Getting down and dirty with your neighbours

 

The Echo Valley Emergency POD has decided to weather some of life’s storms by growing together. For some of us growing food has been a lifelong story; for some it is an inspiring new chapter. This spring, seventeen neighbours spanning four generations, from 4 to 84, met to get mucky every week -in a physical distancing sort of way.* Through trial and error and a lot of laughter, good work and good conversation, we have developed 5 Food Security Gardens over 3 properties consisting of:

90′ of pole beans
100 winter squash
Thousands of carrots
70 kg of seed potatoes which will yield 4-5 times that
20 pickling cuke plants
70 paste tomato and ten pepper plants

We opened the land we steward to one another. We ordered seeds, prepared the beds, set up watering systems, moved Ruckle Farm manure and mulching hay (generously donated by Mike and Margery Lane); we fixed fences and gates where we tied gratitude flags to keep the deer out and remind us about the extraordinary privilege of this social experiment while living on this magical island of Salt Spring.

For two hours each Sunday we gather in circles, acknowledge we are settlers on the unceded lands of the local Indigenous peoples; we remind ourselves to remind ourselves about maintaining our 6’ COVID bubbles. We then take a few minutes to ground into the spirit and intention of the morning’s two hours of shared labour. Each week something unplanned happens. We might spontaneously find ourselves honouring our neighbourhood elders, lean on our shovels smiling as we watch children pull their first carrot from the garden; we applaud each other’s success and hold our hearts when one of us has suffered. All the while, we plant and weed while the dogs chew up the grass and move stones in our way.

As a neighbourhood we’re growing the roots of our relationships. From the moments we started to organize as an Emergency POD  our shoulders dropped a little of the worry carried by living in these strange days. For these brief hours of gardening, our minds are blessedly more concerned about whether the squash will mature by the fall.

We’ve now planted a winter garden full of all the brassicas (Brussels, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, sprouting broccoli) and in the greenhouse 4 x 30’ rows of chard and 2 rows of salad greens to come. Garlic will be next. We’ve fallen in love with gardening together!

Background

Crisis awakened our natural instincts. Three years ago a fire broke out in the woods just off Beaver Point and Dimitri Rds. We got scared. If the previous day’s wind had been as strong that night we would not have homes and gardens to share today. Within 24 hours of the fire the majority of our neighbourhood POD showed up to take action.

We leaned into our innate gifts and skills of organizing, facilitating, researching and supporting one another. Three times a year, pre-COVID, we hosted PODlucks where we ate delicious meals prior to reviewing our emergency preparation lists. We joke about what is and isn’t in our Grab’n Go bags and remind ourselves to cycle three days of canned food in and out of them each Fall and Spring. We’ve even practiced an emergency evacuation, celebrating our gumption by raising a glass to ourselves and the island-wide POD organizers.

The Emergency POD system was set up to respond to Earthquakes and has now evolved into Forest Fire and other disaster-preparation. COVID and the real concern over transportation chain disruptions have compelled us to take our own Emergency Pod System to the next level: we are now co-creating a neighbourly interactive food-growing-culture. While we have yet to figure out how to make our own toilet paper a few of us are dreaming into how much Mullein we can grow. That said, for some of us medicinal plant security is up next on the planning agenda.

And Finally…..

We know many PODs have yet to organize. We’d like to help in anyway we can. We  know that this project has to be more than just working towards our own food, physical and emotional safety and well-being. This project in part is how we’ve chosen to leverage our skills and resources towards not only collectively nourishing ourselves but to invite and hopefully inspire other neighbourhoods to imagine what kind of kitchen table wisdom you might brew up in the stewardship of your neighbourhood. We recognize that what we are doing is only effective if other island and regional wide PODs come together as grass-root initiative to organize. We also imagine that for some groups your projects may not be primarily about food. Your experiment may be about organizing around neighbourhood mental and physical health and safety, reimagining healthier more equitable economic processes, forest stewardship or any other aspect of emergency preparedness. We encourage all PODS to gather, in ways safe to you, to simply to ask the question: “What resources do we have and need to adapt through these extraordinary times?”

Please look over our website, initiated by our own weed-pulling photographer, Mr. Mole. Here you will find examples of our budget, our membership agreement and results from our initial survey. This has been the healthiest use of our time during these initial days of a Global Pandemic. We are grateful to be able to share it with you and your allies. Please do not hesitate to contact us through the website if we can assist you. We will also be posting online events, such as pickle and sauerkraut tutorials and other ways to further share our project and to facilitate ‘neighbourly discussions’, courtesy of a small Vancouver Foundation Neighbourhood grant.

May we all continue to grow in joy together!

Robert, on behalf of the Echo Valley Community Garden project

 

* Re-COVID precautions. All our planning and work has taken place outdoors. We have within our POD a spectrum of COVID practices and awareness. As such, we have chosen to be as diligent as possible to protect the most vulnerable among us. Back in April, even before Provincial Health Officer, the beloved Bonny Henry used the term, we came up with the word, “BUBBLE!” as a playful, non-shaming reminder to keep 6’ between us.

To be transparent we have failed at times (e.g. while moving a truck load of off-island manure in 12 minutes flat). With mutual compassion in mind, this has been more than some of us have been comfortable. So, we sat in a wide enough circle to discuss needs and concerns. This is our ongoing process of vigilance to continue to work on. One strategy needing further refinement is to weekly self-appoint a ‘bubble monitor’ in order to provide role-relief for those most concerned. Imperfectly, our neighbourhood is learning and relearning to grow and adapt together in many unique ways. We’re striving toward a healthy and comprehensive risk-benefit ratio.

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