Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Chef Survival Challenge

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

– JRR Tolkien

Today is Victoria’s Chef Survival Challenge! Billed as a cross between Iron Chef and Tough Mudder, it promises to be a downright hoot.  http://chefsurvivalchallenge.com/index.html


The ties that draw back to community, that revolve around locally grown food are amazingly ritualistic and atavistic.  Like dancing around a fire, it’s primal to delight in the offerings nature provides. We lived in Italy for 6 years in the hills of Tuscany and Florence. When we first arrived, we were curious about several signs regularly posted throughout the year like “Sagra del Chianina” “Sagra del porchetta”, “Sagra del vino chianti.”  What on Earth were these Sagra all about?  Sagra comes from the religious connotation of feast or celebration. It has been diluted to mean festival, feast. Sagra di Fungi Porcini was a common one. The Sagra brings community together in an informal celebration of local food.

sagra del tartufo

We attended several of the Italian Sagra over the years.  Sometimes a band would play, but mostly they are a stuff-your-face event.  (In case you were wondering- No pie or porcini-eating contests – the Italians are much too elegant for that)

Chef Survival Challenge in Victoria is a tradition similar to the Sagra but more entertaining.  There will be obstacle courses, a cooking competition by local top chefs, food foraging by said local top chefs who pick food that they cook.  Local celebrities will attended.  Andrew Weaver is scheduled to speak.  I have been asked to sing This Earth is Mine!  The vegetables fruits, berries and mushrooms from Madrona farm are sustainably grown; Nathalie is a passionate advocate for Bees and Biodiversity.  This event is to support Nathalie’s Chamber’s Big Dream Farm Fund and Farmland Conservation.  I can’t think of a worthier cause to support – whilst having fun – I’ve been looking forward to this for months!

I will report back after the next Style-Diet Shot.

Big Dream Farm Fund

Dream Big.

Nathalie Chambers is an infectiously positive person.  She is the only person I know of who has raised 2.7 million dollars in order to save her family farm and then turned around and gifted that farm to the  community via a Land trust.  What a bright, shining example of glorious possibilities.  Thanks to Nathalie, this land will belong to the community.  Forever.  Food security is a pressing problem.  Here is how Nathalie described it to me “Imagine the world as an apple, take 3/4 of that away for the oceans.  We’re left now with 1/4 of that apple.  That’s land.  Now take the thin little peel on this remaining quarter slice of apple.  This piece of peel is how much land we have for agriculture”.


Nathalie Chambers at Madrona Farm. She farms sustainably with her husband Dave. Most concerned about preserving and enhancing biodiversity, Dave has engineered a light plough a couple inches shorter than standard so that it doesn’t disturb the local bees who hibernate in the ground over winter. Nathalie has studied the trees on her farm and has found out that they enhance biodiversity since that’s where the pollinators thrive.

When we lived in England, we joined the National Trust.  This is a beautiful system by which the people collectively buy and protect historical sites, land and wildlife.  People give as much as they can afford.  It’s a delightfully democratic system with integrity.  The British have much to protect.  I think that Canada, given our sheer size, has way more.

Inspired by the UK Trust, Nathalie has a similar vision for Canada – and the World!- called the Big Dream Farm Fund. http://chefsurvivalchallenge.com/the_big_dream_farm_fund.html  Last night she unveiled her new National Vision tonight at the Vista 18 restaurant at the Chateaux Victoria.  So many people would love to farm but can’t afford to buy the land.  If the community can unite to protect and own the land, then farming can be accessible to those who want to.  Nathalie and her husband Dave are a fine example demonstrating that it’s possible to make a living farming sustainably.

What if every Canadian contributed just 10 dollars to preserving farmland – our glorious patrimony?   Owning our farmland collectively, protecting it from land-grabbing speculators and big biotech companies who want to poison the soils and water with GMO Biofuel production (which is unsustainable, taking far more energy to produce that what it yields) or GMO food production which is highly unsustainable and scary in it’s misled monocrop vision.  Monsanto claims to be feeding the world.  What they don’t tell you is that 70% of GMOs are not intended for human consumption!  Feeding the world, as they say over and over again – Bah Humbug.  They’ve said it so many times that people believe them.  Believe me -the Emperor is naked.


Chefs running an obstacle course at the 2009 Chef Survival Challenge at Madrona Farm. The Challenge both builds community and raises funds for farmland conservation.

By committing to preserve farmland for sustainable agriculture, we can enhance our biodiversity, keep our water and soils pure and help supply the ever-increasing demand for organic foods (Organic means GMO free.  Organic has never allowed GMOs).  Nathalie has two upcoming events in September called the “Chef Survival Challenge” which brings together local chefs and local farms.  Well-known chefs race and swim and do all sorts of difficult and goofy obstacles before getting to pick their veggies and cook them into a 3 star dish which is judged.  The winning chef becomes the year’s Golden Broccoli winner.   Applause please.  Funds raised from this fabulous community affair go right into the Big Dream Farm Fund.   Raucous cheering!

I will post more about this.  Til then I’ll leave you with a farmer’s anthem written by my Grandpa Rupert in the 1950s.  I can’t talk much about farming without thinking of my gentle, song-writing Grandpa Rupert, an organic berry farmer at Goldstream Berry Paradise.  He loved the Earth and said, “Always leave the soil better than you found it”

Start of a Slightly Seditious Experiment

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

– Dalai Llama XIV

Ken, who helps in our garden, asked me yesterday whether he should mow the grass. It has been a couple weeks since the last shaving. With lawnmowers buzzing on our block every day, I was trying to decide what in Earth to do with our front lawn. Even though much space is given to Victorian lawns (due to by-laws regulating set-backs), they are usually barren, silent places until they get mowed.  After a flurry of mowing activity, they return to quiet, uninhabited, still-ness.

What is the point?

Ever since posting a quote about lawns being nature under a totalitarian regime, something has been slowly growing inside of me. A seed of discontent about lawns, a confusion about their purpose. We considered planting a vegetable garden in the front but we have ample room in the back and not much soil to work with. Not only that, but we have unique and protected trees, plants, mosses and lichens in the front yard. It’s a beautiful balance between the naturally-occurring rocks and greenery. We have several mature and juvenile Garry Oaks in the front we definitely don’t want to disturb.  Lastly, if we replaced the front patches of lawn with vegetables, we’d have to put up 7 foot high fences.  Only this would keep out the deer who wander the quiet streets of Victoria like the sacred cows of India.  A proper deer-proof fence wouldn’t be allowed because of by-laws stating that front yard fences cannot be more than four feet high.


I wonder if you see where I’m going with this…

I read a book recently about a fellow Victorian who tried to grow a Garry Oak meadow in front of her house. The city didn’t share her noble ambitions and ordered it cut down. I believe the book is Gardens Aflame by Maleea Acker (Thanks Eve!). Neighbours tend to fear *that* house with over-grown ‘weeds’, worrying that it signals seditious on-goings inside. One fellow in my neighbourhood allegedly measures his lawn height with a ruler.

I wonder if you have enough clues now…

I hummed and hawed trying to answer Ken. To Mow or Not to Mow….  That was the question.  Whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.  Wheels were turning in my heart.  Last week, Ken already removed heavy clods of lawn from the Garry Oaks’ perimeters in order to seed more native plants (see previous post for another before-and-after picture).


Having reduced it, did we really *need* to cut whatever lawn was left?

I asked Ken that question. He shrugged.

“What happens if I don’t cut it?” I took another approach.

Ken had a think.

I don’t think he’s ever been asked this before.

He said that it was up to me, but neighbours will usually let your grass grow a foot before complaining to the city.

Now that got me really curious. Exactly, just how long could our lawn grow without a neighbour complaining? I felt stirrings inside, a challenge of disquiet, a need to prove or to learn something. The start of another experiment! I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it (hope my husband agrees – if not I’ll make him), but it will be more of a social experiment versus a scientific one. Let me clarify that nobody has asked me to do this nor has anyone encouraged me to do this. I think most people I know would say, ‘What? Why?”


Lung lichen growing among the moss

There are so many reasons and I’m not sure how to order them in terms of importance. I want to know if this purposeful in/action can give a home to and nurture more Garry Oak pollinators and other elements of the Native Ecosystem. This means encouraging life and  biodiversity. Diversity is not only the spice of life, but the basis by which evolution can occur. We must honour our differences biologically speaking. Without differences, we are literally doomed.

I also am curious about the spoken and unspoken rules here about lawn mowing.  Having lived in Europe for the bulk of my adult-hood, I’ve assimilated different norms, languages and cultures. I tend to think of Canadians (including myself) as very law-abiding. For example at a deserted intersection, most Canadians will wait for the green man to flash before crossing. Even when there are no cars around. Having lived 13 years in Europe, 5 in the US and a tiny bit in Hong Kong I can tell you that nowhere else are people so norm-driven. Helvetian Friends say that even the Swiss won’t wait for the signal to cross when the intersection is empty. I guess I’m curious as to how my neighbours will react to the budding bit of Garry Oak Meadow on their street.

How will the City react and respond?  How long will it take for us to receive a notice to mow?Will we become our street’s pariah? Or will this contribute positive change and encourage avid mowers to promote life and Garry Oak Ecosystems in their front yards?

I suppose I feel like being a little provocative.  Perhaps, just perhaps, provocation is a key ingredient for change.