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EcoReality Co-op Newsletter

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It's been an educational month at EcoReality.

PSSST! It's the experience!

After a swim in the reservoir, SFU students hang out their clothing and towels to dry.
What does it take to learn? Does it take more than a book? Does it take more than a teacher? Does it take more than experience?

It's sometimes said, "Experience is what keeps you from making mistakes, and mistakes are how you get experience."

I sometimes say, "There's got to be a better way!" At the rate at which I make mistakes, I must be getting very experienced!

For example, when 19 students from Simon Fraser University arrived at the Fulford Harbour ferry on the morning of June 12th, Morris and I thought we had it all figured out. We'd go gather them up, assemble out-of-the-way to avoid blocking other foot traffic, quickly count-off so we could estimate number of trips, then move them off to a more comfortable area while we took them to EcoReality in two of our biodiesel-powered vehicles.

In an earlier work party, Sunshine didn't need reverse to get out of the parking lot.
The only problem was that Morris hadn't really driven our cantankerous 1982 Volkswagan Vanagon. "Sunshine," as we call her, doesn't have an automatic transmission, it has an enigmatic transmission. After Morris had parked her, other cars had boxed her in with just a tiny space fore and aft for maneuvering. I left with my four passengers in our Jetta and got to EcoReality, and waited, and waited, and waited... "Hmmm, I hope he and his precious cargo aren't in some ditch somewhere," I thought, as I tried to make the first carload of students comfortable.

Finally, Morris arrived, and later explained that finding "reverse" on Sunshine was indeed a learning experience, so it was a good thing he was able to get lots of practice, as he inched back and forth between tightly-parked cars, slowly freeing Sunshine from her parking spot. This could have been embarrassing, but Morris decided it was what it was, and his load of students picked up on his aplomb and It Was All Good.

There's something to learn from students — they are open to learning! It's when you think you are supposed to know it all that you are most at risk for embarrassment for not knowing something. So I learned that when you've asked someone to drive a strange vehicle for the first time, stick around in case they need some moral support!

Beyond books, teachers, and experience, learning seems to take attitude — or perhaps lack of attitude — an essential openness that says, "I'm here without preconceived notions, ready to gain experience."

Nut trees need roots

Welcome, Morris Lamrock!

Not having to find reverse, Morris and Jessie help a baby tomato plant grow.
We're delighted to have Morris join us here on the land, after nearly a year's involvement at a distance.

Morris and Susie Anne first contacted us in June 2008, when Susie Anne typed "ecovillage gulf islands" into Google, and found EcoReality. Susie Anne and Jessie then came down for a quick visit. During that visit, Morris asked this (in part) of Susie Anne via email:

Morris and others gather for the ceremonial planting of a walnut tree, underneath which Sienna's placenta lies.
  • what is it like to stand beside the two all season streams
  • are there frogs singing
  • are people kind to one another
  • are there wild flowers to smell
  • what do you feel when you stand in the middle of the land
  • can Jessie imagine living and thriving there
  • do people there like ice cream
  • does the land want us there
  • can you lie in the grass and just imagine
  • have you seen any worms
  • does the water taste sweet
  • are there plenty pf places for wild creatures
  • is there a sense of idealism coupled well with the ability to make dreams come true
  • are their tools clean
  • does anybody sing when they work - dance when they play
  • can you walk barefoot around the houses
  • do the “weeds” grow tall and strong (indicating healthy soil)
  • what do folks there want to know about us
  • what do we need to do to join
Jessie and Susie Anne, May 2008.
They next arranged for a visit that August, together with Morris, after which Susie Anne and Jessie came for an extended stay. Then there was an RV-load of stuff from the Yukon arriving in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of the night, Morris leaving to complete work obligations and sell their house, a re-uniting in March, and Morris returning to wrap up work and house sale issues.

Throughout this year, there were times of doubt and times of fear. Through most of it, both Susie Anne and Morris kept a "can do" attitude, ready and willing to do what needed to be done. This included one of the most stressful periods for EcoReality, when difficulties over rights and responsibilities of members nearly tore us in two. At that time, Jessie told her mom, "This is my farm, and I want to live here."

I really appreciate the wonderful combination and balance of skills and attitudes they bring to EcoReality — Susie Anne, jumping into the deep end with her whole heart and gasping for air, and Morris, quietly, patiently making deliberate, careful decisions.

When Morris arrived with a walnut tree to plant, it finally became real to me. Welcome home, Morris, Susie Anne, and Jessie!

Welcome, Dennis Lucarelli!

Dennis, leading his "flock" during our 2009 spring retreat.
Our newest resident, Dennis Lucarelli, hasn't been here long enough to get in the way of the camera very often. But that's sure to change, as he ploughs into things to do around here, volunteering to take off and run with the strategic planning team, assembling and organizing things for WWOOFers and volunteers to do, getting dirty in the garden, learning to milk goats, giving sage advice on personality clashes, and being an all-round great person to have around.

He first visited just before our 2009 spring retreat, and after a couple days with us, he asked if he could stay for the retreat. Being with us during such an intense period of emotional processing was not daunting to Dennis, and he quickly demonstrated his abilities in facilitation and group dynamics.

Dennis comes as a corporate trainer in project management, and so our biggest challenge will be to keep from burning him out with all the projects we have to manage! He seeks a different way of living, having been in cities most of his life that he now has come to think of as largely unsustainable.

I took Veggie Van Gogh over to Vancouver to help Dennis move out of his condo with the wonderful 14th-floor sunset view of English Bay, and quickly became impressed with Dennis's attention to relationships. Everyone we met in the building knew and greeted him. I'm astonished and delighted at the boldness and courage it takes to pull up such roots and transplant them to Salt Spring Island.

SFU sustainable food education

Shannon takes students from Simon Fraser University on a tour of EcoReality.

After Morris mastered reverse on Sunshine, the SFU students and their instructor, Siobhan Ashe, joined us in an introduction circle, where everyone got an opportunity to tell a bit about themselves, their interest in this field trip, and a few words about anything specific they wanted to get out of it.

Popular learning desires included Permaculture, community life, and the FOG (Finance, Ownership, and Governance) model of EcoReality. The students had a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, with many being "returning learners" with families and other responsibilities.

Shannon, Morris, and I then took the students out on a tour of the property, stopping at different points to talk about the soils, hydrology, and botanical features of the site.

After lunch, the real fun began, with "hands on" learning sessions in weeding garlic, mixing soil, transplanting, watering new trees, making hay, and community activities, such as child care and meal preparations.

Simon Fraser University students learn about plans for sustainable living at EcoReality.

In late afternoon, we all gathered and Susie Anne took us on an "appreciation tour" of all the work that had been accomplished. Some of the students then had to leave due to family commitments, but those who stayed enjoyed a "goat walk" and a dip in the reservoir, as well as a home-cooked dinner.

After dinner, Morris and I led a guided discovery session on Permaculture principles. We used a set of flash cards, and as a group, worked to match a Permaculture principle with an iconic logo, popular saying, and an illustrative photograph. This was an interesting exercise in collaborative learning, as some people tended to hold onto cards, while others tended to move them about, trying different "fits" under different principles. Many of the students were goal-oriented, interested in getting the "right" answer, but some brought forth an interesting insight, that there was no "right" answer in many cases, but simply the answer that David Holmgren had intended when he designed the card deck.

Formal feedback from the students was touching; most of the "improvement opportunity" comments were "we want more!" They wanted more hands-on time, more personal contact with the folks here, more time for questions, more coverage of topics we simply didn't have time to cover extensively.

We learned a great deal from hosting this event, and we look forward to doing similar events in the future — watch this newsletter for announcements, or send us your suggestions!

(And the next time, I won't leave the ferry parking lot until I'm sure the other vehicle is ready to go. The learning never stops!)

Jan Steinman, Communication Steward

Permaculture is a way...

... of arranging your life to be happy and abundant!

Shannon Cowan tells Simon Fraser University students about EcoReality's Permaculture plans during a farm tour.
So says Graham Bell who wrote The Permaculture Way (Chelsea Green: 1992, 2004). I resonate with this description of the tool that is known as Permaculture. This article is about teaching Permaculture, an exploration of the many facets and principles that are comprised in permaculture as a philosophical perspective as well as a practice.

As a teacher and student of yoga and meditation, agroecology and biology, community-building and ecovillage living, I would say that rather than being credentialed in Permaculture learning modalities, experiential life study is taking me there, in a slow path rather than a 14 day intensive training. Through this article, I will explore with you the way Permaculture has touched my life already and some of the metaphors and imperatives that present themselves to me when I consider teaching and learning about Permaculture to be a “way of arranging (one’s) life to be happy and abundant”.

Permaculture is a philosophy, a set of principles and guidelines, a viewpoint on appropriate human responsibility and action. Bell describes Permaculture as a practice, a “way of taking responsibility for [one’s] own needs... and those of future generations” and a means to “give structure… [an] invitation to accept one’s own role as a leader in the greening of the planet.” Permaculture roots itself in ethics of caring for the earth and its people. Achievement of the ethics occurs through embodiment and practice of a dozen principles. Part of the philosophy and practise of Permaculture also strongly suggests that principles be applied to fit existing opportunities and constraints, be they ecological, social or economic. Some of these principles stand out for me more than others, and I see parallels with Yogic principles and teachings.

It’s all in the practice: learning through experience and application of principles

Students from Simon Fraser University sign up for interesting Permaculture tasks at a hands-on session.
Permaculture principles have applications that range from the very simple and personal to the public or communal. For instance, one might measure personal water usage and design a closed-loop system of water harvest and recycling to meet the needs of a single human settlement or one might make a site analysis of the energy and matter flows on 10 hectares and design a no-input, dryland food production system for a settlement of 100 people. At either end of the scale, I see the teaching, learning, and practice of permaculture as a holistic art and a science similar to the art and science that is yoga (Sanskrit for “practicing discipline, to yoke” or “union”).

Students and teachers of Permaculture and yoga appear to me to be exploring similar principles in their quest for learning to “arrange life to be happy and abundant”. An example might be how one evokes the attitudinal or social principle: accepting responsibility for how one lives, and simplifying one’s life, including thoughts and emotions as well as actions and material possessions. Humans tend to complexify things. It seems to come from our “evolved” brains and all the capacity we have developed over geological time: animals with conscious awareness.

A Simon Fraser University student turns hay during a day of learning Permaculture at EcoReality.
The simplicity principle awakens in me the meaningful possibility that “less is more” and the concept that energy is actually “wasted” when the human mind and body is pushed and run ragged and destroyed by the practice of living, rather than regenerated and rejuvenated. Abundance and happiness are our birthrights, and yet how often do we experience ourselves speaking the words “I do not have time to… relax/meditate/breathe/eat/sleep/be loving/listen… etc.”? Could it be that abundance is the natural state and that a practice of simplification brings one present to the abundance that is already there, hiding underneath the mind’s creation of fear and scarcity?

Principles of simplicity and observation and relationships have impacted me as a student of Yoga. For example: practicing meditation (single pointed, focused attention, practicing presence) trains the mind to have a single, rhythmic, pulsing thought rather than letting it flit from place to place at the speed of thousands of thoughts per minute. In Permaculture, the parallel principle I experience is practicing conscious observation and description of the natural world so to integrate human systems within it, rather than placing human economies (systems) as superior to the natural systems. Practising the "observation" principle joins with other principles to effect designed order, designed around maximizing water and energy efficiencies and biodiversity: guiding nutrients and matter through a sleek system (similar to the meditator's mind) - gathering in places where the water leaks out, the human food seeds scatter wastefully, and living feels fragmented.

Permaculture Flower.gif
In a meditator's inner dialogue, as in a Permaculture homesite, energy (whether thought energy, physical neurochemistry or sun energy) is ongoingly keenly witnessed, harnessed and nurtured, along with the water elements; with excess distributed to side systems (social relationships) that support the central garden. Capturing the peaceful product of the meditation or Permaculture garden is the practice of culmination through mindful choice of thoughts and sensory experiences. For example, a feast for the belly in a Permaculture system is the 0 mile diet, and the conscious acceptance of this daily disciplined choice at the level of personal desire and self-responsibility. A feast for the mind following Yogic practice is the devotional discipline of "no ego" and "non-attachment" - utilizing a myriad of tools and techniques to embody this principle.

Appreciation of these patterns is also common to both yoga and Permaculture – bringing the awareness and union/wholeness of the system alive through communication and appreciation in relationships and social outcomes, as well as the physical benefits of practicing this perspective.

As EcoReality members breathe, live, move to advance forward as a group towards achievement of a shared Permaculture life vision, the Permaculture and Yogic philosophies invite each individual member to observe the attitudinal relationships within the system, to offer feedback loops and monitor changes. We are called by these philosophies and teachings to be taking responsibility for creating abundance and happiness – not expecting them to be rewards at the end of a series of hoops through which we catapault ourselves, nor asking them of our fellow Ecorealitarians. Rather, Yoga and Permaculture invite us to awaken to the possibility that abundance and happiness are possible, and in fact already exist, through the workings of natural ecosystems AND simultaneously through conscious thoughts and actions of individual mind-body-spirits. Following these principles, each may tap into the energy and awareness to first listen/observe, then to design, influence, guide and tend to our natural resources so that we may co-exist harmoniously with our environment and leave a legacy of rejuvenation, joy and abundance.

Shannon Cowan, Ecology Steward

Let's make like jelly, and jam!

I love June for the luscious colours that it brings about in the garden. Eye-popping peonies in soft pinks and hot magentas fill the air with their sweet perfume and ripe, juicy strawberries glisten in the hot summer sun. After a trip to the farmers' market this weekend, I came home with four pints of the most delicious organic strawberries I've ever tasted (do I say that every June?) and an arm full of cotton candy pink peonies.

I decided to try to preserve some of this fleeting summer fruit by making jam, for the first time ever! Of course, on my first try, I couldn't stick with a traditional, tried and true recipe. I have an aversion to cooking with refined sugar, I don't add it to my baking and so I refuse to add it to my jam too. Although, present me with someone else's jam or baking and I have no problem with their liberal sugaring. Call it a don't ask, don't tell policy. I also wanted to make a vegetarian jam, so using gelatin was out.

After much searching I came across the recipe below and decided to give it a try. I must say, I was nervous. Would four pints of the world's most succulent strawberries transform into a goopy, gelatinous mess? I fortified myself and forged ahead. And, I must say, with great success! This jam turned out fantastic. I followed the recipe below, only I made only a third of the quantity called for. I have a somewhat willy nilly approach in the kitchen, so no measurements were exact (not at all) and it still turned out scrumptious! What I really loved about this jam is that you can really still taste the freshness of the fruit.

Strawberry jam & peonies

9 c. strawberries

3 tsp. lemon juice

2 1/2 sticks (3/4 oz.) agar-agar

3 c. honey

2 c. strawberry juice

1 c. water

Stem berries and cut in half. Extract 2 cups juice by mashing berries. Combine juice with water and soak the agar-agar for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add berries and bring to boil. Add honey and lemon juice and stir well. Bring to boil and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Skim off foam; then spoon into sterile jars and seal. Process in boiling water for 15 minutes. Note: 8 baskets of berries equal 9 cups. Yield: 8 half pints.

Osha Roller

Recent sightings

Here is a reviewed list of Internet resources and articles of particular significance to EcoReality and our values, vision, mission, and purpose.

Have you come across a link that you think might be of interest to readers of this newsletter? Send it to the editor, together with a few words about why it is important and how it relates to EcoReality, and we'll try to include it in the next newsletter.

More categorized and reviewed links are available via our reviewed links page.

Permaculture Principles 
David Holmgren, who together with Bill Mollison developed Permaculture as a set of ethics, principles, tactics and strategies leading towards permanent agriculture and permanent human culture, explores the basic ethics and principles of Permaculture on this site, which also includes a free-download PDF booklet.
Permaculture Forums 
Paul Wheaton's site is devoted to discussion about Permaculture in a bulletin-board format. This site includes many topics specific to Cascadia, but also covers Permaculture topics around the world.
Permaculture Activist Magazine 
The website to go with the paper magazine includes lots of articles by Permaculture experts and many other Permaculture resources.

Jan Steinman

Recent happenings

Past calendar.jpg
Here are some highlights of recent meetings and events. Click any entry for details.
Residents' Meeting 
speed on farm roads, tree removal, water testing, renter request, more.
Group Process Session 
agreement making process, more.
Pau Manly Screening 
Paul Manly screens his film, You, Me, and the SPP with discussion afterward.
Members' Meeting 
communication model, provisional member changes, Salt Spring Eco-living Tour, debt retirement planning, Simon Fraser University event at EcoReality, more.
Residents' Meeting 
home energy use grant, biodiesel, SFU event planning, farm profit centre discussion, review United Church event, more.
Members' Teleconference 
report on provisional membership at other communities, more.
Residents' Meeting 
Eco-living tour, stuffing stuff, SFU event planning, water pressure problems, trailer parking, more.
SFU Sustainable Food Education Event 
approximately 20 SFU students visit EcoReality to learn about Permaculture, intentional community, and sustainable living.
Residents' Meeting 
Permaculture class request, Eco-living tour, garlic, stuff, trailer, woodshed, more.
Special Residents' Meeting 
debriefing on SFU event, more.
Members' Teleconference 
strategic metaplan, provisional membership in other communities, rule change on directors, communication model, more.

Upcoming events

Busy calendar.jpg
Here are some highlights. For details, please go to the meetings page on our website. All activities are at EcoReality, 2152 Fulford-Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island (directions), unless otherwise noted.

Regular events

every Saturday
5PM farm tour: please bring footwear appropriate for soggy fields!
every Saturday
6PM potluck: Please let us know you're coming, so we have enough seating.
every Saturday
7:30PM movie or program: Call or check meetings to see what's playing. If nothing is planned, bring your favourite movie! (No gratuitous violence, please.)
every Sunday 
7PM: Residents' meeting, business and work around the farm. Please ask to attend; no drop-ins, please!
two Fridays before the last Sunday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!
Friday before the last Sunday of each month 
9:30 AM through 4:30 PM: Work party! Lunch provided if you work all day. Please plan to arrive at either 9:30 or 1PM, as we can't stop in the middle of something to orient late-comers. Drop-ins at 9:30 or 1:00 are welcome! Please let us know in advance if you'll be having lunch, so we have enough food.
New.gif last Sunday of the month
members' meeting and other monthly group activities. (Was last Saturday in the past.)
Friday after the last Sunday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!

Specific events

Friday, 26 June 
Monthly work party: nothing specific planned this month, but there's always stuff to do!
Saturday, 27 June
Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler presents on the state of the planet, and where we go from here.
Sunday, 28 June
Monthly members meeting: , more.
Sunday, 16 August (tentative)
Salt Spring Eco-living tour, a self-guided tour of houses and sites with prominent ecological features.
Thursday, 1 October
Starhawk! Watch for more information!

Rex Weyler.Starhawk photo by Bert Meijer.


a chilling talk by author and activist Rex Weyler
June 27th, 2009 at 7:30 PM
Rex Weyler.
Growing up in Wyoming, Rex had his first encounter with ecological limits when he and his buddies found a good fishing hole and in the span of a summer managed to empty out the entire fish stock. The idea that there could be an end to abundance had never occurred to young Rex, but somehow this concept stuck with him.

Later in life he remembers experiments with the Drosophila melanogastor fly in high school biology. His teacher had the class place a tomato in a jar with a cheesecloth top and a few flies and they charted the growth pattern of the flies. A steady growth in the number of flies, which at first appeared linear, quickly revealed an exponential growth rate. After a week of study the class went away for the weekend expecting to be able to project how many flies would remain on Monday. Upon return to the classroom the class found that the entire population of flies had crashed. This time Rex was confronted with the biological concept of carrying capacity and overshoot.

Rex Weyler aboard the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior.
From his early days stopping whaling ships with Greenpeace to his short stint working for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, Rex takes us on a journey into his personal discovery of limits to growth, overshoot, carrying capacity and crash. He then weaves these experiences into a story about our own predicament as a relatively young yet voraciously consumptive biological species on a planet beginning to show the strains of overuse.

“There aren’t anymore continents to find like the early European settlers found when they settled the New World,” Rex says about our prospects for continuous economic growth on a finite planet. “All the mining ores have been high graded and what’s left is the smaller seams and low grades ores. China just recently outbid an American company for a copper mine in Afghanistan by offering almost twice what the market price would suggest the mine reserves would bear.”

Rex Weyler chases down bulldozers in the Amazon rainforest.
Rex then takes us on his own journey to the Amazon where there are “Panzer divisions of tractors taking down the forest to make way for cattle farms and soybean plantations.” He shows the beautiful flora and fauna of the Amazon basin juxtaposed with satellite images of the deforested areas. Here he meets with the elders of a tribe fighting with developers and through direct action they are able to get a meeting with the Minister of the Environment to secure a large amount of land for the indigenous peoples of the area.

Finally, Rex talks about what we can do in our own lives to reduce our footprint and to carry this message to others. While the subject matter is heavy and at times difficult to hear because of the direness of our human condition, he leaves a long time at the end for a question and answer period to help digest the intense message. The discussion inevitably turns to opportunities of hope, a call to action and movements worldwide like the Ecoreality Co-op striving to build a better world while “walking the walk.”

The author is available to sign books and will have some on hand to sell.

Justin Roller, Guest Speaker Steward

Thank you for supporting EcoReality with your interest, ideas, and good thoughts!

Want to write for this newsletter? Or want to see something written about? Contact the Communication Steward with your story ideas!

EcoReality Coop (directions)
2152 Fulford-Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Z7, Canada
+1 250.653.2024
Info AT EcoReality DOT org

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