacy, media-literacy, and POETRY in education. We look at the need to read the news with an eco-literate, poetic eye. 

Today we follow on the words of others who have strived for democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech:

"We must teach others to read the word…and the world."
- Paulo Freire

"Day after day, children are denied the right to be children."  
- Eduardo Galeano 

"Teacher, purest creature
Green young man with face fixed
Whoever killed the present for you
Did they believe they were killing the future?"
- Nicolas Guillen, Conrado Benitez

"It is necessary to engage in a campaign of gentleness and knowledge. .  ."  José Julián Martí

The student teachers wrote poems. Everyone participated. For the class poem, each student wrote one line of poetry. Then the poem was written on the garden boxes in the Learning Garden with natural, non-toxic, water-based paints. 

To the student teachers in Mexico we dedicate our poems, in support of Freedom and Free Voices for all.

In Solidarity.

Do not despair.

Hear the voices of those who have gone,
no matter the distance, 
together we are strong.

Radiant potential snuffed out.But in the darknessa light of light. . . 

We had hope. 

Burn on to ignite the fires of change!Exhume the dead for what has passed is not gone.

Stand up 
for what 
you believe in.

(We shared a hope that the next generation would be better).

On top of the load you carry. . .  
weighs such stress and duress 
we fail to fathom.

What can I say to those who have disappeared?  
You are remembered...

You are a symbol of peace, and strength. 

You inspire more than you realize.
Your voices live within us now.
Allow us to carry your voice.

Allow us to give it purpose.

This is a battle we must all continue to fight.
The best educators don't need a classroom in order to teach. 

You are the teachers you aimed to be.

You are us and we are you. 

You have done something I could not.
Now, what can I do for you?


Just as we finished writing the poem, it started to rain. 
Our water-colours ran back into the soil. 
Nature mirrors our tears for you today. 

After it rained, the Canadian winter wheat sprouted.

Until spring,

With support from CPLP, The Canadian Poetry and Literacy Project