Climate Change, Racial Justice and Community Sustainability

Front cover of "A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living" by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

A review of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez 

By Lue Boileau 

At this moment, I hope that many of us are considering the future of our communities as we prepare for progressive climate change; to both prevent a worst-case scenario and to adapt to what is already in progress. In any climate change scenario, either the worst or best case projection, it is clear that we must radically shift our way of living towards sustainable communities.  It is also essential that we connect food justice and racial justice to our ideas of sustainability. It is urgent that we come to define climate change as a racial issue, as our communities both here and abroad experience the most unhinged destruction, neglect, and exploitation. Most importantly, we must support and follow the lead of Indigenous communities around the world, who invented sustainability and who continuously experience state violence for this work.

I  recently had the opportunity to hear New York based Food Justice advocate and founder of the Black Urban Growers Conference, Karen Washington, speak on achieving food justice and Black food sovereignty. She raised the critical point that true food justice must disrupt and contradict the current food system; a system that relies heavily on the free labour and exploitation of mainly Black, Brown and Indigenous communities through colonialism, agricultural prison labour, and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program. 

As Karen illustrated, any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community. We must achieve food sovereignty that is, of course, independent of government or corporate funding and non-profit intervention. This must be achievable in urban and rural settings. 

In their introductory statements, the authors of A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, define radical sustainability and the key principle of autonomous community development as “…systems that give control over basic resources to the people using them, increasing community self-reliance and aiding resistance to resource monopolies. Design criteria include; affordability; use of salvaged materials; simplicity; user serviceability; ease of replication; decentralization …. All of these criteria lead to systems being replicable. Replicable systems are capable of being transferred and adapted to other communities and locations without significant redesign” (xiv – xv). This demands a swift break from the non-profit model of community intervention. 


“Any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community.”


A great example of autonomous development is the North Philly Peace Park (NPPP) in Philadelphia which grows food in what was an abandoned lot, without the permission of the city.  NPPP also includes a STEM education program on the site, with the support of retired science and math teachers from the community. NPPP is an example of a  Black-led project, utilizing skills and salvaged materials from the community to create food and education autonomy.

As we create these alternative systems, radical sustainability must mean recognizing “the inseparability of ecological and social issues and the necessity of ensuring the solution to one problem does not create or worsen another” (xiii). As we try to create sustainable communities, we must be careful not to replicate resource hierarchies and disempowerment. A conversation on building functional communities that include rehabilitative justice and intergenerational relationships are equally important to achieving sustainability and one that we should engage in, in parallel with creating food sustainable systems. 

However, what I would like to offer here is a brief review and introduction to the hard skills offered in A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, co-authored by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, in regards to urban sustainability and food production. 

To be honest, I found this book on my shelf buried under hundreds of other books. As I found out, it was given to my roommate as a gift in 2008. Over ten years later, it contains blueprints to significant skills we need to survive and create self-sustaining, food sovereign communities, making the most of urban infrastructure. 

“The key to establishing community food security”, the Toolbox tells us “is to have food coming from multiple and diverse sources. Urban farms and gardens can grow a considerable amount of vegetables while fruit and nut trees in parks, can provide a foragable community crop. Fire escapes can be home to mushroom logs and trellising vegetables. Neighbourhood microlivestock collectives can be formed, with members sharing responsibility and benefits – cleaning the coop, feeding and watering the animals and collecting the eggs. Interlocking backyards make ideal locations for collective microlivestock operations and expanded bird runs. Local aquaculture specialists can offer fresh, locally [raised] fish” (60).      

The challenges of food production in urban settings are the lack of space, the amount of land that is locked under concrete and pavement in need of rejuvenation, and the lack of natural sunlight due to building density.  The techniques covered in A Toolbox are those that are best suited to urban settings, but have been less covered in gardening and food production resources. The authors do not include information on basic gardening techniques, seed saving or cooking which as they mention, have been covered in many other valuable books. 

Non- Plant Based Foods 

In regards to non-plant based food, the key is to concentrate our energies on livestock that do not require large amounts of feed. Small birds and mammals are efficient at converting feed protein to body mass, are a convenient size for urban space and can also be helpful in the garden!  We review a number of different options for small mammal or microlivestock, the most common are chickens which can be kept in coops or free run with the use of roosts. Roosts can be built with metal sheeting wrapped securely around trees or poles to prevent predators such as racoons from climbing up them. Vegetable scraps, cultivated insects, vermicompost worms and spent barley hulls all make excellent chicken feed which supports a zero-waste system. Free run chickens will also eat unwanted insects in the garden with minimal damage and their droppings provide excellent fertilizer. There are many innovations for managing free-run and roosting chickens. The authors review a number of other options for fowl, including turkeys, ducks (great at purging slugs), guinea hens, etc. but in any species suggest selecting breeds that are less domesticated and hardier especially for adverse weather such as the Rhode Island Red (chicken). In terms of mammals, the Toolbox provides a reasonable guide on keeping rabbits, and guinea pigs which are also space efficient and like fowl, can be raised in a collective in adjoining backyards.  Rabbits in particular provide especially rich fertilizer through their droppings. We must always be thinking in terms of creating sustainable ecosystems and symbiotic relationships for both plant and animal life. 

Edible Forests and Mushroom Cultivation

I love the idea of edible forests; creating self-sustaining food sources from perennial trees and vegetation, or a combination of perennials and annuals. When selecting tree species, the authors note that it is important to know if you are selecting a self-pollinating species or if more than one tree will be required for pollination. Trellis structures may be built around the edible forest for fruits like grapes, and vegetables like pole beans, squash, and cucumbers that take well to trellising. The authors provide an excellent guide to planting trees, understanding soil quality and the varieties of fruit and nut trees that you might select for an edible forest. 

An underutilized method, and one that suits urban infrastructure very well, is mushroom cultivation. The method that is detailed is log cultivation using mushroom plugs or plug spawn. Both medicinal and edible mushrooms are covered in the guide, as well as an understanding of what kind of tree species and log to select, how and when to harvest mushrooms. 

Inside look of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez

Waterways and Aquaculture 

As we begin to experience freshwater drought and the continuous contamination of waterways, a knowledge of aquaculture will be particularly important. And for those of us who love and eat fish and wish to do so responsibly, we can cultivate a fascinating and intimate understanding of freshwater aquatic ecosystems and how to maintain them. Many people have heard of aquaponics, but it wasn’t until I read a Toolbox that I understood what an intricate and graceful system it can be. The authors also provide a guide to creating passive pond systems. This knowledge is extremely valuable. However, for my own reasons, I am going to focus on the recirculating aquaponic system, that is built using four 55 gallon barrels each containing its own ecosystem that supports through piping and pumped water circulation. Juan Martinez provides beautiful illustrations throughout, but this is my favourite. 

In the recirculating system, the first barrel is our biofilter. It is filled with plants emerging from the surface of the water, ‘like catfish, bullrush and taro,’ which can be harvested and are all edible. The bottom of the barrel is filled with gravel, which is a great ecosystem for ‘water-purifying microorganisms.’ The second barrel contains the fish. It is very important to pay attention to the guide on the fish to water ratio, to maintain healthy fish and prevent ammonia build up. Snails and rooted plants also provide an essential function to this stage. Barrels three and four are water purifiers, containing an ecosystem of submerged plants such as duckweed and water hyacinth, as well as zooplankton, crawfish, snails and microorganisms that recycle and consume the waste from the fish in the second barrel. All elements of the aquaponic system work together to maintain healthy plants, healthy fish and other organisms. 

Although vertical space food cultivation  – barrels, trellises, fire escapes, and rooftops – is a way to use the constraints of a city as a strength, we cannot neglect the land. So much soil is trapped under concrete and pavement, without exposure to oxygen, natural water cycles, plant life or healthy microorganisms. As we continue to experience flash floods, pavement and its disruption to water and soil cycles will become more of an urgent and destructive problem. The authors of a Toolbox stress the importance of releasing the land, working to increase soil health, and provide a review of a number of methods of breaking, repurposing and discarding of toxic pavement when necessary. 

In their words, “Growing food in a city is a wonderful way to build community, support local economies, and be rooted in a place” and this element of community collaboration and mutual support will be essential as we prepare for the next several decades of change. 

A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living includes several more chapters in addition to food, covering urban sustainability in water, waste, energy and a guide to bioremediation including conversations on access to land and a discussion of sustainability and gentrification. 

For readers eager for information on how to adapt to our current context, I recommend combining this reading with Deep Adaptation, A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy by Jem Bendell (an academic paper that is also available in podcast); and for Black readers, following up this work with Farming While Black by Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm.


side profile headshot of lou boileau

Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Book Review of Freedom Farmers by Monica M White

Book cover reads "Freedom farmers: Agricultural resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M White" the image is of different aged black farmers harvesting

Book review by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

In her book, Monica M . White tells us a story of how Black folks in the  US have always used agriculture as a tool,  not just for survival, but also for liberation. She has done an impeccable job of meticulously searching through archives and interviewing community members to tell us about the legacies of people like Fanny Lou Hamer and George Washington Carver. Her book draws on the work of organizations like the Freedom Farm Cooperative and The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which have been instrumental in the fight for emancipation, and connects their work to current initiatives like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

This book left me feeling not only inspired, but in awe. Food justice is a tool of liberation. This book shows us how Black people have used agriculture to build housing, worker’s cooperatives, and schools to create a road map to freedom.

Book Review: Science of the Sacred

Picture of Nicole Redvers "Science of the Sacred" book cover. in smaller font it reads "bridging global indigenous medicine systems and modern scientific principles". There is an image of a stethoscope and eagle feather.

Book by Nicole Redvers, ND

Review by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

I have been following Dr. Nicole Redvers’ work since she was awarded the Arctic Inspiration Prize for her work with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, an organization dedicated to revitalizing Indigenous traditional healing services in the North. As an herbalist and a woman of colour, working to support the resurgence of traditional knowledge in my community, I found her work to get traditional foods into hospitals super inspiring. When it was announced that she was publishing a book, I knew I had to read it.

The Science of the Sacred: Bridging Global Indigenous Medicine Systems and Modern Scientific Principles explores the relationship between medical research and Indigenous healing practices from across the globe. Redvers draws on her knowledge from her education and experience as a Naturopathic Doctor and more personally, as a Dene woman. While reading her book, I found myself pausing again and again, taking in the strength of traditional knowledge and the depth of understanding that our ancestors carried.

In a time where so many people are so sick, it can be so very to place Western Medicine on either side of a dangerous binary of good or bad as Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us, there is no Yin without Yang. Meaning binaries are but an illusion in the everchanging cycles of life. This book allows the reader to see how Western Medical science is also part of this cycle. A system that was once so deviated from natural ways of knowing has slowly started to come full circle and back to our roots. Redvers conducts a very thorough examination of current medical research that affirms the knowledge of our grandmothers, showing us that the future of Western science is one that can work in harmony with our various traditional systems of knowledge.

What struck me the most about the book was how much overlap there is between our various cultures and healing practices and it became clear that our various ways of seeing the world are not simply different worldviews, but in fact, are different interpretations of a common truth. We are all connected by the ways we have observed the natural world.

Overall, I definitely recommend this incredible and well research piece and look forward to seeing more of Dr. Redvers work.

Shabina is a community herbalist and organizer working towards the liberation of all people.

Plant Your Seeds, Watch You Grow

black and white picture of book cover. It has a sketch of two black farm workers. It reads "Farming while black: Soul fire farm's practical guide to liberation on the land by Leah Penniman forward by Karen Washington

A book review of Farming While Black

by Ciana Hamilton

When I first got my hands on Farming While Black, I felt my soul rejoice. I have always felt a strong connection to land; whether it’s a long walk in the woods or growing a zillion tomatoes in my garden. Something in my soul sets on fire whenever I find myself intertwined with the earth. Even though this love of land comes naturally for me, I can’t help but feel misplaced, disconnected and even hurt whenever I attempt to foster a stronger bond with Mother Earth. From the moment you open Farming While Black you can feel the dedication, energy and love that Leah Penniman poured into this book. In its most practical form, Farming While Black is a hands-on how-to guide for everything to do with tending to the land. Once you begin to dive deeper though you realize it is so much more than a generic farmers guide. Farming While Black is 16 chapters of beauty, colour and testimony. It is as pragmatic as it is reflective of Black peoples’ history, connection and rehabilitation towards farming.

Penniman described Farming While Black as the book she wished she had growing up. Throughout the chapters, she seamlessly integrates her years of farming expertise with her personal journey of finding true liberation working on and with the land. Chapters such as, “Finding Land and Resources” explores different points of access to land, whether it is leased, communal, bought or through a land trust.  In chapter six, you can find vital information on crop planning, transplanting seedlings and days to maturity for a variety of herbs and vegetables. In each of these more practical chapters, Penniman includes UPLIFT subsections that draw connections to African ways of farming and present day uprising within Black communities. In one chapter, “Feeding the Soil”, one UPLIFT section speaks on African Dark Earth, a highly fertile and dark soil that was created 700 years ago by women in Ghana and Liberia. Farming While Black is easily the best book for Black (Indigenous, Brown, Latinx) folks who feel the duality of detachment and yet, the desire to build skills in farming.

For most of us, it doesn’t take much to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is nothing really stopping Black people from contributing to urban community gardens or being involved with farm internships. But where the work gets tricky is when it comes to repairing the internal damage that many Black people carry as a result of slavery. In short, slavery has destroyed our relationship with land. That pain I sometimes feel towards land, is a pain that is felt by most Black folks across Turtle Island. It is the same pain that is shared with our Indigenous cousins and others who have been displaced at the hands of colonialism. It is the pain we often try to bury; and in an attempt to forget, we sabotage ourselves from regaining identity through something that has been in our history for centuries. There is no question that even Leah Penniman felt this distorted disconnection when she first began her journey of farming. The history of Black connection to land has been greatly misconstrued to fit a narrative of white supremacy. We are perpetually told and reminded that our only real connection to farming was when our ancestors were enslaved, exploited and forced to endure hard labour. Rarely is there a discussion around Black farming prior to slavery or Black farming after slavery.  Rarely is there any discussion on African culture and how intertwined our African relatives were with nature, land and crops. The space that Penniman dedicates towards healing our land legacies in Farming While Black is what sets this book apart from any other farmer’s how-to guide.  Chapters such as: Honoring the Spirits of the Land, Plant Medicine, Cooking and Preserving and Healing from Trauma are the parts of this book that invite readers to dig deep within themselves and recognize where healing needs to begin. In “Healing from Trauma “ Penniman said, “Many of us have confused the terror our ancestors experienced on land with the land herself, naming her the oppressor and running toward paved streets without looking back. We do not stoop, sweat, harvest, or even get dirty, because we imagine that would revert us to bondage.” What makes Farming While Black a book of true deliverance, are the constant reminders from Penniman, and all those at Soul Fire Farm, that farming is in our blood. Whether it is through the UPLIFT sections throughout the book, the wealth of knowledge (old and new) or the beautiful photographs of Black, Brown, Indigenous and Latinx folks working harmoniously on the land, Farming While Black is the reminder that our history in slavery will not erase our history of land stewardship.

I am a descendant of African heritage. The women in my family were farmers, caretakers and keepers of the Earth. Farming While Black is my awakening to remember and honour my ancestors. With every shovel of dirt, every seed planted, every vegetable harvested, I vow to never forget that they were proud people of the land and today, so am I.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Beyond Body, Words and Time

Reviews of Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World and Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer

by Kai Cheng Thom

How does a settler of colour like me – a third generation, ripped from homeland, utterly cityfied trans girl – learn real love for the land? How do diasporic people of colour learn to become responsible, to have integrity, in our relationships to Indigeneity, to Indigenous people, to the stories that bind us all? These are the questions that surface in my mind as I read the poetry collections: This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt and Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead – two recently released debut collections of poetry by queer Indigenous authors that have lit up the queer poetry scene this year.

Whitehead and Belcourt, along with writers such as Gwen Benaway and Arielle Twist, are among an emerging generation of Indigenous queer and Two-Spirit poets who follow in the lineage of groundbreakers such as Chrystos and Qwo-Li Driskill. In the tradition of anti-colonial poetry, their work – in each of their unique voices and styles – interrogates the violence of European colonization and genocide on Turtle Island though the lenses of intimacy, sexuality, and gender. In so doing, each poet also breathes new vision, affirmation, and possibility into the conceptualization of Indigenous queer identity.

In This Wound is a World, Belcourt pulls the reader into a searingly intimate examination of what it means to live in the world with an Indigenous, queer body – the narrator of the opening poem, “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak”, introduces himself in the opening poem as “a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans.” Simultaneously, Belcourt troubles the notion of what it means to “have” or to “be” a body at all, perhaps most explicitly in the piece “If I Have A Body, Let it Be A Book Of Sad Poems” and in the Epilogue, in which Belcourt reflects on love as “a process of becoming unbodied.”

Tender yet fierce, vulnerable yet unrelentingly powerful, Belcourt’s poetic voice skillfully uses the confessional register in order to evoke an emotional landscape of love, loss, heartbreak, grief, and hope. Over and over again, in myriad ways, Belcourt asks the question: What is Indigenous queer love in a colonized world? Each piece in This Wound is a World offers part of the answer.

Poems such as “I Am Hoping to Help this City Heal From Its Trauma,” “The Back Alley of the World,” “Native Too,” “OKCUPID” and “There Is No BeautifuL Left” explores the potential and power of sexuality in an Indigenous queer context. Here, Belcourt does not shy away from the impact of trauma on the body. “i am the monster in the closet / your bedtime stories prepared you for / you want a man / whose body doesn’t whisper / horror stories / each time you touch him,” he writes in “OKCUPID.”

Yet there is possibility as pain in sex, for Belcourt, as the title of his collection suggests. In wounds, there is sometimes wisdom, and through the abject, there is sometimes absolution. In the gorgeously written “Native Too,” he writes:

“he was native too

so i slept with him.

i wanted to taste

a history of violence

caught in the roof of his mouth.

i wanted our saliva to mix

and create new bacterial ecologies;

contagions that could infect the trauma away

[…]

i wanted him to fuck me,

so i could finally begin

to heal”

Interspersed with the first-person confessional poems that comprise the majority of This Wound is a World is a series of third-person meditations on moments in history and current events that reflect on the collective trauma of colonial genocide and violence. These pieces, such “A History of the Present,” “God’s River,” and “Wapekeka,” ground the intimacy and emotional authenticity of the rest of the book by placing it within a historical frame. Like the shape-shifting trickster of “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak,” Belcourt weaves himself in and out of this frame, using his words to reach into and through the notions of body and time toward decolonial love.

Where This Wound is a World is an intimate close-up, Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer is an explosive panoramic that shatters the frame: inspired by anime and sci-fi archetypes, the collection follows the journey of Zoa, a cybernetic trickster virus that infects, transforms, and rebirths everything that it touches – which is to say, pretty much every colonial literary and cultural trope – in order to re-member and re-centre Two-Spirit stories. Whitehead’s conceptual genius and technical brilliance come to the fore in Full-Metal Indigiqueer as he takes Zoa and the reader on an expansive revolutionary tour of the English literary canon and contemporary Western pop culture.

Full-Metal Indigiqueer is at once trenchant in depth and breathtaking in scope: Like Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, Zoa manifests itself from everything and anything around it, all the while remaining fixedly devoted to its mission of Indigiqueer vivification. Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, RuPaul, Mean Girls, Harry Potter – if it is in the zeitgeist, Zoa can and does subvert it with almost ecstatic zeal. Yet the human(e) aspect of Zoa remains apparent throughout; Whitehead balances meta-human nature of his protagonist with haunting emotional clarity:

“there is no safety word here,” Zoa proclaims,

“you’re on the precipice of sex;

i am unas lion; i am sansjoysanslovesansboy

i am the real fairy queene

femme-boy-fatal[e]

thegreenbladeofgrass

that castrates Whitman endlessly

do you still want to dream of me [questionmark]

tell me: “i didn’t think gay natives still exist”

The intensity continues to build as Zoa grows through the narrative, becoming at once more human and more powerful in its otherworldliness. In, “MIHKOKWANIY,” a poem dedicated to Whitehead’s kokum, or grandmother, Zoa states “to be honest / I’m im just a little brown boy / obsessed with mutants & robots / queered by his colour / queered beyond his tradition / the saving grace of ceremony / writing for a kokum he’s hes never met.” This tender, vulnerable piece is immediately followed by the “THE EXORCISM OF COLONIALISM,” in which Zoa breaks the code of colonialism and digitally resurrects a host of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The piece serves as both a heartbreaking testimony and an unrelenting challenge to the ongoing violence of the colonial legacy.

Among Whitehead’s many achievements in Full-Metal Indigiqueer is his resounding success in the creation of a map for an Indigenous futurism that breaks the colonial boundaries of English language and literature. In giving birth to Zoa, a consciousness that transcends words and time, Whitehead offers readers a new way of conceiving queer Indigeneity – or rather, Indigiqueerness.

Whitehead and Belcourt have given great gifts to the world this past year with the publication of their debut collections. As I read their words, I am reminded that stories are a pathway into the heart – into a place beyond body, words and time. In order to reach that place, we must be open to stories that destabilize us, that centre others, that push the boundaries of our sense of self. As Belcourt implies in his Epilogue, decolonial love is non-sovereignty. As a trans girl of colour far from a homeland of my own, reading Indigenous poetry on Turtle Island, I am trying to learn what that means: For me, it begins with gratitude. Gratitude for the land, for Indigenous queerpoetry, and for Indigenous poets.

I read these books, and I am grateful.


 

Kai Cheng Thom
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, healer, lasagna lover and wicked witch based in Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea.