Sunday, May 31, 2015

Native Medicine Gardens Welcome Pollinators

To offer tobacco is to pay an ultimate respect to that which you are asking.
Six Nations Farmers Market
"Our elders tell us that our food is our medicine," Elaine Lee with the De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre (Main St.E) puts a layer of pine cones over a piece of landscape fabric that's in a wooden basket. She is demonstrating how to plant delightful, mini-vegetable gardens to promote self-sustainability. We're growing peppers, parsley, tomatoes, zucchinis, onions, and sage, along with marigold flowers to ward of harmful insects.

"The best part is that it connects you to your food," Elaine adds. "With the energy you put into planting and tending your garden, the produce of which you then eat, you complete that circle of life. You honour that circle."

After a light lunch, the group of ten women go back outdoors.

In the garden, already planted, is mint, pennyroyal (its tea works against colds and the bees love it!), and burdock useful for cleansing skin, soothing kidneys, boils, canker sores, styes, and more.

There's motherwort, whose flowers works best for women's health (including PMS and menopause).  It can also be used for rheumatism, sciatica, nerves, urinary cramps, sleeplessness, delirium, chest colds, congestion etc.
There are stinging nettles, which are pure plant protein ("they are my friends," Elaine says, since they help heal her arthritis).

Comfrey provides a great ointment for skin conditions.
There's a hawthorn berry, rich in vitamins, used to stop menstrual flow.
The wild strawberries that we are planting will be useful for digestive upsets, diarrhoea, cleansing diuretic for rheumatism, gout, arthritis, and jaundice. Among the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois), the wild strawberry is regarded as the "leader" of the berries. Six Nations Farmer Market writes that this berry is the first berry food to appear in the spring and is eaten as a blood purifier. Elderberries, red raspberry and tender sumac berry sprouts are also used for their alternative, or blood-building, properties. It is also used as a woman’s medicine.

Elaine describes how in days gone by, the women of this land would wear bandolier bags, squatting down and picking the medicines, or sometimes using their dresses as baskets. Beautiful embroidery depicted the medicine that they carried. Women would get together, like we are doing and plant and weed, and gather.

"Everybody has their own medicine. Everybody comes with their own knowledge. But as the Ojibwe say, "you forget." And so it is your walk to rediscover what you have lost."
We used to communicate with plants, beyond boundaries of speech, interacting respectfully with the environment around us. We watched the cycles of time: we watched children develop, how they related to the plants, and from there, we would identify the next medicine person.

I complain about the "creeping Charlie" that has overrun my backyard at home. Apparently, it's edible! Elaine explains that in traditional teachings, if a plant comes to you, it is because you need it.
"You need to sit with a medicine person, an herbalist or such, who can help you."

Elaine showed us how to loosen the soil, dig light trenches in preparation for the baby tobacco plants.
She directs us to use a hands length apart for the tobacco we are going to plant.
Tobacco is especially sacred to the first peoples. Six Nations Farmers Market explains how Aboriginal people use Traditional Tobacco to represent "the honesty that we carry in our hearts when words are to be spoken between two people or to the spirit world."

"When a request is made, a teaching is shared, a question is asked, or a prayer is offered, the Sacred Tobacco travels ahead of the words so that honesty will be received in a kind and respectful way. Tobacco is seen as a gift given us by the Creator." It is understood as a fundamental means of communicating with the Creator.

"Every person knows a piece of plant knowledge. The plant will allow you to learn what you need, and it is different from what others might need."

Check out this great Six Nations list of traditional plants and medicines.

Flowers from these beneficial plants, are well loved by pollinators of all kind.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pollinator Health in Hamilton's Urban Official Plan

When dealing with protecting natural areas, one of the biggest challenges is the idea that this means anti-development. According to City of Guelph planner April Nix, “You need to find a way to walk that middle.”

To what extend you agree with Nix, “It is about the message that we can have meadow habitats, the same way we can have woodlands and have development too.”
Nix emphasizes that it is about having a complete community and that includes a complete Natural Heritage Systems (NHS): “It is not one or the other. It is about wanting to do things a little differently. So, no you can’t do that here, but there are other opportunities.”

Nix helped create the city of Guelph’s Official Plan (OP) and has wise tips to offer us as we begin to look at Hamilton’s official plan (urban plan review is in 2018) and how it can be stronger on the biodiversity and pollinator health front.

She points out the OnNature document as a useful guide to help make policy clearer. For example, although ‘pollinators’ is not strongly themed in it, there are a lot of principles that are talked about in terms of how to build policies and how to make them clear. They’ve got a section about making sure that it is understood what’s mapped in a planning context and what is not mapped and how the policies apply—and that is something that would most often apply to our meadow communities and pollination environment.
Photo by Randy Kay

It’s Tricky: Mapping
Mapping can be tricky and with the emergence and popularity of GIS and google maps taking off, the idea of having unlimited access to aerial images and pulling something up and looking, that's changed the way natural heritage planning is assumed to work.

Nix explains that 20 or 30 years back, an OP would have had some green blob areas which would have been known rough features (such as provincial wetlands) and it would have been understood in the OP that those things were flagged constraints. Now the assumption is that everything will be meticulously mapped out into the OP and shown on the schedules and that will be your "be all and end all" as far as constraints go--that everything is known. “Everything is not known. Particularly when we deal with species and species habitat it is probably one of the most challenging aspects,” Nix says.

As well, with wetlands or woodlands for example, you can look at an aerial and define these areas, “but wildlife habitat is hugely more complicated because it depends on which wildlife you are dealing with, and how do you map that?” she asks. “If I map something as a deer habitat, does that mean that it is not anything else? Of course it’s other things, but what you map is a challenge, and how do you include it in an OP?”

Guelph’s OP has attempted to include Natural Heritage Systems (NHS) in their OP based on features and areas. It includes a layer for significant wildlife habitat and it will include more mapping for more locally significant habitats as they go along.

Greenbelt Review:  An Opportunity for Pollinator Health and increased Wildlife habitat creation and protection.
I am excited that the Greenbelt Plan is under review and that we, as Ontarians and Hamiltonians have a chance to voice our ideas on how to make it better, and include pollinator health, since municipalities have to take direction from the province.
I asked Nix what her thoughts are concerning this, and increasing the focus on natural areas. She tells me that although NHS is in the Greenbelt plan, it doesn’t apply in urban areas!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Pipeline Trail Planning Team and the Pollinator Paradise Project go on an excursion.

This article will appear in the June issue of The Point News.

Bev Wagar’s got her shovel in hand, her dog Wagley on the leash. Fran Frazier’s dog Mikey sniffs Wagley up; approves. Elizabeth Seidl arrives, a map of the area rolled up under one arm. We wait a while for more Crown Point Garden Club members to show. Matthew Lowe strolls over, pausing now and then to gather discarded plastic bottles laying on the trail, to bring home and recycle. Jen Baker of the Pollinator Paradise Project pulls up, and community developer, Lyna Saad rides in on her bike.

All here now, we set off down the Pipeline Trail, chatting amiably.  This motley crew has a mission: tonight, they will decide the location—out of three proposed sites—for the pollinator garden they’ll be planting in June in hopes of attracting butterflies and other beneficial insects and small birds.

Our first stop is opposite the small “triangle site,” an already established garden that the group intends to spruce up in addition to the new site they’ll be choosing. We watch as Bev sticks her shovel into the turf, digs out a pile of earth, which she then examines with her fingers. “It balls up,” she says, disappointed, meaning that there is quite a bit of clay content, “but nothing pernicious.”