City to Country, Minimalism

The short-term garden: love it and leave it

In North America, and many other countries, the culture of capitalism steers our view towards personal benefit while blocking out the wider picture of how we fit into the wider community and world.  We evaluate what we invest our time, money, energy or other resources using a lens of personal gain.  It’s not that we never do anything selflessly for one another; however, we can often even in the kindest gesture identify a root of self-serving benefit.  Do we drop off that meal to a struggling friend simply to be helpful, or are we just a little bit feeding our ego when they are grateful for our efforts?  For several years I have been exploring my own web of currencies and how I come to decisions on where I invest myself.  Trying to consciously acknowledge when I am only looking at an investment for my own gain (and yes it IS okay to have a positive yield for yourself!) while avoiding doing something where the benefit might be greater for another- be that human, planet, animal or community.

And here is where my garden comes into the picture.  I have a “nice” garden.  It has well ordered plants, requires little maintenance, gets lots of water from rainfall, and is partially to full shade.  The downside is that I have limited growing space, there is a lot of shade, and the only yield is a few raspberries.

This is how I’ve viewed my garden for much of the past 12 years I’ve lived here.  Why put in more effort if I’m not going to succeed in getting what I want from it?  And then I started exploring permaculture and it has taught me the following: if I change my mindset about who the yields benefit it will also benefit me, just maybe not in the way I expect.  So if I put in the effort to heal and nurture my space the benefit will be that I am caring for the earth that supports my family, support pollinators that are the foundation of food production, create animal habitat, and the list continues.  Maybe the food/medicine/materials yield for myself will never be the level I dream of but that doesn’t need to be my only goal or reason for investing my time, money, and energy.

When I think about changing my garden space, I encounter a lot of “problems”.  “Problems” that make me throw up my hands and say, if I’m not going to get X, then I’ll do nothing at all!  Why the quotes?  Let’s look at the issues and I think the quotes will be more evident… Also let’s keep in mind the permaculture tenant of “the problem is the solution”.

I can’t grow more plants that produce yields (foods, medicines, materials) because it’s too shady.  Why put in the effort if I’m not going to get a lot of food out of it (there’s that thinking about ME part)?

Is this true?  My garden isn’t in pure darkness and even where it gets almost ZERO sun I can still grow hostas and ivy.  It’s actually mostly partial sun and the rest is a dappled sun/shade.  If I spent more time looking at a variety of plants that tolerate less than full sun I would likely have a huge list of options.
I’ve never even looked at medicinal plant choices!
I have also stubbornly refused to look at completely redesigning the layout in order to use more of the sunny areas.  If I moved my path (which could care less if it’s in total shade!) to the other side of the garden that would free up several square metres of food growing area.

My garden is too small and so it won’t produce enough for my efforts to be worth it.

Firstly, what is enough?  If I step back and consider enough beyond a material benefit I can see that a space that is used more effectively will actually yield a TON.  A lush green garden that grows limited food (material gain) would be a wonderful space to bring together friends on a summer night (social and community benefit).  It would be a beautiful space to meditate or be creative in (spiritual, intellectual and cultural capital).  It would repair and feed the earth and insects (living capital).  It would be a space for me to learn, and to teach others and share knowledge (experiential capital).  Is all of that enough?  Yes.
Ok, now to the physical size.  It is a long narrow lot that needs to have some area for my children to play; however, I’m not using all the possible growing space or being creative with that space.  There are vertical spaces not in use- fences and deck supports.  Because my original design was based on traditional gardens there is a lot of open “lawn” area that is just not used.  Even my garden beds are fairly underplanted.  And then you need only search online for small scale permaculture and you will readily see Small Is Only Limited by our Imagination!!

Then we come to my final “problem”, and this is the one that really speaks to my original point on a capitalist mindset.  I have been, and am still, seriously considering moving.  Overhauling a yard to a permaculture design set up is going to have significant costs associated.  Those can be monetary (if you buy all the resources needed), time (both creating and maintaining; or in the case of getting free resources it could be in researching and gathering those as well), or energy (are you doing the work alone?  Will you gather and organize volunteers?  Everything takes energy).  These 3 outputs are always in balance so if you save in one area it increases another area.

If I am going to move in a year or two, why would I deplete my own resources if I’m not going to get the long term benefit?

We are all temporary.  Even if I move tomorrow to the perfect home and parcel of land, it will be temporary.  What do I want to leave behind as my legacy to that land?  I want to leave it better than I found it.  And I can do that in one year or forty years.  Permaculture isn’t about me.  I am an element in the cycle but I am not at it’s core.
I would be leaving a new owner with something beautiful and productive.  I would be passing on knowledge.  I feel one of the most important responsibilities as a permaculture student is to share and educate.   This is knowledge that isn’t meant to be horded or hidden but to be disseminated so it can enact change.

In permaculture yields and investments need to be evaluated, not with tunnel vision, but with a kaleidoscopic view.  Permaculture is activism, which makes it bigger than each person who practices it.  It is a radical stance against the mainstream.  Every seed we propagate, person we share our knowledge with, or land we heal sends a ripple of change out into the universe.  When I put my hands in the earth of my tiny temporary garden this spring I invite you to join me in sending those ripples of change out using your own space no matter how small or shady or temporary.

blog, City to Country, Podcasts, The Chaos

The Granola 01: Entomophagy

blog, Minimalism

All or nothing: choosing to celebrate first steps

One of the reasons I love social media is because it can offer you the opportunity to be a part of like minded groups which can give you great advice when you want to trouble-shoot problems or achieve goals which you just don’t know how to approach.  An example are the zero waste groups that I’m on.  It is a lofty goal to attempt to be zero waste when you have children, have many demands on your time and budget, and are also pursuing many other endeavors at the same time but these groups can be motivational as well as throw out little tips that bring me closer to losing the garbage bin.

However, the flip side of social media is that it brings to the front the populations’ way of reacting to people motivating change and the reaction I see the most is an “all or nothing” attitude.  If it won’t affect total change, then it’s just not good enough.  Nobody sees any first step as just that, a FIRST step.  A step towards something bigger.

Plastic is bad: let’s really push to get rid of plastic straws!  Starbucks is on board which brings a lot of attention to the issue.
Reaction: straws aren’t good enough!  There are so many other single use plastics out there.  What about cup lids? What about….?
Outcome:  People get too bogged down in feeling like they fail no matter what they try that they just give up on trying at all.  So instead of straws being step one, lids step two, and bags as step three we all just flounder while fighting over what’s good enough.

Loblaws bread scam: Loblaws is giving out gift cards to amend for the mark-ups.  Let’s give them to food banks instead!
Reaction:  well actually food banks could get more if you just gave them cash.  Gift cards really limit them and they can’t buy as much.
Outcome: many people just didn’t bother giving the gift cards to food banks or cash either.  No gift cards and no cash means they lost out entirely.

Vegan, zero-waste, minimalist lifestyles:  People out there trying to do their best to live up to a personal standard that they hope to attain.
Reaction:  You’re not truly “fill in lifestyle choice here” if you eat/wear/use “fill in offending item here”.  Couldn’t possibly allow someone to feel empowered in their own choice, just had to knock them down a peg and show them just how superior you are, didn’t ya?
Outcome: we all feel we aren’t good enough or will never reach our goals.  We become non-starters because we expect failure even before we have begun.

What is truly sad is that any of us feel like we must meet goals at all.  I tell friends who keep trying to quit smoking to just quit every day until it works.  You smoked today, that’s fine, just quit again tomorrow.  It’s hard.  It’s okay that it didn’t stick this time.  Yet I started my zero waste journey and immediately felt like it was overwhelming and I was a complete failure at it because I couldn’t stop making garbage within a month.  Within a month?!  Why did I think that was possible?  Oh because of this.

One young woman is all over the internet as the holy grail of zero waste.  We are nothing alike in any way.  I’m also sure she didn’t flip to her mason jar garbage can in her first 4 weeks of reducing trash.  I’m certain that, just like me, she had a learning curve where she had to figure out how to live without certain waste producing products, or how to source alternative options, or how to raise children/work a full time job/race all over town buying from bulk stores…. oh wait, again, she isn’t me so scratch that last part.  That last part is my journey, not hers.  And that’s okay.  Just as it’s okay if I don’t manage to fit 4 years of garbage in a mason jar.  Right now my family doesn’t usually even fill a garbage bag over the course of a month.  I’m proud of that.

The process does not end here and I do hope to keep reducing; however, I can’t let my motivation be sapped by those who have no room for first steps.  We have to celebrate first steps as much as we do the final giant leaps.



blog, Separation

You should keep your shoulds to yourself

You should tell him to pick up his stuff.
You should make him take the kids since he promised he would.
You two need to sit down and talk.
You need to make him pay more.

I thought the list of what others thought I “should” or “needed” to be doing was long and irritating after I had kids, but it quadruples once you separate.
Suddenly the end of your relationship becomes the opening everyone was waiting for to tell you how to parent and deal with your ex-partner. Advice can help you see the other side of a situation in which your embroiled, but advice isn’t a “should”. It’s something you offer with compassion.

From the moment I put separation on the table my first thought in every decision has been, how do I put my kids first, and then secondly, how do I keep the peace with my co-parent. I can’t think of him as my ex because this person is going to continue to be my co-parent forever. I have to focus on us as being a team, even if it’s a dysfunctional and barely communicating team.

And it is because of that focus that I find people’s forceful directives so offensive. I am doing everything I am capable of already and when the throw out these heavy handed comments like this recent one
“This is ridiculous, you two need to just sit down and talk face to face”
I am genuinely hurt.

I’d love to be at the point where we are able to talk with ease to one another. Where we both have stable homes and our belongings disentangled. And we more equally share the various burdens. But that’s not where we are at…. more so where he is at. I cannot push my agenda forward without my co-parent participating and so all those Shoulds just have to wait till we are on the same page.

This is our family to disentangle and reassemble anew. It is our job to safeguard our kids from the hurt that can be caused by separation and our lives that are directly affected. So friends, family, and those that care, offer support not indictment.

Big Choices, blog, Separation

Which page are we on?

This is a post that I found in my Drafts section.  I often jot down post ideas there to come back to when I have more information or a better plan on how I want a post to come together.  This one was particularly interesting because of it’s timing.  I’ll elaborate on this at the end, but for now he’s what I wrote:

“What do you do when you’re not on the same page as your partner?  Or, what seems like, you’re not even on the same book?

I’m definitely there.  We are definitely there.

It’s been several months now since my partner sat me down in front of a beautiful roaring fire on the day of our 14th anniversary to tell me that our relationship wasn’t working at all.  I stared at him dumbfounded.

Things were not the same, sure.  Having kids had put a strain on us, yes.  But things were actually improving lately as our youngest was almost 2 and we were emerging from the baby fog.  Or so I thought.

Well he didn’t agree.  And there you have it.  We’re not on the same page and I don’t think we even know what language each other’s page is written in.  He keep revisiting this topic of “everything is the worst” and I keep trying to convince him that “we’re on par with other couples who are at this point in their family and life is getting back to a new normal”.  And neither one of us believes the other.

I suggest we spend time together, go on some dates to reconnect.  He responds with, it’s too late for dates.  After, what I perceive as a pretty good few days, he turns to me angrily and spits out “I think we should go to counselling”, and I say “Yes”.  Nothing happens and we continue to keep living in, what seems like, alternate universes.”

That’s where my draft ends.   It ends there and is saved on a Friday.  I go away with my sister for the weekend with the kids, and when I come back on the Tuesday I ask my partner to leave.