Oral Presentation Reflections

Once again, I am writing as part of a term long, 5 part, assignment for my Introduction to Professional Communications course. You may have been tuned in to read about citing and plagiarism, my CRAAP test error log, or writing about my midterm. There was supposed to be one more before this one, but my father passed away suddenly and I had to travel to Cranbrook BC to handle that. But that whole thing is a whole other topic that I will be writing about at a later day, when I can face it. Anyway, I suppose my 5 part assignment is now a 4 part. Oh well; enjoy.

This was my dad, in 2017 at my wedding. This was the last time we got good photos together. I hate that. He passed suddenly on his 48th birthday.
Photo credit to Jelger and Tanja Photographers, though I cropped it for this.

In my first week back, we were instructed to do an oral presentation on something, anything, to demonstrate a number of the communication methods we’ve learned this term. Things like understanding basic methods of communication, creating a clear and concise message, and understanding beginnings, middles, and ends. The goal is to equip us for speaking on a topic which we understood, and in a professional setting… I think 😉

What I loved about this assignment is the freedom to cover any topic we want. The only restriction was it could not exceed 2 minutes (which was probably a good call on the teacher’s part, because I could have done a 2 hour video about the importance of permaculture methods for farmers in the Amazon rain forest, and it would have been hella compelling), and it couldn’t be on a derogatory subject, which I want to make a joke about, but everything I’ve typed out makes me sound like a closeted fascist which I do not want to convey in any way.

So, 2 minutes on anything we want. This was not an easy choice for me to make as there are so many things I could share on. I decided that the message should be something along the lines of a teaching moment, which really doesn’t narrow down what I could speak on. I also was feeling very passionate about certain subjects, like, I don’t know, the need to do some end of life planning if you have kids or a single item of value. Or the value in officially filing for divorce after 12 years of separation, or the importance of not letting your emotions get the best of you, or about how addiction is a serious disease, not to be taken lightly. Basically, all the topics that immediately came to light were those that made me mad or sad about the death of my father, mostly mad. They would not do when trying to convey a professional message, because I would get worked up and angry or take up the full 2 minutes trying to choke down tears.

Meager strawberry patch
The strawberries that started it all

But as I was brainstorming various ideas, I remembered a conversation I had with my teacher when we were discussing how to move forward with my classwork after having to miss a few weeks due to my father’s death. She mentioned something about gardening. I couldn’t (and can’t) remember exactly what it was, but it helped me to shift focus away from the topics that were immediately eating at me to speak on.

I thought about permaculture, or replacing your grass with food, keeping a garden journal, and a number of other subjects. I went through each of the plants I have planned for my garden this year (and boy, do I have plans) and when I got to my strawberries, I had a mini eureka moment. Strawberries are the plant that gave me the courage to actually have a garden, and I could share about how you shouldn’t give up on something just because you keep failing, because eventually, you will succeed. If that isn’t the most inspirational talk I can give in 2 minutes, I don’t know what is.

While Cecilia is a pro in the garden, she’s not quite as helpful with recording videos with me

It took me a very short time to write the first draft, and I even had Cecilia (daughter person) hanging off of me as I wrote. But I had to write quickly, as I had a limited time where Jim (husband man) would take Cecilia out for a walk and my makeshift office in my dining room (because my office is currently filled with my late father’s belongings as I sort through them). I took about 75 minutes to record, and record, and record again and again before I got a take I was happy with. I cannot begin to count them, because some I only got two sentences in before I fumbled. The first few practice ones helped me realize that what I had written was about 45 seconds too long, so I had to do a few rewrites in that time. And, at one point, I sneezed about 5 seconds from the end of a perfect take. My video count was definitely over 40.

I also had a goal of imputing some photos on the side of the video as I spoke (think about a newscaster with that fun little corner photo as they talk); but once I took the completed video into video editing software I realized I had no idea how to do that, so I nixed that idea.

I had personal troubles with some of the recordings. I’m working through some pretty rough feelings around my mother right now, following my father’s death (we haven’t spoken since my daughter was born, and she made it a little worse these last few weeks) but I felt including her (because including my youth) was an important aspect of the presentation. It took me a few tries to mask my anger with her in my voice.

Generally though, I was very comfortable with recording myself; I’ve spent enough time on Zoom this last year to not have an issue with being on film. Watching myself back was a different story though.

The way my computer films is that while it films you’re basically seeing yourself in selfie mode; but when the recording ends, the video is flipped, and it’s like seeing yourself backwards (even though selfie mode is really the backwards thing) so it took me a little bit to get over my own aesthetic issues with that.

I did notice, while watching myself back, that my eyes were all over the place. Admittedly they spent a bit of time reading what I had written, but they also are probably the most vain part of me, so they spent a lot of time watching myself on the screen too. Ultimately, though it was a guideline to have your eyes on the “audience” I decided that with the limited time I had, not having my eyes on sight was a hit I was okay taking, all things considered.

Had I taken more time (this was completely on me; I indicated that I would not need an extension for this particular assignment because I honestly forgot that my quiet working space had been taken over), I likely would have rehearsed and committed the short piece to memory (I’ve won awards for my performance poetry, I can recite with the masters), I would have taken more time to write something a little more lyrical, and I would have done more, appearance wise, than stick on a bra and a clean shirt. Maybe I would have even put on real pants.

All in all, I was pretty happy with how my presentation turned out, considering there was a short iteration where I would have angrily ranted about how everyone should get a flipping will done.

This is the end result of my submitted video presentation

Midterm Review

This is crazy series continues where I write blog content as an assignment for my Introduction to Professional Communications class. I’m enjoying writing these and reflecting on the work I do for the class, while also doing some self learning to blog better (you’ll notice that I don’t have the banner image repeated anymore). If you’ve missed it, I’ve reflected on learning about plagiarism and reacted to work I’ve done on a error log for my first assignment.

For this week’s assignment, we’re asked to review our process for writing our midterm and the feedback we received for it. Our midterm was hosted asynchronously and it was made up of three parts. The first part was the CRAAP assignment we had done as our first assignment, but severely altered to reflect our previous feedback and the error log we did on it. The second part was a detailed outline of what changes we made to the CRAAP test and why. The third was our personal assessment of the revised CRAAP test and the mark we believed we deserved, as stated out of 15. We were not given a rubric for the midterm or any examples and had to instead rely on our own instincts and the basic instructions we were delivered.

Because we had been given an assignment package with the outline of our course assignments and what we could expect for the tests, I was able to look ahead and see that our error log and midterm were in the same vein of work, so I made the early decision to complete both at the same time. While I started with the error log and the blog post for it, the work I did on the error log directly informed how I worked on my midterm.

I took the time to carefully read through everything that was required of me for the midterm before starting on it and decided that the best way to do it was to work on multiple documents at once. Over my two screen set-up, I had 4 documents open and viewable at once.

This was definitely part of my CRAAP test
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
  1. The original CRAAP test with the feedback from my instructor on it
  2. The PDF overview of what was expected for the CRAPP test and midterm
  3. The midterm packet document I created with a copied and pasted version of the original CRAAP test on it
  4. A blank document for me to record the changes that I made as I made them

Having all of these open at the same time made it very simple for me to work on whichever of the two working documents I needed to be on, and be able to reference the feedback and the assignment as I needed to. There was very minimal clicking back and forth. I also had my error log in front of me and I had a copy of the graded rubric from the original CRAAP test for me to refer to as I wrote.

Before I started the actual editing phase, I also wrote out the steps in editing and rewriting as we learned in the week of the error log, so that my memory was fresh and so that I would have something to refer to.

After going through all the rewriting steps and carefully documenting my changes (including citing the original text and indicating what was changed) I combined the change record document with the midterm and began working on the whole thing as one document.

1.5 year old standing looking at a note book, appearing to erase a section
I will never not use this image as it regards to Cecilia (daughter/person) and classwork

When I felt I was finished with the re-write, I read the re-write out loud to my poor unsuspecting kid and asked for her notes. She was not helpful, but I did stumble over a few sentences which I rewrote.

I considered the first part of the midterm complete at this point and looked through my change document and formatted it, corrected errors where I saw them, and moved onto the final part of the assignment.

The self assessment. It’s hard to self assess, especially when your ego is well documented like mine. I carefully reviewed the original rubric for the CRAAP test, reflected on the marked rubric from my instructor, and reviewed the feedback of the original assignment. Did I mention I got 95% on the original document? The part for which I was docked marks was my citing, as I didn’t use proper APA citing for 1 of 2 references. Logically, as this error was corrected, my revised document should sit at 100%, but I also want to be a little humble and be like “I can do better” but I honestly didn’t think I could. So I said as much.

I edited this self assessment document a few times and let it sit for a few hours before coming back for an edit, but for the most part, the tone and the general sentiment stayed the same.

Submitting the midterm early allowed me to make sure bear was strapped in real safe in the car before we went vroom vroom

Once I felt all three parts were complete, I re-read everything once more, and submitted the midterm, just hours following my error log blog post assignment. I felt really good about being able to submit 9 days before the deadline.

I think I reflected a little about how I felt getting my assignment feedback (dumb. Come on, CHOSE? Really? I didn’t know about chose?!) in my error log blog post, and much of that sticks as I revisited my assignment and rewrote it. I felt a little pride because “citing was my only serious error?!” but as I was reflecting on my revision and writing my self assessment, I was further prideful. I wrote something technically correct in my revision, and how far I’ve come from that 15 year-old who cared minimally about grammar. At that point, I didn’t think I would ever do so well on a writing assignment as I did on this revision (except for that one piece in English 12 where I had to write a diary entry for the characters from Ethan Frome and I wrote as Ethan Frome who wasn’t a particularly well educated man, so I added in some additional spelling errors and aged the page, but really, that was more of an art assignment than an English one).

As I worked through the midterm, I think my biggest learning experience was how much work editing truly is. I cast it off to the side and dismiss it as an easy task because I just read through my work a few times, but when I was tracking every change (and I even skipped the mundane things like “I fixed the spelling for citing from siting”) and I had it all down, written in front of me, it was surprising; I had two pages of written notes of the edits I had made. That blew my mind.

With this in mind, I realize just how much energy I expel in ensuring my work is at a high enough quality for my own standards, but then how much more I have to input for it to be a high enough quality for someone who is reviewing my work. It’s a lot.

Honestly, I don’t know how this will all apply to what I do in the future; I think it will be more of a lesson learned kind of thing. I won’t take what I perceive to be easy work for granted. I spent as much, if not more, time rewriting and editing my CRAAP test assignment as I did writing it in the first place, which says a bit as the OG assignment involved research!

I will say, that as sweet as the 95% felt for the original CRAAP test, it felt so much better getting 100% on my midterm. I’ve told my husband like 6 times now that I got a perfect score. Pride may be a cardinal sin for religious people, but damn, it feels GOOD.

The Error Log

If you’re not up to date on my class work (likely because you’re not my teacher), check out my last installment in my “Assignment Doubles as Blog Content” series, called Sources, Citing, and Plagiarism. If you are up to date, you know that I’ve been asked to do a series of blog posts to reflect on the things I’ve learned in my Introduction to Professional Communications class. This is segment number two; The Error Log.

In today’s assignment, I’ve been asked to review my first submitted assignment, a CRAAP test (more on this in a moment) and create an error log for it to look for trends in the errors I made. I’m writing this part of the blog BEFORE I’ve done my error log because there’s a prediction I want to make. My error trends are in spelling.

Okay, CRAAP test; it’s basically an annotated bibliography with personal flair. CRAPP stands for:

File:Poop Emoji Icon.png - Wikimedia Commons

Currency; how timely is the source? If it’s an article written about a farmer’s income in 1987, it’s likely not super relevant to us in 2021

Relevancy; how well does the subject matter fit into that which the source is being used as a citation for? If you’re using a article about maritime law when you’re doing research on how to milk a cow, you may be a little off base for the relevancy.

Authority; does the author have authority in this area? If it’s a botanist writing about the mating habits of geese, you may question their authority.

Accuracy; how can you measure the accuracy? Is there research to back it up or maybe lived experience? If the author is making speculations about how the vascular tissue works in a tree and there’s no citing to back them up, you may want to seek another source, unless they have done personal research and this is a scientific journal article.

Purpose; is the author trying to inform or teach? Are they selling something? Are they trying to convince you of something? What is their agenda and how does that contribute to the accuracy and authority of the author? If someone is trying to sell you a fancy new seed, the info they share about the plant you’re looking at it probably going to be a little biased.

The original assignment on which I am doing my error log required me to choose a source that I might use for my assignment at the end of the term and perform a CRAAP test for it. I choose a blog post from treehugger.com entitled “How to Keep Farm Records” by Lauren Arcuri. I won’t hop into more detail than that for now, because for this assignment (the blog post I am writing here in front of you) I have done an error log ON that first assignment and now I am writing about my experience doing the error log.

Error log

A document in which you list the mistakes, or errors, made in a seperate document and search for trends in those errors in order to be aware of the dumb things you do and course correct your errors in the future.

Full disclosure, I got a beautiful 95% on my CRAAP test assignment, and because my ego is so damn inflated, I can tell you it’s because I don’t make mistakes, I make art. And spelling errors.

My teacher, being the kind soul she is, used the comment feature on Word to show me where the errors were on my original assignment and indicate what was wrong about the errors (and yes, this is a little bit of brown-nosing because she is 100% reading this assignment, but also because legitimately, I love it when people correct my work in a way which is easy to understand and make changes to the work, should I have to). I will be using this feedback as a foundation for my error log, but also I will be attempting to find errors on my own.

In completing my error log, I did most of it in my notebook so that I could have one screen of my computer dedicated to the original assignment and the other dedicated to the error log example. Because I’m a tad bit lazy when it comes to my writing (in that it can sometimes be difficult to read my handwriting) I chose to only write out what type of error was made and the corrected sentence, which I followed with notes about the correction.

None of my feedback really surprised me. In one instance I used the spelling “choose” for the word “chose” and the feedback I was given was that this was a tense error; however, I didn’t know that “chose” was spelt this way until I looked it up following receiving the feedback for my assignment. I honestly thought that it was one of those English things like how “read” and “read” are spelt the same. So I learned that chose is it’s very own word and that I had been doing it wrong for centuries.

This photo has nothing to do with the text, just my rosemary babies, because blocks and blocks of text without images on a blog is BORING.

I was also a little surprised that the formal nature that I had written my introduction in was not a requirement. I thought, going into this course, that I would be focused more on academic writing and thus, that is how I wrote it. With the feedback saying it could’ve been better in the first person, I was surprised. I took great joy in rewriting my introductory paragraph in a more “me” style (pun definitely intended).

I did take a crack at finding any errors or issues not indicated in my instructor’s notes, and aside from the repeat errors, I feel I did fairly well on the overall piece of writing and could not find additional mistakes. But again, I refer to my massive ego; it would probably like for this to be true and that I am simply just creating errorless art.

File:Emojione BW 1F644.svg - Wikimedia Commons
Except by making it a photo! #lifehack

In regards to my prediction, the trend was indeed misspellings, though it had an undertone of “I had no idea” (such as with the chose example above). I wasn’t very careful when I went through and edited the assignment prior to submission, which is evident when I use the term “sited” in lieu of the correct “cited” (insert eyeroll emoji, because I have no idea how to do that on a blog).

I had neglected to add a date on one of my citations because the piece to which I was referring was not dated. Apparently these citations should include an indication that there is no date, for example: (last name, n.d.).

No photo description available.
Just baby Bea, on her first day of kindergarten. Unsuspecting teachers not knowing they’re about to get the teaching challenge of their careers

For the most part, the trends followed patterns that I was fully aware of, and most of these problems are systemic ones. I grew up with an awful speech impediment, it was so bad that we joke that English is not my first language, gibberish was. While my elementary school teachers (bless their hearts) did everything they could to help me, I did not get the professional help I needed until I was 7. Because so much of my developmental years were spent trying to overcome the difficulties around this impediment (such as speaking, spelling, and sounding out words) I became discouraged easily when it came to my English studies (nevermind learning French, HA!) and unless the assignment was purely reading, I did not do well with English.

Alas, I am a story teller and I love to spin a good tale, so as I got older, in order to tell my stories, I had to learn to write in a way which people would understand the words I was writing. A big part of the reason I write in the eloquent way that I do today (that damn ego is really getting the best of me today) is because of computers. Having a system which constantly corrected me, as annoying as it was, helped me immensely. I can’t look at a squiggly red line on my screen for more than finishing off my sentence before having to go back to correct it, which in a really weird way, helps me to learn better to spell (though I detest the red lines that pop up under Canadian spelling of words that I know are correct. Those drive me bonkers).

No photo description available.
I loved to build stories and worlds; this is pages and pages of world building lore I wrote when I was 15 for a 20 book series I had all mapped out called “Ode to Odelette”. Those books have yet to be written 😉

As a favour to me, please do not go back and read my Facebook posts from when I was 15; not only are my teenage ideals… questionable, but the spelling. I can’t handle my “on this day” posts from that time. I don’t know how my English teachers handled me as long as they did. Anyway, I’m steering way away from the point of my blog post here; the assignment.

So yeah, the error trends in my writing are systemic and I am learning my way out of them. If I can practice a little more patience when writing assignments, I may be able to decrease my errors even further. But, I mean, 95% is pretty good…

It’s no 100% though.

I’m a Farmer!

With the onset of a new year, a new school term, and a new blog, I also got a new job, because I just don’t have enough on my plate. And you know what, I don’t mind this extra work. It helps me stay organized and on top of things; I don’t know why or how that works, but I’m not here to question things.

As a part of my diploma requirements, I have to get in 455 hours of work experience in a horticulture related setting. Do the math on that and they expect approximately 3 months of full time work, and the intention from the program is that you do this 12 weeks of full time, usually labour intensive work in the summer term, when they don’t offer many classes. I don’t feel that they consider the diverse backgrounds of their students with this intention.

Thankfully, as a planner (pun intended) I was planning out each term of my diploma to ensure that I got all the credits I needed, so I saw this work experience requirement early on. There is no way that between owning a business (not in the horticulture sector) which operates primarily in the summer, taking at least two courses in the summer term, and being a mom to a child who at 1.5 is already a handful, that working a full time job was going to be conducive to a healthy life. So in doing the math, I needed to start a job no later than January and I had to do at least 50 hours/month in order to meet the requirements of my class. So I started looking for a very part-time gig.

I was lost. Where to apply? It was December and what kind of landscaper is hiring part-time for January? The job search left me questioning constantly if I was going to make it work.

She did not paint just how far in the starting process her farm was in. Note the few holly plants heavy with berries and the rest being bare plants.

I some how ended up applying for a job that (in it’s posting) seemed a little boring, and short term, and definitely past the scope of what my education had taught me thus-far. But when the farm owner contacted me for an interview, I considered that I hadn’t been the interviewee in an interview in a very very long time (2015 I think was the last time I was properly interviewed for a gig) so I took it. Little did I know, this interview would lead to the very kind of job that I dreamt about when I first started thinking about a career in horticulture; farm consulting.

2 roosters, 2 hens, strutting around
I’m also spending time with these cocks.

Okay, I’m not a farm consultant, per se, my official title is something along the lines of Farm Operations Manager or something to that effect. But what I am doing is consulting. In my interview I got to visit the property where the owner is trying to establish a new farm, mostly as a hobby, but also to obtain farm status for tax reasons. This woman has bright ideas for the farm, but needs a hand to help here with the physical work and also the research and data collection and all that other administrative stuff. She also has a lot of flexibility on how the farm operates. For over a month now, she and I have been collaborating on establishing her farm.

In my interview I was completely upfront with the owner about my education, but also about my willingness to learn and how my background as a wedding coordinator could lend to me being an excellent operations manager. Evidently, she agreed.

Holly berries on an evergreen Ilex tree
She does have a few well established holly trees onsite, including this beauty; but they are far too large to be farming.

This farm brings so much excitement to me. While I get through the grueling work of all the research and computer stuff, I am very much looking forward to rewarding work of getting my hands dirty and my muscles moving.

So I’m a farmer now. I am growing holly, I will be growing Christmas trees, and a few other food crops that I can’t tell you about quite yet, but damn, they excite me.

Sources, Citing, and Plagiarism

Blog post assignment #1 for Introduction to Professional Communication

As you may or may-not know, with the way that the pandemic effected my industry, I decided to turn my career on it’s head and go back to school for something completely different than the weddings I was doing before – horticulture studies. As a requirement for the degree that I’ll be getting, I had to enroll in an English course from a list of a few different options, and the one I choose was Introduction to Professional Communication.

Sometimes work and school meld together so well. For example, this assignment and this blog, or my take home from a wedding and this botany text. (Botany text is Sterns Introductory Plant Biology, 15th edition)

Through this class we’re required to produce 5 blog posts as assignments with specific objectives for each post; how fortuitous that I happen to have a blog and am always up for adding new content! Most of these blog posts will be reflective on what I’ve learned in the preceding week(s) so maybe you, the reader, will be able to find some value in the information I share.

This week, I’ll be sharing about my experience on the topic of finding and evaluating sources, citing sources in APA style, and plagiarism. Frankly, these last two weeks make me wish I had enrolled in this class so much sooner. While some of the information was more of a refresher from past college and high school classes, I have learned so much, in particular about what constitutes plagiarism in a general sense but also in a completely real sense as it applies to my class work. As I was reading about the different ways in which I can plagiarize, it started to frighten me to a point. Had I plagiarized in assignments in my last term, unintentionally? All those papers I wrote, were they up to snuff of the APA guidelines? And while all those fears got to me a bit, the biggest thing I tried to consider was “how can I do better?”.

Plagiarism

The pratice of using another person’s words or ideas as one’s own, in essence, stealing another person’s brain copyright. This may be done intentionally or unintentionally.
1.5 year old standing looking at a note book, appearing to erase a section
Hint: having Cecilia (daughter person) do my classwork for me DEFINATELY falls into plagiarism; who knew?

Plagiarism isn’t a tricky subject in and of itself, but there are certainly nuances that I hadn’t considered. One of which is the fact that if you have someone edit your work where they change your words or grammar (no red pen on those drafts, please!) that can be considered academic plagiarism (Ashman, 2018). Instead, the best practice is to ask for feedback in more of a general sense. The person providing you this feedback can point to specific parts of your writing to let you know that there’s something wrong, but they cannot alter your work.

Of course, this communications course isn’t the only class in which I am enrolled and if we want to talk about fortuitous again, it just so happened that in those other classes I had a variety of assignments due in the coming weeks (or that same week, whatever) where the information I was learning in communications was directly applied to these assignments. For one of these assignments, I was required to attend a tradeshow (virtually, of course. Thanks COVID) and at that show, we had to watch a talk and write a summary paper on it. Well, because of the information I had just learned in communications, I was able to properly site the speaker at all the instances where I was required to site him. Had I not the APA citation learning prior to that paper, I likely would have just cited that speaker once for the totality of the paper, which would have constituted plagiarism.

Ultimately, I’m not sure which of the topics was most helpful in my learning primarily because it is vital to understand plagiarism to understand how and when to place citations. That being said, if I were required to choose one subject area (which is the objective of this assignment, so I probably am…) I would have to choose documenting sources was the most helpful of those taught. I am comfortable finding reliable and authoritative sources on the subjects which I am required to look into, but until recently, I was not comfortable in properly sharing credit with those sources.

1 year old, sitting in car seat in car with an old keyboard on her lap
And now that I know it’s not okay to submit Cecilia’s writing as my own, I’m going to need that extra flow to push out as much content as I want to!

Now, with confidence, I can cite my work, which for some reason makes me move through my assignments (and even writing for Basil Bee) with much more ease. As I collect the research that I need for whatever it is I am writing, I’m far more clear on the relevant aspects to what I need for proper citation but also to recognize when I am paraphrasing what I’ve retained versus when I should probably just stick quotes around the original author’s words. As a more confident writer, I am a more productive writer.

References

Ashman, Melissa (2018) Introduction to Professional Communications
Section 8.4, Giving and Receiving Feedback

image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.

The Sustainability Teeter Totter

I ‘m going to bring your to my home for a moment on a typical Saturday night from this winter. We are sitting around the table eating dinner. Tonight I’ve made a delicious deluxe cheese burger, and on the side we’re eating roasted veggies smothered in delicious butter. When you look at the bounty on our plates, take a moment to really look at it and think; what part of the meal, the burger or the veggies, is the least sustainable part of the meal?

image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
Yummy, juicy loaded cheese burgers. Imagine the veggies, will ya?

Without knowing much about how all that food got to my plate, you’re likely going to answer something along the lines of “the burger” because of the vegetarian = sustainability rhetoric that people tend to tout. And in a lot of cases, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Meat products generally have much higher footprints than vegetables. But look closely at the hypothetical meal. This is being served up in January, and the roasted veggies are all in the nightshade and squash families. There’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. None of these fruit grow naturally here in January. I got them all from the grocery store. While the tomato boasted a title of locally grown, the rest of the yummies all came from different countries. How were those tomatoes grown in the dead of winter?

“None of these fruit grow naturally here in January.”

Notice that I refer to the goods on my plate as both fruits and vegetables in different instances? They’re all technically fruit as they all are vehicles for seed growth and distribution, and they are all vegetables as they are all edible crops.

And this is where we start to get into what I like to call the sustainability teeter totter. When two different actions both have different footprints involved and you, the end user, need to evaluate which footprint is the one that you should care more about reducing.

footprint

the measurement of the resource(s) that are used in order for the individual or organization to be able to consume/produce the end product.

When we are trying to live more consciously and trying to minimize the harm our actions and consumption take on the planet, we tend to listen to the general statements made about actions we should take. So you might hear that the carbon footprint of meat is astronomical when compared to that of vegetables, or that you should be putting your plastics into recycling to divert it to from the landfills, or that you should take the bus instead of driving. While these are all generally good “tips” they don’t encompass the full picture and often leave people with larger footprints than they intend.

But the issue is when you do start looking more at the different kinds of footprints, aside from the science informing choices, there’s a lot of personal opinions that come into play when making the “more sustainable” option. This is because what is more sustainable and why can be interpretive. Is your water footprint more impactful than your carbon footprint because you value our fresh water more? Well then maybe you only want to purchase hydroponically grown veggies, even if that means they’re trucked in from the states.

So one person may say “in my house I have ceramic dishware because I can wash the plates between each use and there is no waste” but another may say “I use only paper plates in my house as they can be composted and it helps me to keep my water footprint low.” I know at a glance, you may think the second person foolish. Sure, they don’t waste water washing dishes, but what about the water used to make that paper plate? They may argue back “what about the water used to make the ceramic plates?” Different people are going to value different sustainability methods. And hello teeter totter.

Many large boxes, stacked in the back of a car, with the back seats folded down.
This is a whole cow, shoved, somehow, into the back of my little Pontiac Vibe.

Going back to my plate of delicious food. Knowing what you know of the vegetables, you may still say that my burger is still the less sustainable option on my plate. In my personal opinion, it isn’t. The beef in that burger comes from a local farm where I purchased the whole cow. I like to point out that this farm also grows food and uses the composted manure from their cattle to help fertilize their crop, which is so much better for the soil and the plants than synthetic fertilizers. While I may not have gotten the hide, I did get the bones, the various cuts of meat, meat that didn’t make the cut (pun intended) was turned into ground beef. I also skipped out on the organs, but the butcher (who is attached to the farm) did keep them and hopefully was able to sell them in his market. Now, we do not eat enough beef to make a full cow worth it, so I split it among 4 other families. So what you can see here is I did not buy mass produced meat (which is definitely not a sustainable option), little of my cow went to waste, the meat I received came in minimal, paper packaging, and didn’t travel far to get from the farm to the butcher, nor did it travel far to get from the butcher to my home. Additionally because I wanted yummy fresh, local meat but couldn’t take on a whole cow, I was able to have 4 other families make a more sustainable meat option (we all live in the metro area and usually shop at places like Great Canadian Superstore, so this beef option wouldn’t usually be our first go-to). Ultimately, the meat from the burger had far less impact on the environment than if I had gone to, say, a chain restaurant. Another good note here is that that bun was homemade and the pickles were all from cucumbers I grew fresh in my garden. The overall plastic footprint of the burger is minimal, the carbon footprint is below average (as it is still meat from a cow, but the cow was not transported), and the water footprint is also smaller.

Basket with many different sized cucumbers in it
Lookie these homegrown monstrosities!
Clear glass jar filled with cucumbers, dill, garlic, and vinegar.
One of the first jars of homemade pickles I ever made!
6 golden buns sitting on parchment paper
Is there anything better than a home baked bun?

But those veggies? The tomatoes were grown locally, but likely in a greenhouse; how much power was required to keep that greenhouse running; how many contaminates are added to the soil? How much water is used? And the international veggies all took a very long car ride to get to my house. Without doing proper calculations (because I’m not a scientist, I am you regular Joe-shmo consumer who is basing my judgement on the parts of this equation that I understand) I am going to make the calculated guess that my veggies have an equal-to or higher carbon footprint to that of the burger on my plate.

So that makes another valuable point to the teeter totter here. How much information do I know about the choices I am making? If my information is limited, all I know is I have a cheese burger and roasted veggies on my plate, I am going to agree that yes, the vegetables are the more sustainable part of my meal. But the more information I’m given, the clearer the image becomes of the sustainability in each option.

Two vacuum sealed bags containing palak paneer.
I recently made up a bunch of Palak paneer and it was SOOOO yummy, I had to make sure I had more for the freezer. I pack them in these bags so I don’t need to worry about freezer burn.

So when you’re trying to live in a more sustainable fashion and trying to make changes to everyday actions, try to look into what the impact of each action is before coming to the conclusion of which is more sustainable. And try to remember that sustainability can also be a point of view. Is vacuum sealing my freezer food in bags better for the environment, or should I be storing all my food in reusable plastic containers? It doesn’t matter which you view to be more sustainable, and you shouldn’t pass judgement on others for what they’ve deemed to be more important. Personally, I vacuum seal because it means that my food is less likely to get freezer burnt and is therefore less likely to go to waste.

The (not at all elusive) Himalayan Blackberry

When we were assigned to write about a plant in botany, one which was resilient in some way, it was recommended we write about a plant we like. So with little hesitation I chose my favorite plant, the blackberry. The fruit I remembered picking off the side of the road in my childhood. The delicious yum that lead me to create a “picking belt” for so I would have all my picking tools in one, easily accessible place. (side note, this belt is fabulous, I will give more details in a later article). I have so much knowledge about this plant, weird facts, yummy memories, and it was an alluring factor when we bought our home. “You mean I can walk 20′ from my back door in my pjs and pick berries for breakfast?” Yeah, blackberries are the shit.

Close in on blackberries growing in among brambles. you can see green, red, and then the ripe black fruit
The many colours of the “black” “berry” (fun fact, while blackberries aren’t actually berries, bananas are!)

Anyway, in choosing the blackberry for this assignment I got so much knowledge out of it, I figured I could share it with you. I’ve added notes here and there so that it is more easily understood, but the general tone remains academic.

5 petal white/pink flowers growing in blackberry thicket, with some morning glory evident.
Here you can see the key ID to determine that this plant belongs in the rose family with the apple and the almond (Yup, those are related to roses too!). The petals (or the corolla, which is the name for the petals as a whole) are in multiples of 5, they are radially symmetrical, and contain many many stamen (the pollen producing part of the flower).

Belonging to the Rosaceae family, the Rubus armeniacus, commonly known as the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles covered in prickles and alternately arranged compound, oftentimes evergreen, leaves. (CABI, 20201) R. armenicaus produces flowers in the spring which aid in the identification of its family, as the pink-white corollas consist of five petals, a superior ovary, and hundreds of stamen. The flowers are arranged in clusters of five to twenty at the end of terminal panicles. (B. Klinkenberg (editor) 20202). When the fruit appears in midsummer, they are mis-named as berries, as the fruit are truly aggregate drupelets and are red to black in colour. (M. Hoshovsky, 20173)

the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles

In layman’s terms this means that while the blackberry is a persistant plant (like a tree or a shrub), the brambles the crown grows only live for to years. There’s more on that below

While the common name is a misnomer, with both “Himalayan” and “berry” being false (having not originated in the Himalayas), the scientific name, Rubus armeniacus is aptly applied, as the plant is thought to have originated from Eurasia. This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

view across the midsection of a blackberry thicket, displaying leaves and thorns and the odd fruit
Here you can see some arching brambles. These have been growing for who knows how many years so this thicket sits around 5′ high in the dead of winter when not actively growing

This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

so basically, vancouver coastal region is the perfect setting for the black berry, if you hadn’t figured that out yet.

R. armeniacus have a fair number of elements that work together to create a resilient plant, most notably of all, its ability to spread. The aggregate fruit of the blackberry heavily lends to its reproduction, as the sweet fruit filled with many seeds are a favourite to birds and other wildlife, which is evident when the masses of blackberry thickets can be commonly found beneath birds’ perches. The seeds also carry well in water and have generally a high germination rate1. Another way for the thicket to spread is through it’s brambles, which bend after reaching a height of approximately 40cms, and once a node reaches the ground, it will easily root and create new crowns for the shrub3. There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

So what this means is unless you’re ready to be on top of controling this type of blackberry, do not think about planting it!

Another notable characteristic which lends to the R. armeniacus’ resiliency are the arching biennial brambles themselves. The cane, covered in thorn-like prickles which persist through its death, makes the quick spreading plant more troublesome to remove, oftentimes, mechanical devices need to be brought in to do much damage to the surface plant. The fact that the brambles are biennial are an important factor to the plant’s growth, as dead brambles lend to adequate structure for the new brambles to clamber over; without them, the shrub wouldn’t be able to exceed half a metre in height without support from other plant life. 

The plant’s ability to reproduce and spread would be nothing without its unspecific needs. The roots of the R. armeniacus are known to prefer no specific soil structure and will thrive in acidic or basic soils, happily. They have also shown resiliency for temperature, as they survive in climates as cold as -17*C and as warm as 37*C1. While it may prefer wetter climates, in climates with less than 760mm of rainfall, you can find the brambles of this blackberry along waterways, and it has demonstrated that it is also comfortable with seasons of drought, using water rapidly when it’s available and using it sparingly and effectively acquiring it when there is little water available. Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive. It will not, however, survive under dense canopies1.

Photo showing the different stages of flowing and fruit growth of the Blackberry plant
I love this photo because it shows you many stages of the growing fruit; buds of new flowers, fully opened flowers, green berries emerging from a swaddle of stamen, and larger green berries taking on their shape

Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive.

This tells you that even if you’re a serial plant killer, you can sucessfully grow an invasive blackberry!

The Himalayan blackberry is a highly resilient plant which will kill other plants by either crowding their roots or by robbing them of adequate light, it uses its own death to help it climb and spread to new heights, and it will grow nearly anywhere in temperate regions. While the Rubus armeniacus may be classified as invasive, it’s difficult to not admire its ability to survive and thrive.

References

1 CABI Invasive Species Compendium (2020) “Rubus armeniacus (Himalayan blackberry)”
https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/116780
2 Klinkenberg, Brian (editor) (2020) “E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia” [eflora.bc.ca] Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
3 Marc Hoshovsky, “Rubus armeniacus” Global Invasive Species Team, The Nature Conservancy, Bugwood Wiki
https://wiki.bugwood.org/Rubus_armeniacus