radicle beets

The Curious Garden by radiclebeets

Sometimes I feel like what we’re doing is a lot of work, and that we are alone in what we do, and that maybe it doesn’t matter all that much anyway, especially as the toxic legacy we have inherited becomes more and more apparent. Then, a really beautiful human and a dog named Frank ring my doorbell to give me a children’s book and I cry four happy tears… Because this is what we are doing, and this story is a gift, and we are that boy.


Goodbye Garlic by radiclebeets
So every single one of our garlic plants were taken from our Vernon beds at about 11:00pm Monday night. We planted them last October, and now we are mid-July. As easy as it would be to blame the folks who ripped and cut them out prematurely, it is really clear that this is a systemic symptom and that our counter response needs to be around community development rather than community blame. It ain’t easy to love the life that is the most raw and sore, but that is why we gotta fucking do it. Otherwise, who the hell else will. Otherwise, how the hell are things going to get better?
Our gardens are about taking what you need, and sometimes and right now that might mean different things for different people. Hopefully in the future taking what we need will also mean trusting there will be enough to leave for others.

City Commons Speech Bubble 2013 by radiclebeets

The Rad folks of the Vancouver Tool library put together a series of events to connect people with the City Commons projects happening ALL OVER THE PLACE in Vancouver. If you haven’t heard of this event, please go here now!



Len Kydd gave us a beautiful and informative plant tour of Cottonwood Gardens after Jordan Maynard of Southlands Heritage Farm (http://www.southlandsfarms.com) shook up our social barriers and connected folks with each other.

Later, I gave a tour of our gardens and read out speech. I am so inspired by the people who came out, and by the support and inspiration everyone shared. It was awesome, and I feel like we are all thriving. A few people asked me to share what I read and send out a copy, so I am. Here it is:

Unceded Territory Acknowledgement: Unceded means there has not been any official contracts (treaties) signed from any cultural societies agreeing for settlers to take ownership over of the land here on Coast Salish Territory. This is problematic for us today because we have to figure out what it means to be respectfully living on a land that has been stolen through violent means, murder, and bribery, especially while the folks whose land and cultures have been assaulted are still living here today under colonial control. This includes the beautiful humans from the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwxwú7mesh (colonially known as Squamish), and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I would like to offer my highest respects for all the First Nations communities and individuals who are every day fighting for the land and their cultural and ecological identities, while most of us are defending the nationalism that destroys all of that, even in our own lives. I would like to mention that I am coming to realize with more and more depth, how ecological identity and nationalist identities clash completely. I don’t know how to overcome this, but I believe I am learning.

With that said, My name is Kelsey Cham Corbett. I am a collective member of the Purple Thistle Gardens. We are a horizontally-run collective of youth doing our best to learn by doing, and we believe in re-wilding the city. We are planting seeds, and making tons of awesome mistakes on industrial land we have reclaimed and are regenerating life on. The great thing about gardening is that there will always be another season, so our mistakes are really just lessons we get to apply next year.

I’d like to talk to y’all, and hear about what you think about Food Systems and the economy. More specifically, I’d like to talk about how Community and Collective Gardening combines Social Ecology and Natural Ecology, and how that could be incredibly beneficial to our economy.

Firstly, there are a few ideas about food, grocery stores, and gardening that I’d like to debunk. I have simplified these myths into Four Categories being:





As a civil human, I grew up going to the  grocery store with my dad, following him down the aisles with the great responsibility of pushing the grocery cart! We went to Superstore (which in front of my friends, I called StupidStore and would never admit to shopping there), where food was cheaper and available in bulk, which are necessary ideals for a suburban family of 5. I remember the fluorescent lights, giant yellow signs, and the white floors I could run and slide on that would leave a powdered dusty layer on the soles of my shoes. I remember going through the routine: soaps and shampoos, canned foods and juices, cheeses and meats, eggs and milk, fruits and veggies, and finally breads and if we were lucky, desserts. I thought the weekly goods of the same old peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms, with the same old homo milk and eggs were all the food that COULD ever exist. I had never seen a pepper plant, a squash plant, a network of mycelium fruiting a mushroom, and definitely not a chicken laying an egg. I didn’t think of what meat was, or that pork was a REAL pig that once had a life and spirit. Once I went to a farm when I was in kindergarten. They milked a cow in front of us. That’s all I knew about food. Never in my adolescence did I find anything weird or unnatural about this.

Our family had a bunch of apple trees, pear trees, plum trees, and our neighbor had cherries and strawberries. Somehow I was so disconnected from where my food came from, I only saw these things as semi-fun chores we had to deal with. When the apples fell, we shot them into a huge compost pile with our hockey sticks. When the hornets came, we made excuses to play outside and threw cherries at our friends. I didn’t get this was food that we could eat, and I definitely didn’t think it was food I could share with my friends at school; even when I watched some of my friends at shovel down jello everyday because that was all there was at the food bank that week.

I got into Natural Farming when I started to recognize the imbalances in the world. Natural disasters were getting worse, more prisons were being built while schools were being torn down, the gap between the rich and the poor made no sense to me. I was sick of wasting my life away drinking and drugging myself out of the problem, and feeding my energy to the systems that I resented, so in my early twenties I started doing research to figure out how I could be active in a positive way. Ironically, technology and the internet introduced me to learning from nature. I got convinced I could help change society for the better if I started gardening with nature. However, since I was a rebellious kid, and had already developed habits, and since these things often equate to moving around all the time, and since I had ABSOLUTELY no experience in gardening, this was a difficult task for me. Garden plots in community gardens had waiting lists that were sometimes years long. I was moving apartments and changing neighborhoods about every 3 months. One day, I got fed up. Experience or not, sunshine and land or not, I drunkenly determined myself to start gardening. I salvaged some 2 x 4’s, got my Thai co-worker to help fix them on my bike (‘cuz the job I did was brutal), bought a hammer, some nails, a couple bottles of wine, and rode my bike up Saint Laurent street in Montreal to my apartment. I called the only friend I knew with any gardening and carpentry experience. We set up outside my bedroom window determined to find a sunny patch, and we hammered and drank away. After a couple hours, a screaming landlord, some cops, and a move into the dark, damp, dank courtyard, I poured soil into my very first garden bed. The plants I grew were non-edible due to the environment I had to grow them in, and the soil was fertilized with the courtyard cat’s resentful shit, but I did it. 6 months later, I found myself at the Purple Thistle Center in East Vancouver, where I learned there were collective guerrilla gardens, and folks were learning from nature.

In my short journey with the gardeners of the Purple Thistle, I’ve learned all sorts of things, from planting seeds, what weeds really do, I’ve learned about plant medicine and spirit, foraging, how to install irrigation, but most importantly, how to work with my friends, and more and more how to not act against nature.

So this brings us back to the debunking.

Time: As a kid, I was told that gardening took too much time to grow too little food. In my short experience, I am recognizing ALL the food I never knew existed, from weeds to greens like lamb’s quarters, dandelions and stinging nettle; lemon cucumbers; all the different edible ‘shrooms like shaggy manes; to all the berries I never knew existed or thought only available dried and wrinkled, like goji and goumi berries, or black and gold raspberries, all of which hang out in our gardens. I was told gardening was too much of an investment to be of any value, even from my dad who grew up on a farm. I am realizing how much of a myth this is. We have some land, not a lot, and a few kids, and way too much food. None of us have very much experience, so we’re not even doing this efficiently. Even our back yard garden at the home I live at, things are going to seed before we can eat it. The work that we are putting in is collective and therefore not more than a couple hours a week total. My friend mentioned this to me: if city folk have time to walk and feed their dogs every day, city folk have time to grow in a garden. More specifically though, “Time is Money”, and food costs money. If we spend some time growing food, we can save money and work less. We will be healthier with cleaner food, and less stress. Also, if we garden collectively, we can gain community, and therefore gain community social benefits like child care, education, and social play space.

Convenience: We are taught that grocery stores are a privilege to have, but is it really a privilege when we don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Poor folks in rural areas, and sometimes in urban areas, sometimes in other countries, have no choice but to grow food because they can’t afford to and don’t have access to do otherwise. Wealthier folks have no choice but to buy food because they can’t afford to “spend time” to grow (or they are often taught growing food is peasant work). How convenient are super market grocery stores really, when they support a system of industrial agriculture that is based on mono-cropped, genetically altered (with animal proteins) and chemically sprayed produce on tons and tons of single-function and clear-cut land. In case of a disaster, grocery stores only hold up to 3 days worth of food, where as gardens and urban farms continue to follow nature and grow. Grocery stores are made up on concrete, and rely on electricity and sewer systems. In Toronto, rain was greater than the sewers we built, so there was huge amounts of flooding. If we had more Food Forests in the city, there would be more soil to absorb water, more trees to absorb the shock of the wind, and less economic and social damage to communities. That sounds pretty convenient to me. And as I mentioned before, community gardens can be social hubs for community building and sharing. It would be awesome if we spent less time at our jobs, and more time working in the gardens while our kids run around with friends playing in dirt. Also, gardens can be conveniently placed anywhere near you, on any plot of open space ranging from patios, to grassy patches, to yards, to rooftops, etc etc.

That leads us to Space: We are told we need tons of agricultural space to feed folks in the city. With Natural Farming and permaculture I’m recognizing how false this is. We can be creative and maximize space with natural relationships to increase yield. Also, there is a ton of unused space in the city. Some of this space may be contaminated, but this is also solvable through natural means. It is possible to partner with plants, fungi, and bacteria to clean up anything from heavy metals, to oil spills. Grassroots bioremediation can help us eat clean, locally adapted, wild food right outside our homes and in our neighborhoods. We are told we need huge, HUGE pieces of land dedicated to mono-cropped agricultural land to feed all the humans in the world. If this system based on values of production and economic gain  is true, why does Canada throw out 40% of produced food annually. That is a value of 27 billion dollars, which to me, does not make sense economically. If we grow locally, if the community grows food in our neighborhoods for our communities, we can have better control on produce as we grow out of love and with intention. Economically, we can save money for other purposes we value.

Education: Everything I knew about food before was based on the Canadian Food Guide Pyramid, and what Product Marketing Competition told me (ie. which types of canned goods were  the best, which imported superfood the most super boosting). Corporations ruling food is very problematic, especially since we are raised to be dependent consumers striving for financial independence. We rely on them to tell us what is good, what is not good, and we have no choice but to trust them. If we are poor, we have a lack of choice in consumption, we can only choose to accept what we have access to. So, my question now, and I’d like to ask this to the kids too, is Why the hell aren’t we learning to garden in schools as part of a regular curriculum EVERYWHERE! Now that I’m out of school, I realize what a waste this is. “Pollution is only wasted resources.” (Oliver Kelhammer in Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook For Youth) By not teaching our kids to grow food in schools WE ARE CAUSING POLLUTION!! I remember my rebellion in school was mostly derived from my mistrust of institutions that control what we learn, and my awareness that most of what we were learning was not applicable to life. Learn to be a scientist, an engineer, a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, even go to school to become an astronaut, but learning to grow food is too simple for our great minds, so let’s skip that step. In every discipline I’ve practiced, there has always been a lot of emphasis on mastering the basics before moving on to the fancy stuff. In our society today, most people are too scared to stick seeds in the ground, even though it is so basic and simple. From my experience in public schools, I remember feeling shame or stupid if I wrote something wrong or made a mistake. I got tests back with big Red X’s, feeling like an idiot. I can understand why in a society where learning is about perfection before action, and where learning is motivated by shame and fear of failure, people would feel intimidated to do something they’ve never done before. We have to be certified experts, or certified humans before we get to actually DO anything, do anything HUMAN! Yesterday I met a person who had received her certificate to design permaculture gardens, but who has never even seen and cannot recognize a comfrey plant!! This is crazy to me, since comfrey is everywhere, and plays many huge roles in these gardens. So, to debunk this theory that we need to become perfectly educated before we can learn to do, I jumped into our gardens with next to zero experience and definitely no knowledge. I started in April of 2012, and I can recognize and form relationships with plants, bugs, and fungi. I can talk to you and show you many ways that comfrey rocks. I am a highschool drop-out. You can do it too. YOU CAN TRUST YOURSELF TO WATER A PLANT! I trust you to water a plant!

With that said, I would like for you and if we are lucky, to talk about a few things.

I want to know, how do you think our disassociation from food contributes to our disassociation from ourselves, our land, and our bodies? Even as we are eating our meals and putting our food in our bodies, do we feel connected, and can we feel that energy? Who does this matter to?

I want to know, “Re-Wild the City!!!” What does this mean for you? What could this mean for the community, and for the land?

I want to know, what is ONE thing YOU WILL DO TO RECONNECT!!! And will you do it with the kids, because they are connected, and they can go even deeper and share that connection with us.

Finally, I would like to share my perspective on social ecology and natural ecology. With industrialization and determined growth in the economy, the two are currently very separate. I believe, and I have experienced, that we can combine the two to create community, and save economically. Because I am learning interdependence through community sharing, and sharing with the land, I am able to live off of 700$ a month. My rent is 500$, my phone bill is 30, my herbalism class is 100$ a month, which leaves 70$ for everything else. We can do more with less if we work for it creatively. More time out of our jobs means more time and energy to share and learn from each other and the earth. This will bring us back to a healthier state in every regard. (I’d also like to acknowledge, I do not have a family to care for, and I don’t give a shit about debt and credit).

All the love and Peas to Share,


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