About those bees . . .

I had a wonderful time at Seedy Sunday at The Local last month, and I’m just getting around to writing it up. I got variety of really interesting seeds that I’ll soon be starting on the front porch, but the best part of Seedy Sunday for me is always the presentations.

I loved the one on beekeeping, presented by Stuart Arkett. I’m quite fond of bees, and like to see them in my garden, but I’m a little overwhelmed at the idea of being responsible for a hive. But  I needn’t have worried. It was illegal to keep bees in Stratford until last year, when Stuart presented a petition to allow it within city limits. After all, the city coat of arms features a beehive. Why not live up to our history? The city agreed, but followed provincial regulations, which require a hive to be 30 meters from a property line. That puts my beehive smack-dab in the middle of my living room coffee table, right next to my husband’s beer when he’s watching sports. So it’s progress of a kind, but, short of a divorce, it’s not going to work for me. I hope Stuart continues his work to promote urban beekeeping.

Notice the beehive

I really got a lot out of Stuart’s presentation. He told us a great deal about neonicotinoid pesticides and how they work. These are the ones that cause all the problems for bees. Some crops around here just can’t be grown without this pesticide, or a more expensive alternative. It gets put on some seeds, and when dirt is blown in the wind it’s breathable. The good news is that neonics are on their way out, due to increased government regulation, and also because after an insecticide has been used over a period of time, the insects just become immune to it. You do have to question an agricultural practice that has the end result of breeding resistant bugs, but let’s save that for another day. (More about neonicotinoids here)

We also discussed colony collapse disorder, which I’m sure you’ve heard about. Surprisingly, only three crops depend completely on bees for pollination: blueberries, cranberries, and almonds. These crops use trucked-in hives, a method that stresses the bees and weakens their resistance to mites and disease.

I have always wondered why the almond farmers don’t just raise bees within their groves. That would save time and trouble in transportation, and minimize the risk of infection to the hives. And you get honey. So I put my hand up to find out. Stewart answered that almond groves do not provide a complete diet for bees, as almonds are the only thing allowed to grow there. “But…” I said, “Why not allow a little extra vegetation, so the bees can thrive?” He smiled patiently, and explained that water is very scarce where the almonds grow, and no farmer would risk the expense of watering weeds. “But… “I persisted, “Why not reduce the ratio of trees to vegetation, just a little, to allow for bees?”

His answer was accompanied by the steely-eyed look farmers reserve for city-folk who want to give them advice. I could tell he’d been asked these kinds of questions before, presumably by people with a slightly vacant stare and flowers in their hair. He said that it is the obligation of farmers to produce the maximum from their farms. Farm families aren’t charitable organizations, and farm life is hard enough without creating extra, unprofitable work.

Well, it’s pretty hard to answer back to a statement like that. But then — and this is the interesting part — I asked him another question and got an answer I didn’t expect. I wanted to know why the bees produce more than the hive can use. Turns out they just do, it’s a bee thing. They keep working until there’s no more room for honey. Many beekeepers take all the honey from the hive and leave the bees with cheaper sugar water to last them over the winter. This is not as nutritious, and some hives die, but it works out in the long run. On his farm, Stuart doesn’t do this. He tries to calculate how much honey the bees will need to keep healthy over the winter, and he takes the rest as his share.

So in other words, he’s taking a reduced profit on his hives, hives he’s bought or built — to make things more comfortable for a bunch of bugs. He is not maximizing his farm profit. Seems to me there’s a contradiction. And I find that really interesting.

There’s a kind of a way we’re taught to think about how society relates to nature. We’re tough, we’re practical, we’re in control, and nature is a product. If you watch the news these days, particularly the weather news, maybe we’re not so much in control as we think we are. And I notice a kind of vague unease; it’s like we have a conflict between our heads and our hearts, and we try to resolve it by not really thinking about it very much. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away.

I’m certainly no expert, but maybe the bees need more thinking about. Maybe agriculture needs more thinking about. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

There are microfibres in your beer

You need more than “the touch test” to find ethical clothing

This week I attended a workshop on microfibre pollution hosted by The Bus Store Bookshop at  LifeSpin in London. The workshop was designed by the Synthetic Collective, a group from Western University, and presented by Kristy Robertson, who teaches there. I hadn’t planned to do another post on clothing for a while, as there are other subjects I want to cover. I’m really encouraged, though, by the amount of interest there is in this topic. It just keeps coming up, wherever I turn.

When I first got the notice I thought, “A workshop? Really? Can’t they just e-mail me the info?” But I made the trip anyway, and I’m glad I did, because you really did need to be there, to touch and see the fabrics. We started off by trying to find an article of clothing we could be sure wasn’t harmful to the environment. Predictably, we failed. The most common reason was the presence of microfibres, tiny synthetic particles found in most clothing that we buy. When clothing is washed, these particles are shed, and they are everywhere; in water, in the air, in the food chain, and yes, even in Black Swan Porter (my personal favourite). You can’t see them, but they’re there.

The bad news:

  • Damage to environment: Microplastics are everywhere, making up 85% of manmade debris found on shorelines worldwide (I’m pretty sure you know this already). Microfibres are the smallest microplastic particles, and ride on the ocean, just under the surface, as floating goo.
  • Remediation is difficult: Most sewage treatment plants can capture microplastics, but microfibres are too small. There are filters that can be added to a washload, but again, microfibres are too small for them.
  • Harm for humans: We have no idea what this means for our health. The studies just aren’t there. This means that we can’t legislate against them.

The good news:

  • Front-loading washers shed fewer microfibres
  • Wool, silk and flax are best clothing choices, but watch out for dyes. Support knowledgeable clothing stores.
  • Used clothing has already had many of the microfibres washed out, so if you must buy a synthetic, try a consignment store.

Future actions:

  • Advocate for wastewater treatment reform
  • Support regulation for washing machine retrofits
  • Alter our washing machine use. No unnecessary washing, seek out better filters.
  • Look for biodegradables when shopping (not just clothing: linens, curtains, mops, cleaning accessories)

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m really impressed with the Synthetic Collective. They have this great idea of putting their materials together in a slideshow that will be made available for community groups to use on their own. Anybody interested in doing one here in Stratford?

 

 

My New Year’s Resolution

Twenty seven pelicans saved from impalement

Sometimes the most effective change starts really small.

Today I went through the entire house and collected all the pens that no longer work. Twenty seven of them, in fact. These have been accumulating because of my fear that any pen I throw out will eventually wind up skewering some innocent pelican somewhere. So I have been keeping them in odd places around the house. This has been going on too long, and I am worried about becoming one of those hoarder ladies you read about in the paper.

I took all the dry Sharpies, and promised myself never to buy another one. I took all those nice pens I got from the bank. I took all the pens I get in the mail from charities (shame on you, charities!). I even took that really cool chunky silver pen I got at a conference years ago, and had been keeping in case I could figure out how to refill it. I put them all in a nice recyclable can, and when the can is full I will put them in a paper bag, write “recycle” on it, and take it to Staples on Ontario Street, which has an excellent writing tools recycling programme.

I cannot tell you how much better I feel after this 15-minute activity. I don’t know if it’s my feng shui, my chi, or my karma, but it feels very good.

I did keep the mechanical pencils, though. I know it’s unrealistic, but I do believe that someday, somehow, I will learn how to make them work.

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

Downtown Fashion

So this week I got to check out Good on You, the new app I found that helps you select ethical clothing. It’s easy to use, easy to read, and it’s for iOS and Android. It’s pretty useful, although they need to add more designers to their list. (I’m sure that will come with time.) As it’s Christmas, and I’m going to a party, I thought I’d shop around for something to dazzle people with. I tried to visit as many stores as possible, but I didn’t get to every downtown retail store, so it’s not as if this post is some kind of scientific study or anything. It’s really just a first attempt.

I began my search at one of my favourite stores. I asked if they had anything in natural fibres or sustainably manufactured clothing. The clerk suggested I try another store.

I was crushed. I really liked that store. But that’s the thing about becoming a Greener and Completely Better Person: sometimes you have to close some doors. Not a great start, but things got better. Clerks in a couple of other shops stared at me blankly when I made my request, but some Stratford stores are really aware of the environmental damage and the unfair labour practices of the clothing industry. It really is pretty bad. Did you know that our consumption of clothing is projected to TRIPLE by 2050?? It all winds up in the landfill. And the ocean.

The first cheerful note in my shopping trip was at Resonance, on Downie Street. The clerk was knowledgeable and concerned. She showed me some really nice lines of clothing, things that looked comfortable and stylish, but wouldn’t keep you up at night worrying about burnt Bangladeshi teenagers.

So I started looking at labels, and checked on the ones that claimed to be sustainable and ethical. I did the same at Cora’s in the Market Square, and at their upscale store, Cora Couture. All the people I talked to in these shops were very concerned about the social and environmental problems in the clothing industry, and they were very helpful.

These shops have given me a good start in looking for ethical fashions. I’ve begun a list of environmentally friendly designers available through Stratford retailers, and I plan to keep checking back to update my list. Click here to see the list.

To make a long story short, I didn’t buy anything, even though I found some really nice things. This happens to me a lot these days. I read what’s happening in the world, and it just makes me heartsick. So instead of buying a new dress, I went back to to the store I started out with, Kinna Sohna, where I had seen a beautiful silk scarf. It’s sustainably made, and will last years and years. It kind of dazzles, and people won’t notice that it’s on the same dress I wore last time. And anyway, what’s so bad about wearing the same thing twice?

I’ve pretty well established my shopping mantra. Shop locally, but buy less. Think about quality and longevity. Don’t be surprised if it’s more expensive. Accessorize instead of buying new things. Check the label, do research. Think: natural and organic fibres, working conditions, company transparency.

I still can’t say I feel great about clothes shopping, but I do feel better, and this is a good start on making shopping trips a lot simpler and easier.

Ethical Threads

In clothing, as in everything else, I believe in shopping locally, and it’s not just because when you shop locally you are helping everybody out, including yourself. Nope. I shop locally because I want to look that clerk in the eye. I want to see what she does when I ask the touchstone question: “Does my ass look big in these pants?” When you find a store you can trust, you stick with them.

On the other hand, if I want to become a Greener and Completely Better Person I need to identify  clothing that does the least harm to the environment and to people. My visit to Kinna Sohna was just the first trip out, and that one was easy, because Sartaj, the owner, has a face-to-face relationship with her suppliers. Not all Stratford retailers can say that. It’s not their fault, it’s just the nature of retail these days.

I want to set up a list of local merchants who stock ethical merchandise, but I need a tool to help me be sure a label is really what it represents itself to be. So I looked around for something portable and reasonably comprehensive. I chose Good on You, an app for iOS and Android. There are others, but I like the philosophy of this app; it applauds companies that are doing well, and encourages others to do better. Really, there’s no point in being nasty about it. We’re all in this together.

 

 

The app, as the name implies, is from Australia, established by the nonprofit Ethical Consumers Australia.  It rates labels for their treatment of their workers, for their attention to the environment, and for their transparency. They seem to be expanding fast, and although they don’t have some of the Canadian suppliers I looked for, they do have Canadian content, like this article on Canadian designer Jennifer Fukushima (You can find Fukushima clothing and accessories at Resonance, 23 Downie Street).

So that’s it for a start. I’ll be trying out my ideas next week with a shopping trip to downtown Stratford. There are a lot of labels, and a lot of research to do. If you use the Good on You app, let me know how it’s working for you. If you know of a better one, let me know that too. Happy shopping!

 

 

 

 

Healthy clothing, healthy customer

I’ve been doing the research for the clothing part of this blog, and it’s making my head hurt. There are so many variables in finding sustainably made clothing! Seems to me that the only way I can be ethically dressed is if I  go around naked, but that’s frowned upon here in Stratford. I’ll just have to do the best I can; I need to set up a list of criteria that will help me find clothing that is the least harmful to the environment as well as to the humans who make and wear it.

I decided to start out at Kinna Sohna, the new international clothing store on the corner of York and Erie. I chose Kinna Sohna because the owner, Sartaj Kaur, stocks clothing in natural organic fabrics, coloured with organic dyes. I’ve been reading a lot about the environmental damage caused by clothing dyes and the dangers of chemicals in clothing, and I want something different.

Sartaj

Sartaj Kaur, Kinna Sohna

Sartaj has been working with naturally dyed fabric for 17 years now; she had a well-known store in Toronto before moving here. Her supply of organics varies; she  told me she would love to stock only organics, but people take time getting used to the different look and drape of the fabric, and as a small shop, there’s only so much she can do.

Some of her things are just wonderful, like this hand-stitched quilt. It’s a museum-quality piece; I can’t imagine the hours of work that went into making it. The colours are deep and vibrant, and the patterns absorbing and intricate.  She also has scarves, tunics, and dresses in colours like this, and handcrafted bags that are works of art.

Kinna Sohna is dedicated to ethical sourcing. Sartaj works with master craftspeople, cooperatives, tailors, and family businesses in places like India, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and South East Asia.  She understands her suppliers, she knows the regional styles, and she can tell you all about the textile, the stitching techniques, and the kind of dye used. That’s important to know when you are buying quality clothing.

Kinna Sohna

Fabric by the yard at Kinna Sohna

Working directly with producers has allowed Sartaj to build a varied inventory. Kinna Sohna sells hand printed fabric by the yard, and no fabric is wasted; scraps are made into hairbands, jewelry bags, and other small items. Craftspeople from the Stratford area also sell through Kinna Sohna, and she is looking  for more suppliers.

I had a really good time at this store. Not only was I completely entertained by Sartaj’s descriptions of her sourcing trips, I just fell in love with her inventory. Sartaj reminded me that carefully crafted articles are more expensive than polyester knock-offs, but if you choose well, an article of clothing can last you for years. Believe it or not, she still has shawls her mother wore when she was a baby!

I am really trying to think carefully before I buy another article of clothing. I want to push back against our throwaway philosophy of dress. A heavy wool, conservatively cut, can last a lifetime. Cotton fabric may wear, but with every use it gets softer and more interesting to look at, and you can mend it. A good silk can be really versatile, and it will glow with age. Silk is also light, so it’s easily hand washed, and you don’t need to send it to the cleaners.

Kinna 1The thing I liked the most about Kinna Sohna is that I saw things there that you will find nowhere else. I saw some wonderful rugs and wall hangings, beautiful jewelry, and many one-of-a-kind articles in really satisfying earth colours. I also saw upcycled articles, like the exquisitely embroidered scarves made from old saris. When she gets in more of her popular upcycled silk jackets, I’m going back. I think it’s time I made a splash on the Stratford scene.

 

Tea and sympathy

teatime

 

 

A little while ago I wrote a post about Red Rose Tea. I was suspicious of the fact that their tea bags don’t degrade in my compost, and I e-mailed them about it. Well, the good news is that they wrote me back. Here’s what they said:

 

 

Thank you for contacting Red Rose.

 The new Red Rose tea bag material is poly lactic acid, or PLA. The new tea bag is an organic polymer made from plants sources. The tea bags are composed of 100% renewable plant materials. The new Red Rose tea bag material is tested by independent laboratories and has been shown to be completely safe.

Sealing Red Rose like our previous Red Rose tea bags and other single chambered (or pillow) tea bags on the market, Red Rose uses a heat sealable material. However, unlike most other single chambered tea bags in the market Red Rose is now 100% compostable and made from 100% plant material.

We truly appreciate your loyalty to our brand and products. Should you have any questions in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Sincerely,
Red Rose Consumer Services

I like Red Rose Tea, and I like getting polite letters like this. Unfortunately, I am also cynical, and I still haven’t forgotten what they did to those chimpanzees all those years ago. So I did some research on poly lactic acid.

I found out that Poly lactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable polymer made out of renewable resources like sugar, corn starch or cassava. It’s used for 3D printing, short term packaging, and even for medical uses (implants, sutures, drug capsules), among other things, and is classed as an environmentally friendly material. It will break down, but takes a long time to degrade, which is why it haunts my compost.

So there you have it: not toxic or harmful to the environment. I still like the old bags better, because they made better compost, but I’m back to drinking Red Rose.

But just to be clear: no more chimp tea parties, OK?

 

 

 

Hunter’s Dinner at The Local

You’re always welcome at The Local. I can walk in there looking like a bag of dirt, and someone will smile at me and say hi. And they don’t know me. It’s just a friendly place.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 4.30.27 PM

So I am quite keen to see what they’ll be up to for the Third Annual Hunter’s Banquet on November 24. On the menu is wild game donated by local hunters, expertly cooked by Chef Aaron Linley from Linley’s Food Shop.

Cocktails in the Greenhouse at 6pm. Dinner at 7pm. Live auction throughout the evening.
Tickets are $125 (includes $50 Charitable Tax Receipt)

The Local is at 612 Erie Street
(519) 508-3663

image: Google Earth

 

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