EartHand 2020 Annual Report

“It surprisingly feels like a Community in spite of being Virtual” 

 Jaymie Johnson

Streaming from the Unceded Traditional Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Sinixt People

Fluid – Adaptable – Online – Outdoors – At Home – Sheltered-in-Place – Home and Garden – Zoom – Bluejeans – Slack Groups – Live-Streaming – YouTube content – Making with What we Have

… We will Never Be the Same.

A Message from Jason Jones- Chair, Board of Directors 

Casting my mind back to my first conversation with Sharon about the initial notion that became EartHand Gleaners Society, I remember it going something like, “I’d like to have a discussion about a decision I’ve already made for you. Trust me, you’re going to love it. Here, have a gin and tonic first.” Nine years later, the last member of that initial Board, I can only marvel at the degree to which that was an understatement. I don’t think any of us, sitting around Sharon’s kitchen table for the first meeting, could have envisioned what EartHand has become (except, maybe Sharon, of course): the people we’ve reached and been influenced by in return; the geographical and temporal breadth of the connections made; the source of inspiration and solace and peace that EartHand has provided for our communities. 2020 has been a year of upheaval and uncertainty but, as you’ll read in this report, it did not slow us down. In fact, 2020 provided us with a surprising number of opportunities to focus, to learn, to share, and to innovate: all things at which the EartHand community excels. If EartHand can handle 2020 with grace, humility and aplomb, we can handle anything. The future is bright, our hands are busy, and our hearts are full.

2020 Partnerships

Our Partnerships in 2020 include the following:

Environmental Youth Alliance, David Suzuki Foundation (Butterfly Rangers Program), Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Muddy Boot Prints Outdoor Preschool, Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship/Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Strathcona Community Garden, Strathcona Community Association, Telus World of Science, Vancouver Park Board: Arts, Culture and Engagement Dept., Vancouver Park Board Operations and Vancouver Moving Theatre.

Branching Out

EartHand Satellite Community in Nelson, Sinixt Territory

Jaymie Johnson – who has worked with EartHand extensively over the past few years – has brought EartHand back to her home community.

Reflections from Jaymie: 

Bringing this work to my hometown started with multiple encouraging and strategic conversations with Sharon on Zoom. In Nelson, the first connection made was with the West Kootenay EcoSociety who hosted me for a Webinar in July on the topic of EartHand’s work and my intention to bring similar programming to the West Kootenays. The Webinar was received with much enthusiasm and led to an informal ‘Backyard Fibres Guild’ followed by an Autumn ‘Simple Vessels Weaving Guild’ that saw five to eight people attending bi-weekly programming from July through December.

Seeds of ideas for longer-term collaborative projects are slowly developing alongside the beginning of relationship building with local environmental non-profits, arts organizations, school teachers, fellow community-minded artists, and the local Indigenous community. Home to a thriving arts scene, post-secondary fibre arts program, environmentalists, gardeners, activists, etc., there is plenty of interest and potential in doing this type of work here. This sense of eager excitement and momentum is paired with the learning curve of being a returning newcomer, orienting to local funding streams, adapting to community dynamics, and relearning local histories all during this time of physical distancing and changing public health protocols.

I have been humbly reminded to move at the pace of trust as I learn the complexities of the history and present-day politics of the area and as I reacquaint myself with the seasons and plant kin in this place.

We currently have a small but enthusiastic and supportive community of fibre and weaving enthusiasts eager to learn (and unlearn), grow, share, and connect with each other and the land. Our next weaving guild based out of Nelson is scheduled for Winter of 2021, with Co-Lead Support from Harvest, one of the 2020 participants.

Means of Production Garden (MOP)

This year MOP seemed to really come into its own – parents with children wandering the paths like never before. So many neighbours discovered this special place while at home this Spring and many of them became Silent Stewards on debris clean up.

Sharon and David let the top beds get a little weedy and focused on larger projects that opened pathway view corridors along the hillside and made walking in the garden easier to navigate. 

A special shout out of gratitude goes to Ryan, Heather, Asu, Natasha, Martin and Dale as Local Community Stewards doing work independently to care for the fruit crop areas in the Spring and Summer.

In the Autumn, we formalized our Independent Stewardship Time with online meetings to discuss the upcoming garden work, using Slack as a community sharing board for notes about the garden with people going independently to do various tasks within their capacity and using their own personal tools and gloves.

More than 70 new plantings were donated by Park Board, Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) and community members including large Phormium tenax, Ferns, Nootka Rose, Salmonberry, Wild Ginger, Asters, Wild Strawberries, Twin Berry and more, to add to our Fibre and Food Forest. Approximately 100 Grape Hyacinth bulbs were donated by Strathcona Community Garden and planted around the Hazel Trees.

David Gowman- artist and land tender at MOP since 2008

Since we’re reflecting on 2020, I would list the MOP Garden among my chief therapists of last year. Restrictions on gatherings in Vancouver translated into a lonely and bleak time for someone as extroverted as myself. At the garden, this meant no classes, no gatherings, certainly no MOP Garden Concerts, and of course, no Volunteer Labourers for the majority of the tasks at hand.

 What to do, what to do?

Honestly, neither myself nor Sharon spent too much time fretting about lost volunteer hours, and we just put our heads down and started working. It soon became apparent that the trade-off of less hands was not the disastrous, overgrown garden we had pictured. Rather, the work got done, and more! The garden thrived in an unprecedented year of growth. Five new pathways cut across the hill. New steps laid. Trees pruned. Irrigation lines fixed. Plants planted. Weeds weeded. Could it be true that two experts are faster than 10 newbies? Perhaps, but this is not the point of my reflection.

While we were grinding away at our various tasks, happiness was our true payment. The garden is insidiously calming and satisfying. It is claimed that antidepressant chemicals embed the soil. Maybe it is the green-the new growth, always present even in the depths of Winter. And the visitors thanking us, the gardeners. 

On the worst days, Sharon would have cajoled me into a garden session in the rain, and I would arrive in a bad mood (though willing to help. I’m not a monster!). By the next hour, happiness would invade my veins and I would have to apologize for my earlier, grouchy self.

The bones of MOP grow thicker with each passing year, solidifying her Therapeutic Presence in Mount Pleasant. I believe time will pay us great dividends as the garden matures.

 – David Gowman

Trillium Park North

Trillium Park North

Life shut down in the Spring, right when the Park workdays would normally start to get busy with our community events. It was a much quieter year than expected, at the Park, for EartHand, and yet the Park was more animated than ever, as people moved all gatherings Outdoors. It has been an honour to see how many social and community support groups have chosen the Cherry Tree area as the place to be together. Like what we witnessed at MOP, local residents discovered their park and learned about the role we play on the site.

Sharon and Amy had many days of Studio Time Sharing Together: Felting, Weaving and Dye Methods. It was a time full of creative cross-over, despite there being, less to witness than anticipated. Sharon also made use of the work bays last Winter weaving an installation for Science World with support from Nicola Hodges.

Trillium is maturing into a fantastic resource of local wild fibre plantings as the nettle bed continues to grow and the fireweed and dogbane become more established. This year the plants were used by the Emily Carr University Fibreshed Cohort as well as local residents of the virtual Autumn Fibre Guild. Sharon completed a vest knitted with retted nettles gathered and processed over the last several years from nettles grown on site.

Beyond ‘Specialized Plants’, the wilder areas provided Inspiration for creating short little videos for common plants such as false nettles and dandelions to use in weaving, while we looked to support makers at home finding materials on their own.

The larger planted swathes of Trillium were mostly left on their own through the Spring and Summer without coordinated volunteer support, while Sharon focused her energy on the raised bed and planted areas surrounding the shipping containers. Emily Carr students joined Sharon for Stewardship Time in the Fall, and a Stewardship Group has now been formalized for online meetings and independent work projects when possible to maintain the gardens. Some of the work has included transplanting Milkweed to a larger open area with more space for it to thrive, planting a large Phormium tenax on site and planting more butterfly-friendly pollinator plants through a contribution from the David Suzuki Foundation.

 Muddy Boot Prints had a few weeks of Preschool Summer Camps, then started again with us in September as usual. We are keeping the eastbay set for this group with artist use of the westbay as part of COVID Safety Protocol for minimizing group contact. 

Means of Production and Trillium Park are both in the Japanese Beetle Quarantine Zone. We have an informal plant sharing network with other community garden groups in this area that are also without beetle sightings.

2020 by the Numbers

48 hours of Free Community-Making time.

17 Events with 92 Participants (pre-pandemic)

Eight Paid In-Person Classes (Pre-Pandemic).

Including: Coil Basketry with Peter Bauer; Cedar Burnout Spoon Carving with Delmar Williams; Oil and Bark Tanning and Salmon Leather with Janey Chang. In late Spring: Botanical Prints and Soft Fibre Weaving with Sharon Kallis went forward with one paid participant in each class, joined by Amy as Artist-in-Residence, with physical distancing outdoors.

136 hours of Time Online for 85 Events with 581 Participants

Nine guilds consuming a total of 81 hours of on-line learning time for 77 participants. 

Including: Food and Medicine with Lori Snyder; Nature Connections with Sara Ross; Home Dyers with CZarina Lobo; Felting Investigations with Amy Walker; Autumn Fibre Guild with Sharon Kallis; Gifts from the Salmon Guild with Janey Chang; Simple Vessels with Jamie Johnson; Winter-Ready Knitting with Nicola Hodges and Salish-Style Weaving with Nicole Preissl.

28 short videos on YouTube for assisting with At Home Making:

Materials Home Foraging Challenge; How to make a Bent Knife with Nothing; Cordage Walk; Fibre Bed Reports 1 and 2; Spring Forage for Weaving; Dandelion Stalks for Weaving; Plain Weave Start; Locking the Base Twining Technique; Water Bottle Cover; Twining up the Sides; Repairing Warps and Changing Weavers; Four-Ply Round Braids; Stitching on the Strap; Intro to Sit Spot at Means of Production Garden; Trillium Bird Wander; Five Voices at Means of Production; Beltane Ink Walk; Delmar Cuts Hair; Weave a Cardboard Box: Parts One, Two and Three; Sarah Holloway Digital Garden Artists Talk; All things Nettle Chat with Allan Brown and Sharon Kallis; Wool Washing; Anatomy of a Drop Spindle; and Mordanting Wool.

49 tracked Garden Sessions in 2020 with over 250 hours primarily charted by Sharon and David both on-site during the Pandemic months.

Pre-Pandemic, there were 15 participants helping with Winter chores, such as the Willow Harvest.

19 Skill Holders and Artists joined us this Past year:

Peter Bauer, Michael Mayr, Janey Chang, Delmar Williams, David Gowman, Amy Biker Walker, Dawn Livera, Lori Snyder, Sara Ross, CZarina Lobo, Nicola Hodges, Jaymie Johnson, Caitlin ffrench, Nicole Preissl, Alejandro Ruis Ramirez, Anna Heywood Jones, Ryan Vasseur, Martin Borden, Sarah Holloway

Adapting to Life Online:

“I appreciated a common sense of purpose and respect for everyone. I learned a lot and want to continue along the lines of our discoveries in class. Even on Zoom it was relevant. The demos were, I believe, even better than In-person as a close-up and recorded learning remains available afterwards”. (Guild Participant)

A few words from our Bookkeeper, Helen Shim:

Despite the upheaval of 2020 the COVID year, EartHand Gleaners had a busy year financially and much can be extrapolated by looking at the numbers. Sharon will provide you with the actual figures but from my Perspective as the bookkeeper, I would like to recognize the tremendously successful job that Sharon did in re-formatting the programming and its delivery. The number of workshops and people who participated, many of them new to the organization, illustrates how EGS continued to serve its community and fulfill its mandate through a very challenging and unprecedented year. 

A huge ‘Thank You’ to Sharon and her team on behalf of all of us.

Amy Walker, 2020 Artist in Residence: Stitch and Strategize

Artist in Residence Reflections: Amy Walker

As a Maker and Facilitator, I wrestle with balancing creativity with a responsibility to the planet. It’s challenging to carve out a low-carbon living based on natural materials and hand-making in a consumerist, plastic-dominated industrialized society. So I have found great solace and practical support from EartHand Gleaners’ “Act Locally” approach to craft and art as relationship and reciprocity. In Canada, we have the privilege to survey History and choose the most appropriate Technologies, those that harm least and bring most joy. For example, we can be connected by the Internet, while making our own Clothing from natural materials and riding bikes for daily transportation. I choose to work with people who recognize and exercise this agency and I’m very happy to have entered the EartHand sphere as there’s much work we can do together to shape a more equitable and ecological society.

My year as Artist-in-Residence with EartHand, has connected me with locally-sourced materials (wool for felting and plants for dyeing, weaving and fibre), hands-on learning and discussions to create projects that are more sustainable.

It was a weird year, so I didn’t get to experience EartHand in its full glory with people making magic together in the gardens. Though my Residency is officially over, I look forward to days ahead when We can Plant and Tend, Grow and Harvest, Build and Learn Together! This year I have gleaned a recognition of some of our plant neighbours (Coreopsis, St. John’s Wort, Tansy, Pokeberry, Oregon Grape and Day Lily to name just a few we worked with). I have also felt a deeper connection to the shared ancestral history of making in harmony with the Earth. I am still early on this Path, but I’m glad to walk it with EartHand as it feels like the right direction, specifically: to focus on making our basics (clothing, housewares, etc.) for ourselves and one another, with our own hands, from materials found here at home. This is just the Beginning of a rich relationship filled with conversation, hands and hearts engaged.

Amy Biker Walker, 2020 Artist- in-Residence: Stitch and Strategize 

 Partnership Highlights:

EartHand worked this past year with Emily Smith to create a new Multi-Partner Education Program at Emily Carr University in Partnership with Shumka Centre. The Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship fosters the movement of artists and designers into systems and situations where their work and ideas can have the most impact. The aim of the Shumka Centre is to establish a place where creative practitioners can find community and knowledge as well as: connection to the resources they need to launch: fund: and organize projects across the spectrum of contemporary art and design activities – whether those are: products; companies; events; curatorial initiatives; non-profit organizations; or other initiatives.

All three cohorts in the field studies program have threads that lead back to EartHand! 

The Reciprocity and Stewardship Cohort worked with Sharon at Trillium learning through the plants as they tended the site. Working with Brenda Crabtree and the Aboriginal Gathering Place at ECUAD with guests Senaqwila Wyss, Meagan Innes and Janey Chang, the group of six was led through an intensive materials-based inquiry of tanning, weaving, spinning and design with deep roots of understanding place in connection to object. 

The Second Cohort, Warping Weaving, joined Nicola Hodges at her new home in Gibsons to learn about Programming Looms and Design through Weaving in Partnership with MacGee Cloth

The Third Cohort, Regeneration worked with Tasha Nathanson from Seven Leagues, to dive deep into what local business in design can truly encompass. The Lightbulb Moment for Seven Leagues came to Tasha at the 2018 EartHand AGM hearing board member Karen Barnaby discuss processing Fish Leather as a potential Social Enterprise Opportunity.

This was an exciting opportunity for new relationships with the Shumka Centre and Emily Carr U. Sharon was blown away at what the students were able to absorb and creatively produce in such a short amount of time.

Knowledge Bag made by Lydia Lovison using fibres from Trillium Park North and Salmon leather as a part of the Reciprocity and Stewardship Cohort, Autumn 2020.

Reflections from Sharon

I keep coming back to something that resonated with me while I was participating in Janey Chang’s Gifts From the Salmon Guild – it hit me like it never had before – the notion that salmon transition in their lifetime from freshwater to saltwater creatures, and then they transition back. 

The strength of purpose and adaptability that this speaks to feels an appropriate aspiration for where we found ourselves needing to be this past year. 

What could a transition to virtual even mean for these land-based practices?

We took our old tech into the new tech world – usually based outdoors – together, with our hands in the soil. Taking that online and solitary became necessary, as suddenly, our culture changed overnight. The sense that all was new – none of us were experts at living our lives online, new tech platforms, new opportunities that of course, came with new challenges. What I will hold from last Spring is the openness to try, and to know we would get it wrong, but that we would also get enough right to make it worth trying. The notion that, we are all in this together, sorting it out and making something work. Having patience and grace when Zoom calls got dropped or Wait Rooms were left unattended. Acknowledging we were at varying levels of reduced capacity to cope, and yet we found new ways to be supportive for each other that may have been far from perfect but somehow managed to be enough.

I somehow got enough right in the quick program shuffling that we caught the attention of other organizations and individuals living further away. What we do used to be seen as slightly quirky, and I would often be answering questions from the General public to justify how our time in these slow ways of making was something worthy of pursuit. Cut-off Supply chains and closed factories thousands of miles away suddenly had an impact on our lives and made what we do locally relevant, necessary and sought after like never before. I was thrilled to give talks to multiple classes from Emily Carr University, Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, Langara College and for Vancouver’s own Heart of the City Festival, talking about the land-based work we do and how our programs adapted.

The Skill Holders who had committed to teaching in 2020 before Programs were cancelled were all financially supported in a small way to create content for our YouTube channel and I embraced Zoom for artists talks, shared studio time, free demonstrations, tutorials on clothing hacks and basket weaving. Amy and I transitioned what was, to have been, casual park activities time to, many online thematic gatherings – chances to stay-in-touch and build our makers sharing community as a part of the stitch and strategize residency. 

Everything was different about last year and the gardens were no exception. A bonus from 2020 is how many more people now see the gardens as theirs to tend, and it forced me to formalize stewardship in new ways. Having online garden check-in time and using slack for posting information about the gardens. This will continue after the pandemic as a way to keep us focused and the upcoming seasonal workload will be understood by more people; which is, of course, a good thing.

I was particularly grateful to BC Arts Council for Early Resilience Funds, which meant we could still have funding to bring forward for our 2021 Artists in Residence program, and to the Flax Research Work with Kathy Dunster through Kwantlen. This Participation Funding supported much of our online content. We also had a good year for private donations through the City of Vancouver Donations Portal; I offered free Wardrobe Hack Virtual Classes in the Spring with a request for donations from those who were able and I am so appreciative of those individuals who could do this.

Most of the classes and administration of the organization this year was me acting in a volunteer capacity – more than is usually possible, as I was fortunate to have a Personal Creative Grant that kept me going through most of the year. I turned to my own practice to push my own skills in spinning, dying and weaving and am excited to be bringing everything I am learning now forward to new programs with EartHand. Martin Borden through much of the pandemic months was a part of my small bubble for filming my nettle project and the wool felted vest that I made with Amy. I am so grateful to Martin as he is a wonderful companion for conversations as well as the archiving he did of the work created. More than ever, individual board members offered support through garden time and impromptu Zoom meetings, as I found my way navigating through the changes that 2020 kept offering up.

After the Spring intensive reactionary time of adhoc online programs, I made the decision to focus Summer and Fall on how we could support teachers by sharing knowledge while keeping programs as affordable as possible since many of us were struggling with reduced incomes. The nine guild programs we piloted taught us lots about how to gather and share in supportive and sustainable learning groups. Although they don’t replace the beauty of being in-person together, I can see this format very worthy of continuing even in post-pandemic days.

But I do miss gathering in-person with you all terribly. 

I hadn’t realized in the moment just how precious those Pub Knit Nights in January and February would turn out to be. But, I am also grateful for the people who live in other parts of our province as well as in Alaska and Oregon and as far away as Ukraine; they had joined us and became a part of our Community. For me, home has always been where I can be with people who understand me and where I can make with what I find at hand. That version of home just got a whole lot bigger – so even if my provincial stay at home orders keep me apartment bound heading into 2021- I know you are all just an internet call away.

 I am amazed when I look at the wide array of Activities we took in learning online together this past year, and at the incredible people with whom I am so lucky to be able to work and dream alongside. Like the Salmon, we adapted once, and in Time we will adapt back again. But our virtual time together may shape how we gather and contemplate connecting with each other for years to come.

Sharon Kallis, Executive Director/Lead Artist January 2021

Thank you for being a part of our Community!