Adapting to a New Food Order

Food. Everyone can relate to food in some way, whether you eat to live, or live to eat. Through our choices around food, we can have significant impact on our environment. Since there are so many ways that food impacts sustainability, there are many ways people can make change.

A Broken System

Let’s face it. Our food system is broken. I could tell you how, but Oxfam sums it pretty well. We cannot continue on this path of destruction, as climate change makes itself more apparent, oil prices continue to rise and our agricultural land continues to be destroyed by both unsustainable farming practices and developed into high rises. People in developed countries cannot deny that much of this destruction is being caused by our society’s insatiable demand for avocados in Canada, strawberries in December and mountains of pre-packaged, highly processed, “convenience” foods. When does it make sense that a package of food amalgamated from ingredients from all over the world, processed in a factory, packaged in plastic, and shipped to the grocery store is cheaper than a head of lettuce bought from a farmer growing across town? Something isn’t working. The economics of our food systems simply are not sustainable.

Leading from Within

As an introverted and often shy person, I sometimes have a hard time identifying with “leadership” . I am not the type to go out there and start my own non-profit, write a book on food or create a blog with thousands of followers. It is difficult for me to see how I can make change about something I am so passionate about, but without the kind of outgoing people skills that push so many others out in front. But I realize that if everyone was that kind of leader, we would have a lot of people talking, but not enough people taking action. The world is full of countless quiet leaders, people out there doing the work, leading by example and making small changes in their communities and neighbourhoods.

Leading by Involvement

Change in the realm of food is happening everywhere. Throughout Vancouver, there are food policy councils and food security networks, engaging in discussion and driving change. Food security collaboratives are working to provide local, affordable and fresh food to neighbourhoods that are otherwise unable to access these things. Pocket markets and community kitchens exist all around the city. They are widespread and yet invisible to those who aren’t paying attention. There are many kinds of food related events going on all the time, promoting food that is organic, local, vegetarian, accessible and sustainable. Organizations like Village Vancouver bring people together over food on a regular basis, and often offer information and workshops on things like cheese making, canning and food production. And it is really easy and oh, so much fun to get your hands dirty on an urban farm or in your own garden plot. I have come to appreciate the simplicity and complexity of growing food, and have gained a solid understanding of everything that goes into the food that I eat, from the dirt that it grows in, the bees that pollinate it, and the effort required to keep it alive until it’s ready to end up on my plate.

Over my last 4 months of food immersion, I continue to learn a great deal, and I share that knowledge through conversation and action. Because it’s food, everyone can relate on some level. It’s not the huge, daunting, and divisive subject of climate change or politics or saving a world that very desperately needs saving. After all it’s all about what we eat. And the way to the heart of a non-environmentalist is through their stomachs.

Photos courtesy of Karly Pinch and Kitsilano Neighbourhood House

The Apartment Community Complex

Copyright deepinswim / Flickr

Last Friday evening I arrived home from work via bicycle with a few reusable bags of groceries in each hand, which caused me to use the elevator. As I shimmied my way inside, the door was held open for me by a kindhearted neighbour, Sonia (sp?), who had in her possession some nifty artwork. Naturally, I struck up a conversation about the piece and Sonia politely inquired about my ride home on such a nice day.

And then something unfortunate happened…

JOHN: “Could you please push the button for the second floor? Thanks, Sonia”

SONIA: “Second floor, eh? So, are you new to the building?”

JOHN: “Nope, my wife and I have lived here for about a year and a half now. You?”

SONIA: “Yeah, I’ve been here for about the same amount of time.”


JOHN: “Well…nice to meet you, Sonia.”

[Both make disappointed, semi-ashamed eye-contact and nod goodbye.]

This problematic encounter, I imagine, is an all too common scene within apartment buildings around Vancouver. Sure, I – like most people in this city – are super-polite and very friendly to my neighbours; however, only one other person in my building has actually entered Michelle and my apartment and I regretfully don’t go deep enough in my encounters with neighbours.

This case gets more interesting – perhaps a bit confounding – as the people in our building are supercool folks, which Michelle and I have learned during two strata meetings. There are Inventors, members of the film industry, an Operations Manager for YVR, a Somali Pirate, Yoga Instructors, a Manager of a Mr. Lube franchise, Mr. Lube, Kevin Quinlan, an Actress, a Health Promotion Project Manager, a Comedian, two Welders, and the couple next to Michelle and I who have nicer tomatoes than we do (no envy, we’re just impressed).

I mean, who wouldn’t want to have meaningful conversations with these fine folks?!

Basically, here are three options on which I would love your feedback as I move forward this my quest to build community within my apartment building:

  1. Knock on everyone’s door and introduce myself. PRO: this is probably the most efficient way to get to know my community. CON: this is probably the most efficient way to annoy and/or alienate my community.
  2. Throw a festive holiday party for the building. PRO: who doesn’t love parties?! CON: our building lacks a shared community space, so we would either have to cram 35+ people into one unit and/or host the event in the back alley (for the record, neither of these things are “cons” from my perspective, but I live in a world where they are not deemed “acceptable”).
  3. Borrow ideas from 1990s sitcoms. PRO: the “holiday candy” episode of Friends and the “photographs and kiss hello” episode of Seinfeld were both great in their own way; further, superficial community-connections were definite outcomes of these plot lines. CON: in Friends the community rebelled and aggressively demanded that Monica make more candy, much to hilarious chagrin of the show’s most shrill character; in Seinfeld, Jerry’s refusal to kiss hello results in the vandalism of his photo on the community wall as well as his being shunned by several members of the people in his building (although this problem doesn’t come up again within the Seinfeld universe…).

Speaking of community, Gumbooteers, what do you think of these options? What are other suggestions that you have for building community within apartment buildings?

As our world becomes more dense and urbanized, building positive and productive communities in smaller and smaller urban spaces will be of tremendous importance. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and knock on some doors.

Could Europe’s Velo-mania Come to Vancouver?

James D. Schwartz / Flickr

Over the past week I’ve visited Paris and Vienna and become enraptured by their bike sharing programs. Both cities boast cheap memberships for out-of-towners, which charge you by the half hour (Paris) and hour (Vienna) to ride. The first little while is always free encouraging members to quickly pick up bikes for short jaunts (rather than long scenic hauls). Here are a few general observations about both systems and the cycling communities that use them:

1. The bike share and it’s community (unsurprisingly) reflect the temperament of the host city. In Paris I felt myself transported back to 2000, shortly after I graduated from high school when I had no consideration of rules of the road aside from how to most quickly get from point A to B. The traffic insanity provoked by cyclists, moto-scooters, cars, trucks and pedestrian all flooding the cramped (buggy/horse and wagon designed) streets is impossible to exaggerate. Meanwhile in Germany, everyone, cyclists and bike share folks alike obeyed the little green man on the light like their life depended on it. The effective difference on traffic (and safety) is hard to over-exaggerate.

2. Hills make a big difference. During our time in Paris, we were staying in Montmartre, at the top of one of Paris’ highest points. When we tried to pick up bikes we had to go to 5 bike depots before we could find a pair of free bikes. The simple reason? The number of people going down far outranked the number of Parisian bike guys charged with hauling bikes back up the hill.

3. Don’t expect many gears. Most bikes might have 2-3 gears. No problem of flat European cities – but a very different situation if you’re talking about a hilly city.

4. The more stations the better. The more dense, the more stations. Unsurprisingly, Paris’ system was far larger and more intricate than Vienna’s. However both cities are Euro-standard dense. My feeling is in order to make these things worthwhile, you need to put them in an area where there are a lot of people (metro stations, popular parks, historical monuments) and a fair amount of short “hop” movement of those people.

5.  Celebrate the system. This is yet another layer of sustainable transportation that thanks to telecommunications, just adds to a city’s transportation and people moving infrastructure.

6. Cycling in the rain (if you don’t have the proper clothes) isn’t so romantic. Nope, we didn’t see many jolie girls in summer dresses happily peddling through puddles and a downpour. We did see business attired professionals using the bike share in Paris, but only when it was nice out. If you have a sketchy climate, consider factoring that into usage.

In Vancouver, there’s quite the discussion about whether we North Americans can transplant the bike share concept. The biggest hurdle we face right now is our helmet laws. But I think the other question we need to ask is if we have the transportation density and culture to make this addition to transit (cause in the end it needs to be about transit not just tourism) work.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC Community Asset Review – Part 11

Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.

As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions, which are below. Sometimes we bring friends and/or family-members to the game. And sometimes those awesome friends and/or family-members write awesome blog posts about the experience.

On July 18 the ‘Caps tied the LA Galaxy 2-2. On July 22 the ‘Caps defeated San Jose 2-1.


D’uh, #winning #drawing against David Beckham and #winning against an MLS’s best team, the San Jose Earthquakes. BC Place was packed for both games, and the match against the LA Galaxy was sold out – had the ‘Caps not played to strikingly well, many of the casual fans who came to see His Royal Underwearness (rather than their home team) would have been very unlikely to return for another home game against, say, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, or another an MLS team from a tier-two American city with no almost-washed-up English Premier League stars on their roster.

As it turns out, putting a quality product on the field is a great way to demonstrate how the club is a significant community asset. Look, anytime David Beckham misses a free kick from this close it’s a beautiful thing:


Destroy the spirit and will of referee-pushing Olympic turnaway David Beckham and his heels of teammates Donovan and Keane by beating them by a significant margin in front of more than 20,000 people, many of whom are not ‘Caps fans but will attend the match to experience the tour de force* that is The Beckham Show.

I’ve done the maths; a crushing victory over the Galaxy will secure at least 362 multi-game fans for the 2013 season and 73 season ticket holders for 2014.

For a sports club, being a significant community asset is, after all, about #winning.

Livable Laneways Paths to Plazas Event

A few weeks ago, Australia Bureau Chief Jilly Charlwood contributed a fantastic article about Laneway Learning – below is some information about what Vancouver is doing to showcase some unique, behind-the-scenes communities – and potential – of its re-imagined and hyper-creative laneways. Enjoy!

- John Horn

For the second year, Vancouver City laneways are being re-imagined, and public events are taking place in the bustling lane at Broadway and Main bringing musicians, local business operators, artists, urban farmers and producers, residents, and visitors to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Livable Laneways Night Markets is a VIVA Vancouver initiative supported by the City of Vancouver. Coordinated by Livable Laneways, a non-profit organization, Paths to Plazas is an example of how they are dedicated to transforming the overlooked laneways and alleys of Vancouver into pedestrianfriendly zones. It is a collaboration that includes Blim, The Beaumont Studios the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area, as well as special guests, Mount Pleasant Victory Market, StudioCAMP and Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN).

The events take place on July 21st, 28th and August 4th from 5-10pm.

For more information on the vendors and participants, please see the list below
for website details:

Masthead photo from ecstaticist’s photostream on Flickr

Vancouver Startup Gives Back to Community Through Crowdfunding

Made famous by websites like “Kickstarter,” crowdfunding has become an easy and effective means of raising money for projects. Vancouver-based tech startup “Weeve” makes use of this practice to raise money for local community projects and is the first in the world which uses a “freemium” model, allowing nonprofit organizations to keep money raised on Weeve without transaction fees. Weeve launched its beta website this week and is already seeing donations come in.

Weeve users are asked to “give smarter” by allowing their dollars to go directly into community projects in need of funding. Beta-launch partners include Seva Canada, YouthCo, SharkTruth, and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. Through Weeve, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation’s “Campaign for BC Children” is aiming to raise $5000 to help build a new hospital.

“Partners like the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation benefit from Weeve through a number of means. First of all, our website lets them keep every dollar that they raise,” says Trevor Loke, Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Weeve, “We equip nonprofits with the platform and tools needed to reach audiences they may never have tapped into before. We also give tech-savvy and socially-conscious citizens an easy way to give small amounts of money that add up to create real change right where they live – change they can see. Weeve empowers nonprofit organizations to reach these crowds.”

Alex Chuang, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, says that Weeve is the solution to a greater issue that is affecting nonprofits around the globe, “Individual giving in Canada peaked in 1991 when 30% of Canadians gave to charities. Today, that number hovers at less than 1 in 4 – an all-time low. Nonprofits worldwide are feeling the brunt of governments which are cutting their funding, making crowdfunding a tangible solution for the funding crisis in the nonprofit sector.”

Other organizations and community projects will be launched in the coming weeks. To check out current projects visit

Weeve founders consist of CEO Alex Chuang, a graduate of the Master of Management program at the UBC Sauder School of Business; COO Trevor Loke, a marketing, communications and fundraising professional who is also an elected official in the City of Vancouver as Vancouver Park Board Commissioner; and CTO Vincent Chu, who has worked for companies including SAP & IBM. All founders are 23 years old. And here is what they look like:

Alex Chuang- Founder and CEO

Trevor Loke- Founder and COO

Vincent Chu- Founder and CTO

The War of 1812 was 200 Years Ago – Should we Care?

Posters and dioramas at Vancouver’s Canada Place, replica villages in Gananoque, Ontario, battle re-enactments at Toronto’s Fort York – these are all part and parcel of the Harper government’s bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812 taking place this summer. I have to wonder if it’s really worth the  expense to memorialize what for so many of us is an obscure, inconsequential conflict. Perhaps it is the perceived ignorance of our own history which inspired Ottawa to educate us about the war this summer using tax dollars. We shouldn’t be entirely surprised by how keen the current government is for this sort of thing – it’s in the same vein as the amount of wasteful spending which went into re-branding our army as the “Royal Canadian Forces”. We can’t forget where we came from – after all.

The historical narrative being trotted out by Canadian Heritage is that we were born as a nation through defending our borders from repeated attempts at invasion by American forces and that this deserves recognition. No doubt true: the Americans torched Fort York (Toronto) at the beginning of the war, and we (mostly settlers from America originally) set fire to the White House in retaliation. Yay us! We felt better. Avenged even – and ultimately bonded through the experience, becoming a little more “Canadian” in the process and a little less “American.” An important evolution towards nationhood, no doubt, but does it really merit celebrating what was essentially a brutal, prolonged, nasty little war with no clear victor and little gained on either side?

Canadian Heritage thinks so. As part of its campaign of memory, it has spent close to $900,000 dollars in Vancouver alone (not even on the map in 1812) to make sure that West Coasters know the war happened. To that end – there’s a fake ship’s wheel and cannon sitting at the Canada Place promenade, among some other odds and ends.

When neighboring Coast Guard stations are being shuttered due to Tory budget cuts, could this money have been put to better use? You decide.

Long Tan Gone from the Whitecaps

Photo courtesy of Vancouver Sun

Today it was announced that striker Long Tan has been traded from the Vancouver Whitecaps to DC United after starting only four games this season. Tan had played a lot more last season (though the scoreboard didn’t particularly reflect it), but it seems this season he was moved to third string by the more formidable forward presences of Eric Hassli and Darren Mattocks.

Unfortunately, the lack of playing time seems to have caused a great deal of frustration for the 24 year old “dragon” (as dubbed by the local Whitecaps cheer squad). Three weeks ago after sitting on the bench for yet another game, Tan tweeted:

“You don’t give me time to playing. You don’t want let me go. What do you want?? I do not understand! Keep me of win PDL champion?”

Obviously not a happy camper, which is understandable. I can’t imagine how tough it would be sitting on the bench, game after game, as the crowd bellowed Hassli’s name (not yours) at the 70 minute mark. Such a situation would not lead to a happy “work-place environment”.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tan’s trade will be best for everyone. Hopefully, he’ll receive more playing time (and job satisfaction) with his new team. I also have to wonder how much of the decision to trade him was driven by his frustrated online outburst and other tension under the surface?

Photo courtesy of Mafue


Meet Your Maker

Maker Faire is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth – a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. It’s a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning.

Join the ultimate celebration in Making, tinkering, hacking, crafting and inspiring innovation at the PNE Forum on June 23rd and 24th.Originating in San Francisco, Maker Faire is a two-day celebration of making and creating. The Maker Faire mission is to unite, inspire, inform and entertain the general community.  It’s an all-ages family festival promoting the ethos of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) on a large scale.

Maker Faire is a fun, interactive collection of demonstrations, exhibits, workshops and displays.Some Feature Exhibits Include:

Maker Projects – a 3D printer village, an off-road wheelchair, a “bike car”, electric drawing machines, handmade, wooden instruments from locally-sourced materials, urban farmers, a Young Makers section, home-made surfboards, sand sculpting, an Instagram wall, and much much more, such as…

Workshops – A demonstration on how to make bamboo bicycles, mathematical crafts with GeoBurst, how to build bee homes with locally-sourced materials, learn how to knit, solder, and more!
Commercial Vendors: Instructables, Got Craft?,  Blim, Army of Evil Robots, Plush on Main, The Hackery, and more!
Musicians and Performance Groups
 – Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra, flyingoctopus, The Carnival band, Mad Skillz Jugging festival and more!

Event Details:

Masthead photo courtesy of Dan Zen’s photostream on Flickr

Chapbooking with The KidSafe Writers’ Room

An awesome reader from Queen Alexandra Elementary!

Last night Michelle Burtnyk-Horn, Alex Grant and I took in a fantastically edutaining (education + entertainment = awesome) literary wrap-up for the KidSafe Writers’ Room readers and writers from Queen Alexandra Elementary School. The very awesome Sarah Maitland hosted an evening of storytelling starring several young readers, writers and performers from Vancouver elementary schools.

About a dozen kids proudly – sometimes nervously, always awesomely – read aloud their work to an audience of peers, parents, teachers, and volunteers with rave reviews from all in attendance.

Truly, it was a wonderful celebration of a community in which you can be involved over the summer (and beyond) as a volunteer or donor.