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  • Creating Community: Laurie Jones’ pollinator project


    Maleea Acker
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    “Pollinators can’t see that layer of ownership we put over the land.” We need to support them.

     

    “I LOVE THE IDEA of something that can gradually get bigger, and be a beautifying thing in the neighbourhood,” Laurie Jones tells me, as we sip tea in my living room. This fall, Jones is shepherding and cultivating beauty and sustainability in the Saanich neighbourhood of Gorge-Tillicum, aiming to make it a better place for pollinators and pollinator-supporting habitats. 

    Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, beetles, birds, and bats enable the fruit to set in our gardens. About one out of every three bites of food exists because of their work. One native pollinator, like a leaf-cutter bee, can do the work of 20 non-native bees. Many populations of native bees (and honey bees) are declining precipitously because of parasites, habitat loss, insecticides, and climate change.

    Jones and a small group of my UVic Community Mapping students (Geography 380) are engaged in a community-university partnership. Together, they are aiming to improve the Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood as habitat for pollinating species, creating a map that will show where pollinators and pollinator-supporting gardens reside, and where gaps exist that need to be filled as development in the area booms. 

    Jones, a former librarian, artist and community volunteer, moved to the Gorge Tillicum neighbourhood in 2000. She’s a sprite; her eyes dance as she describes her garden, her connections with community, students, and art, and as she imagines what might be possible in a pollinator project. “What about an annual pollinator walk?” she muses. “A wildlife space, green roofs on every new development, pollinator signs that people can display in their gardens!”

     

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    Laurie Jones aims to make the Gorge Tillicum neighbourhood more pollinator-friendly

     

    Community thrives when connections are made. Wanting to foster greater attachment to the neighbourhood she’d moved to, Jones joined the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers collective (GTUF), a group that formed around 2010. Members grow food and other plants in the Saanich neighbourhood. 

    “When I hear people talking about how dull their neighbourhoods are, I think, you need this!” GTUF has taught Jones how to naturalize her garden—she doesn’t cut anything down in fall anymore, leaving habitat for bees and other insects to nest, lay eggs, and survive the winter. “I grew up with this idea of control, and I’m glad I’m not there anymore.”

    Within GTUF, members share harvests, seeds, recipes, support and information, and hold celebrations and garden tours (I’m a member, too). “I like to say that GTUF is where all things began,” says Jones. “Before that, I didn’t know anyone here.” GTUF will be one of the primary audiences for the pollinator project.

    A couple of years ago, Jones also joined the Gorge Tillicum Community Association’s Natural Areas Working Group (NAWG), a subcommittee of the association’s board. The working group has several projects, including installing fish symbols on stormwater drains, restoring Walter Park as a natural area, and working to remove invasive species throughout the neighbourhood. 

    As part of her work with the NAWG, Jones decided to spearhead a pollinator corridor project in the area. “I nudge; little bit by little bit. Anyone can do something where they are.” 

    “Pollinators can’t see that layer of ownership we put over the land,” she explains. They fly through neighbourhoods and land where there are ecosystems to support them. “As a property owner, it’s going from rights to responsibilities.” If a bee flies along Obed or Orelia Street, she wants it to have places to feed, nest, and hibernate.  

    In partnership with Jones, her cohort of students is creating materials to educate the public on pollinators and pollinator-supporting plants, as well as doing co-envisioned outreach and community mapping. The map they’re asking residents to contribute to will show where pollinators have been seen, where plants grow that support them, and can also serve as an indication of where habitat is missing. Jones would eventually like to see the map used to direct development and encourage native plantings, green roofs and other amenities to support native species as the area densifies. 

    Three other student groups from my class are helping communities to map aspects of place that they find important. The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is creating a map of places children can find marine life in the region. The Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition is working to build support for its bioregional framework, and students are doing outreach in local high schools and collating a map and descriptions of local social and environmental organizations in the area. NatuR&D is working with students as they create short educational videos on pollinators and mother trees in the region, in advance of a year long mapping blitz in the region to support climate change mitigation. The projects the students work on often continue for a year or more. Each cohort hands their work off to the incoming class. 

    Instead of writing essays that end up at the bottom of a drawer, students thus complete projects that actually make a positive difference in the region. But perhaps most importantly, a map created by a community is a democratizing force; it eschews the top-down power structures of most official maps, instead recognizing the individual contributions and sense of place that each participant carries. Story reigns in a community map; stories identify and celebrate connection to place, even as they also serve as a form of citizen science.

    Jones is interested in pollinators because she feels keenly the ecological disasters that climate change portends. She is also a fabric artist, and is currently creating a three-metre-square fabric quilt. Each square is a story she brings with her into this new climate-changing world. “I visualize it as a way to open conversations. It says, ‘here’s my story. What’s yours?’” Speaking of climate change, she says, “It’s going to be dark, but we can help one another, or at least have community.” The squares are made of painstakingly cut slices of colour, first tacked, then sewn into place to form collages of incredible intricacy. 

     

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    A detail, portraying Tod Inlet, in Laurie Jone’s quilt

     

    “I was inspired by Dahr Jamail’s The End of Ice,” Jones says. “And I took that metaphor. How do we process this?” One square is the story of a braided bridge constructed by a South American community; another is a story she heard from Nikki Wright, who heads marine restoration for SeaChange. Wright’s story was a realization that the restoration of SṈIDȻEȽ, or Tod Inlet will take generations. In Jones’ depiction, the forests’ green reflects in a swirl of blue and white inlet, while the century old pilings left from the area’s cement factory ring the moonscape of the ocean bottom. “How lovely it was to hear someone weighted down by the scope of the work required [and] finding that weight lifted by the epiphany that change requires a community,” Jones wrote when sending me the images. 

    While we are chatting, fellow GTUF member Olivia Anderson shows up at my door with a loaf of bread still warm from the oven. “Thank you again for the tomatillos and the quince,” she says. “This has spelt, red fife and rye.” The bread was amazing. Anderson, also a retired librarian, has transformed her entire front yard (a block away) into an oasis of food and flowers. Laurie laughs. This is what she means by community. 

    On November 6, from 11:30am – 3:30pm, the GTCA group students and Laurie will hold an event at the Gorge Park Community Gardens (Gorge Road just south of Tillicum Road), celebrating pollinators, pollinating plants, educating on how to create better pollinator corridors, and helping the public to create a map of pollinator-friendly areas in the neighbourhood. Come join the fun. There will be native seeds for giveaway from Satinflower Nurseries, educational resources, activities for kids, and an opportunity to tell your story about pollinators and plants on a map.

    Maleea Acker, PhD, completed her doctorate in Human Geography (Geopoetics) in September. She teaches at the University of Victoria; part of her dissertation will appear as the poetry book Hesitating Once to Feel Glory with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2022.

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