Category Archives: Food & Permaculture

Fantastic Foraging Follow-up

We always open every Urban Foraging workshop with a review of City of Surrey Bylaws, and so we’ll start this blog in the same manner!

Section 15 of City of Surrey Parks Bylaw 13480 states: “No person shall within a park […] remove, cut, break, injure or in any way destroy or damage any animal, tree, shrub, plant, turf, sod, or flower.” You can read the full bylaws here. Surrey Parks are great venues for learning and teaching, but if you want to go harvesting, we encourage you to find a location on private or crown land.

A huge thank you to Mandi Thompson for facilitating this year’s foraging workshops! This year’s workshops in Tynehead and Green Timbers Park were by far our most well attended, and we’ve received numerous request to hold similar workshops with Mandi again.

Below you will find pictures from both events, the list of plants that we found and learned about, as well as Mandi’s suggested reading list.

One of the best resources, however, is Mandi’s “Fantastic Forager” YouTube channel! You can also follow Mandi on Twitter here.

Plant ID Walk

  1. Oregon Grape
  2. Salmonberry
  3. Salal*
  4. Blackberry
  5. Thimbleberry
  6. Dandelion
  7. False Lily of the Valley
  8. Curly Dock, Broadleaf Dock
  9. Clover
  10. Shepherd’s Purse
  11. Plantain- broad leaf and narrow leaf
  12. Horsetail – Only the young shoots (still green), and I do not really recommend it!
  13. Red Osier Dogwood – medicinal
  14. Cattails
  15. Hardhacks – medicinal
  16. Flowering Wild Currant
  17. Thistle- Bull thistle, sow thistle

Toxic/Do Not Eat List:

  1. Buttercup – gastric distress; they taste so bad human fatalities are rare.
  2. Bleeding Heart – vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, slowed breathing
  3. Holly – vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, drowsiness
  4. Skunk Cabbage – they taste really bad so you wouldn’t want to eat them, intestinal upset
  5. Foxglove*- Bell shaped flowers, many colors, grows in ditches. Seriously potent emetic.

Slows the heart, causes heart attack

  1. Cherry Laurel/English Laurel* -extreme intestinal upset, cyanide compounds
  2. Lupine* – Slows the heart, numbness in feet and hands, burning in mouth, shock, dehydration, fever, nausea, vomiting, coma, hallucinations

Recommended Reading: (*Available at Surrey Libraries)

  1. *Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate by John Kallas – an excellent “starter” book that focuses on identification and creative ways to eat weeds! Lots of photographs of the same plant from various angles, good maps, and good recipes.
  2. *Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada by Andrew Mackinnon – a great, easy to understand and interesting reference with clear pictures. Canada-wide focus, but clear maps of where to find each. A definite must read.
  3. * Wild Berries of the Pacific Northwest by J.E. Underhill – a 1974 classic with clear photographs and illustrations, local focus, clear charts and maps, and includes lots of really nice recipes!
  4. *Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy Turner – an excellent reference to 300+ toxic plants, North American focus, clear photographs and easy to understand. Kind of the “Anti Mackinnon” and a very important read.
  5. *Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs by Jim Meuninck – Small and handy guide – not a good starter since it’s illustrated instead of photography, but lots of information in there!
  6. *Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer – Though the book covers plants of the Midwest, many are also found in the PNW. Some great ideas for cooking!
  7. *Indian Use of Wild Plants for Crafts, Food, Medicine and Charms by F. Densmore – not a reference guide, a Canada-wide focus, and not solely dedicated to foraging, but incredibly interesting and endangered information in here.
  8. * How to Eat in the Woods by Bradford Angier – Only ⅓ of the book is dedicated to foraging (the other ⅔ are dedicated to hunting and survival techniques), a broad North American focus and not quite clear illustrations. This one isn’t a reference guide by any stretch, but it contains some surprising tidbits about food and survival, and is quite entertaining!
  9. Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland by Johnson, Kershaw, Mackinnon and Pojar – Though the book is not specific to BC areas, many of the plants inside are. This book is super dense, and it trains your brain to think in “plant families” to learn to more quickly identify new plants. Not essential but a great tool!

There are hundreds of others out there, including The Deerholm Foraging Book, Pacific Northwest Foraging, Backyard Foraging, The Joy of Foraging, etc etc etc. (All available at Surrey Libraries!) The above list is just a good start. I encourage you to go and find your favorites

2017 Surrey Earth Walk Gratitude

A huge thank you to everyone that contributed to today’s 2017 Surrey Earth Walk, especially the folks that joined us for the first time!

We invite you to follow some of the links below and get to know some of the individuals and groups that are making Surrey a more sustainable community.

A special thank you to Ellen from the Surrey Blue Dot Group for all the work planning and organizing, and to Suzanne and her crew from Amazing Tutors Foundation for the support along the way and for providing gifts of appreciation to the venue hosts along the way.

Thank you to Teresa,  Cora, Elder Amy and the whole crew at the PLOT Sharing Garden for the beautiful blessing and opening ceremony. Oh, and for having the tent up when the hail started to come down!

Thank you to Councilor Vera Lefranc and the Surrey Urban Farmers Market for your help and contributions to the opening ceremony.

Thank you to Ev and Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm for being our first rest stop, and for the tour and the fresh hazelnuts.

Thanks you to Henry and Linda from Roots Ecovillage Cooperative for hosting and providing the lunch stop at Henry’s Permaculture garden.

Thank you to Chris from the Green Timbers Heritage Society for providing a guided tour through Green Timbers Urban Forest.

Thank you to Chris from the Surrey Nature Centre for providing a tour of the grounds.

Thank you to Kate and Ron from the Gro Cart Project for introducing us to the amazing Gro Carts.

Thank you to the City of Surrey’s Environmental Extravaganza program for the support.

And thanks to Steve W for being awesome.

If you like what these groups and people are doing in our community, we encourage you to connect with them, support them and tell them how much you appreciate them!

If you participated in the Surrey Earth Walk and have feedback on how to improve it for next year, please let us know.

Social Permaculture Activation Day

A huge thank you to Delvin Solkinson, Kym Chi and Bruno Vernier from Gaiacraft for offering today’s free workshop on social permaculture! Thank you also to Alexandra Neighbourhood House for providing the perfect venue, the City of Surrey for the support through the Environmental Extravaganza program, and to Linda Prai for coordinating the day.

Curious about what social permaculture is all about? You’ll find a good summary here, and you can read a blog by local poet Heidi Greco here. Scroll down to learn more about the facilitators below.

The best option, of course, is to join us for the next social permaculture gathering!

Here is a bit more about today’s facilitators:

Delvin Solkinson is a graduate student of permaculture education who continues to study with many masters and maestras of the movement while creating a series of free, open source learning and teaching tools.

Kym Chi is a dedicated advocate of earth stewardship, people care and regenerative action for future resiliency. She teaches Permaculture and works for One Straw Society, a non-profit focusing on food sovereignty.

Bruno Vernier has taught in self-paced Learning Centers and been involved in the Open Source movement, his focus on Community Currencies has connected him with several world leaders in this field.


Institute for Sustainable Food Systems

On April 19 Dr. Kent Mullinix presented on the work of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS).

ISFS is an applied research and extension unit at Kwantlen Polytechnic University that investigates and supports regional food systems as key elements of sustainable communities. The project focuses predominantly on British Columbia but also extends to other regions.

See here for more information on the project, and scroll through the presentation slides below. (It may take a few moments for the slide show to load!)

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Urban Foraging in Surrey

Wait! Don’t pick that dandelion leaf!

OK, it depends where you are. This year has been a  learning experience for us.

Over the years, Village Surrey and our various friends and partners have offered numerous foraging workshops around the city to educate people about edible and non-edible plants in our region.

These have been some of our most popular and well attended workshops, leaving participants with more knowledge and respect for our urban green spaces.

This spring, we were looking at offering two workshops on foraging: Tynehead Park (April 28) and Green Timbers Urban Forest (May 7). What we didn’t realize was that holding these workshops in park spaces contravened a number of City of Surrey bylaws. You can read the relevant bylaws on page 10 here.

We are confident that we can find a way to offer these workshops without contravening bylaws, but we’re still working through the details.

If this topic interests you, you can register here and we’ll let you know when we get it all figured out.

In the mean time, please take a moment to learn more about one of our local experts and tour guides, Mandi Thompson.

Mandi is a young creative and devotee of local living. She’s a proud Surrey-ite who has been passionate about foraging for many years, and recently got serious about it.

She spends her free time wandering through waste spaces and yards in search of plump greens, weeds and berries to whip into simple and delicious fare.

In the past, Mandi has led foraging tours around Surrey for everyone from recent retirees to Syrian refugees and has become an advocate for education about wild edibles.

If you can’t make it to the tours, you can check out her “Fantastic Forager” YouTube channel here. Below is a selection of some of Mandi’s favourite videos:


‘Stacking functions’ with gardening

Spring is finally here! Several Surrey high school clubs are  getting busy outdoors which is great to see. Gardening (and related activities)  is something that Permaculture refers to as ‘stacking functions’. It provides solutions and benefits on many levels, here are just a few:

  • Many hands make light work. To mix mulch and spread it in my yard, alone, takes a few hours. To do it with a school garden takes minutes. And that communal activity feels good!

Local Development Club members at Fraser Heights Secondary, preparing mulch

  • Social enterprise ideas, from building planters to sell, to possibly growing microgreens or salad greens to sell locally and in school cafeterias.
  • Building soil increases the carbon it can hold, thus is a low-tech form of ‘carbon sequestration’ that kids and teens can be directly involved in and feel good about.
  • The food produced can be used in many ways: as ingredients for cooking (and therefore learning another skill), or drying herbs to sell as a fundraiser (same with seeds for easy-to-harvest plants like cilantro and spinach). Or maybe the focus is allowing people to come and freely pick what they need, particularly in low-income neighbhourhoods.
  • On a personal level it keeps us more physically active. That was apparent last week while I watched students from Fraser Heights secondary hauling tarps and wheelbarrows full of soil up a steep, slippery slope to where 12 raised beds were waiting to be filled.
  • Becoming more responsible in a very direct way: learning to grow a bit of what we eat. After all, eating is an activity everyone does but only 1-2% of the population does it on a commercial scale. That’s not very resilient!
  • Experience first-hand the time and labour it takes to produce food. Planting carrots in the spring but not harvesting until fall gives students in the classroom a real sense of time scale. You cannot plant something when you are hungry – planning way in advance is required! Even salad greens take 6 weeks to reach a size worth eating.

       Johnston Heights Secondary club members checking out
the school garden in August

  • Practice food security by learning to save seeds and grow produce that can be stored (such as some squashes, carrots, potatoes, dried tomatoes, pickled vegetables).
  • Learn about new foods you may not have tried before. That includes wild foods and things we call ‘invasives’ such as blackberries, dandelion and plantain.

Dandelions are not native to BC, but now an important
source of pollen for bees

  • Over the seasons, learning to watch and observe the natural world. When pollinators are in the garden, what plants are happiest side by side, what happens when you neglect to water and what plants survive, Reading a book or watching videos about gardening and cooking can be interesting and provide a foundation, but then you have to do the activities and learn, often, from making mistakes.
  • Thinking in whole systems, a very useful life skill: soil, water, wind, seeds, sunlight hours, warmth, pollinators, companion planting, composting…the cycle of life!
  • Learn about different plants and how to harvest, store, prepare and eat them. Also, how to ensure plants are part of the larger ecosystem, not just human needs. Pollinators help with at least 35% of the food we eat.

Quinoa, grown locally. Easy to store, keeping some
to sow the following year.

So when you are hot and sweaty in the garden,  frustrated by seeds that did not germinate, or realize that you planted nowhere near enough of something your community needs….just remember it’s a life-long set of skills that are being built, and a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Given that 99% of what we eat is not from native plants, we have to carefully plan how we use the land, what we grow, how to replenish the soil, and learn what plants work well together. The goal is not to provide the majority of our calories from gardening, but to build skills and realize the potential of urban land, suburban yards, community gardens, and “normalizing nature’ in our lives. It puts us back in touch with our daily needs and how we choose to fulfill them.

Check out ‘the Plot’ in Newton sometime!

Oh, and gardening sure makes you appreciate buying fruits and vegetables from the store once you understand just how much work went into that food production. Thank you, farmers!



Virtual March for Peace, Unity and Compassion

The Virtual March is over, but you can see media coverage and pictures here!

Tune in on January 20 to watch a virtual march take place across Surrey!

A colourful procession of Lego mini-figures will march across Surrey from City Hall to Peace Arch Park delivering messages of peace, unity and compassion to the US border on the day of the presidential inauguration. The messages are real, but the “march” itself will take place online only!

The messages have been submitted by people from around Surrey, and reflect the values, attitudes and priorities that participants hope to see both locally and globally.

We invite you to follow, share and re-tweet the photos and messages throughout the day from the Village Surrey Facebook and Twitter accounts.

You can also follow the march on #ThisIsSurrey.

Call for Artists: Virtual March for Peace, Unity and Compassion

On January 20, 2017 a colourful procession will march across Surrey from City Hall to Peace Arch Park delivering messages of peace, unity and compassion to the US border on the day of the presidential inauguration.

The messages are real, but the “march” itself will take place online only!

Throughout the month of January, a group of Surrey artists are roaming the community with cameras and hundreds of Lego mini-figures. They are inviting people to write positive messages of peace, unity and compassion on tiny signs that will be photographed with the Lego mini-figures marching though locations around Surrey.

On January 20, the photos will be released online throughout the day creating the appearance of a “virtual march” across Surrey. The pictures and messages will be posted from the Village Surrey Facebook and Twitter accounts using the hashtag #ThisIsSurrey.

The “virtual march” coincides with the US presidential inauguration but is not intended as a protest or partisan initiative. This community art project is an opportunity for participants to playfully assert the values, attitudes and priorities that they hope to see both locally and globally.

There are a number of ways that Surrey residents and artists can participate in this community art project. See below for samples of the types of pictures that we are hoping to include in the project.

Make a Sign

Throughout the month of January, residents of Surrey are invited to contribute messages to be included on signs held by “marchers.” Signs must be 1 x 1 inch square, and messages should reflect positives hopes for a more peaceful, united and compassionate future. Submissions can be anonymous.

Messages can be sent via email, or made on the spot at one of the upcoming photo shoots:

Word Studio at Camp Alexandra on January 8
City Hall on January 13
City Centre Library on January 18

Be Photographed

Have your picture taking with the “virtual marchers.” Any of the photos taken may be shared online via social media or website postings. To have your picture taken, come to one of the photo shoots listed above or contact us to arrange to have us come to your location.

Be a Project Photographer

Project photographers are needed to take pictures around Surrey. Photographers will need access to their own camera. Let us know if you are interested and we will load you up with a bucket of Lego min-figures and all the art supplies you will need!

I’ll Trade You a Feast for a Fast…

I enjoy doing graphic design. My daughter loves learning new recipes. My friend needed a cover for his new book. His wife is an amazing cook. Can you connect the dots?

My friend and neighbour Dr. Jagessar Das recently wrote a book called: “Fasting: Pathway To The Divine – Its Practice And Spiritual Benefits As Taught By Satguru Kabir.” Dr. Das is a retired medical doctor, and continues to write and speak on topics of meditation and spirituality. You can review the electronic version of the book here.

The book explores the tradition and importance of fasting as a form of spiritual devotion as taught by Satguru Kabir, a spiritual leader in the 15th century. According to Dr. Das:

“He also taught people that merely reading the scriptures does not make you a devotee. Instead, you need to develop love and compassion for all living beings, personal cleanliness in thought word and deed, pleasant speech, non-violence towards all living creatures, to live a vegetarian life, to avoid tobacco and intoxicating drinks, to seek God in yourself and in other beings, to practice daily meditation, to observe a monthly fast, and to perform the Chowkā ārati officiated by your guru, or a mahant.”

I admire the gentle and powerful ways that Dr. Das and his wife Urmila live out their spirituality as devotees of Satguru Kabir. I see how their spiritual practice enriches their own lives, and I see how that abundance overflows to others in our neighbourhood.

As much a fasting forms an important part of the Das’s spiritual practice, so does feasting. Urmila is an amazing cook, so when Dr. Das approached me to design a cover for his book on fasting, I immediately saw an opportunity for a feast!

Shortly after the book was launched, Urmila invited my daughter, Valerie, over to learn how to cook one of her specialties: a delicious, spicy channa dish. You can see pictures of the cooking session below.

Dr. Das got a cover design for his book on fasting, my daughter learned a new recipe, and I’ve been feasting ever since!

I am always looking for opportunities to barter, and this is one of my favourite examples. Bartering is the process of trading goods and services directly, without the exchange of money.

In the article “Building Community Through Bartering and Trading” on, blogger Benjamin K. Coffman argues that our dependence on money as the dominant means of exchanging goods and services has contributed to the isolation and disconnect that defines many of our neighbourhoods and communities. He proposes that bartering is one way that we can remedy this:

“…I’m proposing a solution, and a simple one at that.  Learn to barter and trade again.  Bartering and trading is a recently lost art; chances are some of your grandparents can still do it, but generations since then have never had to do any of that past childhood (we all traded toys and cards).  This can be incredibly simple, useful and it will help us build our communities again.”

I encourage you to read the article with an openness to doing more bartering with your friends and neighbours! Coffman admits that getting started may not be easy at first:

“People aren’t used to trading physical things and services in this digital age.  We’ve all been taught that money is the only thing worth getting and that we need a lot of it, so we have to slowly introduce the idea of trading to our neighbors if they are not already familiar with it.  The easiest way to do this is to tell your neighbors your ideas and what you do.”

Well neighbour, if you want to barter with me, you should know that food is always a good sell! What can I offer? Among other things, I do offer free webhosting for individuals and groups that are doing positive work in the community. Perhaps we can work something out?

And if you want to taste some of Urmila’s amazing dishes, you might be interested to know that they are regular hosts for the “Interfaith Dinner” program. Let me know if you would like to learn more about this program!

Food security in Surrey

(Since I missed half of the meeting, please excuse any inaccuracies or missed names. Feel free to add to this in the comments below!)

“I’d love to see a new form of social security … everyone taught how to grow their own; fruit and nut trees planted along every street, parks planted out to edibles, every high rise with a roof garden, every school with at least one fruit tree for every kid enrolled.”  ― Jackie French, New Plants from Old

rice                                         Rice, which can be grown in Surrey

I was able to attend part of the afternoon meeting yesterday for ‘Seeds of Change’, discussing food security issues in Surrey. Areas being targeted for projects are Guilford and Newton, the two lowest income centres in the city. They were also chosen because these areas already have some ongoing programs (such as Avenues of Change and the Starfish packs). I live at the edge of Guilford and City Centre, an interesting mix of an area.

There were many government  organizations, non-profits and volunteer groups at the meeting, including from the City of Surrey, Fraser Health, Sources, United Way, Surrey Food Bank, Food Action Coalition, Village Surrey, and discussion of projects that were supported by Vancity, A Rocha, and the Rotary Club of Surrey. So lots of groups discussing the issues facing 8% of Surrey’s adult population (and children) that are food insecure.

What does, ‘food security’ and ‘food desert’ mean?  I wrote an article on food security last year which goes into more detail on this issue which affects us all. I live across the street from an ‘inner city’ elementary school and my son attends an inner city high school in Surrey, so I see first-hand the challenges that families face. Food or rent? Car or telephone? Heat or lights? Everything is interconnected so we cannot create food security without also addressing rising housing/rental  prices and the need for social housing in our city.

If community garden space is available but a person has no experience with growing food, that is a barrier. At the meeting, Kate (Gro-Carts co-founder) talked about the importance of connecting experienced growers with new gardeners. There is also a need to grow foods that people are familiar with (fenugreek for an Indian immigrant family, for example, or purslane for a Middle Eastern couple). Food security involves choice, not just having enough calories.

canningThe issue was broken down to four food security concerns:

1) Availability
This involves things like ‘food deserts’ or areas where people are not within a 10-15 minute walk of a food store. If only a convenience store is available, that means junk food so is not a viable option. 8% of people report abandoning culturally important foods because of lack of access or money.

2) Access
A big barrier is not having a vehicle. Most people shop at a big box store, where there can be some good variety, but 75% of food insecure people said they did not drive to the store. Furthermore, 51% mentioned  time poverty as a problem. If you are working two jobs, have children, and are chronically behind on the bills, finding time to shop, prepare food, cook and clean up every single day is exhausting.

3) Income
This is a big one. If you have to pay rent or get evicted, you are more likely to skimp on food and visit the Food Bank. Young families are frequent users of food banks, an unsettling situation.  23% of people in a food poverty survey said they go hungry some of the time due to food affordability struggles.

4) Food Literacy
If money is tight, you buy as many calories for your dollar as possible. That means starch, sugar, and less fresh fruits and vegetables or meat. So learning to make the best choices possible (eg. lentils) take a solid education and management skills. You may be new to the area, not speak English, and not know where the nearest good food store is. Having maps online, showing safe walking routes would be a good start. Pop-up markets, perhaps at schools during the afternoon when parents or grandparents are picking up children, or food trading tables are also possibilities.

The barriers and solutions exist on an individual, neighbourhood and systemic level. The city can change zoning to ensure everyone is within walking distance of a good store, a park, and/or a school or community garden. The individual can start sharing backyard spaces with people they know, to grow food or learn gardening tips from people in their area. The community level has the most power to be collaborative, for example linking people with cars with people who want to go glean at a farm in another part of Surrey. Lower income people are more likely to be in the north, farmland in the south.

Asset mapping is very useful, as is thinking about ‘zones’. If a garden space is too far away and time is tight, likely someone will give up that space. But if it is also a place to come and socialize, perhaps meet with others new to the area, attend a workshop on native plant species or go on a ‘edible weed walk’, or swap food that you preserved last week, there is a much bigger incentive to come together. As permaculture says: ‘stack your functions’.

bee-talk-3-300x300The PLOT in Newton (pictured above) has been a great multi-faceted, community project. There are school gardens, church gardens, community gardens, backyard sharing programs, community kitchen programs, gleaning coordinators, school lunch programs and much, much more. If you know of a project that you want to share, please add to the comments section below! Learning about what programs and resources are already out there helps to know where and what to target. And if we build confidence, there is strength in numbers when we work together from all backgrounds, ages and skill sets. We all have something to contribute!

gro-carts                                       Kate and Tammas with the Gro-Carts

cpiakugviaaoovaSilvia offers free gardening, food preservation
and intro permaculture classes