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Is it time to create a co-operative biochar and fuel model that could serve across sectors in East Vancouver?  With the Level 4 drought, water-wise gardening ideas sprouting and more lawns growing food, let’s meet CCEC member, Randi-Lee Taylor, owner of Simply Barefoot Garden Service, the old school hand-tooled cargo trike riding gardening artisan.  See blog for more information on biochar.

Randi-Lee doesn’t call herself a landscaper, even though she does that, and says, “My heart and practice is akin to community gardeners, xeriscaping (landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation). and permaculture with an emphasis on esthetics.”  Riding ‘the Big Luna’, her affectionately named cargo trike, and using old-school hand tools, she brings these practices into her clients’ gardens.  As an artisan, she converts passive lawn space into active gardens – imagine a potager garden with lovely pathways, accents of roses, lavender, topiary and a perhaps an espalier.  Last year, one of her gardens, The Mirror Garden, was chosen for the East Van Garden Tour


Why I’m a member of CCEC:

“CCEC does what it does because that is just who they are.  And maybe therein lies the difference.  CCEC is a “who” and ‘how” kind of place, the others focus on the “what, when and how much.  It just makes sense to have the biggest portion (of money) in the hands of folks who share the same values.  When I decided to start my own business it helped that I already had CCEC.”


The name, Simply Barefoot comes from paintings by Sarkis Katchadourian illustrating the Rubiyat of Omar Khannam with women walking barefoot through lovely gardens sharing food and wine in Paradise.  She says,”At the end the day, a garden is worth a stroll and best had barefoot.  Those are the kinds of gardens I want to create and maintain.”

So, what is biochar and why does it make sense?  With the Stage 4 drought and the impact on her business, Randi-Lee has been researching the biochar industry and the feasibility of a local installation.   She says that when she creates her gardens, for the most part, it includes removing huge sections of lawn.  The City doesn’t allow sod in the green waste so the disposal goes into the landfill or to private sites,  with the potential to transfer invasive species like chafer beetle and fire ants.  She has taken sod and, over time, worked it into a growing patches in back yards.  However, this doesn’t work for a front yard.  It can be as expensive to dispose of sod properly as it is to install the garden – fees anywhere from $300 to $800.  She says, “When the goal of gardening is sustainability, it is a hard pitch to argue that a $1500 dollar veggie garden is a money saver – that’s a lot of lettuce for some folks.”   And, when you consider the City is encouraging, through its’ Greenest City Action Plan for our community to be growing more food and turning lawns into food, we need to come up with a cost-effective options and ways to make this easy for our neighbouhoods.

In her research on how garden businesses in the Northwest are altering their services due to the heat, she has found that some States offer lawn removal rebates (up to $ 5000) to homeowners. She feels that while this is great for garden services, local businesses and for water retention, she finds it to be hit and miss on the esthetics.  She says, “Water-wise gardening should never be understood as anything less than beautiful.  Plants and materials that work with the climate are low maintenance and gorgeous. “

Now that half the city is brown straw, she says that we all need to consider how much we invest in lawns and we need a plan for removing and replacing lawns.  This does not mean no green as clover is a wonderful drought resistant alternative and bees love it.  A closer look at what the Americans are doing gives a glimpse in to some truly innovative practices, including biochar.  Biochar is a super heated, water removed soil enhancer that locks and returns carbon back to earth-reversing carbon emissions using grass and other fiber waste.  It also has the added benefit of enhancing water retention by over 40% and increasing crop yields.  Randi-Lee’s dream is to secure support to create a cooperative biochar and fuel model that could serve across sectors in East Van.  She says that, “Done right a working business model could demonstrate that an innovative twist to old school tried and true works.  There is plenty enough wrong in the world not to take a chance to make a small piece of it right.”

So, how did Randi-Lee become an advocate for biochar? 

After working for over 20 years contract to contract in the community development field facing what she felt were fewer opportunities, she returned to her family gardening roots.   She says, “I grew up in a gardening family-both food and ornamental.  Summer was about growing your own-apples, cherries, a veggie patch, berry picking.  I worked with senior master gardeners who taught me the key to successful gardening is found in the basic tools that have existed for millennia.”  She learned how to use the three essential pruning tools: snips, clips and a back saw.  But with all good gardens, it begins with the soil.

She then completed the 4 month intensive Self Employment Program at Douglas College.   Randi-Lee says that at the placement interview, the counselor reviewed her idea – an old school hand tooled cargo trike ridden gardening service– looked at Randi-Lee’s calloused hands and having seen photos of the gardens, the counselor saw in the photos the work of her own father, himself a master gardener.  So Randi-Lee was admitted to the program.  With the help of Embers Ventures downtown, Tegan Verheul to help on her website and social media, and CCEC’s Business Loans Officer, Simply Barefoot Gardening Services is now in its’ fourth year of operation.  

Randi-Lee Taylor, Simply Barefoot Garden Services,www.simplybarefoot.ca, simplybarefootgs@gmail.com  or visit at www.facebook.com/SimplyBarefootGardenServices

Why I’m a member of CCEC:

My mother was a life long banker,the first woman bank manager in western Canada. Up until the last few years she was proud of her service, helping first time homeowners. She couldn’t agree with many of the changes taking place with the big banks so she left.  It wasn’t longer after that she died and I was left without a mom, bank or banker.  In stepped a friend who is a member of CCEC, showing up one day with the declaration that enough was enough, if I wasn’t going to a bank, I best go with her to meet the folks at CCEC “Trust me Randi, it’s not a bank. These folks aren’t just like us, they ARE us.” So, a CCEC Member Service Rep. signed me up.  My friend was right.

Being a member of CCEC is akin to joining the cast of a Norman Lear show from 70s; regular decent folks trying to get by in an increasingly changing world. If you ever have to stand in line (a rarity in my experience), you will be standing with poets, playwrights, filmmakers, roofers, temporary workers, gardeners, artists and a collection of folks who go about being decent human beings and trying to be decent to others.  I’d say that’s a membership privilege.  Plus when you walk in the staff know you by name and if they don’t yet, they soon will.  How cool is that?

For me personally and professionally, I would have given up on my dreams a long time ago if my money was in the hands of another institution.  There’s always been someone at CCEC to give advice, support and encouragement, if not a loan or two.  None of this is because they have to, it is because that is just who they are.  And maybe therein lies the difference.  CCEC is a “who” and ‘how” kind of place, the others focus on the “what, when and how much”.

It just makes sense to have the biggest portion (of money) in the hands of folks who share the same values. When I decided to start my own business it helped that I already had CCEC. 

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