Sustainable Gardening in Calgary

Tonight I went to a seminar on sustainable gardening in Calgary, presented by Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture.  I was a little leery at first, because The last event I went to on urban farming was more woo than gardening, talking about such silliness as biodynamic agriculture (if you pack cow manure into a cow horn and bury it for a year, it will become stronger and more powerful – sounds more related to homeopathic nonsense than gardening).  Turns out that I needn’t have worried: this was a presentation more about sustainable (or rather, regenerative) urban farming, rather than woo and supernatural forces.

The event was hosted by the Unitarian Church of Calgary, and was sponsored by the Calgary Horticultural Society.  There are several more events coming up, which I plan to blog about as well (see the list at the end of this post), including movie presentations, guest speakers, and seed exchanges.

The church sanctuary seats about 150 people and about three-quarters full at 19:05 – it really is nice to see so much interest in sustainable living.  The Unitarian Church of Calgary has been in partnership for several years with the Calgary Horticultural Society through its Green Sanctuary committee, hosting several “green” events per year.

Rob started out with a definition of sustainability along the lines of maintaining the status quo.  It’s not quite what we’ve been discussing in my environmental technology program, but in this context it makes sense.  The key is to recognize that in this context, sustainability means that we can keep doing what we are doing, with no real change occurring.  What we really need is to regenerate what has been destroyed.  In order to attain this, we need to develop very efficient agriculture.  Rob Avis sees this taking the form of urban farming.  After all, before WWI a majority of food was grown at home.

I learned that Brad Lancaster in Tucson, Arizona has created a permaculture in the desert, operating successfully on the very limited amount of rainwater that falls in the region.  He essentially initiated the transformation of one of the “worst” neighbourhoods in the city into one of the most desireable.

I also learned that graywater systems are illegal in Alberta, and in Canada as a whole.  Graywater is water that has been used for things such as bathing, dish washing, or laundry.  This water is considered by the Government to be waste water, unfit for further use, which is absurd in itself, and so is disposed of with sewage (known as blackwater).  Using dish water to water one’s vegetable garden is perfectly safe, so long as appropriate detergents are used (no phosphates, perfumes, or other toxic substances).  Check out your local green store for more information and for recommendations.  Using bath water and laundry water is a little  more difficult and requires more work, but is not impossible – many have, and many more will.

There were a few more points discussed, but I can’t really remember all the details (and I’m not really good at live-blogging… yet).  For a bit more information, Rob and a couple others in the audience recommend the book Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, as well as the documentary Natural World: Farm for the Future (50 min), available on GoogleVideos.  I am simply passing the information along – I have not (yet) read the book or seen the video.

Upcoming Events

  • Friday February 11 (7 PM): Dirt! The Movie
    At the Unitarian Church of Calgary, 1703 1 Street NW
  • Friday February 25 (7-9 PM): All About Seeds
    At the Unitarian Church of Calgary, 1703 1 Street NW
    Learn everything there is to know about seeds from catalogues, seed packets, seeding techniques, and more.
    $10 in advance or at the door, but pre-registration is advised
  • Friday March 18 (7 PM): Catching Rain: Harvesting Hope One Drop at a Time
    At the Unitarian Church of Calgary, 1703 1 Street NW
    A documentary by Dax Xenis of a grass-roots assistance project in Uganda.
  • Saturday March 19: Seedy Saturday
    At Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Centre
    Calgary Horticultural Society Seed Exchange and Workshops
  • Friday April 15 (7 PM): You Never Bike Alone
    At the Unitarian Church of Calgary, 1703 1 Street NW
    A Vancouver documentary production, describing critical mass rides and their effect on driver attitudes, freaky bike rides, and the world naked bike ride.

(Note: I am not a member of the Unitarian Church of Calgary and do not presume to promote or otherwise endorse the Church.  The events listed above simply lie within the union of my interests and all scheduled events.)

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Informative post. I would have liked to attend Rob’s talk that evening as well; it’s great that you have summarized the key points.

    • No problem. I’m sure I missed some of the key points, but am glad that you found it useful. I would really like to get involved in one of the “perma-blitz” events that they do. It’d be a good workout, and also a chance to learn and ask lots of questions. Hope to see you at some of the upcoming events.

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