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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada


May 10, 2007


Title: Farming In The City II


Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Pat Yama


intro soundbite: "When we think about food we think about it in a fairly narrow way. If we take apart and analyze our food, we might then start to recognize the value of food in our lives."


Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one-hour radio program and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.


It's that time of the year when Canadians have begun getting our hands dirty in our backyard gardens, balcony container gardens or maybe community gardens and as has been suggested before here on Deconstructing Dinner, gardening, is, and should be more properly referred to as "urban farming," or "farming in the city."


Farming in the City was a series launched here on the program in August of 2006, when we explored the role that urban agriculture has in the 21st century. We heard from one urban farmer in Saskatchewan who rents over a dozen backyards of local residents and sells his produce at local farmers markets. We heard from a project in Victoria, British Columbia whereby unpicked fruit on urban fruit trees is distributed and sold to local food banks and businesses. But on today's Part II of the series, the focus will be on how Canadians can begin farming, at home. Backyard or balcony food production may be a yearly tradition for some, and for others a daunting task without the slightest idea of where to begin.


And on today's broadcast we will discover that growing our own food is much easier than anyone could ever imagine, and the resources available to learn how to do so are plentiful and easily accessible.


Lending their voice to the broadcast today will be Steve Pedersen, the Coordinator of the Victoria-based Public Health Association of British Columbia, and their newly launched initiative titled Every Lawn a Garden. Also joining us will be Canadian urban agriculture guru, Michael Levenston, and his educational centre in Vancouver known as City Farmer. And rounding off the broadcast we will hear from Peter Mcallister, a woodlot operator in Kaslo, British Columbia who for the past eight years has discovered how easy it is for any Canadian to grow edible mushrooms at home.


increase music and fade out


A familiar voice here on Deconstructing Dinner has been Salt Spring Island farmer and author Michael Ableman. Michael grew up as a food activist but realized later on in life, that farming and growing his own food, was the greatest form of activism he has ever undertaken.


And I for one can agree. For myself being immersed from week to week in the many food issues that are discussed here on this program, my experience in growing my own food which really only began last year, was the most rewarding form of education, exercise, and spiritual enlightenment that I have ever received. And I'll say from personal experience to anyone who has never gardened before, it is so easy that it really is a shame to not at least try it. Last season in my first ever attempt at gardening I grew four types of tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, purple broccoli, chives, garlic, onions, leeks, black edamame beans, sugar snap peas, zucchini, red peppers, green peppers, hot peppers, thai peppers, basil, oregano, mint, thyme, red leaf lettuce, and purple carrots, just to name a few items. And again, that was with absolutely no previous experience in gardens or on farms.


And so on today's program we will hear from three individuals who will share with us their efforts to provide the necessary resources to Canadians to begin growing our own food, right at home, and in the city.


A newly launched project out of Victoria, British Columbia is hoping to see every lawn in the province become a garden, and the project is aptly titled, Every Lawn a Garden. Spearheaded by the not-for-profit Public Health Association of British Columbia or PHABC, Every Lawn a Garden has created an online community where home gardeners can share their positive and negative experiences with each other, and discover resources on how to begin urban farming at home or in your community. PHABC maintains a membership of 400 people predominately in the field of public health. They act as a voice to influence policy and advocate health promotion, disease prevention, and healthy public policy.


I spoke over the phone with Steve Pedersen, PHABC's coordinator, about this Every Lawn a Garden initiative, but before we listen in on segments from that conversation, here's the audio from a short video that their website uses to introduce the project.


Every Lawn a Garden Audio

When I was young, my dream house was full of amazing things. It's best feature was a conveyor belt connecting the fridge to the local grocery store, delivering wonderful food right where I wanted it. In my real world, the only difference between fantasy and reality is the conveyor belt. My favourite foods do actually travel from all over the world to the grocery store and then right to my fridge. I just have to purchase them and bring them home. So far the steady stream has never stopped. So what do we do when the conveyor breaks down? How much thought do we give to where our food comes from? Consider this. Fifty years ago Vancouver Island farmers produced an estimated 85% of the Island's food supply. Today, Island producers grow less than 10% of our food. The same situation exists throughout the province. Food travels an average of 1,500 kilometres to reach our place. In the event of an emergency or catastrophic natural disaster that prevents the import of food, B.C. communities will run out of food in an estimated two to three days. Any disaster including personal disaster such as job loss has the potential of affecting our personal food supply. What does this mean? As we sadly learned from Hurricane Katrina, when the conveyor breaks down, we're on our own. Our grandparents' generation didn't take the conveyor for granted. They grew their own food and the food they didn't eat fresh, they preserved. In our society where there once were gardens, there are now low maintenance lawns and shrubs. Lawns are beautiful but we can't eat grass.


Why not strike a happy medium between aesthetic beauty and self-sufficiency and match every lawn with a garden. Not everyone including myself is a gardener but even brown thumbs like me can grow food with relatively little effort. To help us learn how, we're introducing "Every Lawn A Garden." The objective of Every Lawn a Garden is to help persons increase their capacity for gardening so that everyone can reach the stage of growing some of their own food supply. For those without a lawn or an available garden plot, there are a number of alternatives, including container gardens, balcony gardens, rooftop gardens and community gardens. Every Lawn a Garden operates on a partnership model to promote food-producing gardens at a community level and is supported by an online gardening community to connect people, organizations, and ideas. Come, check it out!


Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner and that was the audio of a promotional video for the newly launched Every Lawn a Garden on-line community that we will shortly learn more about. As there are certainly many Canadians who love their lawns, such a project title may instill some fear, especially in light of pesticide use being progressively banned in communities across the country. The Coordinator of Every Lawn a Garden is Steve Pedersen and he insists that the Public Health Association of B.C. is not, against lawns.


Steve Pedersen: That's not what we're really about, we have nothing against lawns. What we're encouraging is that people include a garden in their lawn, in their personal landscape. You know if we can grow grass we can grow food and when we realize and consider the benefits associated with growing our own food - you know the exercise we experience, time outdoors in the fresh air - all of these different things, working in the garden can be therapeutic. It burns off stress. You can get access to this nutritious food. All these things that come out of gardening and it's not rocket science to garden. It doesn't have to be difficult but we encourage people to include gardening in their own landscapes. You don't have to dig up your lawn and replace it with a garden but if you growing grass you can just as easily grow food as well.


Jon Steinman: The primary focus of Every Lawn a Garden is their on-line internet-based community at where visitors can discover how-to resources and connect with other urban farmers. The website will also act as a networking tool for community-based food security groups, those looking to encourage more local food production.


Steve Pedersen: Well I've been out and I've been speaking to local community organizations. I've been dropping by nurseries, plant nurseries and places like that. I've been talking to various food policy councils and other communities about the work that they're doing and how working together we can expand the reach of what they're trying to do. And it really revolves around the online community that we've developed for Every Lawn a Garden - it's And what this online community does, it's designed to be a knowledge repository and an information-sharing tool. It has information on planning your garden, on tips and tricks, links to other places where valuable information exists. There's a brown thumb guide to gardening because we're not all green thumbs. For some of us it's a challenge to get our food to grow. There's a number of tools there to help people to share their own experiences, to ask questions, to respond to other people's questions, and to be able to use this kind of a networking tool and an information-sharing tool to increase their capacity to grow their own food. Networks are at an individual level as well as at a community level.


Jon Steinman: As the task of encouraging everyone in the province to grow a food garden can certainly not be accomplished by just this one project, Steve Pedersen explains that Every Lawn a Garden has been created to also work with other groups to act as a catalyst for change.


Steve Pedersen: It's obviously something we can't do on our own. But what we do, we've designed our Every Lawn a Garden to work in partnership with communities, organizations, and interested individuals to encourage and support food gardens. And as we work with these people and as our collective energies are devoted to doing this, the objective of everyone having a food garden becomes much more realizable. It's really a vision for what we're trying to accomplish. You know if we can look at it and say what are our efforts directed towards - so we want people to be able to grow their own food. This acts as a lens to which a lot of decisions and energies can be directed and guided.


Jon Steinman: After visiting the Every Lawn a Garden website, I experimented with the registration process and have since become a part of the online forum, hoping that someone could maybe explain to me why my purple broccoli plants last year never produced, any broccoli. As an answer to such a question may be simple, I recognized that this online forum was an important tool to help preserve and share much of the traditional knowledge of growing food that is being lost to the modern industrial food system. The forum also acts as a place whereby those experimenting with the unknown world of urban farming, can learn from the mistakes of others, which really is, how traditional knowledge evolved in the first place.


Steve Pedersen: One of the things we have is a Discussion forum. And what happens is we ask people to register in Every Lawn a Garden and what registering does it changes the experience of the online community. Typically you come to a website and the website's a static resource where you read what's posted on the various web pages. While when you register on Every Lawn a Garden community because of the technology that underlines the system you become a contributing author to what's going on in this community. So you're able to post information on the discussion board. You're able to create a blog that describes your own experiences and thoughts on food and gardening. You have your own kind of web space where you can put up a profile of yourself or pictures of your garden, things like that. When people are using our discussion forum, they're sharing recipes, what can I do with the food that comes out of my garden. Because it's one thing to grow it but you need to integrate it into your diet and into your lifestyle for it to really be something that's meaningful. People are using the discussion forum to ask questions about, you know, I've lots of shade in my yard - what can I grow that's a great shade vegetable or that won't die without lots of sunlight. There's also a Creative Corner, we've called it, where people have you know if you have a poem, if you're working or something or somehow you're inspired creatively - here's a place to share it with people and to share that kind of thinking as well. It's all part of what we do and we are devoted and engaged in something that's fun.


Jon Steinman: The online forum for Every Lawn a Garden has been created first with a provincial focus, but is also creating a space for community groups to use as a networking tool.


Steve Pedersen: The provincial focus is kind of the scope of what we're doing. When you come to Every Lawn A Garden, we have it set up through the registration process that someone can register as an individual but they can also register as a child or youth. We like to encourage young gardeners as well. But one can also register as an organization. If an organization wants to encourage their members to garden of if they want to as an organization grow a garden of some sort, we encourage that as well. But then communities can come and register as a community and we're in discussion with a number of different communities about this type of approach. What happens from a community perspective is, you know when they register - the same type of process - we would given their own space within the online community, their own web space so they could profile what they're doing. Typically it involves a gardening objective or a gardening goal or it's a part of their food security plan or emergency preparedness plan. We want more local capacity for growing food. And they'll provide information on what they're doing, links to their own contact type of information. What we offer is to work with them to build a local business directory as well for they're encouraging local gardening. People can come here and read about it and they can also see who are the local people with experience and resources and tools that I can contact to help me in what I'm doing if I decide I need that as well. So, we're trying to work with communities. Communities know best what their own assets and opportunities and challenges are and we're trying to work with them to give them a boost in their efforts to be more food secure and to be more supportive of local agriculture and local enterprises.


Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner where we are listening to segments from my conversation with Steve Pedersen of the Public Health Association of British Columbia, also known as PHABC. Their recently launched Every Lawn a Garden project is hoping to see every lawn in the province, one day, contain a food-producing garden. But of course not all of us have lawns or even balconies, and the project is equally providing a space where those operating community gardens can connect with future urban farmers.


Steve Pedersen: There's a concept that Every Lawn a Garden - you know it's a little bit misleading. What it really is trying to communicate is everyone can garden. Every Lawn a Garden, every one can garden and gardening these days isn't confined to our own lawns. Balcony gardening is a growing trend. If you live in an apartment or a high rise you'd be surprised at what you can grow on your balcony. You'd be surprised at what you can grow in containers and containers can be as simple as shoe boxes or cups or you can buy the big pots from a nursery or other place. And many communities have community garden pots where people can come and participate in their communal garden, that type of thing. So we're trying to get across the messages as well that anyone can grow food. If you have a desire to grow food there's a way to get it done. And as we understand more and more the benefits and the necessity of growing our own food, it just opens up doors and opportunities for people to experience this and to become more self-sufficient and healthier as well.


Jon Steinman: There's a growing trend in Canada whereby regional and provincial health authorities are beginning to take on local food and agricultural related projects as a tool to promote health. Steve Pedersen speaks to the factors that have led the public health association of B.C. to take on such a project.


Steve Pedersen: Well I think from a public health perspective, I think you're right. Food has become an increasingly - something we're more aware of. I think a lot of it's tied to the obesity epidemic. You know we see rising rates of obesity and associated diabetes and heart disease and other ailments. And we see what happens when our food isn't healthy, when our food isn't good. And we start to look at the issue of foods. It's more than just going to the grocery store and making healthy choices. You get into where is the food grown. What difference does it make where it's grown and how it's grown and how it arrives on our dinner plates. And we see that there are many benefits to supporting locally grown food. There's benefits to our economy. There's benefits to our health. Local food tends to be more nutritious. There's benefits to civic society. You know groups grow up to support the local farmers and farmer markets and those types of things. All these things in and of themselves are determinants of health. So we use local food efforts as a way of bringing them together under one umbrella. It really is a no-brainer.


Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. On this topic of public health and food security, there is an excellent publication that is available from the PHABC website, and our own Deconstructing Dinner website will also have a link to this. And the publication is titled "Making the Connection, Food Security and Public Health." It was authored by the Community Nutritionists Council of BC and Steve Pedersen briefly comments on this publication and it's connection to Every Lawn a Garden.


Steve: One of the statements they make in their publication is that communities - we're all familiar with food miles and that concept but really into that is our dependency on imported food. That in the event of a disaster or an emergency that cut our food supplies lines that communities in B.C. would run out of food in two to three days. That statement's quite provocative and quite thought provoking when you look at Hurricane Katrina and other recent examples and you see what happens when our food supplies are cut off. We view that as we can increase our own local capacity, our dependence on imported food diminishes and we are able to be more sustainable. And we live on the Pacific Rim. We're in a volcano zone, we're in an earthquake zone. And it's not to just things but there's economic downturns as well, like our own capacity to go to the grocery store and buy food can be affected by whether or not there's an earthquake or a flood or a tidal wave or anything else. So we look at this as a way of emergency preparedness and self-sufficiency as well.


Jon Steinman: To wrap up my conversation with Steve Pedersen of the Public Health Association of British Columbia, I asked him at what date does he envision every lawn in British Columbia having a food producing garden.


Steve Pedersen: I think of it this way you know. If you talk to people who are working to provide medicines to those who need them, their reply is people need these medicines yesterday, I think my reply would be similar. We would have liked every one to be growing their own food yesterday because in one way when you look at gardening it's a foundational step. You know we're growing food but that's just the beginning. We need to integrate this food into our diet, we need to connect with our landscape, with our environment. We need to understand how these systems processes work and much of that doesn't happen until we began to do that extra work of growing our food and getting out into our gardens. So a lot of the real work happens only after we are growing gardens. And so, that needs to have happened yesterday.


Jon Steinman: And that was Steve Pedersen, the Coordinator for the Victoria-based Public Health Association of B.C. More information on the organization can be found on their website at And again their Every Lawn a Garden website is




And you're listening to Deconstructing Dinner produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'll remind listeners that today's broadcast will be archived on our website and will also be available through our weekly podcast. You can access both of these at and if you have any comments, questions, ideas that you would like to share with us, you can send an to


Today's broadcast marks the second part of our Farming in the City series which was first launched in August of 2006. That first broadcast is also archived on our website. The focus of the series is of course urban agriculture, a topic that may very well represent the most important tool through which Canadians can ensure a safe, healthy and reliable source of food now and into the near and distant future. Essentially, urban agriculture is the most effective assurance of our individual and collective food security.


When North Americans speak of urban agriculture, one of the most referred to resources of such information is City Farmer, an educational and demonstration centre located in the middle of the metropolis of Vancouver, British Columbia. Michael Levensten has been operating the City Farmer project for close to 30 years, and it has become one of the most recognized urban agriculture centres in the world. It quite suitably refers to itself as Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture. Michael spoke to me over the phone from Vancouver.


Michael Levenston: So City Farmer is coming up to 30 years - 1970 to 2008. I was there originally. I've been there all along. Three of our directors are long-term - Sue Gregory, Bob Woodsworth, Risa Smith - two of them have been there for the 30 years. Sue is almost 30 years. So, we're a long-time group. We started in, because we're interested in energy conservation, we worked out of a conservation centre and two of us started working on food system and energy conservation is quite interesting here in 2007. The issue is the same, different terms. We're using the term carbon, climate change but related to energy use. But we just carry them along, day to day, talking about people and cities, the potential the possibility, the reality of producing some of the food not just consuming it. And I think we're probably the longest continuously run urban agriculture group in the world. We just basically, we sit on the same seat and we say the same thing and a lot of people are interested in this subject.


Jon Steinman: Michael Levenston refers to the City Farmer garden as a living office, and he describes how City Farmer first began and how it has evolved.


Michael Levenston: Well we started an office and we put out a little newspaper and that was to convey what we discover when we walk down the back lanes - what other people were doing. And in 1982 we were able to start a little garden behind the spec building, an environmental building. We continued there and that's a live research working garden, where all day every day we share information about growing food organically in the city and environmental issues. So, at the garden for instance we have the largest apartment worm composting program in the world. That means the city every year subsidizes 300 worm bins. We promote backyard composting. We do bug shops. That is related to the fact that the City of Vancouver has in the last year banned pesticide use for gardeners in the City of Vancouver. We do organic garden courses all day every day. We have tours. Visitors come in, media come in and so the garden is a living office.


Jon Steinman: If you pay a visit to the City Farmer website, you will notice that it may very well be the most primitive looking website you have seen since maybe, 1996. But located within is a seemingly never-ending resource of critical urban agriculture information that dates back decades. And the reason for this is that Michael Levenston began taking advantage of the internet long before most of us even knew what the internet was. And he's now incorporating some more modern features to the site.


Michael Levenston: City Farmer remains tiny after thirty years. Whether it's a strength or weakness - I consider it a strength. With having one full-time person - me and some part-time people and yet we have quite a presence out there. But for the first years, from '78 to the end of the '90s,we collected everything on urban agriculture at the office. We spoke to people on the phone, we wrote to them but it was all paper and mail. Once the internet and e-mail came along in '92, '93, we jumped in right early in '94 and we're the first website of this sort on the net and were for many years. And what that did was allowed us to put all our material and the new material up on a regular basis for the whole world to see. And of course now in 2007 we know the value of the web. But, because we were so early and people learnt about us, everybody knows about it. We're linked everywhere and any expert in the world or anybody producing anything on urban agriculture sends it to me and I am able to put it up. Because it's a very simple website, it's not fancy, it's not web 2.0, it's html-1. I do it from the living room in my house. So seven days a week, 24 hours a day I can put up the latest stuff from the experts the moment that they send it to me. And it's exciting for me and I think it's good for the readership. They may complain it doesn't look nice, it's hard to find stuff but content rich. It has what you need if you're going to be looking seriously on urban agriculture. And I have great fun with it. I love the technologies. I mean the webcam, it's the only webcam, the 8 megapixel camera that takes a picture of food garden, every hour of the year day and night. It's well-received. It gives us a good image. The fact that we're doing a video blog now is great fun for me. This year I've got the technology so within minutes I can do a three minute spot and put it on the site and people can actually see a little video.


Jon Steinman: And the City Farmer website can be found at Another new addition to the City Farmer website and a feature that encouraged me to speak with Michael for today's broadcast is their newly launched Sharing Backyards project. The feature was created by Patrick Hayes and the Victoria-based Lifecycles Project Society. As was an issue raised earlier on the broadcast, not all Canadians have access to garden space. In fact, a full 43% of Canadians do not live in single detached housing where the yard space is unequivocally theirs. The other 57% who do have access to land in the cities often leave it underutilized. The Sharing Backyards project has been designed to link up those in the city who have garden space to offer, with those in the city who are looking for a space to garden.


Michael Levenston: It started in Victoria, Lifecycles Group. Patrick works for them. He did this wonderful page. And basically for your audience, you've got people in cities with backyards. They may not use them, they may want to share them. In years past and it was done way before us neighbour gardens, it was a piece of paper. You called up, you put your garden down for offering. If someone wanted a garden, they live in an apartment, they would call up and you try and match them on paper. And sharing gardens or what we called neighbour gardens before has continued for many years. But what Patrick did is he brought it into the present on the web. So you can go in, sign up if you have a garden, put your address you want to offer it to people. You can go in if you want to garden, sign up, put your phone number, e-mail and then on a map, say in our case Greater Vancouver, a flag will come up on your neighbourhood, where you live. saying you want a garden or you have a garden. Anyway, the people take care of matching garden to gardener on that website. And he's done it in Victoria, he's done it in Vancouver. He's got an idea he will do it in your city if you want it. You have to pay for the service but he is willing to go the length to make this happen.


Jon Steinman: The Sharing Backyards project hosted by City Farmer addresses a number of issues, perhaps most importantly that access to land in cities is becoming increasingly difficult as the layout of cities becomes denser, and Michael Levenston addresses this concern.


Michael Levenston: Well you know if you have a garden, no problem, you just have to decide you want to grow something. If you live in an apartment and you have a balcony facing north or no land and you want to have land, how do you go about finding it. In the past, a piece of land might become available. Somebody sets up a community garden - great if you're lucky. But what's happening is we're densifying our cities and in the City of Vancouver especially - we have 21 cities in Greater Vancouver - the City of Vancouver is the densest part - it's harder and harder to find that land. So very few people get access and all the community gardens have waiting lists. But if you have a home and it's privately owned, it's not easy for sharing to go on. You can't just go and use that piece of land because someone else has it, they own it. This is a way of bringing people that don't own that land, to be able to use that land and work with the land owner. So I don't know if that's addressing it but it's a real problem as our cities get denser. Access to land is becoming very, very difficult. We're hoping in some of the cities that aren't so densified - Langley, Delta, etc., that planners will set aside land now for urban agriculture city farmer community gardens. Not to set aside land for parks but set aside land for urban people to raise food, just open up some more land. But for cities where there isn't the land available you can instantly access land if someone offers their property to the multi-family dweller, housing dweller.


Jon Steinman: I'll quickly note again that the website for the Sharing Backyards project in Vancouver is linked from website. And the same project in Victoria can be found on the Lifecycles website and that site is at


As Michael Levenston indicated earlier, Patrick Hayes will, for a fee, create a sharing backyards website for your community and his contact info will be listed on the Deconstructing Dinner website. Or he can be reached by phone at 250-847-2308. And again that's 250-847-2308.




The benefits of urban agriculture cannot be stressed enough. One of the easiest alternatives to almost every frightening discovery raised here on Deconstructing Dinner, is, urban agriculture. And Michael Levenston of Vancouver's City Farmer comments on this importance.


Michael Levenston: Going back to the very beginning, one of common questions always has been for thirty years is well why would someone be involved in urban agriculture? And in a way the fun thing is that there's a couple hundred reasons and you can choose any of those reasons to go into and make a good case for it. So, if we think of the gardener, the community gardener in North America, up to now generally it's been a recreational gardener. Most gardeners do it for recreational purposes, not because they're starving to death. Usually if they've got a job, their income, they have a lot of money that they can spend on going to the produce store and buying food. So it's recreation. So then why would they be doing it you know and then you get into the whole mental health, the stress of the daily life and the release of stress. So there's a whole psychological aspect to it that is important for our community. There's the physical aspect. Instead of going to the gym spending money and pumping the iron, you can go out and spend hours not even realizing using all your muscles.


Then if you're in a community garden as opposed to a backyard garden, for instance, the backyard has it but a community garden especially, you have all that relationship with your neighbours. So the ones outside of ours on Maple, the gardeners love interacting with the people walking their dogs down the track or coming around. So, it does bring the neighbourhood out of their houses and bring people together. Those are three of 200. Today you'll hear a lot of discussion about, you know or worry about, where our food is coming from, where it will come from. And if you feel that you have a fear on that level, this is something that can alleviate that fear. I always say when the discussion of local food comes up, I say - well our garden, at 6th and Maple is local food and it's organic and has been for 25 years. That local food and organic food isn't a commercial farm that someone's looking to go buy food at. It's local food, organic food that we grow near where we live. You know it's where we are.


And so primarily backyard gardening or wherever you can get your food and you grow it yourself can be local and organic. So that will alleviate that fear or that need. And someone doing that may already have a big salary and they have money that they can spend hundreds of dollars on a digital camera or a new TV and not on food - they're not poor. But they feel they're helping and addressing an issue that is of importance to them and may become more important if we run into real problems in the future. So any of these topics we talk about - oh my goodness, the environmental education that goes on at our garden. People wanting to know about air quality, soil quality, issues of pesticides and herbicides, any contaminant of food - you can look at those subjects in the garden.


Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. For anyone who caught our recent feature titled "Coffee, The Earth and the Future of Civilization," I did during that broadcast express my discontent with the way the media is ignoring the influence our food choices and agriculture is having on climate change. I raised this concern to Michael Levenston, someone who for almost 30 years has been promoting urban agriculture as a response to environmental concerns, and even with such a long-standing effort, this lack of exposure in the media does not, for Michael, create cause for concern.


Michael Levenston: Not at all discouraged. It's getting more exciting every day as we approach our 30th anniversary. You just keep saying something in a simple way, encouraging people to get involved. More people become aware. The whole greening, the whole climate change, the issues of the environment of the world, are more in the press today than ever. You know, think of the environmental times in the ‘70s, it's more than ever. The status quo magazines from Vanity Fair, The New York Times, they're all falling over themselves with discussions of water. And agriculture and food will become more and more a part of that. We've been hearing it in Australia because of water lately and trying to find water for their very rich, farming tradition. Crises close to home bring these things into the news more and more.


But we see it in this subject of urban agriculture in the news more and more often every month. We just did an interview at The New York Times on Thursday - that's big if The New York Times comes to a tiny little garden in Vancouver and wants to write about urban agriculture in Vancouver. So, haven't seen the article yet but they're interested in it. It shows that the long-term work of all the people working in this area is paying off. And it takes 25 to 30 years for some things to go to mainstream. And I've read it before, you get some where they get instant success but they say - yeah 25 years later. Every one of those instant successes has a long history. So I know that when we started in '78, I don't know if anybody put the term urban and agriculture together. I didn't find it hardly at all in looking for literature. Now it's an accepted term. It's in Wikipedia. It's used in the United Nations. There are books on it. People fall all over themselves to discuss the subject. Whatever they consider its meaning, they are developing it. They are reinventing something. They are adding to it. So I'm not discouraged. I think we're just going to see more and more of this by the day. And young people, all sorts of people are coming with excitement about school gardens, about community gardens, about rooftop gardens, backyard gardens, food production. It's definitely taking off.


Jon Steinman: In just a moment we will hear from Peter Mcallister who has recently hosted workshops on how to grow edible mushrooms at home. And so to end off my conversation with Michael Levenston of City Farmer, he shared with me their newly launched experiment with growing mushrooms, a project that in their almost 30 years in operation, have never before attempted.


Michael Levenston: We take new projects all the time, we don't know about and we have lots of fun. We always have them; it just keep us excited. And Maria Keating, our entomologist, she loves cooking with mushrooms and she thought, let's see if we can grow shiitake mushrooms. We've never done it and we're in the process. We've bought the spawn from Ontario. We've got the logs from the Parks Board. We've drilled the holes. We've put the spawn in and that's where we're at. Next year hopefully, we'll have some results. But it's just another one of the food growing experiments we evolve ourselves and people will watch us and we'll learn but we're certainly not experts in mushroom growing yet.


Jon Steinman: And that was Michael Levenston of City Farmer located in Vancouver. You can tap into their wealth of online resources by visiting their website at For those without access to the internet, their phone number is 604-685-5832. And you can visit their demonstration garden if you're in Vancouver at 2150 Maple Street in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of the city.




And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly program produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. For more information on the program you can visit our own website at


Before we get to my next guest on today's broadcast I would like to spend just a few moments sharing with you our need for financial support to continue producing, distributing, and airing Deconstructing Dinner. In January 2006 when this program first aired, it continued for an entire year on close to 2500 hours of volunteer time with the hope that the program could work its way to becoming financially sustainable. The task of doing so is understandably not an easy one given independent media in this country receives no public funding. With the limited budgets of independent radio stations, employing full-time and part-time staff to produce a public affairs radio program is therefore next to impossible. And it is for this reason that we distribute Deconstructing Dinner free of charge to campus community radio stations across the country.


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And again you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner on today's Part II of our Farming in the City series, a series that focuses on all important topic of urban agriculture.


When we speak of growing food in our backyards or balconies or in community gardens, often we think of vegetables, fruits and herbs. But it's not often we think of growing mushrooms, and although such a home-based practice is almost non-existent, there is a population of people who are engaged in the world of mycology. Located just outside of Kaslo, British Columbia is Lofstedt Farm, a 60-acre biodynamic farm that serves close to 50 members through it's Community Supported Agriculture Program. But the farm is not the focus of this next segment, and instead it is the crown woodlot that surrounds the farm that is of interest here. Managing this 600 hectare woodlot since 1991 is Peter Mcallister, who for the past eight years has become fascinated with growing edible and medicinal mushrooms out of the felled logs that can be found on the property. Peter has recently held a few workshops for those interested in learning how to become involved in this unique form of urban agriculture. But the process is so simple, that my conversation over the phone with Peter was enough to get me on the road to becoming a home-grown mushroom farmer. Peter first explained how he began turning trees into food.


Peter Mcallister: We started about eight or nine years ago with twelve shiitake mushroom trials in birch logs. A fellow partnered with the woodlot and we wanted to just try to grow some medicinal mushrooms in all the spare birch that we had. It was just underutilized wood. People didn't want to buy it and we didn't want to burn it or chip it and so we thought let's try to turn it into food.


Jon Steinman: When we think of edible mushrooms, we often think of those white button mushrooms that, in my opinion, contain very little flavour, but the mushrooms Peter has experimented with growing are of the gourmet variety. On a recent broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner we explored the Kootenay Co-operative Food Store in Nelson, British Columbia, and the manner in which the store gives back to the community was the feature of that broadcast. When an amateur mushroom grower like Peter Mcallister chooses to share his acquired knowledge with others, he simply approached the Kootenay Co-op who provided the financial support for him to offer these workshops. Yet again, another benefit of community-owned grocery stores.


Peter Mcallister: Well we started with shiitake in birch logs and that did really well. So last winter I started experimenting with oyster mushrooms in straw and horse manure because of course we have animals, we have a lot of manure that you sterilize in a pressure sterilizer, inoculate it. And we're growing oyster mushrooms indoors all winter. And then I approached the Co-op about getting some funding to put on a mushroom growing workshop because I was so impressed with how basic and how easy it is. And also an amazing book that just came out recently "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets and he's got some really simple basic techniques that I've been experimenting with. Well basically I grew a lot of mushrooms and started giving them out and people were really excited and encouraged me to teach them how. So I set up these two workshops just this Spring. And we tried four varieties; Oysters, Shiitakes plus two new ones Reishi and Lions Mane, which one is medicinal and one is a gourmet mushroom. And it's really exciting because the more people I can get doing it, the more we can sort of experiment and see what the best conditions are and that really increases everyone's success. We started a bit of a spawn club and we're going to compare notes and see whose logs are fruiting the best or quickest or not working.


Jon Steinman: Peter Mcallister referred to the book "Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save The World," and more info on this book will be posted on the Deconstructing Dinner website.


While enrolling in workshop on growing mushrooms would provide a fast approach to undertaking the task of urban mushroom farming, the process is so easy, that in this next segment Peter effectively lays out what it is any of us could do at home for a crop of shitake or oyster mushrooms.


Peter Mcallister: It can be anywhere. Like I even have them in just Tupperware containers or around the house soaking up water. So it's quite basic if you buy the mycelium and I purchase my mycelium from Western Biologicals in Aldergrove. Mycelium is actually the mushroom; it's actually the part that's usually invisible. See what we call a mushroom is actually it's fruit and body. It's not the actual mushroom anymore than an apple is an apple tree. The mushroom is usually hidden in wood or underground in dirt. And when it's big and healthier and sometimes when it's threatened it will put up this spore-producing body which is what we usually eat. So you buy this mycelium from Western Biologicals. Otherwise it's very technical to start from spores and build up your spawn to get enough to inoculate. It can be very technical but there's been some recent breakthroughs that make even spawned development easy using stem butt culture. And I can talk a little more about that but the basic method we use this last weekend and we'll use again this weekend, Mother's Day weekend, is that I buy the mycelium, it comes in bags. It's growing already in sawdust. So we drill holes in logs. We cut the logs when the logs are dormant so the barks stays firm on the log. We then get a power drill, drill ½" holes into the logs. We then pack gently the mycelium inside the holes. Then we seal it off with wax and we put the logs to grow out in a shady wet spot for six months to a year. You hope that your mycelium takes that log and eats it. And then for five up to maybe seven eight years we've had logs fruiting both in the spring and in the fall if you do outdoor cultivation. And you can have them fruiting every six months if you bring them in and fruit them indoors.


Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. You can stay tuned until the end of this broadcast when I will provide some contact info for Western Biologicals, one of many businesses who sell mycelium to home-based mushroom gardeners.


When we speak of food security in Canada, often the greatest barrier to maintaining a year round supply of food is our climate, but mushrooms provide one of the easiest sources of year-round sustenance, and Peter Mcallister spoke about this following my surprise at how very few people have taken advantage of such a hobby.


Peter Mcallister: Well no, that's the real shocking thing is that people aren't doing it. There's a fellow down in Ymir - Bill Stockdale who use to grow shiitake outdoors and he's now moved them indoors and sells them to the co-op. But I don't think he can supply enough for the co-op. And very few people are doing it. It's getting to be known on the coast a bit but in the West Kootenay we have a wonderful environment to grow mushrooms with our damp, moist heated forest and our nice steady rainfalls. I found that you can grow a big batch of mushrooms and dry them and then reconstitute them and they're almost just as delicious. Especially the shiitake and oyster really rehydrates in the pine really well. So, it's one thing you can actually store well and rehydrate and cook with.


Jon Steinman: When Peter first began experimenting with mushroom growing, he used birch logs, but he later discovered that birch is not the most ideal wood to use, and he shares his experience with various woods for growing mushrooms.


Peter Mcallister: I've experimented with a few different varieties and there are some that work better than others. The two woods I'm using these days are maple and alder and they're readily available. The experiments with birch did not work out well because the birch bark is too thick and the mushrooms have a hard time growing up through the thick birch bark. I don't recommend people cut along roadsides or anywhere near an industrial site. But you can go into clear cuts before they're about to log and any avalanche slopes that are about to…where they are building roads through. You can always get lots of these alder. And I really emphasized in the workshop last weekend that when you're using a chainsaw, use canola oil and don't contaminate the logs or the watershed with a petrochemical oil.


Jon Steinman: Mushrooms have long been a staple of the diets and medicines of cultures around the world. And it's only here in North America that we have become almost completely disconnected from what is one of the most fascinating organisms on the planet. Peter lends his thoughts on what humans can learn from mushrooms.


Peter Mcallister: I've been really inspired by a book called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. This guy's in love with the microbial world and he really embraces many different kinds of fungus, bacteria in his food supply. Yoghurt, tempeh, kefir, miso, sauerkraut. And these are all sort of fermentation processes that use the fungal and microbial kingdom. So again, we can incorporate the power of mushrooms to break down a lot of our waste products, recycle our wood products while providing good food and medicine. On the woodlot I'd like to be able to inoculate a lot of the stumps instead of burning and wood chipping and burying which all use big machines or create a lot of C02. Use mushrooms to break down all this cellulous, that isn't allowed to remain on the woodlot because it's a fire hazard. So using, in a sense, mushrooms as a slow fire, cold fire. A lot people don't know that mushrooms are used to grow a lot of our pharmaceutical drugs like cyclosporin and heart medicine and even things like Vitamin C is all cultured from mushrooms. So industry's been using the power of mushrooms because mushrooms secrete enzymes that basically can break down anything. They're converting material to simpler forms. So we just got to get more familiar with how they live and their reproductive lifestyle to incorporate them in ours a bit better.


Jon Steinman: In ending my conversation with Peter Mcallister of Lofstedt Farm, he reemphasized the ease through which anyone can begin growing mushrooms at home, and also stressed the nutritional value of this important food.


Peter Mcallister: I've been inoculating logs and been giving them off to friends and family for years. And some of my friends and family have had better success than I have with the logs because they've just found a nice, perfect little ecosystem in their backyard that just perfectly matches their need. So it doesn't have to be a high tech and dedicated effort. Everyone usually has a little wet, damp corner in their yard or you can do this indoors. You can have these things growing in your bathroom and stuff. They don't take a lot of time or technical expertise. You just have to know some basics about moisture and giving them fresh air and things. And it's really readily available to anyone. There's a lot of nutritional value in mushrooms. They're high in protein and a lot of special minerals and vitamins that help build strength and immunity. Some of these are real famous ancient Chinese medicines that we're just learning about in the West and any of these varieties that we can grow locally and round off our diets and our medicines, all the better. To have these shipped in from far away countries when we can be doing this ourselves is ridiculous.


Jon Steinman: And that was Peter Mcallister of Lofstedt Farm located in Kaslo, British Columbia. Peter manages a 600 hectare woodlot adjacent to the farm, and does so using horses and not heavy machinery. More information on the farm will be located on the Deconstructing Dinner website under the show titled Farming in the City: Episode 2. Also located on the page will be links to more information on how to get started with mushroom growing at home, including an excellent guide courtesy of the Falls Brook Centre located in New Brunswick. Peter has also provided a series of photographs from his recent workshop that will be made available on the site.


And as promised earlier, I do have contact information here for Western Biologicals located in Aldergrove, British Columbia. The business distributes mycelium and mushroom growing kits to get any urban mushroom farmer started. And the phone number for Western Biologicals is 604-856-3339 or you can send an email to


ending theme


That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.


The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.


This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you, the listener.


Support for the program can be donated through our website at or by dialing 250-352-9600.


Till next week.


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