We recently held a the third session in our series on women & the environment. In this session on “Green City Living”, we were lucky enough to have Laura Rainsborough and Ruthanne Henry speak about their practices. Both women have dedicated their lives to remaking the city as a sustainable forest.
Laura Rainsborough is the founder and current director of Not Far From the Tree, a Toronto-based organization founded in 2008 that coordinates the harvest of local fruit from properties of Toronto home-owners. The harvest is divided equally among volunteers; property owners; and community food banks, shelters and support groups. Laura and the organization have won multiple local, national, and international awards for their work.
Not Far From the Tree began when Laura encountered the abundance of fruit at the Spadina Museum, and opened a dialogue with Toronto city staff about it. She began to understand that cities aren’t just private and fenced backyards, but are orchards of trees that cross-pollinate.
Laura’s creative roots are in a New Brunswick arts center, and her background is environmental studies at York University. Her “craving for creativity” drew her to a job at the children’s garden in High Park in Toronto, and she now helps write reports on the urban forest. She can tell you that 80% of the GTA is prime agriculture land and filled with wild life – there is “fertility beneath our feet”. She argues that the best way to keep a species alive is to eat it – “intimate connection”, “direct and embodied”, or “the one-arm diet” — reaching for food just outside your window.
After fives years, Not Far From the Tree harvests fruit in 15 neighborhoods in Toronto and uses 1500 volunteers, and relies on bicycles to carry fruit and harvesting tools. Strangers become community through these urban ecology practices. The homeowners value the relationship with the urban forest, and volunteers become agents of change.
Ruthanne Henry sees the forest as the base of a living culture. She is a landscape architect and practices urban forestry research through ecological design, eco-restoration, and conservation planning for natural features. She creates art for community awareness of the vulnerable natural landscape and uses themes of healing, growth, and regeneration of ourselves and our landscapes.
Ruthanne became a landscape architect after years of living in the Dundas Valley, immersed in forest. She began volunteering in Surinam, where she collected wild orchids in a restoration project, and later worked along the Colorado River to address the ecological destruction of the Hoover Dam, which had altered the water’s course and caused loss of native plants. In Hamilton, she worked on an aquatic propagation project in the Harbour. In her own home in Toronto, she has restored native plants and wildlife to her ravine slope.
Ruthanne’s Master’s work at Ryerson University has involved co-developing a website with layered maps that reveal where people live in relation to Toronto’s forests and how canopy contributes to health. Her art practice began at the Dundas Valley School of Art, and she has created installations with vegetation debris and tiles from abiotic materials such as fossils.
If you missed the presentation, you can still see both presenters at the Urban Forest and Political Ecology Conference at Hart House, April 18-20, 2013.
The next session of our women and environments series is this Tuesday, March 12, on “Spaces of Indigenous Artistry”, with Jill Carter. Check out details here.