My ancestors are the Wilders. I am a 5th generation ancestor of James and Angeline Wilder. Laura’s book, “Farmer Boy”, is one year in the life of my (Uncle) Almanzo Wilder as a young boy, and it provides insights and lessons that impact my home, the Highlands. The homestead in “Farmer Boy”, described in detail, was created by my Grandma’s, Great Grandparents.
Aside from this being super cool for me to learn about, there are similarities in my ancestors lives to my own life here in the Highlands with my husband Gord and our own Eco-Sense homestead. But that’s not what this post is about today. Maybe in a future post I will write about that.
Back to the book, “The Long Winter”. It is about how Almanzo Wilder saved the town from the incredibly cold and long winter. He just about froze to death making the trip by horse drawn cart to find some grain for the town. It’s quite the book describing how the town came together and shared what little food there was while burning straw in their uninsulated wood framed houses to keep from freezing.
The main lesson in this book, a true story, was about modern progress and how the people became dependant on the brand new railroad to bring weekly necessities. These town people had all recently moved off the farm and into the new town. They had skills and could have weathered the long cold winter in their farm houses. They knew how to live. But in one or two years had given up that life to live in the town and become fully dependant on the train. They gave up being resilient. It didn’t take much to wipe out the tracks in those days, and so all of a sudden, there was no grain and no coal…and no one except my great uncles Almanzo and older brother Royal, had prepared for winter by stocking wood and grain. Yet Almanzo risked his life to save the town (and his future wife, young Laura Ingalls).
What does this have to do with Highlands?
In 1880, when Laura Ingalls was 14 and living through the worst South Dakota winter ever, Highlands was just starting to be populated by homesteading settlers. Of course, First Nations were a very resilient people with their rich relationship with the land we now call Highlands. It’s a sad colonization history with First Nations and one that I am still learning about. The book, Beautiful Rocks, (written by Highlanders Daphne Allen, Allen Dobb, Bob and Nancy McMinn, and Pattie Whitehouse) is a fantastic read to learn about the History of the Highlands both pre and post settlers.
Today in the Highlands we are not dependant on one train for coal and grain and we do not face the harsh South Dakota winters. Technology has changed our world so much in the last 140 years.
Supply chains are long and complex and most of us no longer have the basic life skills of our ancestors. These days we can fly and drive cars, communicate instantaneously on our pocket devices, and have pretty much anything delivered at the touch of a finger. But we are even more vulnerable now. Most of us get our food from the store and electricity from the wall which pumps our water and heats our homes. This seems normal…this is what we have done most or all of our lives. Why would we think this could ever change?
Unfortunately, our reality is changing…one climate event after another. Highlanders for the most part have been spared really abrupt climate impacts so far. But as we just saw this week in Canada’s Maritimes with Hurricane Fiona, our turn will be coming. We are very vulnerable. Reality REALLY sucks.
Highlands’ direct risks include fire, flooding, drought, wind, heat domes, and of course Earthquakes. But if we play these events out globally and think it through locally…especially living on an island, we know that our food supply, all material supply chains, energy (for pumping water, heating, cooling, and transportation), and communications could be knocked out for long periods of time.
Will we learn from our ancestors? Will we hope that one person, our Almanzo will save us?
There is so much that we can do as a community both at the municipal level and at the neighbourhood/family level.
For my part I will continue to volunteer my time in teaching members of the community about growing and preserving food, re-wilding, sharing excess garden plants and produce, and about becoming more resilient just as I have since we arrived in Highlands 17 years ago. At the council table I will continue to:
ensure the community is financially sustainable, by NOT growing.
our asset management plans (including natural assets) are funded,
support and fund our excellent volunteer fire Department,
continue work on our community emergency plan and implementation
Make all council decisions through the Climate Emergency lens of Adaptation, Mitigation, and Resilience to enhance community well being and protect the Highlands from needless growth.
The more we grow, the more we will need to grow…and I’m not talking about vegetables.
If we look after Highlands, Highlands will look after us.
Let’s be prepared and work together.
Ann Baird, BSc Biology, homesteader and two term councillor, District of Highlands
What Does Literacy Have to do With Municipal Elections?
It turns out that literacy has a great deal to do with municipal elections…especially in the Highlands. This is why we have BOTH decided, at the last moment, to put our names forward for re-election as municipal councillors. Yes, we are running again.
Integrated Decision Making – FIVE Capitals – Systems Thinking
In addition to being literate in the basic sense of reading, riting, and rithmetic, there are 5 other ways that are critical for elected officials to be literate. Literacy with the FIVE capitals, each with their own currency, is easy when you live it like we do with our Eco-Sense lifestyle, but full literacy is lacking with most politicians at all levels of government.
Story-Telling and the FIVE Capitals
Five years ago we had a nursery customer who turned out to be a City of Colwood staff member – he was an engineer. We gave him a quick tour of the homestead after he picked out his fruit trees. He was amazed at the integrated systems including our lifestyle, food, energy, water, carbon/natural capital and finances. He was so inspired that that he asked to bring the rest of Colwood’s engineering department for a tour. They came for a tour and we spoke about integrated municipal infrastructure.
An hour after the tour the phone rang, and a request was made to bring the Public Works and Parks departments for a tour. In this tour, we discussed integrated asset management planning and management of built and natural infrastructure.
A day later another request, this time for the Planning department, many whom we knew already, and evolved into integrated land use planning, net-zero zoning, and how to think of multiple capitals from a planning perspective.
The last call was for a tour with Colwood’s council, the CAO, and finance – discussions focused on integrated governance.
And Finally, we were invited as special guests at the ribbon cutting – the developer for Royal Bay was also in attendance and whether they knew it or not the intention was to show what the City would like emulated in the commercial development section of Royal Bay.
Despite not sitting on the Colwood Council – we influenced the whole of the council and staff and empowered them to employ integrated systems thinking that incorporated the 5 capitals in the decision making process.
Have you guessed what the five capitals are?
Social (relationships, governance, trust and hugs)
For more than a century, mainstream society has been treating water and waste from human systems as necessary evils rather than a resource. Practices that were initiated in the Victorian Era continue to have wasteful and damaging consequences, and deny the opportunity to close the loop in our nutrient cycle, while attempts to address this through implementing compost toilets have often been stymied by rules and regulations.
However, this is starting to change. Compost toilets are making their way into regulations and standards in North America, being used in diverse settings from award winning commercial buildings to remote cabins.
But as we return to regenerative practices in how we manage our human ‘waste’, it’s important that we know how to do this effectively.
A well-designed and slickly-run compost toilet system is a tremendous asset, saving inhabitants huge amounts of water and creating an abundance of fertility. A poorly-designed or neglected compost toilet system can be a serious liability.
So what determines the type of toilet that will be the best fit for your context?
How can you get the necessary approval to install one?
And what’s involved in maintaining it once it’s up and running?
Join me (Gord) as your instructor this October to find out answers to these questions and many more. I am the co-author of ‘Essential Composting Toilets: From waste-stream to mainstream’, and my expertise on the subject sprung from experience of building our Eco-Sense homestead, a Petal Recognized Living Building Challenge project that includes net zero water and waste systems, located in the District of Highlands on Vancouver Island. I served as a technical editor to the Province of BC’s regulations on compost toilets and grey water, and have gone on to design and instal more than 30 residential systems.
In this 8-session course, you can develop a comprehensive understanding of the application of composting toilets within the multiple contexts of health and safety, regulations, and navigating the sustainability goals within the constraints that exist in our culture.
By the end of the course you’ll have a solid foundation and great references to build your own system, work with a designer to create a system, or better understand the critical aspects from a health and safety perspective if you are a regulator. More subtly you will learn the benefits and potential pitfalls, tricks and tips in design and maintaining systems. I suspect your appetite will be wetted to participate in the next two workshop series on Grey Water and Rain Water Harvesting.
Wasn’t that a late spring? Summer finally came however our gardens are easily a month behind – we are still awaiting that first tomato – its August! Fruit and nut set was poor except for the myrobalan plums (little yellow ones) and the abundant hazelnuts. The early grafting work for the nursery which is usually at a success rate of 90% was about 15%. Too cool too long. Our large delivery of hazelnuts will arrive in the nursery in time for the fall season starting in September.
But summer did finally heat up this past week to 36 °C in the shade plus high humidity. It’s been downright tropical these days especially when Ann is having a hot flash. However, it’s been a far easier heat wave than last year when we hit 43°C and fruit boiled on the bushes and our Suntan apples only sported festering sunburns. Thankfully Ann’s mom was in town and stayed with us for an extended visit rather than returning home to bake in her Coquitlam home.
We also enjoyed a long awaited weekend with family from out of town and were able to scatter my dad’s ashes and celebrate my brother’s birthday. We met my newest great niece at almost 2 years old. We had a fantastic weekend. If you want to see our smiling faces check out this Vlog that my niece Katrina made. She does a very professional weekly Vlog. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUNYmJM3_58&t=16s. 12 minutes of family, cats, goats, dog, chickens, little Elise, and Ann wearing her dad’s handmade leather Lederhosen.
Gord has been invited back to speak at the Master Gardeners Association biennial convention (Jan 2023) on the topic of the necessity for garden biodiversity in a changing climate. We have learned this first hand in our various garden systems that produce 100% of our fruit, veggies, dairy, eggs, chicken, and rabbits. Even in difficult years there is still abundance…just different menus.
ECO-SENSE COURSES: There have been many emails over the past few years asking when our next workshops will be…so, after the long wait, we are making plans.
Four years ago we began ramping up the courses in the MUD ROOM and then COVID struck. Over the last two years we have not taught a class other than the odd grafting workshop. This is about to change.
Javan Bernakevitch, of All Points Design, has been pleasantly and persistently persuading Gord to develop a series of three online workshop series starting with an 8 session class oncompost toilets, followed by a 4 session class on grey water, and a 4 session class on rainwater from October 2022 into June 2023.
Compost toilets are beginning to make their way into regulations and standards in North America and being used everywhere from award winning commercial buildings to remote cabins. One of the common requests we receive by email is “What type of toilet is best suited for my usage?” This is followed closely by “How do I get the approval to install one?” and our favourite, “Why does our building office say compost toilets are not permitted?”. In British Columbia, compost toilets are indeed legal!
The course objectives include developing a comprehensive understanding of the application of composting toilets within the multiple contexts of health and safety, regulations, appropriate toilet systems for varying applications and how to navigate goals associated with these systems within the constraints that exist in our culture.
By the end of the course you’ll have a solid foundation and confidence to choose and build your own system, work with a designer to create a system, better understand the critical aspects from a health and safety perspective, and understand regulatory systems if you are a policy maker, engineer, or local inspector. You will avoid potential pitfalls, learn tricks and tips in system design and maintenance, and even roll your eyes at some potty humour delivered in Gord style.
Waterless toilets can be very dry…but Gord and Javan guarantee
that the content will be juicy and this will be a course that will stick with you!
All students will require a copy of the book “Essential Composting Toilets: From Waste-stream to Mainstream”. Copies can be purchased from us by mail (we will sign your copy), or purchased online through our book website at http://www.essentialcompostingtoilets.com.
Municipal Elections – Will YOU run in the municipal election? Will we?
This is another question that is being asked of both of us these days as we move closer to the fall municipal elections. We have hemmed and hawed. Gord is hard to read, but he did just buy three new (recycled cotton) dress shirts. This last four years at the council table has been very unrewarding. It has been difficult to push forward on the topics of climate leadership, water stewardship, fiscal responsibility, and community engagement. It’s like pulling teeth to create policy to increase local resilience, support community well being, and protect our much loved Highlands. We are often on the losing end of important votes to the point where the joke has become that if we want to move something forward, we need to promote the opposite, and it may actually get done. We do think Highlands needs a change at the council table. The idea that the status quo is the best way forward no longer cuts it in today’s rapidly changing world.
Public Cob Bathroom
Now that we have learned methods to deal with Covid, and restrictions have lifted, the iconic local cob washroom is back in service. We had a neighbour reach out and offer to help cleaning which is great! The other day while repairing 2 years worth of penises carved into the clay, a 40+ year Highlands’ resident was by for an early morning walk. In her years as a resident she considers this decade old building a Highlands’ icon. This made us smile as we clay slipped, plastered, and sponged over the penises. Little bathroom is as good as new.
Take care everyone, and thanks for letting us know if you are interested in our Composting Toilet online workshop.
Our nursery is open during the COVID Pandemic, but we are taking special precautions.
First we are taking appointments for any day of the week. Look at our list, email us questions and orders. We book one appointment per hour. For those who want to look around in the nursery we request no more than two family members.