About Dustin Bajer

Dustin Bajer, Edmonton, Alberta, Headshot,

Educator, Urban Farmer, Writer, and Eco-Inspired Cities Builder

Some of my earliest memories are of my Mom’s vegetable and flower gardens and my Dad building a pond and tending bees on the acreage. I also remember how much work it was and how I preferred playing in the forest and building forts with my brothers.

Dustin Bajer, Cities As Nature

In 2001, I moved to Edmonton, pursued a degree in Education, and moved to Mexico in 2006 to teach high school math. I remember walking among Mayan ruins in awe of the jungle’s reclamation of once-great stone cities. How much time and energy do we spend beating back nature? Might there be ways to work with rather than beat back the jungle? It seemed that nature would make a better partner than a foe. I thought of the gardens of my childhood and the forest I played in. Forests don’t need planting, watering, mowing or weeding. Abandoned gardens turn into a forest. Are the dandelions not trying to reclaim the lawn? The lawn wants to be more. What do cities want to be?

Returning to Edmonton, I saw unused spaces as opportunities for ecological partnerships. In 2007, I created the Edmonton Guerilla Gardeners, and we spent evenings and weekends casting seeds into back alleys, boulevards, unused planters, and vacant lots.

Edmonton Guerrilla Gardeners planting an apple tree
Edmonton Guerrilla Gardeners Planting an Apple Tree, 2008

As my work progressed and my thinking around integrating nature into cities matured, I noticed natural patterns throughout urban environments. Far from the opposite of nature, I’ve come to see cities as natural. Natural, but not without their problems: sprawl, inequality, crime, heat island, and pollution.

From an ecological perspective, problems are missing connections – unfulfilled niches. What can nature teach us about building better cities and communities? This is the question at the centre of my work.

Cities As Nature in the Media

Dustin Bajer, Ecological Education

I signed a teaching contract in 2010 at Jasper Place High School and built a courtyard food forest. Make of more than eighty species of edible perennial plants, the garden was designed to function like a forest and grew food for the school’s cafeteria. A year later, students and I designed, built, and operated Canada’s first school aquaponics system.

By 2014, I was teaching, supporting urban agriculture in Edmonton area schools, and running programming at the Edmonton Urban Farm. That summer, I partnered with the City of Edmonton’s Roots for Trees program to plant thousands of edible native plants in the river valley.

While teaching students about ecological design, I began seeing how ecology could be applied to the structure of lessons, the curriculum, and schools. Throughout this time, I formalized an ecological approach to education that emphasizes the connections between outcomes rather than rote memorization.

Ecological Education in the Media

Dustin Bajer, Urban Beekeeping

When I was young, my Dad kept a hobby hive on the acreage and in 2011, I began tending hives and designing ecologically inspired beehives in Edmonton. The Beecentric Hive is a Warré inspired hive designed to mimic the dimensions of a wild honeybee colony while using standard Langstroth frames.

Locally, I began catching honeybee swarms throughout the city and created the Edmonton Swarm Catching List and Report a Swarm Services.

By 2014, I was teaching beekeeping classes for the City of Edmonton. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I moved my courses onto an online community platform called BeeComm. BeeComm aims to provide education, resources, and community for small-scale and backyard beekeepers.

Dustin Bajer inspecting a beecentric beehive with niece and nephew Maggie Bruzzese and Gus Bruzzese
Dustin Bajer inspecting a Beecentric Hive with Gus and Maggie

Urban Beekeeping in the Media

Dustin Bajer, Urban Agriculture and Community-Supported Forestry

In 2015, I fell in love with three apricot trees that were guerilla-gardened in a boulevard in the sixties. That Fall, I collected a hundred pits and planted them in a four-square-foot bed on the side of my house. One hundred little trees sprouted the following spring, and the Forest City Plants Urban Nursery was born. As the nursery expanded, I began selling small trees to local gardeners. I have since grown thousands of trees in tiny urban spaces.

I realized that the communities with the greatest need are the least likely to afford them. If one guy can grow hundreds of trees in his backyard, imagine what a community of tree growers could accomplish. That’s why, in 2021, I started the Shrubscriber community.

Dustin Bajer giving a Forest City Plants, Shrubscriber tree nursery tour in the fall of 2020
Dustin Bajer giving a tour of the urban tree nursery, Fall 2020

Shrubscriber brings together gardeners, educators, schools, and organizations with community, workshops, seeds, and step-by-step instructions to propagate and distribute trees to school and community groups so that we can grow a food-secure, biodiverse, and climate-adapted Edmonton.

Imagine a city aligned with nature. Imagine old-growth trees in our backyards, parks, and boulevards. Ecology soaking up stormwater and growing food, creates a sense of place, mitigating the effects of climate change, and brings people together. We can grow that future together.

In 2023, an offshoot of Shrubscriber called Secret Long Tree Society started an initiative to grow 1000-year-old trees throughout Edmonton.

Shrubscriber/Urban Agriculture in the Media

Dustin Bajer, Cataloging Alberta Heritage Trees

I’ve always had an interest in large, uncommon, rare, and historically significant trees, and in 2019, I applied for and received funding from the Edmonton Heritage Council to catalogue Edmonton’s heritage trees. In 2023, I worked with students from NAIT’s Bachelor of Technology program to create the interactive map for the Alberta Tree Register. I also worked with a student, Josh Kirsch, to create an Alberta Grade One Tree Register.

Edmonton Heritage Trees, Silver Maple in Westmount
Hunting for and Cataloging Edmonton’s Heritage Trees

Heritage Trees in the Media

Dustin Bajer, Black and White Photograph taken at Edify top 40 under 40
Dustin Bajer, Edmonton, 2018

Awards