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“They have names, faces, dreams” Mexican students strike in support of the missing Iguali students

October 22, 2014

They have names, faces, dreams“. So reads one of the banners at the University of Guanajuato.

Today, as has been my routine for almost a month, I arrive at the University of Guanajauto, books in hand, ready for my classes in Spanish. But today, two students huddled at the doorway in the dark and cold inform me that the University is in “paro”. A student strike in support of the students missing in Iguala, in the State of Guerrero, will last 48 hours.

Today, my lessons take me to the street.

The next University entrance is blocked by a large placard bearing the photos of the missing, all so young. Candles flicker in votives in the dark. Further along the street is the main entrance to the impressive, neoclassical building that houses the main campus of the University. Here more students are gathered, signs are everywhere. As time goes on, onlookers gather, quiet, watchful. The students start to chant…. “Guerrero aguanta, Guanajauto levanta… [roughly translated: Guerrero is bearing the pain, Guanajauto take action]

The students are demanding freedom of expression without fear of reprisal. They are demanding justice for the missing and their families. They want the University of Guanajauto and other universities, to be leaders in the fight for freedom and human rights. They want an end to the fear and corruption in Mexico. They want an end to the cult of impunity that allows government leaders, police, and others in power to escape justice for their wrongdoing. They want basic human rights.

One placard reads: “These are not the only ones.”

Mexico has a repressive history when it comes to human rights.  The Iguala students were killed just days before the 45 year commemoration of a night known as the Tlatelolco Massacre, when the Mexican army surrounded the Plaza of Las Tres Culturas where students had gathered in peaceful protest. Tanks and a helicopter opened fire on them. Over 300 people were believed to be killed but the exact number was never known as the Mexican authorities hid the bodies. According to “Reporters without Borders“, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for reporters as in the last decade, more than 80 have been killed and 17 have disappeared. A 2011 UN Report deliniates numerous issues regarding freedom of expression, including the high concentration of ownership of the press in the hands of a few. A Telecom law passed this July allows Mexican authorities to, among other things, block access to internet sites that it does not consider appropriate.

First light

First light

I ask some of the students if they think these protests will result in any change. While some of them say they are hopeful, generally they don’t believe that anything will change. They don’t believe the government is doing enough to save the students and sadly none of them believe the students are alive.

There is a sense of desperation with the conditions here. A submission even, because the problem is so great. Mexico is emerging as a potent economic power but its record of human rights is truly third world.

I attach some photos, as well as the words of some of the placards because they are very powerful. 

There are not enough gags to quiet us all, nor jails to lock us into, nor bullets to kill us. How many graves do you need to make us all disappear?

There are not enough gags to quiet us all, nor jails to lock us into, nor bullets to kill us. How many graves do you need to make us all disappear?

They have taken away so much that they have ended our fear

They have taken away so much that they have ended our fear



Building Homes from the Heart

June 6, 2013
Building Homes from the Heart Poster

Building Homes from the Heart Poster

Victoria Clements and her group of passionately caring “Divas of Barrio Blanco” are holding a fundraiser this Saturday, June 8th (at the Knights of Columbus Chambers directly underneath the Star of the Sea Hall, 15262 Pacific Ave, White Rock from 6:30pm -9pm). The purpose is to raise funds to build additional homes in the slums of the Barrio Blanco, Dominican Republic. Victoria advises that Gordon Hogg has volunteered his services as their LIVE auctioneer and Sue Hammel will also be attending.

Victoria personally experienced helping people who live in shanty shacks made of scraps of whatever they can find to put together walls and a roof and says in her email to me, “I would consider it a personal favour if you share the event on your blog and with your fabulous friends as well who understand the concept of “women helping women” and would consider participating in some way.” As this blog celebrates all the hard work of dedicated and passionate volunteers, I am happy to do so.

The event will be a Caribbean-themed “Dinner with the Divas of Barrio Blanco”. Dress is casual as though you were going to dinner somewhere tropical. That night, the “Divas”  (as Victoria says they are affectionately known) will share their passion and unique experiences as women and mothers when, for the first time, they all visited the Barrio Blanco slums of Cabarete, Dominican Republic earlier this year to meet the family they sponsored in their new home, “the Diva House”. The Divas will also share what each plans to do next, both for the family and the Barrio as a whole to support shelter, food, education and medical initiatives.

Here are links to recent news stories: “Divas” Aim to Build Homes in the Heart of Dominican Barrio,  Surrey Now by Tom Zillich and “Building Opportunities from the ground upPeace Arch News by Sarah Massah. You can also find more information about the event on the Divas of the Barrio Facebook Page.

Victoria states, “This event on June 8 epitomizes the beginning of a process of “women helping women”. This happens in Canada all the time in all kinds of ways that only women understand based upon personal life experiences. The Divas came away from the experience wanting to do more. This event on June 8 is the start of a process to achieve certain objectives that the Divas have both individually and collectively, because “the movement” has to start somewhere.”

She adds, “We have never been involved in a project like this before and it put a lot of things in perspective for us at a time in our lives when we needed just that.”

Thanks to Victoria for sharing the story with me. For more information about the June 8th event, to purchase tickets or to make a contribution, people can contact Victoria Clements at 604-722-2914 or by email at To buy tickets online or donate, people can go to Have a good time and do some good while you are at it!   

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More twists and turns than the recent BC election…

May 21, 2013
Ben Odberg as Gillette

Ben Odberg as Gillette

The Game’s Afoot has more macabre twists and turns than the recent BC election and won’t disappoint you no matter what the outcome.

Variously described as “Murderously Funny!” by Broadway World and “a wild and funny ride” by Cleveland Fine Arts Examiner, The Game’s Afoot won the 2012 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Awards as Best Play.

South Surrey’s Peninsula Productions presents the Canadian Premiere of The Game’s Afoot, written by noted American playwright Ken Ludwig. Ken Ludwig also wrote Lend Me a Tenor which played in Vancouver recently to enthusiastic theatre audiences.

Directed by Wendy Bollard, this hilariously funny play takes place on Christmas Eve, 1936, in the extravagantly-appointed Connecticut manor house of real-life Broadway star William Gillette. The play offers surprise and mystery at every turn, building on the best traditions of ‘whodunits’ by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and includes the rapier-like wit and repartee of an English drawing-room.

There are several characters brimming with thespian ego and drama, including the eccentric Gillette, a vituperous critic, an ingenue, a dotty mother, and a couple who have been married too long and know each other too well.

In real life, American actor William Gillette, who was good friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, gained his fame and fortune by first writing ‘Sherlock Holmes’ for the stage and then playing the lead role for the next 30 years before American and English audiences. It is from Gillette’s reprise of this character, that we gain our image of Holmes with the deerstalker hat and the meerschaum pipe.

In Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot, the re-imagined William Gillette, who lived as Sherlock Holmes on-stage, becomes his own ‘a la Sherlock Holmes’ detective, as he tries to solve his own near-murder. If you can solve this one, there may be a job waiting for you in Victoria.

The title draws on the lines from King Henry V Act III Scene 1:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

On this gleeful and scary ride through Holmesian farce, audiences will be shocked and horrified in one moment and doubled over with laughter the next.

Peninsula Productions presents The Game’s Afoot July 10-28 at the Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd, White Rock. Tickets ($18-23) are available at 604-536-7536 at the Playhouse Box Office, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. and online at

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2 Charities to benefit from old and renewed treasures

May 15, 2013
Maris and Antonella

Maris and Antonella

Maris MacDonald and Antonella Pivetta are two South Surrey entrepreneurial women who have linked their extensive backgrounds in marketing, publishing, advertising, sales and admin in a new business venture. And in the process they will raise money for the Alzheimer Society of BC and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, BC by donating all the admission fees from their Deja Vu Vintage Market. Both charities have thrown their support behind the Deja Vu Vintage Market in yet another example of how charities benefit from the generosity of businesses big and small.

The Deja Vu Market is a one-day extravaganza of vintage vendors, to be held on Saturday, July 6, 2013 at the beautiful Wellbrook Winery in Delta, BC, a 55-acre heritage farm which features a lovingly restored farmhouse, grainery, and barn. Some of the features of the farmhouse include century-old beams and floors as well as antique furnishings and fixtures and its owner won the Delta Heritage Award of Merit for the preservation of the Seymour Huff Residence & Barn. Among the site’s claims to fame is that Sarah Mclachlan’s video of the song “It’s Just an Ordinary Miracle” for the children’s film Charlotte’s Web was filmed in the acoustically acclaimed barn.

So what can you expect when you get to the market? Whatever it is, it will be rescued, refurbished, restyled, repurposed, recycled or otherwise re-engineered to be a new treasure for your home. “Shabby chic, salvage-style, gothic, heirloom, vintage, cottage and upcycled” are some of the terms used to describe the products which range from the smallest of items to pieces of refurbished furniture and, I am told, some very tasty baked goods. Fans of vintage markets will already know what to expect, the rest of you need to come for the experience. In this time of mass-market consumption and cookie-cutter home decor, Deja Vu gives value to unique items created by inventive and talented artisans.

The passion of the two business partners for vintage comes from their own artistic passion and the realization that there is a need for more places for vendors to sell these products. Maris specializes in re-working furniture pieces and Antonella uses an ancient Spanish technique called repujado to emboss metal, and from this creates tea boxes, cutlery boxes, frames and other items. Now however their time is devoted to the Deja Vu event, to make it a rousing success and to build toward future events in the Lower Mainland.

So, spend part of Saturday, July 6, 2013, 11am-5pm, checking out the wares at Deja Vu and take in the beautiful Wellbrook Winery at 4626 88th St., Delta, BC. By doing so you will be supporting our local entrepreneurs as well as

the  Alzheimer Society of BC and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, BC and you might just find a few things you can’t live without! Check out their Facebook page: Deja Vu Vintage Market and some of their uber-artistic vendors: Red Door Farm, And Then Again and ReStory. Hope to see you there!
Please come back to visit.

Canadian Government maintains the barricades against veterans

May 6, 2013
The following open letter from Equitas Disabled Soldiers Funding Society to The Hon. Steven Blaney, PC, MP – Minister of Veterans Affairs – lays out the ongoing roadblocks and mistreatment of our injured soldiers by the Canadian Government. It is printed in full and speaks for itself. Please read it.
An Open Letter to The Hon. Steven Blaney, PC, MP – Minister of Veterans Affairs
The Hon. Steven Blaney, PC, MP – Minister of Veterans Affairs, OTTAWA
Dear Minister Blaney:
Re:   Requesting Your Plan to Address Disproportionately Low Disability Settlements Made Under the New Veterans Charter
On behalf of the Equitas Disabled Soldiers Funding Society we respectfully request a copy of the Government’s plan to properly compensate the many Canadian Forces members (“members”) who have received disproportionately low disability awards under the New Veterans Charter (NVC). Some of these disability settlements are only 10% of what Canadian citizens would receive under other compensation programs for the same workplace injuries. Please see the publicly available examples of deficient awards that are provided herein.  At issue is whether your Department actually accepts responsibility for these low NVC settlements. Specifically, Equitas is concerned about the motivation behind recent taxpayer-funded advertising by your Government that appears to oversell the NVC by emphasizing the maximum benefits available to a defined category of disabled members, and does not fairly represent settlements provided to partially and moderately disabled members.
The Equitas Society (“Equitas”), based in White Rock, B.C., was formed in 2011 to provide  support for disabled members, specifically “new veterans” returned from the Afghan war who have been disenfranchised by the NVC settlement process. Their cases illustrate major problems with some contents of the NVC legislation passed by Parliament with All-Party agreement in 2005, as amended in 2011 by your Government.
Since 2011, like many veterans organizations, Equitas has approached your Department on behalf of disabled members who are seeking better NVC settlements for their injuries.  In response to our outreach with senior officials of your Department in early 2012, your staff requested that Equitas provide, in writing, specifics of NVC problems in relation to these low disability settlements. To accommodate this request, in April 2012 we submitted to your Department, as well as to every Member of Parliament and Senator, a copy of our 72-page position paper outlining the negative aspects of the disability benefits provided under the NVC as amended by Bill C-55, often referred to as the Enhanced NVC.
Upon receiving Equitas’ position paper, the Veterans Affairs critics from both the Official Opposition New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada, along with the former Veterans Ombudsman – Colonel (Ret.) Pat Stogran, immediately contacted us, expressing support for this position paper. Unfortunately, over the past 12 months no one from your Department, and not one MP or Senator from the Conservative Party, has shown the courtesy of even acknowledging receipt of our position paper.
By late 2012, it became apparent that your Government was satisfied with the NVC as amended by Bill C-55, and there was no plan to address the disproportionately low settlements at issue for many disabled members returning from the Afghan War. Therefore their only option was to seek a legal remedy. As a result, on October 31, 2012 an application was filed by the law firm Miller Thomson LLP – acting in a pro bono capacity for several soldiers disabled during the Afghan conflict – in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. This action seeks to certify a class action lawsuit, which would apply to all Canadian Forces members who obtained low disability settlements under the NVC, or other representative class as certified by the Court.
The six representative plaintiffs describe their disability benefits received under the NVC in the filed Notice of Civil Claim. Two examples of the inadequate benefits received by the representative plaintiffs include the instance of a single lump sum award of $13,500 for both crushed legs that were put back together with metal rods/pins and plates; and, another single lump-sum award of $41,500 to a member for a wartime injury that resulted in the removal of his kidney, the removal of his spleen and permanent damage to his pancreas.  A third representative plaintiff, who is a senior officer, was injured in battle and had both of his legs amputated above the knee. He was awarded the maximum lump sum payment, and the maximum monthly support benefits.
The first two above-mentioned members did not receive any earning loss benefits from VAC, and their one-time, lump-sum payments are disproportionately low compared with the previous Pension Act, or with what other Canadians typically would receive for similar work-related injuries, and given the same disabilities (e.g., comparable Court awards and workers’ compensation benefits). The member with the double amputations will receive monthly earning loss benefits. However, under the NVC the total monthly support for this member will be reduced at age 65, and his monthly benefits are subject to less favourable tax and claw-back treatment than what applied to Canadian Forces disability benefits prior to the NVC.  Also, many of his injuries were not addressed under the NVC because he reached the maximum compensation level that he was allowed to receive.
We remind you that in its report released on April 4, 2013, entitled Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Parliamentary Review (enclosed), the Veterans Ombudsman’s Office placed considerable emphasis on the negative aspects of benefits for Canada’s most severely disabled veterans under the NVC, and especially the issue of reduced benefits at age 65. In April, the NDP Veterans Affairs Shadow Spokesman, Peter Stoffer, MP supplied Equitas with a copy of his Party’s Fair Treatment for Canadian Forces and RCMP Veterans and their Families document. It sets out a policy that was approved at the National NDP Convention in Montreal early last month. The NDP policy provides guidance on how the NDP believes cases of disproportionately low disabled benefits under the NVC should be treated. We note that the Federal Green Party has standing policy to address the failings of the NVC. We also note that on April 29, 2013 the Canadian Labour Congress released a statement taking issue with the NVC and its low settlements for many disabled soldiers as compared to the compensation provided the average Canadian worker.
Given the unresolved concerns surrounding disproportionately low settlements to disabled members under the NVC, we find it disingenuous that Conservative MP Russ Hiebert saw fit, during April 2013, to distribute to the constituents of his South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding – where our national veterans group is headquartered – a “householder” labelled Supporting Veterans and their Familes (also enclosed). This document stated that under the NVC seriously disabled veterans receive $40,000 per year in minimum income support, plus $1,632 per month in allowances and up to $300,000 in transitional payments. It then quotes Peter Stoffer, MP (NDP Veterans Affairs Shadow Spokesman) as having stated, in 2009, that the NVC now is “right at the top” of veterans’ benefits among leading Western countries.
This householder created the false impression that virtually all disabled soldiers are obtaining all of the benefits Mr. Hiebert cited, as a matter of course. The benefits identified in the householder actually are well beyond the award which many injured members have received. The benefits portrayed by MP Hiebert actually are reserved only for Canada’s most severely disabled soldiers (e.g. double/triple amputees).  Although he would have been factually correct to state that some members do receive such benefits, the real question that Mr. Hiebert’s householder avoided is: “What is your Government planning to do for those disabled members who have received, and continue to receive, disproportionately low settlements under the NVC?” We also find it difficult to understand why MP Hiebert quoted a 2009 NDP statement, when that Party’s Shadow Veterans Affairs Spokesman, Peter Stoffer, MP clearly was on record since then supporting more equitable and reasonable treatment of disabled members through needed NVC changes regarding the deficient lump-sum payments system, a position which became federal NDP policy at its last annual national Convention.
We note that you wrote a letter to the editor of our local community newspaper endorsing MP Hiebert’s message (copy – BELOW). With all due respect, nothing in your letter addresses what you are going to do for disabled members who have received disproportionately low settlements under the NVC.
In the spirit of trying to move forward, I am pleased to offer you an opportunity, at your convenience in the near future, to meet in the South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding with disabled members concerning their settlements under the NVC. The Equitas Society would be pleased to host such an event, further to a similar invitation we delivered to MP Russ Hiebert at his Constituency Office on April 8, 2013. Mr. Hiebert has responded in writing that for legal reasons he is unable to meet with disabled members in his riding in a town hall format set up by Equitas. Despite the position of our MP, we hope that now that you have taken such an interest in our community you will take the time to come here to discuss the complaints with the NVC of disabled members in a face-to-face meeting with them.
Please be advised that on May 6-9th, 2013, the Advisory Council to Equitas is coming to Parliament Hill as a non-/cross-partisan delegation to meet with MPs, Senators and Ministers so that members’ concerns about the need for improvements to disability benefits – and particularly to address the deficiencies of the lump-sum payment system – under the NVC can be recognized, and acted upon. The question for you to answer is a simple one, Mr. Minister: “What is the Government’s plan to properly compensate the many individual members who have received disproportionately low disability awards under the NVC?”
Note: The Equitas Advisory Council is comprised of notable Canadians, former parliamentarians representing the major federal political parties, plus a national community leader:  namely, two former House of Commons Speakers (Progressive Conservative Hon. John Fraser, PC, OC, O.B.C., QC. and Liberal Hon. Peter Milliken, PC, MA, LL.B), as well as a former Deputy Commons Speaker (New Democrat Hon. Bill Blaikie, PC, M.Div.); and, in addition, Mr. Prem Singh Vinning, President of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
To facilitate these Equitas Advisory Council meetings, official requests have been made for our Advisory Council to meet with the Prime Minister, yourself and your colleague, the Minister of National Defence, as well as with the Leaders of the Official Opposition and of the Liberal Party of Canada, along with their Veterans’ Critics. We understand, from a recent e-mail we received from your Parliamentary Secretary, Eve Adams, MP, that the Government is not interested in meeting with the Equitas Advisory Council. I strongly encourage you to use your influence to ensure that our panel of distinguished Canadians is well-received by the Government on Parliament Hill next week.
On May 8, 2013 lawyers for the Federal Government and lawyers for the above-described Afghanistan War veterans will appear in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver before Mr. Justice Weatherill for a judicial management conference. Our understanding is that your Government’s lawyers will be seeking to strike down the application for certification, or in the alternative will seek an order permitting them to avoid filing a defence to the allegations of disproportionately low payments provided these Afghanistan War veterans under the NVC, until certification is granted. This will be an open court proceeding to which members, the public, and the media will be able to attend to witness how your Government is treating Canada’s disabled veterans.
In summary, we urge you to attach a high priority to providing a plan that – first, acknowledges that the NVC has provided, and still does provide, disportionately low settlements in certain cases; second, retroactively provides compensation at a level equal to the previous Pension Act and no less than awards under Canada’s workers compensation systems; third, includes meeting disabled members and their families face-to-face in order to appreciate the harm that the NVC has been creating for them; and lastly, ends the damage to disabled members and the Canadian public alike which the overselling of selective benefits under the NVC in Government announcements and publications creates. We look forward to your prompt reply.
Yours truly, Jim Scott, President
Equitas Disabled Soldiers Funding Society
Peace Arch News – Published: April 16, 2013 9:00 AM
Re: MP under fire over veterans, April 9.
Canadian veterans have available to them one of the most comprehensive suite of benefits and services of any of our allies. Combined, Canadian veterans who are the most severely disabled from their service will receive a minimum income of $56,000 per year, in addition to home adaptation, rehabilitation, medical and personnel support, home cleaning and yard-maintenance services paid by our government. Given this level of support, my NDP critic is absolutely right; Canadian veterans’ benefits are right at the top, a fact which I believe we can all be proud of.
Steven Blaney,
Minister of Veterans Affairs, OTTAWA
For more background on our government’s failure to care for our wounded veterans, visit Equitas Society’s website, and my previous article on the subject: The Plan for the ‘Last Post Fund’ . Please come back to visit.

Promises to be a great weekend!

May 2, 2013

Here are a couple of great ways to spend an hour or two this weekend!

Crafty Affaire

Crafty Affaire

First, is a vintage and handmade fair this Saturday, May 4, Elgin Hall, 14250 Crescent Road in South Surrey. Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. you can find one-of-a-kind treasures and treats for all. Put on by Deja Vu Vintage Market which is backed by a pair of energetic South Surrey women, this group will also be having a grand exposition of vintage and handmade goods at the Wellbrook Winery on July 6th, with a portion of the proceeds to go to charity. More to come on this in a subsequent blog post.

This Sunday, May 5 between 11 and 5 pm, the Langley Gogos are hosting a plant and handmade accessories fundraiser at 18562 55th Avenue in Surrey. flowers April 30 2013 2013-04-28 007Included in the sale is the beautiful Kazuri jewellery,  hand-made in Nairobi, Kenya in a fair trade workshop which employs over 300 marginalized African women. You can see the jewellery here and I guarantee you will want some! All proceeds go to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, Stephen Lewis Foundation, that works with grandmothers in Africa who are raising children orphaned by Aids.

Then for those of you who have been following my posts about food and community gardens recently, here is an update from Semiahmoo Food Network. The  Semiahmoo Food Network together with BC Healthy Communities and others are re-establishing the Food Action Coalition in White Rock and Surrey. There is a meeting on May 15th at 2:30 pm at Women’s Place in South Surrey 15318-20th Ave and all interested people are invited to attend. The purpose of the first meeting is to explore what worked in the past, what changes people would like to see and how they can begin anew with their vision of moving food policy forward.  For more information, contact

Please come back to visit.

Why is our food so much in the news?

April 28, 2013

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper these days (I still do that, being somewhat attached to the ‘older’ way of doing things) without running into yet another article about food. Why? The American Public Health Association (APHA) has a whole list of reasons why we should be concerned. On its website, the APHA states:

“APHA defines a sustainable food system as one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment.  A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities.” The APHA goes on to state “The four pillars of food security are availability, stability of supply, access and utilization…. The United States has eroded the pillars of food security.”

In this lengthy critique of the American (which of course is also the Canadian) food system, the APHA identified a multitude of problems with the food supply, including:

  • the control that larger producers and retailers have over prices, public policy, information, and determining the choices and risks available to us;
  • chronic obesity and diet-related disease;
  • contamination of the environment and serious human health problems from the extensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste, and over-use of antibiotics;
  • the contribution of worldwide agriculture and land-use change (estimated to cause about 1/3 of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions);
  • food safety concerns including genetically modified plants and decreasing biodiversity of plants and animals; and
  • the disproportionately high negative consequences on low-income and minority communities.

In response, communities and individuals are increasingly looking towards healthier, sustainable food practices. The Slow Food, 100 Mile Diet, SPIN (Small Plot INtensive commercial urban farming), organic foods, rooftop gardens, community gardens, shared backyard gardens, city bee-keepers, the fight again GMOs (genetically modified organisms), protection of heritage seeds, and ethical eating are just some of the ways people are gaining back control of their food.

There are so many sources of information and inspiration. Here are a few of mostly local ones in no particular order (if you have favourites, please share them by adding a comment to this blog):

  • Eat like your Grandma is a food blog by a Surrey woman with tons of tasty recipes and useful information about healthy eating;
  • non-GMO Food guide, includes a handy guide to what foods contain GMO;
  • Grow Food Not Lawns has 293,000 followers and lots of links and tips;
  • Food for Democracy Their mandate is to work together to eliminate hunger and create food security for all residents of British Columbia;
  • Farm to School is a group working to bring local, healthy and sustainable foods into British Columbia’s public institutions;
  • BC Food Security Gateway is a web resource for food security practitioners and others in BC who want to make “healthy eating the easy choice” and build food-secure communities;
  • Village Surrey engages individuals, neighbourhoods & organizations to take actions that build sustainable communities & have fun doing it. Food, transportation, housing, energy, social justice, and the arts to name a few;
  • Surrey’s Community Gardens website provides basic information and contact information for the 4 community gardens;
  • Alexandra Neighbourhood House has 30 plots for rent, some plots for children and the Food Bank. It also has a Master Gardener who leads workshops and tours for members of the garden;
  •  White Rock’s Farmer’s Market starts on May 26, 2013 at Miramar Plaza – White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Avenue;
  • Sharing Backyards If you would like to share your back yard or someone else’s, check out this site. Think of it as a matchmaking site for gardeners. So far there are no offers of garden space or gardeners available in the South Surrey area.
  • South Surrey Garden Club I spoke recently to Pat Logi who is a member of this Club. She and some other volunteers are ‘mining’ three backyards in the community to grow food for the South Surrey Food Bank and are looking for more volunteer gardeners and more gardens so they can expand the program. If you would like to get down and dirty for a good cause, contact these folks;
  • GE Free Surrey, whose spokesman is Phil Harrison, is working to promote a GMO-free Surrey;
  • City Farmer is an excellent Vancouver source about urban gardening and its mission is to teach people how to grow food in the city,
    compost their waste and take care of their home landscape in an environmentally responsible way;
  • Waking up for Ava is a website run by Bobbi Blair, a Langley realtor who is very active in promoting change, especially relating to GMO food;
  • West Coast SeedsSaltspring Seeds,  Heritage Harvest Seeds, and BC Seeds are local sources for organic, heritage, heirloom and non-GMO seeds.
  • How to build raised beds These are the Cadillac version.
  • God’s Little Acre is a place I absolutely must visit soon. Beginning in 2011, a Surrey hay-field was transformed into a bustling vegetable operation, run by volunteers and managed by a generous and energetic fellow named Jas Singh for the sole purpose of donating vegetables to the Surrey Food Bank. With great success to date, the stated farm goal is to donate 100,000 lbs of vegetables to charity. The farm is now offering a program where you can buy at the farm gate and support others in need when you purchase a membership. You can also find them on Facebook where you will be highly entertained by Jas’ effervescent writing style.

In case you would like to study the subject beforehand, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Michael Pollen (what a great name for a food writer) has written extensively about food including well-known books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food.
  • Jennifer Cockrall is a journalist and food writer who explores the food movement and how it is changing our cities in her book Food and the City and shares many urban gardening tips at her Facebook page Food and the City.
  • Seeds Of Deception written by Geoffrey Smith argues powerfully against GM foods.
  • And for something completely different, I just added this book because I heard the author Bill Jones on CBC talking about foraging for mushrooms and then cooking them. The book is The Deerholme Mushroom Book: From Foraging to Feasting and features cooking with many unusual local ingredients including some delicious looking mushrooms.

If you believe in having control of your own food and would like to promote community gardens and yard-sharing in Surrey/ White Rock, please connect with Rick Ketchesin, another passionate advocate for better foods, at the Semiahmoo Food Network. He would love to hear from you. His site also contains links to other information and organizations.

Please come back to visit.

The beaver ate the apple tree – the joys of community gardening

April 23, 2013

There are some pitfalls when it comes to gardening. First there is the weather, too cold, too hot, too dry, too wet. Then the bugs and the deer that no fence will keep out. And the aching back. And then the beaver that came and ate the little apple tree that Chloe donated to the Dunsmuir Community Gardens in Crescent Beach, Surrey. I stopped by this community garden in Surrey on the first day that really felt like spring. Warm, sunny, and surrounded by birdsong, a few people were already working their plots. Pixie and Chloe were there assessing their new section. Pixie, an avid gardener, waited for 14 years until she could get into Dunsmuir Gardens. She and her friend Chloe are going to share the work and the spoils, and, on the day I met them, were busy planning their season.

Faced with GM (genetically modified) and pesticide-laden food, a desire to eat healthily and take better care of our earth, concerns about food security, recognition that store-bought food just doesn’t taste as good, and driven by the pure joy of growing their own produce, people like Chloe and Pixie are turning to community gardening. Cities are developing food policies and looking at ways to incorporate this urban farming into corners of school yards, overgrown parking lots, and the sides and rooftops of buildings. Farmers’ markets are now a common sight and back-yard chicken coops and bee-keeping are gaining in popularity.

In the book “Food and the City, author Jennifer Cockrall-King relates a number of important facts:

  • because of the high-efficiency, just-in-time practices of grocery chains, our cities have little more than a three-day supply of food on hand at any given time,
  • in North America, we spend between ten and twelve units of nonrenewable energy for every one unit of food energy, and
  • according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture organization, approximately 75% of the biological diversity of our foods has been lost as a result of industrialized agriculture in the 20th century alone and we have lost 97% of the varieties of fruits and vegetables.

The American Public Health Association makes a scathing assessment of the US food system: “In the United States, obesity and diet-related chronic disease rates are escalating, while the public’s health is further threatened by rising antibiotic resistance; chemicals and pathogens contaminating our food, air, soil and water; depletion of natural resources; and climate change. These threats have enormous human, social, and economic costs that are growing, cumulative, and unequally distributed. These issues are all related to food—what we eat and how it is produced. The US industrial food system provides plentiful, relatively inexpensive food, but much of it is unhealthy, and the system is not sustainable.”

Vancouver has over 75 community gardens, located in city parks, in school yards, on private property – and even one on the grounds of City Hall. Surrey is developing a food policy and currently has four community gardens: Dunsmuir Community Gardens (see the photographs at the bottom of this post), North Surrey Organic Community Garden, Hazelnut Meadows Community Gardens, and Holly Park. There is also a community garden operated by Alexandra Neighbourhood House in Crescent Beach. White Rock has one community garden with 21 plots located on Vine Street just east of Centennial Park and adjacent to the Eve Bene Butterfly Garden. Most of these gardens have multi-year waiting lists showing the acute need for more such options. According to Surrey’s Planning and Development Department, by 2041, Surrey will have approximately 740,000 people and will be home to 1 in 5 residents of Metro Vancouver. Meanwhile, our farm land is disappearing, not increasing, and so the time to act is now.

Are you concerned about the food you eat? Would you like to be able to garden but can’t because you live in an apartment? Are you interested in sharing part of your yard so someone else can grow food? Or would you like to pitch in and grow food for the Food Bank on your own turf? One group of gardeners from the South Surrey Garden Club in White Rock is working three gardens for the Food Bank. (More about this group in a subsequent blog)

Rick Ketcheson, a local resident, grew up on a farm in southern Saskatchewan and lived in Lyon, France where there are farmers’ markets and community gardens everywhere. He is passionate about growing his own food and because he doesn’t have a yard of his own, he is sharing the back yard of a neighbour. Now all three of them can benefit from home-grown, fresh produce.

Building on his own interest and the ‘growing’ food movement, Rick founded the Semiahmoo Food Network to promote the building of more community gardens in White Rock and Surrey and the sharing of back yards. He is encouraging the cities of Surrey and White Rock to identify and support more community garden sites. He is also needs support from the community. If you would like to support this change in your city, can volunteer with Semiahmoo Food Network or would like to add your name to a list of interested gardeners or back yard owners, please contact Rick at

Next post, more about our food supply and community gardening. Please come back to visit.

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Ice that turns money into water – what can be cooler than that!

March 15, 2013

Water we take for granted You saw them on Dragons` Den, two gals selling the Dragons on the idea of making money from ice. Not just any ice, but cool ice. Ice that looks good in a martini. On the Rocks Ice.

Compassionate Eye (CEF) is a non-profit organization that I have been following and supporting for quite some time – check out my earlier blogs including the one in September about the great Fort Langley photo shoot. CEF operates on a simple principle. Photographers and other creative people donate their time, shoot fabulous photos, deliver them to Getty Images which then returns to Compassionate Eye the proceeds from any sale or licensing of the photos. The funds are then used by CEF to support programs Read more…

If you like your theatre ‘fluffy’, don’t come to this

February 19, 2013

If you like your theatre ‘fluffy’, don’t come to this production of Agnes of God. But if you like to feel and think, be challenged, and experience the emotion of great theatre, you have to see it. I saw a run-through of the show on Sunday, in a big hall fitted out with a table, a couple of chairs and a practice stage. No-one was in costume. There were only the three performers acting their hearts out. This is a powerful story but it is the performances that are going to mesmerize you. It brought tears to my eyes and the rawness of the performances still resonates today.

A mysterious birth centres the play and the three characters each approach the reality and unreality of the situation from their own perspective. Read more…

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