Today has been a very good day. 

Perhaps it is due, in part, to finding myself taking more risks as of late. Not jumping motorcycles over buses or breathing fireballs risks, but choices and actions that require bravery. This may not be terribly impressive to someone who boasts natural courage, but I grew up being very shy. I was the child in the back of the room trying my best to cover my entire face with my bangs, speaking too quietly to hear. With tummy-aches and sweaty palms at school concerts and ballet performances. I remember in Kindergarten being so nervous before the Christmas concert that my Rudolph nose wouldn’t stay stuck because of my sweating. My small, Cancerian self was prone, more often than not, to withdraw to a place where I could watch others carefully. I always envied Franklin the turtle, his little world tucked away inside of his cozy, green shell. Over time, however, I found that my shell was not particularly cozy. It became inevitable that things would have to change and while working my way up through adulthood, I’ve managed to shed most of my extreme shyness. Not to say that certain circumstances don’t still make me want to crawl under a rock and go to my zen place (it’s really nice there), but I’m getting better. 

Growing up, children are taught that the hardest things in life are the best things and that success has to be earned. Good advice, but pretty broad in the spectrum of life lesson guidelines. No one ever warned me that it would be scary going after the things I wanted. That I would have to give up some things in favor of others. That not everything would work out and that it was going to suck, a lot. I suppose I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it anyways, and to tell the truth, I’m glad. If I had known how hard I would have to work, just to get to the beginning, I may not have started. 

Sometimes you spend a long time waiting for things to work out, carefully arranging all the small pieces to fit together. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re building something bigger. For example, this Spring I took a chance. Living in the second and third floors of a big house without yard space for myself, I knew that without some action I would miss out on any kind of gardening for the year. I knew that a friend in the city was somehow involved with community gardens, and although it’s completely against my normal instincts, I reached out to ask how to get involved. My first meeting turned into me enthusiastically agreeing to be the acting garden Coordinator, a shock and a dream come true! Since becoming involved, I have found a picture taken of the gardens when they were first started. At the time I had remarked on it’s beauty and I remember being amazed by what had been constructed from nothing. I saw this picture, this garden, for the first time five years ago! Does that mean that somewhere in my subconscious I’ve been secretly planning and keeping an eye out for just how to make it a part of my life? Is it coincidence that it is the same friend who first told me about Fruit Share? A huge portion of my life at the moment is all due to one choice, to be brave. 

It amazes me to look back and find how each piece of my personal history relates to where I am and what I’m proudest of now. With each decision that I’ve made to do something out of the ordinary- move to Kuwait or volunteer in Central America- I’ve faced opposition. People telling me not to, warning me that it’s not what’s best for me. I’m glad that I was brave enough not to listen. That I was courageous enough to know what was best for me in both the short term and the long run. I think it’s time to quit second-guessing myself for good, to make the commitment to doing what I know will make me happiest and most successful in the long run. It makes me very happy to find myself where I am now with the opportunity to help make a difference in our community. I can’t help but feel that this is one more piece being carefully laid at the beginning of something bigger. Something that I can grow and build on from where I’m at now. If it means the success of Fruit Share and the betterment of this city, I promise to be brave. I will ask for donations, I will hold workshops, I will make calls to important people on the phone (that one I still struggle with). I encourage you, readers and supporters, to be brave as well. Do what you know is best for your community and lend a hand any way you know how. One way is by helping Fruit Share by being either a volunteer or fruit owner- please register at www.fruitshare.ca and follow us on twitter @bdnfruitshare.

The Outdoor Dilemma

In my professional career, I have spent my time focused on two main areas. Children and nature. As an early years educator and environmental enthusiast, I have always searched out ways to connect the two. Planting a new tree with a class of Kindergarten students. Helping elementary schools in remote Mayan villages plant community, organic gardens. Taking classes on nature walks and field trips to local greenhouses and parks. Each time I involve children with nature, their enjoyment, wonder, and imaginations are clearly engaged. I have found that it doesn’t take a lot to convince a child to become excited about the outdoors, to get dirty in the name of nature. 

My personal experiences have shown me that children not only want, but need to spend time outdoors. However, studies show that children in North America only spend an average of 4-7 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day. In fact, the term Nature Deficit Disorder has been coined to describe just how little time children spend in the great outdoors. In the last two decades, it would seem that children have moved indoors, changing the way that they play. Scientists fear that through this loss of regular contact we may find ourselves with future populations of biophobic adults. Individuals who have very little interest in preserving nature and it’s diversity. A somewhat disturbing idea when thinking about our next generation of stewards for the Earth. 

So why is it important that we encourage our children to get outside? A myriad of reasons that seem almost common sense to those with a personal love of nature. With child obesity rates doubling in the last twenty years, we need to encourage children to get their daily exercise in a natural way.  While playing outside, children develop muscle strength, coordination, flexibility, as well as fine and gross motor development.  They use their whole body to explore their environments, which helps to increase their perceptual abilities.  Smelling flowers or feeling the grass underfoot provides much more input than what a computer or television can offer, which limit the use of young senses.  Children who spend their time outside develop stronger immune systems, the increased levels of Vitamin D helping their bodies grow strong and ward off illness. 

Not only is being outdoors better for their bodies, but fresh air is good for their brains. With a generation of stressed-out kids (soaring new levels of pediatric prescriptions for anti-depressants), nature has the ability to reduce anxiety and improve the mood. Studies have shown that children who suffer from ADHD are much better able to concentrate after contact with nature. Even in adults, stress levels decrease significantly with the sight of green space (the more the better!). Outdoor play has been shown to enhance imaginative and creative play as well as promote problem solving and leadership skills. It fosters language and collaborative skills and gives children opportunities to meet and make new friends. It allows for the development of independence and autonomy, and teaches children to learn how to better assess risk. Students who attend schools with environmental education are proven to have better test scores and show more developed reasoning skills. 

A love of nature is an important supporting factor in helping children develop environmental ethics.  So how do we get children outside, especially when parents are overwhelmed with their number one concern, safety? Parents need to act as models for their children, taking them to explore parks, creeks, ponds, and trails.  Teaching children to be “watchful” as opposed to “careful” can go a long way in educating them how to recognize and deal with danger as opposed to being scared of it. The best way to make local neighborhoods safer is to be active in your own community, walking or cycling the area often. Get to know your neighbors too, they will help keep an eye on your children and watch out for them when you may not be around. Another idea is to buddy up with another family, taking turns in bringing the children to green spaces and playgrounds. Making your backyard fun and friendly with small natural spaces for your children to take ownership of will also help encourage kids to choose outdoors instead of in. This spring, as you plant your beds, consider giving a small plot to your children. Letting them choose what seeds they want and having the job of taking care of it will help teach responsibility and the love for growing things. Get outside and get active, a goal that will make your whole family healthier. 

Looking for other ways to show your children how to appreciate nature? Volunteer with Fruit Share at www.fruitshare.ca and do a favor to your family and community. 

The Buzz on Honeybees:

Today, I spent the morning doing a fair bit of research on our friends, the honeybees. Recently, my interest was piqued as I stood beneath a plum tree in full bloom without a single bee to be seen. I mentioned it to my mom, who could have sworn that there had been previously in the day, but I was unconvinced. Every other year I had to dodge and duck carefully to find my way to the center of the tree, where I would stand, motionless. The hum of the honeybees surrounding me as I did my best to take in every last bit of scent that my olfactory senses could handle. This year, no hum. No bees. I considered that perhaps it was the weather, not quite sunny enough or perhaps there was a threat of rain in the air. I also considered that maybe this was what I had been hearing about, the disappearance of the honeybee.

I was taken by surprise after completing my research to find that today is, in fact, the official Day Of The Honeybee! So, in their honor, I will do a little bit of bragging. Bees have been around for the past 30 million years and there are over 20,000 recorded species of bees to date (with suspected many more who tend to by on the shy side). They can be found on every continent (minus snowy Antarctica) and in every habitat with insect-pollinated, flowering plants. A colony of honeybees can have up to 20,000- 60,000 inhabitants living with one queen (who is busy laying 200,000 eggs a year!). Their tiny wings have the ability to complete a full stroke 11,400 times per minute, which is why they emit their buzzzzzzzing sound.  Honeybees communicate with one another through dancing, demonstrating with their bodies the direction and distance to the best flowers. Honeybees are also great teachers as young bees are not born knowing how to make honey, but must be taught by the more experienced.  

Given that their job is to find the most beautiful flowers, I have always somewhat envied honeybees. Until I learned just how much work they do. Per trip away from the hive, honeybees visit an average of 50-100 flowers. Their fuzzy little bodies have an electrostatic charge, which helps them attract pollen, which is then stored in little sacks on their legs. A bee can fly all the way around the world on just one ounce of honey eaten, but to make one pound of honey they would have to fly 55,000 miles and tap 2 million flowers! The average bee only makes 1/12 a tsp. of honey across the span of it’s entire life. Perhaps I should start using a little less on my toast…

Not only is their job more difficult than I had assumed, but they also face many dangers in their line of work. Assassin bugs wait for them in flowers and birds pluck them from the sky as they fly home to safety. Not to mention the environmental change-related stress that has been discussed in the media, which stands as one of the main causes for the disappearance of honeybees. Common insecticides used on blooming plants and in the treating of seeds kill many, both through direct poisoning and contamination of their food supply.  Feral honeybees are now almost completely absent with the decreased availability of diverse wildflowers, due mostly in part to the intensification of agricultural systems. It’s estimated that a queen bee must lay up to 1,500 eggs a day just to replace casualties.  

The term Colony Collapse Disorder was coined in 2006 when Scientists first started to notice the rapid decline in honeybee populations. They were finding that worker bees from hives were abruptly disappearing, leaving colonies to suffer and die off. This pattern was found to be the same all over the developed world. In 2012, a new study published found that these pesticides they studied were more harmful than they had originally thought.  They discovered previously undetected ways that bees were being exposed to the toxins through dust, pollen, and nectar. The toxicity in the bees’ bodies resulted in a brain malfunction, hampering the bees’ ability to return to their hives. In April of 2013, a peer review from the European Food Safety Authority, declared that these pesticides pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.  The European Union has since banned the use of several of these products for at least the next two years. 

Due to this loss in population, growers demands for beehives far exceeds the available supply. Many practicing apiarists, or bee farmers, are now in the business of contract pollination. This has overtaken the role of honey production and is due to the increased size of fields and the practice of monoculture (only planting one crop- bees like variety!). Still, it seems clear that we are falling short when it comes to honeybee repopulating and protection. With estimates that over 1/3 of all the food that humans eat depends on pollination, shouldn’t we worry? Why did it take almost ten years to ban the pesticides that we knew from the beginning were harmful? On this fourth annual Day Of The Honeybee, I’m going to take a minute to be thankful for those that still remain, and make a pledge not to use products that are harmful to our environment. Support the bees and your community by getting out and planting a wild array of flowers. Then you can enjoy the honey in your tea, knowing you’re keeping things buzzing. 

Want to further help your community? Visit www.fruitshare.ca and follow us on Twitter @bdnfruitshare

I like to dig
Out in the dirt
I’ll dig until
My fingers hurt

Neat rows for seeds 
Deep holes for trees
While hunkered down
On hands and knees

I greet the worms
Who crawl and creep
They’re kind of shy
Don’t say a peep

My nails and hands
Are caked with soil
The sun shines as
I work and toil

My shovel is
My trusty friend
It’s strong steel blade
Will never bend

It helps me plant
Delicious fruits
Making homes for
Their tiny roots

The two of us
We make a team
Bringing to life
What I can dream

I dig as much
As one should dare
And treat my yard
With love and care

The Ants Go Marching…

Each day when I drive to the Fruit Share office, I travel past one of our largest, local grocery stores. As I sit at the lights, I watch as people make their way towards the Great Cement Alter Of Food. All drawn by the same thing, the need for sustenance and supplies that they cannot make or forage for themselves. (Where is that bagel tree hiding?) It is the people who travel by foot that I notice most often and that I take the most interest in. Carrying their reusable bags, not rushing, but seeming to enjoy their pilgrimage through the heart of the city.  I couldn’t help but begin to see these shoppers as lines of ants, gathering their share of goods, before returning quickly home with the spoils of their visit. Perhaps these shoppers aren’t carrying 20 times their weight above their heads, but they seem to follow a similar path.

I read a statistic recently stating that the weight of all of the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the humans in the world. I tried to figure out how many ants that could possibly mean were crawling all over the planet, but I couldn’t. (Then I started thinking about how many were underground and I got a little crawly). A foraging ant is known to travel up to 200 m from it’s nest in search of food for it’s colony. They keep track of how far they have gone using a natural, internal pedometer, which keeps count of how many steps they have taken away from the anthill. How many steps would a human be willing to go, especially in North America, to find their next meal? Aside from mammals, ants are the only other group where Scientists have observed interactive teaching. Ants use a technique called tandem running to help show others where and how to find a located food source, slowing down or speeding up to ensure that the new ant finds their way. Ants go so far as to form chains using their bodies to create bridges to go over water, underground, or through vegetation. To avoid floods they fashion themselves into floating rafts. Now that’s teamwork! 

Within an ant colony one can see distinct evidence of eusociality– or the highest level of social organisation. A cooperative division of labour where everyone has a job and everyone knows what they need to do to help provide for the group. Among leaf cutter ants, there are very specific jobs for the planting and growing of their fungal food source. The largest of the ants work to cut leaf stalks in to the tiniest pieces they can, the medium ants chew up the leaves, and the smallest of the ants plant and tend the fungus gardens. In the bigger picture, ants have a great number of symbiotic associations with other insects, plants, and fungi.  They also act as a food source for other predators who looking for a good meal. I doubt they even complain about it.

Of course, not all ants are friendly and cooperative.  There are some, such as the Australian Bulldog Ants, that don’t really  know how to get along. However, for the most part, I think that the way that ants act as a collective can be used as a source of inspiration. Looking to the bigger common goal, providing for each other in a fair and caring way. Imagine if all of those people headed to the grocery store were not only providing for themselves, but ensuring that everyone in their neighbourhood had dinner for the night. In once again taking a lesson from nature, I’m going to strive to be the best worker ant I can be. Collecting and donating food to make our colony (community!) stronger and healthier for all those living within. If you want to assist us in building this bridge to food sustainability, please bright it in together and visit www.fruitshare.ca to register.

Feathering The Community Nest:

Yesterday, I found myself staring out of a third-story window, watching happily as a soft rainfall dampened the ground below. I had shoved the screen as far open as it would allow and was taking deep breaths of the cool, green air. A sudden flutter of blue caught my eye and I at once recognized it as one of the Blue Jays I’ve been casually keeping track of since the onset of Spring. It’s mate was not far off, perched carefully a few branches behind, chirping quietly (as opposed to it’s usual, more aggressive tone).  It was then that I discovered that between the two sat a new nest, carefully constructed and up until now, hidden from sight. With a shake of it’s wings, the one bird flew off, as the other settled it’self comfortably into it’s cozy new home.

I inched closer to the window, cursing the screen for placing so many tiny squares before my eyes. I assumed it was the mother guarding the nest and wondered how many, if any, little eggs sat beneath her soft breast. I sat cross-legged, the attic window perfectly aligned with the tree top, wondering whether the Jay knew I was there? I couldn’t help but think that she looked rather satisfied, her head just peeking above the rim of the nest, eyes bright and alert. As I watched, waiting for the second to return, I got to thinking about how a nest represents the ideal conditions of both a home and a community.

I’ve always been somewhat amazed by the construction of bird nests. Delighted by the thought of tiny beaks weaving in bits of string, hair, and other soft stuffing- scavenged and sought out. I marveled at how self-sufficient these creatures were. To source all of their own materials right from the yard or neighborhood which they had so carefully selective to live in. Without a single cost for their chosen resources, those which others would never notice the absence of. Imagine if we, as humans, still practiced building our homes with only the supplies that grew natural to our surroundings. If we could rely wholly on the ground that surrounded us? 

I also couldn’t help but think of what a nest stood for in terms of safety, security, and protection. Even exposed to the elements, they boasted the ability to support and nurture the tiny eggs and hatch-lings potentially living within. Food sources available close-by without the need to ship over country or import from overseas. Perhaps, I mused, we need to look to the birds to recognize what is most important to our quality of life.  A supportive and protective community with available, self-sustaining resources. Surely our families and children deserve a life as simple and as seemingly carefree as these birds?

It takes much more for us as humans to create the ideal type of community, which proves healthy and fair for all. In taking a lesson from the Jays, I will remember to look to my local surroundings to provide for me. I will search out the glittering, the bright, and the strong to weave into my work. To build this Fruit Share nest with the potential to  help protect and to support those who need it most. The more nests we build, the stronger our network will become. Please join our mission at www.fruitshare.ca and help Fruit Share soar! 

Who Will Help Me Share The Fruit?

Growing up in Brandon, the only food that I thought we could grow in the area was wheat. The Wheat City being surrounded by golden fields, it made sense to me that this was our crop. I wasn’t entirely sure how the wheat was transformed into anything I ate, but I figured it somehow followed along the lines of “The Little Red Hen”.  Her tale of steadfastly following through with her plans, despite facing hardships, was found admirable and brave by my young self.  It was the side characters who seemed to offend my already growing sensibilities. Why would you not help a hen plant a grain of wheat? Could it be so difficult? 

It surprises me to find, in coming back to that story, that it was an early tale of local food sustainability and community cooperation. Imagine just how many loaves of delicious bread the little hen and her friends could have made had they cooperated? Surely the duck, with a pre-disposed love for bread, would have seen the error in his ways? Although I could never argue with the Hen’s final decision to share her bread with only her chicks, it still left a little ache in my chest for those who went without. If I was the Hen, what would I have done? 

Perhaps my early lessons in morality, especially where sharing is concerned, have brought me to the place I’m in now. A position where I can make that decision to share the bread (or fruit!) with those around me. So, do I go it alone, like the Little Red Hen, or do I look to my community, hoping for their support? I choose to believe that there are people in this city who are looking to do the same thing. Eager to help those who need it most. It is my hope, that along with friends (perhaps human and not duck), that we are able to make that difference. Our mission cannot be fulfilled by one person, so once again I ask, who will help me share the fruit? 

Please visit www.fruitshare.ca to register as either a Fruit Owner or Volunteer and help this little Hen sow the seeds of sharing. 

Small City Sharing


Word of mouth can be a very powerful thing in a city the size of Brandon. I’ve been doing my best to spread the word of Fruit Share and today I had the opportunity to speak with Jordan from the Westman Journal to discuss who we are and what we do.  It was exciting to share details of how well Fruit Share has done in it’s initial locations, Winnipeg and Steinbach, and to describe what we hope to achieve here. I have to admit that every email I receive regarding someone wanting to become involved in the project makes me unbelievably happy. At first I had assumed that only my friends and family within the city would be volunteering, but it has been a terrific surprise to see names I’ve never read before who are reaching out and wanting to help. I’m starting to love explaining to people what our goals are and watching their expressions change as they fully understand how important this will be for our community. I feel lucky that I get the chance to make a difference in a city that deserves to be treated kindly and supported. I feel a huge sense of pride when people congratulate me on helping to start this initiative and express interest in assisting in our mission. I hope that everyone who becomes involved will feel this same sense of pride- this need to share. Please watch for our upcoming article in the Westman Journal- you may even spot me! If you’re interested in volunteering or donating your surplus fruit, please visit www.fruitshare.ca or email me directly at fruitsharebrandon@gmail.com! 

Welcoming The Rain

I have always been particularly fond of rain.  I think a lot of it has to do with watching Disney’s Bambi as a child.  The whole rain scene- from the innocent first drops, to the terror of thunder and lightening- can still elicit a response. The cheery melody immediately bringing to mind the fresh earthy smell, the sound of fat drops falling through trees. To be tucked under a mama bird’s protective wing would surely bring one a feeling of unparalleled comfort.  Although we kind of missed the whole April shower thing, it might be even more satisfying now after such a long wait.  As I stood outside last night, watching one of our first rainfalls, I couldn’t help but grin. Such big drops that as I looked straight up, I could have confused them for snowflakes, each visible from a great distance.  The sun and blue sky still shining clear, illuminating each small body of water. My eyes searched for rainbows, finding just the slightest shimmer here and there. A full arc spreading out as the wind blew the last of the drops at a slant, hitting me right in the eyes.  Everything was fresh, clean, new.  A feeling of relief and a quiet calm falling over the neighborhood. A V of Canadian Geese, still slowly returning to their Summer home, cutting through the evening sky. The magic of Spring! 
With grumbles of a rain-soaked May Long weekend echoing through the city, I can’t help but smile.  I know that I’ll enjoy the rain as much as I would the shine and that a city full of budding trees and plants will be our rainy weekend reward.

Rules of Rhubarb Engagement

With our first harvest just weeks away I’m getting excited to see just how much fine fruit we can find! There are a couple rules of thumb when it comes to picking rhubarb that will help result in your best yield.  Rhubarb loves the early Spring cool temperatures and will do most of it’s producing in the months of May and June.  Once the Summer sun sets in and things start to heat up, rhubarb will slow it’s growth considerably. When deciding whether your rhubarb is ready to be harvested, don’t be fooled by the colour! In Manitoba, rhubarb can be all red, all green, or a mix of the two.  The key is to look for the size of the stalks, 20-40 cm. is best! Rhubarb can be gently pulled from the base, but can also be cut with a sharp knife if you find you’re pulling up roots.  Start with the larger, outer stalks and leave the smaller ones for the next harvest. It is important to leave 1/3 of the stalks so that your plant continues to grow over the course of the season. Be sure to discard or compost the green, leafy tops as they can be poisonous if eaten. (Your compost pile will be happy for the additions!) Store harvested rhubarb in a dry, cardboard box to help keep it fresh longer. Be sure not to add in any extra-ripe fruit or fruit that has been damaged as it can spoil the rest! Once your rhubarb plants starts to flower, that indicates it is nearing the end of it’s season. To help extend the growing season, trim off the flowers or rhubarb will become tough. A plant that seems to have fallen dormant over the Summer may still surprise you with fresh shoots come Fall, so don’t forget to check back in! If you find a good crop in your neighborhood, ask the owner whether they might be willing to donate a portion or drop off a GOT FRUIT? form found on www.fruitshare.ca.  

Happy Hunting!  

My Ode To Rhubarb:

Sweet and sticky
When you bubble
If it burns you
You’re in trouble

Fresh from the garden
Don’t eat the top!
Find it everywhere
Bunnies do hop

I dip it in sugar
To make it taste sweeter
I peel off the skin
To make it look neater

It grows near the fence
Where a person can find
Great leafy villages
Of the same kind

I want you in pie
To eat you as jelly
To spread on my biscuit
And fill up my belly

I hope you grow up
To be tall and sweet
Then i’ll eat you all up
My favorite treat! 

Fruit Share Brandon joins the blogging world! 
We’re a brand new initiative in the city of Brandon, Manitoba.
We are following in the foot-steps of Winnipeg and Steinbach, Manitoba who have had amazing success in the past few years.  Since it’s inception, the numbers of volunteers, fruit owners, and pounds of harvested fruit have sky-rocketed! I can’t begin to express how much I love the idea of Manitobans getting as much local produce as possible in their diet.  Eating fresh and eating local is one of the best things that we can do for our bodies and our communities.  I can’t wait for the first harvest, which is starting to draw near! I’m dreaming of rhubarb pie.  Please visit us at www.fruitshare.ca if you’re interested in discovering how powerful fruit can be!