Written by Kirsten Mathison, YAB volunteer for the Great Canoe Journey & Great Waters Challenge in 2018-2019
I try to keep a record of things I am grateful for each day. Overwhelmingly, my entries centre around the dinner table. There is something about food that nourishes more than my body. It strengthens my relationships by drawing my community together over communal potlucks and feasts; treasured family recipes connect me to my heritage; and exploring foreign dishes is a powerful way to connect with other cultures. Perhaps it is this gratitude that fuels my curiosity, but our food system is a web I often find myself lost in. As I chase the sources or explore the impacts of the different delicacies that wind up on my plate, I get overwhelmed by the complex interactions inherent in even the simplest meal. Ecologically, socially, politically, culturally, no matter which way you slice it, our food is loaded with more than calories and nutrients.
A trip to the grocery-store transforms from a simple chore to an anxiety-ridden juggling game. Trying to weight the benefits and costs of a food’s carbon footprint, ethics, and packaging quickly eliminates 90% of the items on the shelf (especially when you are on a tight budget).
In light of this, I became preoccupied with the idea of growing my own food. It was the only recipe I could see for an uncomplicated meal. However, I felt paralyzed by the prospect. Growing food to me required a backyard and a garden. I imagined neat rows of vegetables stretching into the distance and nestled firmly into sunny earth. It was easy to think of excuses why I couldn’t grow my own food. For starters, I live in an apartment in the city and have killed every succulent I’ve ever owned. But then, it’s even easier to think of reasons why I should grow my own food. Especially living on Vancouver Island. We are blessed with the perfect conditions for growing food – mild climate, lots of water, and a disproportionate number of vegetarians. However, the majority of our food is shipped across the Salish Sea from all over the world. A report in 2004 found that local producers only accounted for 5-10% of the island’s food supply (Macnair, 2004). If are are talking about preparing for a climate apocalypse–those are some truly scary numbers.
So, I shrugged off my excuses. I got some pots, hauled a sack of dirt up to my third floor balcony, and carefully buried tiny seeds into the soft, black, soil. I’m starting easy, kale and lettuce, and a few herbs. As I stared at the starkly dark pots of dirt, it was hard to imagine anything alive poking through.
In a shocking short period of time, my efforts were rewarded with the cutest baby greens pushing up from the earth (I immediately slid into the role of biased-plant mom).
Over the summer, I was impressed by how little work it was for me to care for my (admittedly humble and uncomplicated) crops. I did my best to remember to water them regularly (and relied heavily on my roommate, Mia, to do so when I forgot). I also learned that with seeds, more is not necessarily better, as my cute baby greens quickly outgrew and overcrowded their small containers and their growth stalled. I scavenged some new containers from the garden shop down the street from my house and Mia helped me carefully prune and transplant the excess plants into their new homes.
For the last few weeks, I have been rewarded with a consistent stream of leafy greens to supplement my salads, sandwiches, and stir fries. The meals supplemented by my tiny garden tasted sweeter – my body and my soul felt nourished.
I am full of gratitude for Danielle’s Cautious Optimist project for pushing me out of planter’s paralysis. And, I am even more full of gratitude that I got to share, however briefly, the light of Danielle’s life. My interactions with Danielle were limited to a day at Waterlution’s Youth Advisory Board retreat and then her sharing on social media. It was so brief; but she still planted very tangible seeds in my life. They grew into a dedication to be more of an active-ist, an interest in ocean conservation, an exploration of the work of Adrienne Maree Brown, and my very literal salad greens that bravely began to emerge only a week after being stuck in the earth.
The act of planting things is beautiful because it’s an investment for the future. I know that Danielle planted countless seeds in the lives of the people she met in the course of her short life. Even if I never find out what they blossom into, I am sure they will be beautiful and nurturing, part of a future to be optimistic about.
To learn more about The Cautious Optimist Legacy Project, visit: https://waterlution.org/the-cautious-optimist-danielle-moore-legacy-project/
ABOUT KIRSTEN MATHISON
An adventure enthusiast and life-long learner, Kirsten is passionate about exploration and discovery – whether in a cave, on a boat, or up a mountain. Exploring and learning more about the natural world led to a recognition of our profound interdependency and connection to the environment, including the omnipresent force and flow of water. She is dedicated to fighting for a sustainable future, and is excited to connect with like-minded youth to uncover innovative solutions that celebrate and reflect indigenous knowledge. Kirsten lives, works, and plays on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ nations, in the city of Victoria, where she earned a BSc in Geography and Anthropology. Kirsten now works as the Public Engagement Coordinator at the Georgia Strait Alliance, advocating for environmental protection in coastal communities in BC.