Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Canada Day 2011

Tomorrow is Canada Day!  Parks Canada is celebrating by offering free admission to all National Parks!  If you can, and you live in Alberta, go and check out Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park (I’ve never been there, but want to go some day), or Waterton National Park.  There will be a variety of Canada Day activities/festivities scheduled in the towns of Banff and Jasper, and I would imagine also in Waterton and Lake Louise.  If you’re not in Alberta, go and check out whatever park is closest to you.  There are so many beautiful parks and places in this vast Nation!  There is little reason (aside from fuel cost…) not to take advantage of these wonderful spaces for free for one day.

Just be aware that it is likely to be very busy on the roads and on the trails.  With all the people on the trails, it is less likely that wildlife – especially bears – would come anywhere close.  That said, they are hungry for berries and other goodies, and so are (as always) unpredictable.

If you see wildlife on the side of the roads, the best thing to do is to admire it/them as you pass by.  If you must get some photos, please pull completely off the road!  Staying in your car is always the best, but if you must get out, stay next to your vehicle.  It is not recommended to approach wildlife under any circumstances, even to get that “one awesome shot”!

Under absolutely no circumstance should you feed the wildlife.  This horrible practice can result in death for whatever animal falls victim.


The cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, and Lethbridge all have a variety of festivities planned.  I believe that there are also activities planned in the Crowsnest Pass, and probably many other towns across the province.


Healthy Yards

In an online discussion held in a course at SAIT for the Environmental Technology program (ENVS470 – Advanced Environmental Considerations) someone asked if we’d all got our free rain barrels from the City of Calgary yet.  “The City does not give rain barrels away,” I retorted.  “They cost up to $80 outside the sale in May.”  Turns out I was wrong about that.  “You have to sign up for the Healthy Yards program,” I was told.  So I looked in to it, and signed up right away.

I expected to have to wait until 2012 to get my equipment, as the student said she had signed up too late last year to get hers, so she gets it this year.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I got an email informing me that I’d been accepted to the program for this year and would get my equipment soon.  This all happened in mid-May.  I now have got my rain barrel and composter, and am eager to get everything going.

Now some background.  The City of Calgary Healthy Yards program is a two-year commitment on the part of the participant, with some very simple requirements that are very easy to comply with.  While it is free to participate, there is a limit of 200 participants per year – hence the waiting list described above.  As mentioned, participants receive a complementary rain barrel and composter, as well as a DVD with videos demonstrating and explaining how to use this equipment and

  • how to use a mulching mower,
  • how to select and plant water-wise alternatives for Calgary’s unique climate, and
  • responsible pest management.

The basic requirements of the program are (if I’ve missed something, please let me know!)

  • use the provided equipment,
  • practice grass-cycling,
  • use a push-mower, or at most a 4-stroke gas mower,
  • limit or eliminate pesticide and artificial fertilizer use.

These are all pretty simple.  The Healthy Yards Orientation will provide you with more information about how to compost, how to use your rain barrel, how to grass-cycle, and much more.

One part of growing a healthy garden is to have the right soil.  Soil is described, at least in part, by its texture, and one of the easiest ways to determine this is to use the jar test.  Soil textures are often described by terms such as “clay,” “clay loam,” “sandy clay loam,” and so on.  The Healthy Yards program encourages participants to determine their own soil texture using the jar test.  It is not difficult – in fact, it is probably the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it.  Native soils in Calgary are generally clayey and require amendments such as peat, compost, vermiculite, et cetera, to become more workable.  Unfortunately, the process of developing a good, healthy, organic soil base can take several years of careful attention.

The funny thing is that I learned all about the jar test, as well as a couple other soil classification methods such as sieve analysis, in the laboratory component of my course in Sampling and Analysis at SAIT.  The basic idea with the jar test (Procedure: Jar test for determining soil type) is to collect a representative soil sample from your garden, place it in a jar (such as a mayonnaise jar), fill to about 3/4 with water, add some borax or non-foaming dishwasher detergent, seal the jar, shake vigorously for about 10-15 minutes, and then let the jar sit for 2-4 days.  The different components of the soil will separate at different rates based on particle diameter and density (Stokes’ law), so that coarser materials will settle first and clayey particles will settle on the surface.  By measuring the thickness of each layer (differentiate them by colour) and comparing it with the thickness of the entire soil column you can determine the percentage composition of sand, silt, and clay.  Then refer to the soil texture triangle to classify it.  (Apparently the Canadian system uses only clay and sand proportions to classify.  The link provided goes to the more familiar US version.)

Anyway, the point is that the Healthy Yards program is cool, easy, and inexpensive.  There is no reason you shouldn’t get going with it yourself!

An Evening Without Vandana Shiva

I was saddened today to learn that Dr Vandana Shiva was unable to travel to Calgary for her public presentation for the Calgary Peace Prize 2011.  However, even after learning of this bad news, I decided to go to the event anyway, as an impressive lineup of speakers had been retained on very short notice.  While I was disappointed that Dr Shiva was not there, I was thoroughly impressed with the speeches and presentations delivered by the panel.

Unsurprisingly, the primary focus of the panel members’ speeches was on food democracy, food security, and sustainability.  Some speakers even spoke at length about urban agriculture, which is something I’ve become very interested in of late (you may have noticed this if you’ve seen my blog recently).

Seeing as a focus of the evening was on sustainability, though, I was somewhat surprised that only the final speaker of the evening (a gentleman whose name I cannot recall, but who delivered a very long but excellent speech) who alluded to (but did not explicitly state) the definition of sustainability that came out of the Bruntland Commission in 1987:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. (Our Common Future, 1987)

This is a key concept that has been emphasized time and again in courses for Sait Polytechnic’s Environmental Technology (EVT) program.  In conjunction with this definition is the premise that, in order to be sustainable, one must balance the environmental, social, and economic domains.  This is most often thought of in terms of government implementation, and is represented by the simple Venn diagram:It does not take a genius to see that fulfilling the demand of sustainability can be a tall order in any political climate.  With her campaign for food security, food democracy, and sustainability, Dr Shiva is making great strides.  She has already made great progress in India, and her voice is getting louder in the West.  I just hope that the reason the good doctor was unable to speak to us tonight was because of a visa SNAFU and not politically motivated.  One can never be too sure these days.

Vandana Shiva in Calgary

Doctor Vandana Shiva trained as a physicist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, but has since become a world renowned philosopher, food activist, author, and eco-feminist, and is considered one of the world’s leading environmental thinkers.  She has established Navdanya International, with a mission focussing on “improving the well being of small and marginalized rural producers through non violent biodiverse organic farming and fair trade.”(1)

Dr Shiva is the recipient of the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize for her commitment to social justice and, among other achievements, her scientific analysis of environmental sustainability.  She will now be awarded the 2011 Calgary Peace Prize from the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary.  The award ceremony takes place on Thursday March 10 at 17:30 at the Calgary Golf and Country Club.  Tickets are $175/ea and can be purchased here.

For those who cannot afford to go to the ceremony, Dr Vandana Shiva will be speaking in Calgary on Wednesday March 9 at 19:00 at the University of Calgary.  She will speak about democracy, the empowerment of women, development, social justice, and the environment.  Check out this site for information and tickets ($15 at the door; $12 in advance).  Hope to see you there!


Gardening Season Approaches

I am excited.  Classes are nearly finished, and gardening season is fast approaching.  The only thing that would make it better would be having a job lined up for when I graduate.

Anyway, there are some events coming up for those into gardening, both of which I will  be writing about here as they happen.

  • All About Seeds
    Friday February 25, 2011
    19:00 @ the Unitarian Church of Calgary
  • Seedy Saturday
    Saturday March 19, 2011
    10:00-15:00 @ Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Centre
  • Garden Show
    Saturday April 9, 2011 – Sunday April 10, 2011
    Spruce Meadows

So why am I excited about gardening season?  Well, for one thing, gardening is fun and interesting.  But I am also very excited  because, for the first time ever, I am planning  to try growing some grain crops.  Between the All About Seeds evening and Seedy Saturday, as well as the resources available on the intertubes, I feel confident that I will be able to learn enough of the basics to be able to grow and collect enough grain to plant next year, and hopefully also make a small amount of flour.  I’m planning at the very least to plant some wheat, but would also like to plant some quinoa and perhaps barley.  Couple all that with growing smaller items such as carrots, garlic, onions, and asparagus, as well as starting a rain barrel and continuing with worm composting, and it should be a fun and exciting season!  I do plan keep you all posted on here as things progress and as I learn more, so stay tuned.

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.)

Driving Adventures

Winter driving can be interesting.  Driving home (to Calgary) from Edmonton this afternoon, the roads seem alright.  There are a few crashes here and there, but for the most part it’s pretty good.  Over a short 4-km stretch near the Edmonton International Airport, though, we saw a total of 4 crashes.  Several kilometres further we saw two more wipeouts in the median.  Cellphone cameras are great for documenting things like this!

A crash near Edmonton International Airport

This is the first crash we saw on the way home from Edmonton, near Leduc and the Edmonton International Airport

Another highway crash

Another of the crashes we saw along the highway on the way home from Edmonton.