Sustainable biochar is a powerfully simple tool to fight global warming.  This 2,000 year-old soil enhancement practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and discourage deforestation.  Sustainable biochar is one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable, and quickly scalable.

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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,,  or visit at

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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Meet CCEC member Kathy Whittam who was looking for a fit in the “bright green future she is inspired by globally.”  After participating in a Green City Walk in Berlin, she came home to find her dream tours were not being offered in Vancouver. She is inspired by people of all ages who are 'doing something', that add up to make a difference.  However, a big risk is an oil spill or a climate catastrophe that would cause steps backwards as we strive to be the Greenest City in the World

She mapped her favorite green initiatives, researched and walked to make a 4 hour tour worth sharing. She sees her challenge as igniting a fire of interest that motivates all walkers to be active in a greener future.

Why am I a member of CCEC? I joined CCEC as we were looking for more
 co-operative connections in our life.   When choosing a credit union, we went as local
as we could and have been happy knowing that the money we earn is reinvested
in the communities we live and work in.  With my touring business,
I want to make sure my money is reinvested in the communities I'm so inspired by every day. 
I enjoy feeling a strong sense of community with my bank.

Kathy Whittam, President of Greenest City Walking Tours, has collected stories of how things have come to be green in Vancouver and feels that the City is full of great communities and people doing amazing things together.  Her tours highlight the people power behind the places and spaces, and allows for conversations where she can engage others to take action wherever they live.

Her 4 hour "Grassroots to Resiliency" tour is a 9+km whirlwind for people who love taking in beautiful views, hearing stories of inspirational people and ideas, who dig all things sustainable and like to be active.  This summer she plans to launch "Community Roots" tours running 2-3 hours and mini-tours that are accessible to all ages and abilities.

She feels there is a thirst to explore cities on a more personal level, and is happy to offer an experience that appeals to locals and travelers who want to explore corners of the city they may not otherwise see or know.

Her tours allow her to use her passion, skill and experience to contribute to the positive shift in her own way.  She says, “I tell a great story while helping people grasp how all these green pieces fit together to weave a path for our collective future potential to follow.”

Over the next few years she wants to continue walking around our town, sharing stories she knows, and learn from the people she gets to walk with!  She says, “This is a huge opportunity for me to learn from others while I show off our green super stars!”  Kathy plans to build on the tours until she runs out of ideas.

More importantly, she wants to collaborate with fellow green-keeners to offer in depth peeks that better showcase the work they are doing in our communities. 

For further information and to join a tour:

greenestcitywa walkingtours

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Local citizens are screening two films MARCH 31st at Britannia.  Cities on Speed” that includes screening two films with transportation themes and brief discussions.  These documentaries about Mumbai and Bogota are quite inspiring as well as entertaining.  So it’s a great way to engage people about the transformational potential of good transportation for cities. Particularly relevant in our community right now!
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Public transit is a life and death issue, according to Stephen Hume (Vancouver Sun), who's opinion piece highlights the public health impact of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants as we put more and more vehicles on the road. The proposed expansion of our public transportation system, and the referendum on taxation, put some some big issues before the public.  Images of the ordinary people in Beijing struggling with really poor air quality are scary.  Recent reports on the effects of vehicle exhausts on young brains, and urban dwellers' health are disturbing.  There is a real need to get the right decision on the upcoming referendum in Greater Vancouver.  You may want to attend the public meeting hosted by the Board of Change March 19th, 5:30-8PM.  
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Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) is a great source for information on the BC economy and proposed mega-projects.  The CRED research provides an important resource to CCEC as we assess the Kinder Morgan proposal for the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  In particular, CRED observes that the oil and gas industry is only a small part of the BC  economy (Gross Domestic Product) and unlikely to generate significant sustained employment gains. 

The CRED Blog and newsletter are great public resources. 

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The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is seeking proposals for papers on the subject of job creation, with an emphasis on constructive interventions - environmentally and socially.  The invitation is in preparation for a a mini-conference that CCPA-BC, BC Federation of Labour and the Progressive Economics Forum are holding on Nov. 21, 2014 – A Good Jobs Economy in BC

 Proposals are requested by September 8th, one page only! 



• Solutions to youth unemployment
• Green jobs
• Sustainable and value-added resource development
• The role of the public sector in wealth and job creation (including crown corporations,
post-secondary education sector, government procurement, infrastructure and services)
• Financing alternative job creation
• A jobs vision for rural and First Nations communities
• Moving from “any job” to Good Jobs
• Effective employment strategies for more marginalized populations (recent immigrants,
Aboriginal people, people with disabilities)
• What does modern industrial policy look like?
• Role of co-ops, social enterprises and community economic development
• Encouraging and retaining high-tech and creative sector jobs



For more information Click Here.





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More input from our Members:

Let’s get away from fossil-fuel based economics.  Thank you for standing against this pipeline plan! 

No. Never. Not now.  Not ever.  We need to focus on green, renewable technologies not dirty, polluting tar sands for profits!

I am unequivocally opposed to this pipeline.  There are too many reasons to list – it is unsafe for people; it promotes climate change; the NEB is undemocratic; it ignores First Nations rights and title; it support a corrupt industry; it does not benefit the people who are most directly harmed by its construction or potential accidents.  No!  No!  No! Thank you.

No more pipelines. We need to invest in cleaner forms of energy.


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CCEC Credit Union is an accepted intervenor in the National Energy Board (NEB) review of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. This project of Kinder Morgan proposes to pump Alberta tar sands bitumen to Burnaby and then ship it on huge tankers through Burrard Inlet and Georgia Strait. CCEC is concerned at a global level and at a regional level about the ecological risks.  CCEC is also concerned with the economic subsidies imputed from government and those living along the transportation corridor. Implicitly, costs and risks are being imposed on neighbours and citizens.      

The review process is biased in favour of the proponent, so the challenge will be both present evidence to the NEB and the public. The NEB discounts any climate change concerns as not relevant. CCEC will be collaborating with several other community organizations over the coming months. We will also be hosting at least one members' meeting to broaden the public's knowledge, and hold the public process to account.   

For those seeking more information,check out the Wilderness Committee , Pipe-Up, or Forest Ethics

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CCEC has asked the Minister responsible for Canada Post to reconsider the recent proposals from Canada Post to close out all urban home delivery of the mail over the next 5 years. Some 5 million households will be directly affected, with mail redirected to 'community mailboxes'. The letter to Minister Raitt notes that on social and environmental grounds, the proposals transfer costs to the public rather than truly reducing costs. Seniors and the disabled are likely to be the most affected, but so will anyone who relies heavily on paper-based communications (often required for financial business). Many are objecting to the announced Canada Post proposals, ranging from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to the National Association of Major Mail Users. 

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