ReFrame 2021 Interviews

January 18th, 2021

By Leif Einarson, Marketing and Communications Specialist at GreenUP

The first-ever virtual 2021 ReFrame Film Festival takes place January 22 to 29 and features almost 50 documentaries of various lengths. The festival celebrates documentary film and media art, with a lens on social and environmental justice.

Following are complete interviews with three of the filmmakers featured this year.

Olivia Mater, Starborn >

Suzanne Crocker, First We Eat >

Karen O’Krafka, Headwaters to Hearts >

Olivia Mater, Starborn

Mater is an emerging visual artist, storyteller, and filmmaker. Mater recently graduated from Trent University’s Indigenous Studies Program. As a settler of Celtic descent, Mater is privileged to live and learn in both Nogojiwanong within the homelands of the Michi Saagig Anishinaabeg as well as Gaw Tlagee in the unceded archipelago of the Haida Nation.

LE: Tell me about the setting of your film: where and when does it take place?

OM: The film takes place 50 years in the future. The setting of the film is my parents’ backyard, on the homelands of the Saugeen Anishinaabeg. A grandmother is weaving a story for her grandchildren. [They are] gathered around a fire to hear the stories of this [today], now, 50 years in their past.

LE: Why did you choose that setting?

OM: The film actually arose out of a writing prompt from my professor as my final project of my university degree in Indigenous Studies. It began during the first lockdown, and my professor asked us to imagine ourselves 50 years from now, and imagine what stories we would tell the young people of that time, and how we would reconcile the old stories with the new stories, and how we would prepare the young people and give them hope for the future. That was the seed that was planted that the entire film arose from.

I could feel the story coming through me, and I felt really connected all of a sudden to a different way of looking at time and generations. It was as though I could feel my grandchildren around me, even though they are not here yet.

LE: We usually think of memory as something that only looks backwards, but your film asks us to imagine memories of the future. Why is that important to you?

OM: As a settler here, that way of looking at time and looking at the world has been taught to me by the Indigenous teachers I have had in my life, and specifically Joanne Argue. She was constantly beckoning us to think about time in a non-linear way, and think about what it means to live and exist while looking forwards and backwards at once. Every action we do now affects the ones who are not here yet.

We are also part of a lineage of ancestors who dreamed worlds into being so we could be. Our responsibility is to do the same.

LE: The power of stories is central to your film. How do you see stories as important to change in the future and the past?

OM: I think stories can create and stories can destroy. I’m interested in the stories that can bring people back into right relations with land, water, and each other.

A lot of the devastation and degradation of our environment and our relationships to each other are linked to a story of scarcity and separation. That’s the story that underpins colonialism and capitalism. It’s a story that separates us from the earth and each other. That’s what allows the violence that we see all around us to take place.

If we are to weave new realities, we have to be telling new stories and old stories that have always shown us the way to reconcile ourselves. The link between elders and children is so important. These stories allow for the teachings of one lifetime to not be lost and to be passed on.

LE: I understand you filmed this during the first lockdown in the spring. How did the inspiration for the film come to you?

OM: I originally began filming almost because I couldn’t stop myself. In this time of confusion and loss and grief and unknowing, the birds were just singing their hearts out. I just started filming that. As I filmed the birds, I noticed all the beautiful things around me – the trees, the forest, the water. I think the poetry started to come around the same time, and I started gathering every bit of footage that spoke to me. When I compiled the film, there were lots of moments where the poetry and the footage just beautifully aligned.

LE: What are your own aspirations for the future as a filmmaker and storyteller? Where do you see yourself in 30 or 50 years?

OM: This is my first film that’s gone anywhere past YouTube. I’m pretty excited about that. I’m hoping to continue down this path of filmmaking. It feels like something that brings together all of my passions and all of my gifts. Hopefully in 30 years I’m continuing to make film and following the path of documentary filmmaking, and weaving the stories of how social justice and environmentalism meet because I don’t see any divisions between the two.

LE: What other film at ReFrame 2021 would you most like to see?

OM: The film that stood out most to me was ‘Sing Them Home’ directed by Cara Mumford. I often think of how it is the day the salmon return to the rivers that will be the day we know we are on the right path again. These are the worlds that I dream for the coming generations. And as I walk along the Odenaabe river in Nogojiwanong I often feel the grief of how much this river has been dammed and diverted, her tributaries built over, invisibilized, her rapids pushed to silence.

I long for the day when she can breathe again, dance again, sing again, the day the salmon return. Leanne Simpson is someone who’s song, poetry, literature and visioning are breathing these worlds into being.  I can’t wait to bear witness to the beauty, the power, the importance that will be woven into this film.

Suzanne Crocker, “First We Eat”

Crocker is an award-winning filmmaker and retired family doctor living with her family of five in Dawson City, Yukon. In this film, Crocker documents her year of eating 100% local with her family.

LE: Your film is about your entire family committing to eat 100% local food for a whole year. Please tell me about your family at the time of the film.

SC: Sure. The kids were 17, 15, and 12 when we started our year of eating local. We’re living in Dawson City in the Yukon. We are 300km south of the Arctic Circle. This is where I’ve lived for 30 years. This is where the kids were born and raised.

Dawson is this tiny town. Dawson “City” is a bit of a misnomer. We are only 1,500 people and we’re a six-hour drive from the nearest Starbucks, which is in the capital of Whitehorse.

We are remote. We are literally at the end of the road – the one road to Dawson ends at Dawson.

We have eight months of winter where the temperatures average -25 and can get down to stretches of -40. It is just not the usual place you think of for bountiful growing. We have a very short growing season – it’s 66 consecutive frost-free days in the summer, but it is quite intense because we have 24 hours of daylight in the summer. It seems like you can actually watch things grow, they grow so fast.

LE: How did you persuade – if persuade is the right word – your entire family to eat exclusively local food for a whole year?

SC: It’s important to point out that the family did not go into this experiment willingly. When I first brought it up to them, they all flatly refused.

I started out by presenting it as something I was planning to do, and explaining all the reasons why I thought it was important, and asking them if they would like to join me. They all flatly said, “no thanks. You’re crazy.”

I did present this idea over 8 months before I planned to start. Over time, I spoke to my husband more and more about the reasons behind this idea. Eventually, not too long before the year was about to start, he came on board and agreed not to bring any grocery store food into the house. That was a big coup for me, because teenage kids are not known for doing the grocery shopping. I knew the path of least resistance once I had my husband was on board was that the kids were really just going to go along with it. The kids were really conscripted once my husband was on board.

I did try to appeal to their stomachs once I had them on board. I thought, here’s a situation where I will basically be devoting a year to feeding them and providing them meals, and making them snack food. Often in my family I’ve heard complaints like, “We can’t just live on bagels and cream cheese alone. It’s your duty as our mother to make us meals.” I really wasn’t much of a cook or a kitchen person before this experiment, so I thought that might win them over. But they saw through it pretty fast.

LE: Why did you decide to eat 100% local food for an entire year? Why not an incremental commitment to eat more locally, or for a shorter period of time?

SC: We are on the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. I was inspired that Indigenous folks ate 100% locally for thousands and thousands of years prior to colonization. Even a hundred or so years ago when settlers first came to this area, Dawson was apparently able to produce 97% of our food. Now 97% of our food is trucked in from thousands and thousands of kilometres away.

My goal was to put food sovereignty to the test here in the north. I really wanted to know if we could still do this in this era. Rather than just research this academically or bring in a bunch of experts to talk about food sovereignty in the north, I thought one of the best ways would be to try it and see if we could do it.

I definitely wanted to do it with my whole family, because I wanted to compare before and after. It was super important for me to do it for a whole year because I think most people can think more easily about eating local during the summer and during the fall and harvest time. But the winter is a whole other story. To be food sovereign and self-sufficient you have to be able to find ways to eat all year and figure out how to store food and all these other issues that come up.

For those reasons it was really important for me to do 100% and to do it for the whole year.

Also, we’ve been in a situation up here where the only road into the Yukon has been shut down by landslides and forest fires. It’s really incredible how fast the grocery store food disappears. It made me realize that grocery stores really only stock three to five days of food, no matter where we live, whether north or south.

It made me think, let’s just say that road was closed, or it didn’t make sense for us to ship things from so far away anymore. What would that look like if we had to do this 100%.

LE: A lot of people feel like they are accustomed to a culture of rushing and convenience. How did those habits or tendencies change during that year?

SC: Totally. Especially at first, because I went into this as a blank page. The learning curve was so steep at first. I would have to make every ingredient from scratch. If I wanted butter for a recipe, I had to make the butter first.

There is this irony in life that the more modern conveniences we have in our life that are meant to save us time, the less time we seem to have. There are some silver linings to slowing down in the kitchen, to actually making food and cooking. It can be a very meditative time. Kneading bread, stirring something in a pot – it does force you to slow down. Then of course, to actually sit down and enjoy a meal as a family, where you can talk and be away from devices. That is such a precious time. All those things gather around food.

Plus there is the creativity that can evolve when you are cooking, especially in a situation when you take all the cupboard and pantry staples away. So you’ve taken the salt, the sugar, the white flour, the baking powder, the condiments, the spices, the oils and vinegars – they’re all gone. You’ve got to become quite creative.

I found that limiting my choices like that really made me start to love cooking just because of that creativity.

Our farmers here are also examples of that. They are all small family farmers. Many of them farm off grid. Many of them have no road access to their farms. We have dairy farmers who for spring, summer, fall have to canoe the hay across the river to the cows. When I started this project, most people in my community didn’t even know we had dairy cows here.

We have a fellow who has devoted the last thirty years of his life to growing apples this far north. He also has no road access and lives off grid, and has created greenhouse shelters and has been grafting sixty varieties of apples that can survive up here.

The ingenuity and the resourcefulness that this takes is incredible.

There were people who I already knew in a different capacity than their job that they had in this tiny community. I had no idea that they were producing food. There’s a fellow down-river who was raising sheep – I had no idea about that. Another person had a pretty extensive berry farm – I had no idea about that.

Even though I’d lived here for thirty years, and I actually used to be a family doctor here. I really thought I knew everybody. I didn’t know what everybody was up to. Some of these folks are really remote, down the river, up the river, living on an island. You don’t know all these other things they are enjoying in their life.

Certainly this community has really flourished in its appreciation and desire for more and more local food over the years. This includes the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation who are really an integral part of this community. I’m just so grateful to call this place my home. It is just such an amazing community in so many ways. The relationship between people of settler ancestry and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is really positive in this community. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in are incredibly inclusive. We have the Hän language taught in our schools as part of the core curriculum. You can be in grade 10 in our high school and get high school credits for going caribou hunting with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in the fall. If there’s a community feast that the TH put on, everybody is invited. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in do culture camps throughout the year and it is all youth, not just Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in youth, who are invited.

What I want to say about the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is that they have come to the conclusion of how important it is to reclaim and share traditional knowledge of food off the land, but also the importance of diversity of combining food off the land with food that can be cultivated.

Several years ago the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in started the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm here, which is an organic and mixed farm here in Dawson City. Again, they are combining this food from the land with food that can be cultivated up here in the north. I’m very grateful to be here.

LE: Many people feel strong emotional connections to food. Changing what we eat or giving up certain foods can seem a difficult prospect. Sometimes we resist change because we focus almost exclusively on what we would have to forego, instead of considering what we may gain or what we may remember that we have forgotten. What did you gain in that year? What new or stronger emotional connections with food did you and your family develop?

SC: There were many gains.

Speaking about giving up things, one thing I learned about myself and the human race in general is that we are way more adaptable than we think we are. I didn’t think I could live a year without chocolate or caffeine. Surprisingly, it took a few months to adjust, but then I was totally ok and didn’t actually miss those things. And when we ran out of onions, and then there’s no more onions to be had because I’m not going to the store to get them – it’s not the end of the world. You find other ways to flavour your food.

We gained an amazing resource that we all have in our community knowledge holders, be that indigenous communities, be that our small family farmers, be that people who lived in decades before I did and remember how to do things differently. This knowledge is so valuable. It is a tremendous resource.

Just feeling so connected with our food was another gain. I actually knew where every single ingredient on my plate came from, and I knew the people, the land, and the animals that helped put it there. That opens up so many more layers of appreciation not only for the food and what it took to get it there, but also in respecting what those people do, and respecting that knowledge, and just valuing the planet and wanting to protect it because the planet provides our ability to have food and survive.

So many lessons learned and so much deeper appreciation for so many things.

My family, too, did take something away from this year. Although they were resistant and part of the humour of the film is that family dynamic – I don’t want to give a spoiler, but I will give a small one: the day after the year ended, they were at the grocery store the moment it ended. So one could think they learned nothing, but they did. They totally learned a new appreciation for where their food comes from and what goes into creating it.

This past year when the pandemic took all their normal summer jobs away, my son Sam spent a month in the bush foraging for morel mushrooms. All my kids volunteered and worked on our local farms. I know that they have learned a great appreciation for where their food comes from.

Another thing that came out of this year was the joy of eating seasonally. There is apparently this old phrase that says, “In the summer we eat above the ground, and in the winter we eat below the ground.” I really found that this was what my body craved. By the time fall came, I didn’t have any interest in lettuce any more. I was craving root vegetables. By the time spring came, of course, it was the fresh greens and the cucumbers and the fresh tomatoes I craved. There is really a joy in eating seasonally, when everything is at its best when you taste it.

 

In January of February, it makes more sense to find out what’s available that’s local that’s a root vegetable, or to go to the frozen food section and find frozen locally grown broccoli that was frozen at its prime rather than buying broccoli that’s come from half way around the world. Even just to change our habits, and maybe not expect to have everything all year round, and understand the seasonality of food again, and the importance of that.

LE: When you began this commitment, did you have a sense of the labour and the financial cost it would involve?

SC: No. I went in totally naïve. I was a blank page. I didn’t really like cooking. I wasn’t a very good gardener. I didn’t know how to forage.

I used to be a vegetarian, and even after I moved north and started eating wild meat, I still really didn’t like handling meat. One interesting thing about eating local in the north is that there is no protein we can produce here that is not animal-based. I understand people’s reasons for choosing to eat vegan, but you could not eat as a vegan and eat 100% local here. It just isn’t possible.

I had really no idea of the workload I was getting myself into, especially at first. I thought I would start at a time of plenty. Of course that meant not only was I trying to figure out all this and learn how to make all these things and find substitutions, but it was also the same time that I had to gather and harvest all these things to feed my family of five for a year, also having no clue how much we ate in a year. That was a bit of an anxiety.

At the beginning it felt like a more than 24-hour a day job. It was quite overwhelming and brought me to tears on several occasions. Over time I figured it out, got into routines, and it became very doable. Still now, it’s coming on three years since this year ended, and I still every fall stock our house with a year’s worth of local food. I still continue to eat 90-95% local. I still make my own butter and ice cream and cheese, and all these things. And I am working Monday to Friday, 9-5. It is not an impossibility, even though it seems so at first.

LE: At GreenUP and with partners in the local community we work to address the fact that the climate crisis is increasing social inequity and that sustainable development needs to be inclusive. Can you share your own reflections on the labour that was involved in getting your food for that year and the implications of that labour and the financial costs of food more broadly in your community and around the world?

SC: Speaking to financial costs, taking the labour costs out of the picture for a moment, I did track what it cost to purchase our food that year from local farmers. I found it was more costly to eat 100% local, by about 25%.

I do want to say that we were hunting, fishing, and gathering for ourselves, and I have to say that we did – even before this year – we tried to get a moose every fall. One moose provides enough meat for two families for a year. That was already a familiar thing. We were never buying industrially farmed meat even before we started this year.

What I also came to recognize that year was the cost to produce food. When we were buying things in the store that were less expensive, somewhere along that food chain from seed to plate, that cost was coming out at someone else’s expense. It is important to recognize that, if we are able, we should support and pay for the true cost of food. Of course, not everyone is able to do that. It is important that those of us who are able, that we do. It is important that those people in positions of bigger procurement and buying power, that they also start promoting and sourcing their food locally.

There was this inspiring example from Saskatchewan. They really wanted to increase how much local food was consumed in the province. An organization had this goal, and they got in the room somebody who was involved in distribution for the co-op grocery store chain in Saskatchewan. That person agreed to buy all of specific crops that the Saskatchewan farmers could grow. As much as they could grow, they would commit to buying. This allowed the Saskatchewan farmers to have a guaranteed market and to invest in their crop and their infrastructure. This is what is amazing. They were able to increase the volume of local produce consumed in that province from one thousand kilograms per year to 1.3 million kilograms per year over just six years. That was one person’s decision in a position of power to support their local farmers and give that guarantee to local farmers.

I find that really inspiring. Other things I find inspiring are the realization that small family farms actually produce more food per acre than the large industrial farms, and that food can be grown almost anywhere. I don’t mean just north or south. I also mean urban or rural. During World War Two, the Victory Garden campaign of growing food in backyards, and on rooftops and in vacant lots – in the USA they were able to grow 44% of the produce that they consumed from those urban gardens. In places like Shanghai they are able to produce 60% of the produce they consume by making use of small plots and vacant lots and rooftops.

All these things I just find incredibly inspiring as far as our ability to grow more food locally, and to shorten that food chain, and all those positive implications of shortening the food chain from the vulnerability, from the carbon footprint, and also from that connection to your food and from recognizing the true value of the food, and not enjoying our cheap food at somebody else’s expense.

LE: With all the benefits of eating local in mind, and with those inspiring examples, why don’t you think we eat more sustainably and locally at a larger scale?SC: I also learned, with my family during the project, that convenience really trumps almost everything. One of the solutions is to not fight that but embrace that in a way and make locally-grown, sustainably-grown food more convenient, more accessible, more affordable. On a community, on a societal level, those are some really good goals.

There are choke points in that of course. Some of the regulations around food and land inhibit that. Practical issues like storage and figuring out ways of storing food locally are other choke points. They are not insurmountable by any means. I think that’s one of the keys. Many of us have a desire to do the right thing, and for many of us we know what that is. Doing the right thing can also be convenient, and I think that helps.

LE: During that year did you discover any foods that your family continues to eat now?

SC: Oh yes, lots! Birch syrup was our main sweetener during our year. We don’t have maple trees up here, so we have birch syrup not maple syrup. That has continued to be a staple in our diet. Birch syrup ice cream is to die for.

Basically all of our meat and fish, all our vegetables year-round, all our eggs, all our dairy, and all our berries are 100% local to Dawson year-round. My husband learned how to ice-fish for burbot that year and he continues to do that. We discovered that burbot liver is super high in Vitamin D, so that was actually a way to keep Vitamin D levels high without taking supplements high.

That leads to another point, and something that I continue to do. One of the many teachings from the TH is the importance of using all parts of the animal that is harvested, not just the steaks and roasts. There is so much more nutrition. We continue to eat the heart and liver and kidneys and save the bones and get all the nutrition from the bone and marrow. Even things like blood – blood is incredibly high in protein, incredibly high in iron, and just full of nutrients. Some people have said that combining blood and milk – not necessarily at the same time – but that this combination is a perfect food and contains everything that we need.

Making use of all parts is something that we continue to do.

I often wondered, if you think back to a time before colonization, how did indigenous folks get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that they needed from the land. One of the answers to that is that they did eat all parts of the animal.

LE: Did your perceptions of food waste change during that year?

SC: Oh yes. With that anxiety of not actually knowing how much food my family would eat, and not having an out if we ran out of things, nothing went down the drain. The whey that was produced from making cheese was used for making soup stock or tenderizing meat. The celery leaves from the celery that was grown here were dried and ground and they made an amazing salt substitute and savory herb.

Waste was minimal. There were times when, due to a mistake that I would’ve made, that some food went bad. Pumpkins that I tried to store got frost injuried and started to go rotten. We would eat all the parts that we could. The parts that we couldn’t eat, we would take those to local farmers to feed their pigs and chickens so they could be recycled into eggs and meat.

LE: Did you notice a difference in the single-use plastic and other plastics that came through your household?

SC: Yes, night and day. The recycling and general garbage in our house shrunk phenomenally. Other than paper products and the occasionally ziplock bag that was used over and over again to freeze food that eventually tore – we had no recycling and virtually no garbage because everything was either compost or a paper product that could be recycled. We are continuing to use those ziplock bags three years later, for as long as they last.

That waste reduction was just a by-product of what we were doing. It wasn’t intentional. We weren’t buying stuff from the store. So much unnecessary plastic packaging is involved in food from the store. There are all kinds of environmental implications of that plastic all coming from petroleum and the waste and the effects of that going into landfills and the oceans.

Again, just bringing up the concept of cost, and thinking about what you pay for something from the grocery store:  you think about where it came from – somewhere in that cost it went from seed to being grown, to being tended and grown, and harvested, and then packaged, and then shipped across the world, and then the store rented, and then the people employed to put it in the store, to put it on the shelf. There’s absolutely no way that what we pay comes close to the true cost. At whose expense is this?

I recently watched an advertisement from a fast-food chain talking about a special deal, three hamburgers for six bucks. I thought, how can a hamburger only cost two bucks? That is not the true cost of all those ingredients and that burger and the store and the people that work there.

When you see that difference, it opens your eyes. Why are we buying stuff from a store in plastic clamshells and apples in plastic bags?

LE: What planning tools and habits did you find particularly useful during that year?

SC: I have to think about that because I think those things have now become second nature to me. Obviously preserving food is an important skill and a lost art in many places. Just the art of canning is so valuable and not very difficult at all. Making use of all parts, to make all parts of the animal, to make that food go way further – like saving things for stock. When you’re trimming vegetables and stuff, you can throw those things in the freezer and save them for when you are making soup stock. Bone broth – the moose bone broth I made, I would re-boil those bones maybe three times and still get delicious, nutritious stock.

We all because used to sour dough starter again instead of yeast – something that continues to grow and be useful instead of having to go back and buy more yeast. I was able to make sourdough starter using some of the precious local rye flour that was grown here, and water, and juniper berries. There is a natural yeast on juniper berries and that got the starter started.

I also made use of kefir grains, which is something I learned during our year. It is kind of like a sourdough starter for dairy. A kefir grain kind of looks like a little white raspberry. It’s kind of like a scoby for kombucha. It’s a living organism. You can use this little grain to turn milk into kefir, and then you can use the kefir as a yoghurt starter or a cheese starter, and it continues. It never runs out. In fact, it never runs out. Over time you just have more kefir grains to share around. Things like that can make things go farther without needing to go back to the store. Things like that are incredibly easy.

I think back on the routines I developed that year, and that I continue to do. When the milk comes, then you skim the cream off the milk, and that’s when you make the butter and ice cream and yoghurt. Having these patterns makes this convenient. Having done this entire project, and continuing to do this, not 100% anymore, but in my case, you have those ingredients already under your roof, you’re able to see things as they are starting to get close to going bad so you can automatically start using things. You don’t want to waste anything. You’re already making use of all parts of everything. You’re using what you have to be creative with the recipe, and that involves some substitution but that’s ok.

Now, when I go to the store, I would only for one specific ingredient and that’s all I come home with. That’s for a lot of reasons but also because I have learned that the local food is just so delicious and so nutritious that it really does not compare with a lot of the store-bought stuff. I’m not tempted.

LE: My last question is about what’s next. You seem like someone who is going to be inspired, who is going to be planning more interesting adventures and challenges in the future. Have you begun planning what’s next for you and your family, or have you yet to discover that?

SC: I have yet to discover that. My family is growing up. The older two kids have now left home for university. I don’t know if that’s because they are inspired to pursue higher education or because it’s a way of getting out of the next project I come up with. So even if I did have the next project in mind, I wouldn’t tell you right now because it’d have to be a secret from my family.

I know the film is finished, but this issue is really important to me. I feel quite passionate about it. I want to move on now to sharing some of the impact and knowledge I’ve learned, and working on the advocacy. There’s a page right now on the film’s website called Twelve Steps and Ideas, and I want to spend the next couple years, with the help of the film, to work with communities and organizations who are already working towards more sustainability and promoting strong local food ecosystems. I want to use this film in whatever way I can to advocate for that and support that.

Whether it’s a community organization or having that single person in the room who is in charge of co-op produce buying or an important decision-maker for procurement – whether it’s having that person in the room or just inspiring people to start to think about where their food comes from and to pay attention to that label on the food that tells them this information and maybe think of an alternative that’s closer to home.

The pandemic really makes us acutely aware of the need to shorten the food chain. In times of crisis, we really need to be able to rely on our own communities. We need to be very inclusive about that. I’m always very excited to hear about programs that bring fresh local produce and food to people in vulnerable communities rather than just canned goods and processed foods. That work is so important, and the work of organizations like Nourish and GreenUP is wonderful, and if you’ve got restaurants in your community that are looking for ways to promote this during the pandemic, they are welcome to create a “First We Eat” locally-sourced meal promotion inspired by the film. They are welcome to do that.

Karen O’Krafka, “Headwaters to Hearts.” 

O’Krafka is the coordinator for GreenUP’s Wonders of Water program, and she was involved in the creation of the film “Headwaters to Hearts: Education in Action.”

LE: How did the project that this film is about come into being?

KO: This project is one of three streams within the Wonders of Water program: we have the in-class infusions of hands-on learning, and we have the H20 To Go Kits for our communities, and we have the Deep Learning Water Retrofits.

We had funding to do three Deep Learning Water Retrofits, but we managed to do four.

LE: What is the Wonders of Water program?

KO: This program came out of a three-year Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant. Several years ago we looked at how to take the magic of the Peterborough Children’s Water Festival to a broader audience. Instead of focusing only on Grades 2-5 for only three days each year at the festival, with this funding we were able to grow this program into a year-round programming that goes out into the community rather than requiring students come to us.

LE: What is the goal of the Wonders of Water program?

KO: The goal is to translate education into action in, about, and for water. We are always looking for students to be empowered, to have agency in this program. We look at where students interact with water, where they have agency, and where students can actually have impacts.

In developing that goal, we talked with partner organizations about this demographic: elementary students. We asked, “What are the biggest things they need to know about water to impact water?”

Erin McGauley, formerly with Otonabee Conservation and now a professor at Fleming College, said that students need to know where their drinking water comes from and where it goes to. They need to have that local connection that says when I turn on my tap or flush my toilet, that I know where that water comes from and where it goes to. There’s that little bit of mystery about water until we understand its origins and its treatment after our use. That was a critical element, to lift the veil on how water treatment works, on how waste water treatment works.

Kent Keeling, Chief Environmental Officer with the City of Peterborough, said that students need to know what can get flushed down the toilet. It seems really simple that we would talk endlessly about the “Three P’s” (Pee, Poop, and Toilet Paper) as the only three things that should ever be flushed down the toilet. But folks are constantly throwing those disposable wipes down the toilet and that’s an enormous problem. All sorts of things get flushed that shouldn’t. Just raising awareness about that is critical.

Elder Dorothy Taylor said that students need to have a love of water, and they really need to understand that it is in and all around us. They need to understand that intimate connection that water is in and all around us. There is not separate water inside me and outside me. That it is all connected.

Christine van Tol, Analyst at the Peterborough Water Treatment Plant, really wanted students to know the quality of safe local drinking water and address the issue of single use plastics. That issue of single use plastics and safe drinking water was actually the focus of another retrofit we did where students installed water bottle refill stations.

LE: What is a deep learning water retrofit?

KO: These are student-led learning projects. The Wonders of Water Program provided the resources and support required to implement an action-based and student-led water conservation and protection campaign at four Peterborough schools.

The retrofits provided students with opportunities and tools to be active change-makers, by giving them critical lived experience as decision-makers and doers. GreenUP issued an open call and schools could apply to take part in the retrofit. The exact nature of each retrofit was determined by the participating students, with support from their teachers, administration, and the Wonders of Water Program Coordinator.

The retrofits aimed to have lasting impact on water conservation efforts and provide local demonstration sites showcasing interventions that other schools can learn from and replicate.

The students at St. Anne noticed this flood-prone corner of their school yard that they are actually banned from using a lot of the year. It’s either icy, or it’s muddy. It’s a steep slope leading to a bunch of slush in the winter. They chose that area to transform. They did heaps of research and reflection with different community partners on how to transform this area. The students really put the plans together and also the shovels in the ground to make this happen.

LE: What do students and teachers gain through these projects?

KO: Students report feeling empowered through the authentic learning they are doing. A lot of students feel like they are leaving a legacy for their school community. They’re in grades 6 or seven or even eight. They can foresee themselves going on to the next school, but actually leaving a significant change within the school community. Often the students who participate in these project report enjoying school more as a result.

The nice thing about these projects is that they’ve all had really interdisciplinary aspects, so students can really recognize their niche and what they are really excited about.

Teachers report more engaged students, and they appreciate the clear link to the curriculum. We try to deliver that curriculum link. I think we all know that we can’t just keep heaping more work on teachers.

LE: For people who don’t happen to be elementary students, what resources can they look for to change how they protect water in their home and neighbourhood?

KO: We have a really robust water department at GreenUP. I’d recommend exploring the different programs here, whether that’s the Ready for Rain program, the subsidy programs for Rain Gardens and Rain Barrels. I’d go there to start learning more, and I’d be more cognizant of what goes down our drains and where that goes. Learning about that is very impactful for everyone.

LE: What is one lasting impact, for you, of the project at St. Anne and the film that came out of it?

KO: This Wonders of Water project was especially poignant because I remember doing a sub-watershed tour with those leadership students on March 12, 2020, the day before the provincial lock-down came into effect. This was the last thing we did with these leadership students before they were sent into that unexpected, extended March break. That was powerful. They talk a lot about that day, about the tour, about getting that really good sense of where the headwaters of Jackson Creek begin. They talk about ending the day where Jackson Creek flows into the Otonobee with a Sacred Water Ceremony with Curve Lake Elder Dorothy Taylor.

If ever we had to, intentionally, plan how to send kids into a turbulent and vulnerable time – not that we ever want to do that – but if we did, this is a beautiful way to do it.

These leadership students should have had a peer-to-peer learning opportunity through the Peterborough Children’s Water Festival, but the pandemic cancelled that. Instead, as a result of the lockdown, we ended up creating this film as a celebration, as a model, and as an engagement strategy for peer-to-peer learning. We did not intend for it to be featured at ReFrame, and we are thrilled that it is here at this festival and that the student leaders will have this legacy for their learning.

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