With no operating budget and a volunteer team of amazing skill holders, Sharon Kallis and her husband David Gowman of EartHand Gleaners Society, an arts based not for profit organization from Vancouver, began the process that ’enough of anything can be made into something’.
Since her childhood in the suburbs of Ontario, going on to graduate from Emily Carr in 1996 then working on her own practice, Sharon has developed her environmental ethic. Sharon knew she was not interested in becoming a commercial artist and in 2007 she was introduced to the Means Of Production Garden with Oliver Kelhammer. He was the lead artist working with the Environmental Youth Alliance and Vancouver Parks who started the Means Of Production Garden in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver and inspired Sharon to take an evolutionary leap in her own practice from being a gleaner to eventually becoming a steward or land tender. Oliver started MOP gardens in 2002 as a place where artists could ask where their materials came from, to be approached as an education and learning opportunity. EartHand Gleaners took over the operating agreement with MOP and EYA in 2015 and one can see how their investment of time has paid off, tending the plants and finally harvesting those plants as reward.
“Having that relationship to materials and place is fundamental,” she explains. “I have a lot of colleagues State-side doing the same in a rural context but the city is where it is important”. To have an opportunity in the city, to be able to invite community members in, to develop a relationship with the land and be aware of the seasonal calendar as a creative resource has extended Sharon’s thinking. Historically plants would have been cut because they would be useful for something but people in urban contexts have become disconnected from the land.
Gardening and programming has continued even during Covid and EartHand Gleaners are currently working on the redevelopment of Trillium North site with willow, looking at how it would have been traditionally grown on the site, which is an intertidal zone, what could be replanted as a means of rehabilitation and, to some extent, decolonizing the park. No longer programming solely in person because of uncertainty, online and hybridized programs sponsored by BC Council Resilience Funding has enabled EartHand Gleaners to stay connected and helped them to find peers from as far afield as Alaska, USA and the Czech Republic. Sharon and Jaymie Johnson are co-hosting a seasonal almanac journal program online sharing what they are noticing in the gardens, what plants they are harvesting for dyes or medicine and for fiberfibre. In addition, Nicola Preissl from Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh and Sto:lo nation has been leading a research group to learn about the plantings, weaving traditions and the cultural stories linked to particular territories around the Province. Sharon has also created the very popular program, an Ancestral Cloth Guild, inviting participants to research ancestry, examine the plants from ancestral lands, what their ancestors would have been wearing, the process of spinning, dying and weaving in order to make their own variation of what would have been their ancestral cloth.
Sharon and David are the primary tenders who work the landscape as a living sculpture. Supported by a fantastic stewardship group that meets virtually to discuss the projects, they encourage people to have a walk through and explore the hillside at Mount Pleasant on the west side of north China Creek Park and Trillium North Park in Strathcona on the north side of the soccer fields which hosts large planted swathes; not nearly as mature a garden as Mount Pleasant, it doesn’t have the same sensibility but the lupins that will be out in another month are enough to impress anyone.