If you’re continually using the garden hose, there’s a chance that you’re doing it wrong. Actively and continuously needing to water your garden is a sign that you may have overlooked some simple but powerful water harvesting techniques. Here are [Read more…]
I Review The Flow Hive
If you’re thinking about beekeeping for the first time, there’s a good chance that the Flow Hive has inspired you. But does it work? Is it worth the price? Does it make keeping bees easier? Here’s my take.
The Flow Hive Is Not A New Hive Design
The first thing to understand about the Flow Hive is that it’s not [Read more…]
Edmonton Magpie. The Bird We Love To Hate
I know of no other Edmonton resident more controversial than Pica hudsonia; often referred to as the black-billed magpie or an annoying jerk. While many of us resent its 4 am wake-up calls, others find the Edmonton magpie fascinating. It’s the bird that [Read more…]
Sustainable Me: Learning From Nature and Schools As Ecosystems
The following is an edited transcript from the Sustainable Me Podcast recorded in the summer of 2016. Over the course of twelve and a half minutes, we touch on permaculture, biophilic design, and an ecological approach to education. Sustainable Me is a web/video series and podcast that explores sustainability in the province of Alberta. For more on Sustainable Me, visit SustinableMeYEG.ca.
My name is Dustin Bajer and I work on a variety of sustainable, urban agriculture, and biophilic projects. I’ve been teaching at Jasper Place High School and am passionate about project-based sustainability programming. Since 2010, we’ve put in a couple food forests in at the school, built an aquaponic system, living walls, and have raised tilapia. It’s been a fantastic adventure; exploring all these topics with students and trying to grow food at the same time.
On Learning From Nature
Gardening was something that my parents were into. I hated it. It was work. You’d come home from school and have to weed the garden. When I wasn’t reluctantly gardening, I was running around the forest building forts. I think that was a formative time for me. I didn’t realize it at the time but in hindsight I was observing two parallel systems. The fist was a garden. It was a lot of work. You’re out there weeding, tilling and making sure that there aren’t any pests. Then you’ve got a forest (literally across the road). Nobody watered or tilled it. Nobody weeded it. The whole thing struck me as odd. Two systems both growing things. Why was one so much more work than the other? What is it about a conventional garden that makes it so much work and what is it about a forest that allows it to manage itself? Can we apply the lessons from nature into human-built systems? Whether a garden bed, an education system or a food system, what kinds of lessons can we draw from the natural world and apply to the built one? These early memories really shaped my thinking later on in life and I ultimately came to view sustainability as a design problem with nature as the perfect toolkit.
On Education And The Benefit Of Project-Based Learning
Right off the bat, the education system has to exclude a lot of interesting stuff. Things that could make a real difference in the life of a student who hasn’t found their thing yet. It’s not out of malice. There are only so many hours in the day so something has to give. It’s the unfortunate reality. Then we teach this narrow subset knowledge in a very linear way. Kids go to class, the bell rings, they move to the next class. It’s a very industrial model. It simplifies and compartmentalizing knowledge but fails to show how knowledge can bridge disciplines. Students can’t easily transfer knowledge and skills out of context. Setting up our discrete subjects is artificial. I wish we could depend more on projects. Project are inherently cross-curricular. If you’re building an aquaponic system you can say it’s a biology but we can also talk about food security, animal husbandry, and plant science. We can create a users manual so now we’re developing communications skills and design. Projects inevitably touch on a variety of outcomes.
Schools As Ecosystems
A forest is stable because of its connections and relationships. It’s a mess but it’s very resilient mess. You can cut connections in the forest but the forest stays intact. Forests, like brains, are networks. If a forest taught a lesson it would consciously link each skill to as many other concepts and disciplines as possible. It’s this network, this jumble of information that makes concepts stick. If you learn about and use the quadratic equation in math class and physics class and social studies the more relevant and useful it becomes. If you can tie meaning to it from multiple disciplines then that become a resilient idea in the mind of the learner. The only way that I really know how to tackle that is through projects. I want to garden like an eco-system. I want to teach like an eco-system.
On School Food Security
At Jasper Place High School, one in five students come to school hungry. Provincially it’s sometime like 1 in 7. And there’s a lot of different reasons for that; a lack of skills, finances, transportation, cultural capital, etc.
I’ve been the most interested in growing food with students (especially if we can grow food like an eco-system). Though, in 2015, we received funding from Breakfast For Learning (supported by Loblaws) to create and run a breakfast program. Each morning, students would convene in the kitchen, take raw ingredients, and make free breakfast for students. What’s great is that we’re also working on food literacy. Students are learning about safety and hygiene, food prep, and sanitization. They’ll be able to take those skills home with them.
On The Future (Of Everything)
I’m pretty optimistic about the future. I believe that we can work with the natural world in ways that benefit it and ourselves. There’s a dangerous cultural narrative that humans are bad and only making things worse. You hear kids talking about how the planet would be better off if people disappeared. It’s unfortunate to hear. People can do some pretty amazing things. Food in schools has been a really good context for me to explore our relationship to the natural world. Everybody eats. And if you can grow food in a way that benefits the natural world that’s pretty inspiring. In an ideal world, we’d flip the narrative and see ourselves as forces for/of nature. That future looks so much brighter to me.
I can’t help but think that an education system that embraced the natural world would inherently be modeled after aspects of it. If schools worked more like forests we could creates abundance. That’s sustainable and inherently more interesting to me.
End Edited Transcript
For more about the ideas above, I’ve included Sustinable Me – Epidode 5 – Econo-Me.
Why Would We Want To Bring Back Extinct Animals?
1. De-Extinction can increase biodiversity and re-create missing ecological niches. Lost plants and animals may have been important for the overall functioning of an ecosystem. By replacing them with surrogates (similar species) or the real thing (de-extinction) could help restore [Read more…]
Alberta Beekeeping Supplies, Designed For Bees
Modified Warre, 8 Frame Beehives Handcrafted, solid pine beehives built and sold in Edmonton. Specializing in cold-hardy hive designs and dimensions for the conscientious hobby beekeeper.
8-Frame, Medium Hives Supers (aka. Illinois Hives) 8 frame medium hive boxes are [Read more…]
The West Edmonton Mall Ice Palace Greenhouse. Because Who Among Us Hasn’t Though “Jeez, I Could Really Go For Some Locally Grown Mall Kale Right Now”?
We’ve all been there. Shopping for the holidays. Walking from one end of the Mall to the other. Feet aching and arms filled with…way too much stuff. Who among us hasn’t though “Geez, I could really go for some locally grown mall kale right about now”? Ladies and gentleman, may I present to you the West Edmonton Mall
Ice Palace Greenhouse. Marvel at the melons. Tour the turnips. Browse the brussel sprouts.
So your neighbours have a honeybees. Now what? Should you be worried? Will you get stung? Can expect more fruit on my trees? FAQs about the hive next door:
Are honeybees legal in the city?
Yes, honeybees are legal in Edmonton, though, they do need to be registered with the City and the Province. Here’s a link to the City of Edmonton’s Urban Beekeeping guidelines. Not from Edmonton? Try googling your city or town. [Read more…]
Span The Gap Between Urban and Ecological Design with Bat Bridges
Biophilic Cities Love and Integrate Natural System Into Their Design
When ecologist Edward O Wilson coined the terms biodiversity and biophilia, he opened our eyes to new ways of viewing the world. Now, architects, designers, and academics such as Richard Register, Tim Beatley, and Geoffrey West are using lessons from ecology and network theory to design tomorrow’s resilient urban environment; biophilic cities.
What is a Biophilic City?
A biophilic city then embraces and incorporates natural systems into its design. They integrate the built and natural worlds in beneficial ways. The result? Biophilic cities are more attractive and less prone to floods, droughts, resource shortages, waste, and boredom. Biophilic cities have the potential to save money, resources, and spark the imagination.
Cities Are Natural – And Good For The Environment
We tend to view our built and natural environments as opposing forces. But I would argue that this perceived incompatibility has more to do with poor design than universal law. As it turns out, urban environments already play host to countless organisms. Let’s go a step further and argue that cities are natural. Far from being static, nature is the process of moving from few to many connections. In this successional process, each stage of builds upon the previous stage and creates the conditions necessary for the next. In this way, ecological systems diverge, diversify, and expand over time. What starts off as fragile becomes complex and resilient. As it turns out, cities behave in a similar way. What starts off as a small settlement expands to include many of the needs and services necessary to support the community. At each stage, the future is built on the present. As new connections grow, the system expands, and new possibilities emerge.
Biophilic Cities are Resilient
Resiliency is a property of systems and a measure of how connected its pieces are. As natural and built systems expand, their potential for connections increases rapidly.
Biophilic Cities Are Ecotones
Ecologists describe the intersection of two ecological systems as an ecotone. Ecotones bring together the biodiversity of each plus a few others (think otters at the edge of a lake). As a result, ecotones are rich in ecological relationships. They are among the most biologically diverse places on the planet. By design, Biophilic Cities are ecotones that connect economy, society and nutrients (money, food, and waste) with ecosystem services. Ex. Waste water runoff or the heat island effect become ecological solutions.