What Maude Barlow Told Me

On Wednesday I drove into Guelph for the Maude Barlow talk, and it was certainly worth the trip. There were over 300 people there, and all of them were energized: they hooted, they stomped, and they sang encouraging songs. I felt like a real little country mouse in the middle of all that enthusiasm.

The reason they were all so happy is that Guelph just had a major battle over corporate control of local water this spring. With help from the Council of Canadians, citizens of Guelph Eramosa Township opposed a floating glass plant that would have used a minimum of 560 million litres of water each year from the aquifer. And in spite of the fact that citizens didn’t have adequate notice of the plan, in spite of the fact that, as they were told, it was already a “done deal,” they fought it and won.

Now, maybe you had heard about this, but I hadn’t, and it made me think about how important it is that we share the good news as well as the bad. Bad news can make people angry; unfortunately, most of the time it makes us want to curl up with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream until it all goes away. But it doesn’t go away. It won’t go away unless somebody does something about it.

Maude Barlow is the living definition of the term “small but mighty.” When she got up to talk, she did speak of many sad things that are happening to the Canadian environment. She talked about what we have lost, but she also talked about how to win. She said that the way you know you’re winning is that things look downright impossible. People are throwing bricks at you, and the road ahead looks too steep to climb. All you can do is just keep walking, she said, and that’s when you win.

One of the things I took away from this meeting was a new understanding of the word “aquifer.” If you’re like me, you probably learned in school that water is limitless: you use it up, or it goes through the rivers and oceans, it evaporates, and more rains down. The excess goes underground, to the aquifer, and it will never run out. As we’re now learning every day in the news, that’s wrong. Not only can an aquifer be drained (look at India for the most terrifying example) it can also be contaminated, as it has been in many places, due to fracking and other polluting activities. Politicians often try to scare us, telling is that if we want jobs we have to consent to this pollution. Don’t believe it.

I got to talk to Maude after the meeting. I wanted to thank her for all her hard work. She’s been at this for over thirty years, and that’s a long time to be walking up a road that’s too steep to climb. I was surprised when she thanked me instead. She said that it is sometimes very tempting to say that you’ve had enough, that you’d rather just sit and watch the grandchildren, but when you learn how much you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, you just can’t stop.

I guess that’s a good lesson about saying thank you.

If you want to learn more about Maude Barlow and Canada’s water crisis, I recommend her books. They are a plain-spoken explanation of the causes of the Canadian water crisis, and a roadmap on how to deal with it. Here are the two most recent:

Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis

In Boiling Point, bestselling author and activist Maude Barlow lays bare the issues facing Canada’s water reserves, including long-outdated water laws, unmapped and unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial-waste dumping, boil-water advisories, and the effects of deforestation and climate change

Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever

The final book in Maude Barlow’s Blue trilogy, Blue Future is a powerful, penetrating, and timely look at the global water crisis — and what we can do to prevent it.

Healthy clothing, happy 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.

Alas, Poor Periwinkle . . .

 

Since I’ve made the decision to become a Greener and Completely Better Person I’ve had a lot of tough decisions to make. One of the hardest has been the problem of my old friend, the periwinkle.  Now, I just love periwinkle.  I love the cheerful blue flowers at the beginning of summer, I love the dark shiny leaves, and I love the fact that you just can’t kill it, no matter how neglectful you are. It just trudges along, rain or shine, spreading out gracefully and replacing that nasty grass. And the name—I mean, how cute is that?

But periwinkle, you may be surprised to learn, is an invasive species, and as I’ve made a vow never to buy invasive species, I could never get it for my garden. Unfortunately, my periwinkle is inherited. It was here when we moved, and the first spring in Stratford, it was about the only thing in the garden to greet me with a cheery smile. I didn’t have the heart to kill it. Besides, it has sneaked into my garden under the neighbour’s fence, so I know it’s up to no good over there as well. I think I will take the advice from this website, and just contain it as much as possible.

Berberis_thunbergii_(3)

Barberry leaves and berries

I feel guilty about this, but its not as if I had planted Japanese Barberry. Now THERE’S a plant that will keep you awake at night. Japanese Barberry is an extremely attractive plant, with bright red berries, easy to prune, and because it has spiny leaves, deer don’t eat it. This all sounds great, until you learn that because the deer eat other plants instead, Japanese Barberry is spreading rapidly, blanketing the forest floor. But even worse, the thick leaves of the barberry are an ideal home for ticks. I read an article a little while ago that said these plants can carry more than ten times as many Lyme-infected ticks! Just thinking about kids playing around those bushes makes me shudder.

Berberis_thunbergii_`Atropurpureum`

Japanese barberry                        (Berberis thunbergii)

If you, too, are trying to be a Greener and Completely Better Person, here’s a list of invasive species to keep out of your garden. And if you were surprised about any of this information, it’s probably because you have seen these plants at local nurseries—Klomp’s and Cozyn’s both carry them, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones. You wouldn’t think that a nursery would sell plants that were bad for public health and the environment. I guess there are no government regulations to guide them.

Crazy world, eh?

 

Further reading:

Japanese Barberry: A Threat to Public Health

Barberry, Bambi and bugs: The link between Japanese barberry and Lyme disease

Images: Wikipedia