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Gardening against climate change

Being a lazy gardener is a good thing. Especially if you want to combat climate change. Low-maintenance gardening is synonymous with permaculture, says Marlon Davis.

Being a lazy gardener is a good thing. Especially if you want to combat climate change.

Low-maintenance gardening is synonymous with permaculture, says Marlon Davis.

Davis has started her own Whitehorse business called Deep Roots. She is a design consultant, because that is largely what all permaculture is, she says.

“Permaculture is so much larger than a garden,” she says, noting the name is a contraction of “permanent agriculture” and suggests an idea that burrows into one’s life, becoming a lifestyle.

But when applied to gardening, the general idea is to look at how things work in nature, and mimic that, she says.

“There’s many elements within a forest that depend on each other to make it work, but it’s self sufficient in that it’s contained in the forest,” she says. “The critters and the trees don’t need much outside to make it work.”

For example, in Whitehorse people need to truck in good soil, she says.

But there are ways to use your garden to make your own, she adds.

Effort is needed in the planning, planting and harvesting, but very little work should be done in between, she says.

A variety of plants allows for less watering. For example, larger, leafier plants can provide shade that retains soil moisture.

Simple ideas like these will be offered in Davis’ permaculture workshops.

They have been funded as a part of a broader community adaptation project organized by the Northern Climate Exchange at Yukon College.

“We can’t solve the problem of climate change just like that,” says John Streicker, snapping his fingers.”

Streicker is the Whitehorse co-ordinator for this pilot project, which was also brought to Dawson and Mayo.

“Adaptation is dealing with the effects now,” he says. “But we have to try to make sure that solutions aren’t adding to the problems. If you’re always reactive to the issues of climate change, it will cost a lot of money.”

One of the most obvious examples is food.

If the highway were to be flooded out, we could fly food in, says Streicker. But those high costs in greenhouse gas emissions would only make the problem worse. Having enough food growing in the territory would be a much better option.

It was with the highway that Yukon’s dependency on imports began, says Matt Bell, a Yukon government agrologist.

According to the most recent statistics available (2007), about 98 per cent of all the food Yukoners eat is shipped in.

“But that really doesn’t tell you the full picture because of course there are a lot of people that have backyard gardens and greenhouses in the territory,” he says. “As well as hunting, as well as fishing, as well as country foods like berries.

The dependency trend really is reversing, he says.

“I have a raised bed and greenhouse in my yard, but I like the idea of gardening co-operatively with others,” says David MacKinnon of the Takhini North Community Association, which has also received funding from the community adaptation project. “Our community is pretty tightknit and we have lots of ideas. We chose a community garden because it is a manageable place to start.”

Climate change is a very big, long-term problem, says Streicker.

These small projects, like the community garden and permaculture workshops, “are just incremental steps on a much bigger front,” he says.

The project’s goal is to get what we know about climate change - and what we know we can do about it - into the existing planning processes, he says. “So that when we spend money, it’s smart money not wasted money.”

The community adaptation project from the college’s Northern Climate Exchange will be releasing an overall report. It will include informed suggestions to all decision-makers, including municipal, territorial and First Nation governments - leaders are truly starting to listen, says Streicker.

But the culture of wanting results and then crossing the problem off the list is still widespread, and Streicker admits his work is not always tangible and often times boring.

“But it’s crucial,” he says.

Increased snowfall, forest fires and flooding are among the catastrophes associated with climate change and unkempt community gardens seem like weak artillery in our defence. But at least we are starting to wield a defence at all.

“Our biggest challenge is the problem itself,” says Streicker. “Even though we have uncertainty around it ... We understand the trend and where’s it’s going. It’s enough information to make choices, but it’s not enough information to be done looking.”

But we do have to start making some decisions now, says Streicker. Decisions like working together, integrating what we do know into our plans and learning more.

The community adaptation project will be holding a night for the public to learn more at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on January 17.

Davis’ permaculture workshops are expected to start in March.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at