Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Review of The Talking Spade, Laughter in the Shadows & The Power of Pulses

The Talking Spade: Garden Lore from North Slocan Elders by Anne Champagne 978-0-9950700-0-4 (Healthy Community Society of the North Slocan Valley, New Denver, B.C.) 2016

Laughter in the Shadows: Stories of Courage from 11 Zambian Women by Marianne Stamm 978-0-9867821-5-2 (Marerob Press, Calgary/Switzerland) 2015
                                          Laughter in the Shadows: Stories of Courage from 11 Zambian Women
  The Power of Pulses by Dan Jason, Hilary Malone and Alison Malone Eathorne 978-1-77162-102-1(Douglas & McIntyre (2013) Ltd., Madeira Park, B.C.) 2016
                                           Image result for "The Power of Pulses Jason"                                      

November. Sigh. Possibly the grimmest month of the year, predominantly grey and dull brown with a skimpy bit of snow if you’re lucky. Nothing for gardeners to do except finish cleaning up soggy leaves and other debris and sharpening and oiling tools, or waiting, in my case, for a West Coast cold snap to dash out and prune the David Austen rose outside my kitchen window so the poor thing will not lose any more bark-skin being thrashed around by the storms coming at us.

January. Yay! The garden catalogues begin to show up in our mailboxes. Life! Greenery! Glorious colour! Hope!

Meanwhile, what to do with November and December? Hang on to your dreams by reading interesting and beautiful books about gardening, is what I’d advise. From the early spring greenhouse starts of old faithfuls and new plant adventures to late fall harvests, I tend to head directly to my garden problem-solving, bugs and mildew I.D. sorts of books but to get me through the gloom prior to those extra minutes of sunlight commencing with the December Solstice, I need the wisdom, truth and beauty of good garden books like these three. What a treat, each and every one of them, and they underline how deeply ingrained the word ‘culture’ is in agriculture, whether it is practiced by elders from diverse backgrounds in a green mountain valley in British Columbia’s southeastern corner, by stalwart no-nonsense women in Zambia, Africa, or by a pioneering heritage seed company founder from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, ably assisted by two fabulous young foodie sisters.

The Talking Spade began with one inspired teacher and an enthusiastic parent aka project manager, shepherding a combined class of Grade 4, 5 & 6 students from New Denver’s K-12 Lucerne Elementary Secondary School. New Denver is a village of less than six hundred souls but it has a community school, a hospital and extended care facility on the shores of Slocan Lake, lovely public garden spaces including the Japanese-inspired aesthetics of the Kohan Friendship Garden beside the sweet little village campground and much, much more. It is one of those magical places in the West Kootenay region which is, as long-time resident and writer Anne Champagne describes, “known for its profusion of artists, self-sufficient progressives, organic growers and yes, colourful personalities.”

The children went out to learn about gardening from twenty-nine elders, to ask questions during and after their tours of compost tea barrels and bins which exemplify “Gardener’s alchemy: turning dross into  gold”. They examined a range of endeavours during two years, from companion planting to backyard chicken flocks to harvesting wild plants. They swooned over lilacs and dozens of rose varieties, wandered into root cellars and around greenhouses, admired stupendous vegetable patches and sampled luscious fruit from vines, shrubs and trees.

There is an abundance of choice garden advice and philosophy throughout which applies to gardeners anywhere in the world as well as stunningly beautiful and inspiring photographs by Valley-born and raised artist Chillia Zoll, with several guest contributions, on every page, and a simply gorgeous book design by Theresa Tremaine. Saving seeds, savoury, sour and sweet recipes, paying daily attention to what is going on with plants, watering methods and devices, seasonal tips for planting, not to mention planting for climate change, and dancing with deer…all this in an eloquent tribute to the sharing between old and new cultures (Doukhobor, Japanese, European, Canadian and American back-to-the-landers) and between the generations. It is truly an eloquent and lovely gem of garden lore and a primer for other energetic teachers and involved parents to emulate in schools elsewhere. Most of all, it is beautifully written in a self-effacing manner so that the personalities of each of the gardeners shines through in their own speech patterns with lovingly portrayed descriptions of the lined faces and hands of the elders. The gentle humour is absolutely charming, as with the scene of the children returning from a garden visit who “parade up main street with massive leaves (of rhubarb) bobbing overhead like umbrellas”.

This book is available in New Denver at Raven’s Nest (, 250 358-2178), the Valley Voice office (, 250 358-7218), and through Anne Champagne (, and in Nakusp at Spiritwood (, 250-265-0083). It costs $25 plus shipping.

Another take on agriculture ten thousand miles away from the north Slocan Valley is provided by Marianne Stamm, herself the daughter of Swiss homesteaders in northern B.C., and, with her husband, agricultural specialists in Zambia. Marianne’s first book, Laughter in the Shadows, came to being after eight years of work, volunteering and friendship with eleven amazing women. 85% of Zambians work in some form of agriculture and the rest are directly or indirectly involved in copper mining.

As a mzungu, or white foreigner, she had misgivings about writing about something as overwhelming as Africa but her friends themselves asked her to tell their stories so other women in Zambia as well as women in Europe and North America would know the truth of their struggles and the rewards of their knowledge and hard work. This the author has done in a respectful, open-minded yet intimate way and likewise, there are pensive, sombre or joyful photographic portraits of each woman featured which add immense appeal to the book.

In a country where the relatives of a recently-deceased husband can and do descend on his household to strip it of every pot and pan and table-cloth, leaving the wife or wives, destitute along with their children, this is no small thing, to bravely speak up. But these are stories of women with great courage and hard-won wisdom.  One woman wants her story to help others who are HIV-positive. Yet another wants to share the information about agriculture she is learning with others, to help improve their lives as well. Another is very interested in learning more about nutrition and keeps trying new crops, like soybeans. Bonus, unlike the tall stalks of maize (corn), thieves cannot hide in the short bean crop and steal from it. Most of the women want food security and better educations for their children, to be able to provide enough food to survive no matter what befalls them. The advice of one wise woman is always to start small. “Plant a small amount of something new. Do it well. Then increase the acreage only when you know you can manage.” 3000 tomato plants later she has a thriving market business.

One widow worked full-time as a nurse, which does not pay well but which comes with a small house. She travelled on the jam-packed public buses after her work shift to buy beans near the Tanzania border, where they were cheaper, and brought them back to the market at home to sell them there. She cultivated a large garden and raised chickens, bringing them into the house every night so they would not be stolen. Another walks miles to a separate plot to cultivate food crops to sell. The sheer amount of tenacity and labour and extra hours these determined women work is staggering.

The kindness and helpfulness of Marianne is rarely in the forefront but it is obvious to me that she is beloved and trusted for her support and friendship as she manoeuvred through bureaucracies in order to send women to an agriculture course, for example. Her lively descriptions are as vivid as the head scarves and smiles in the portraits and we feel, much like the author, invited into the living rooms to listen to the life stories of these remarkable women. The perfect gift for that special young or retired person in your family who wants to put their own education and life experience to good use in the bigger world where the need is greatest. That too, takes courage and this well-written book will inspire them.

A handy glossary of African and agricultural words and cultural terms is provided. This book is available on Kindle ($9.99 approx) and online at Amazon and in Canada at the Cecil Lake Store in BC (250-785-4001)  and in select Alberta locations as well as by contacting the author at for more information.

If you want to try growing food to cope with rising costs and climate change, you would do well to consult The Power of Pulses: Saving the World with Peas, Beans, Chickpeas, Favas & Lentils. This is another gorgeous full-colour book to savour in November and to earmark garden beds and begin seed ordering in January too. This book has it all from veteran seed grower Dan Jason, and by all I mean, information on why pulses are better for our own and the planet’s health (high protein, low carbon footprint, heart healthy for starters), growing your own and harvesting, fresh or dried. To top it all off, there are fifty scrumptious recipes for breakfast, appetizers, spreads, pickles, salads, main and side dishes and desserts from Hilary Malone and Alison Malone Eathorne who have already won me over with their superb cookbook, Sea Salt: Recipes from the West Coast Galley.

Here are some pertinent facts:
-Canada is the world’s largest exporter of dried peas and beans et al, known as pulses, but we consume less than 10% of them at home
-pulses are gluten-free, high in Vitamin B and fibre and very low on the glycemic index for those with diabetes or heart disease
-pulses use half the non-renewable (fossil fuel) energy of other crops like grains to cultivate and are so, so easy to grow, even for amateur gardeners
-pulses need no refrigeration, can be bought in bulk and are easy to grow organically unlike soybeans which are grown in mono-crops and with heavy pesticides unless you seek out organic beans
-lentils and other bulk beans grown in Canada are not expensive to buy
-the delicious recipes in this beautifully designed book will inspire you to go far beyond Meatless Monday. Another tip from me, check out Saskatchewan lentil and pulse growers where you might also enjoy subscribing to their free online newsletter for extra motivation to incorporate pulses into your family menus by visiting and signing up at and .

Did I mention that this book is beautiful to look at as well with amazing photographs of things like pea flowers and dishes like Crispy Chickpea Power Bowl with Tahini Dressing? It’s enough to make me charge out into the rain and plant something. Or head for the kitchen to make a better lunch than usual!

The book is available in paperback in the US and Canada ($24.95) from full service bookstores and from the usual suspects online where it is also available as an e-book. A terrific gift for the keen gardener with more than a roof-top or a balcony to work with and for the home cook who wants to jazz up a healthy menu.

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