Green Revolutionaries- A Photo Series By Asalah Youssef
“Green Revolutionaries” is a series of portraits documenting three individuals; Penny Carnrite, Maya Kostamo and Shifra Hetherington. It was shot in the school & community garden with the aim to shine a light on who they are and what they do. They are all passionate about the environment and making sure they are doing their part in reducing their ecological footprint through gardening and eating plant based food. They have all inspired me in some way, whether that be seeing Shifra’s amazingly beautiful power bowls on Instagram, Penny’s passion about social change and her enthusiasm for all of my endeavours and Maya’s commitment to the community garden.
I spent a golden evening frolicking in the garden taking photographs and admiring plants and butterflies with these three extraordinary humans. I wanted to capture their essence but also their love for gardening and living an environmentally conscious lifestyle. They each in their own way contribute greatly to making this world a better place. By capturing them I hope that they are recognized for what they do.
Penny Carnrite nee Fenton
Penny shared with me that she is a Celt and her ancestry is Welsh and Scottish with ties to the British in Upper Canada. She describes herself as a grandmother, an aunt, a wife, a gardener, an environmentalist, a student and a teacher. Penny has been teaching for twenty seven years. "I know that it may sound like a long time, but to me it feels like yesterday that I got my teaching degree." She originally thought that she was going to be an archeologist, but ended up teaching and she says its a decison she never regrets. It has been a fullfilling career for her. Each day she makes sure to embrace the life she's been given because she has been able to pursue her interests like literature, storytelling, ethnobiology, social justice, history and so much more. "Even on my toughest days I still love my job." She shares that she has been so fortunate to work with truly inspiring people especially her students, who give her joy and hope.
Penny believes that it is the everyday things that make the difference, and she herself is demonstrating this in many ways. She chooses simple but impactful ways to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle. She shared that she eats fresh locally sourced food and avoids purchasing packaged foods. She is conscious about her clothing consumption by not shopping very often. She buys second hand, and even greens her commute by driving a hybrid car.
When Penny bought her house in Fort Langley she decided to dig up her backyard and start planting vegetables. "What I grow tastes better and is just better for the environment. Because my gardens are organic, they create habitat. I am conscious of creating healthy ecosystems for birds and bees." She also shared that she chooses not to use pesticides and looks after the soil in a natural way using her compost.
In 2011 Penny and one of her students at the time, Deven Azevedo, built the Fort Langley community and school garden. It is now flourishing with so much beauty and life. "When we built the Fort Langley Community and School Garden our vision was to help us grow sustainable food. The garden is teeming with life like birds, bees and butterflies; we have resident crows, and a pair of squirrels. The hummingbirds feed on the honeysuckle and the bees on the lavender." I can testify to this statement. During this gorgeous evening photographing Penny, Shifra and Maya we were greeted by so much life. Hummingbirds came back and forth hanging around the honeysuckle bush. Two little squirrels played right by us, crows perched on the fence watching us as we did our thing, butterflies soared right over us and the bees buzzed peacefully creating a beautiful hum.
"I have always loved nature and feel very connected to the natural world. I think that is why I am so interested in Indigenous ecological knowledge. I feel encouraged that the youth are concerned about climate change. I would like to encourage them to take action and to remember it is everyday things that are going to make a difference. Saving the planet is about being conscious of our actions; it is about changing our habits. I draw inspiration from Cecil Paul, a Xenaksiala elder, who says that we must walk gently on the earth."
She always brings these teachings with her into the classroom. Everyday in her class is a new day of inspiration, passion and drive to take action.
Maya Kostamo is a soon to be graduate of Langley Fine Arts School. I got to know her late this year through working together on a climate action initiative at our school. Because of this project I have spent more time getting to know her which is usually spent giggling, talking about delicious foods or gardening. She has lived on a community farm her whole life and through this has developed a deep care for the environment. She has a strong passion for gardening and wants to share that with others. Maya shared that she adores taking elementary school kids out to the community garden to giggle and grow along side them. She believes it is very important to teach children at a young age how beautiful and essential nature is.
When I asked her what her views are on climate change she shared that if she looks at it as a huge mountain she finds it very intimidating so instead she views it as a mound that she has to pick a rock off of to do her part.
After she graduates she hopes to work on a small organic farm alongside people with developmental disabilities. For the long haul she is interested in horticulture therapy and growing gardens in unlikely places like hospitals, prisons, schools and street corners.
“I love my home and want to do anything I can to protect and befriend the land I live on”
I asked Maya to write about what gardening means to her and what it can do for this world.
She decided to write a poem called “Plant Prints”
“When I closed my eyes I didn’t used to see:
Little grey-blue cabbage
with leaves edged in ruffles like a piecrust.
Beginnings of lettuce:
the hair of some green
creature crouched beneath the soil.
Water electrified purple of radish
and red stems of the rain-flattened swiss chard.
But now plants print into the pink of my eyelids.
Humming into new life.
Stamps of hope.
Since spring I have had the absolute joy
of being the student leader in our community garden.
I’ve spent folds of time seeding spinach celery and sunflowers.
Pockets of time before school dedicated to watering
sprouts with smooth clear-sky-blue rain water collected from the shed roof.
When I close my eyes before bed I see
soft green of pumpkin’s first fringe.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes.
Who knew you could over water watermelon?
Almost drowned the little sugar babies.
If you had walked into the greenhouse
on a Wednesday about a month ago
you would’ve spotted me
leaning over a seed tray,
frantically sweeping the hot wind of a hair dryer back and forth.
Back and forth.
Humming with attempted hope.
To my astonishment
I scanned the watermelon tray a week later
to see the curved neck of a sprout
lifting its heavy head out of the soil.
Now there are nine watermelons
living and growing in the green house.
They keep doing that, the plants.
Surprising and delighting me
with their little green lives.
On the bus, when I close my eyes,
I see unfolding leaves of bush beans
attached to a delicate stem of olive-green.
In the garden I’ve encountered other little lives.
Elementary school kids to be specific.
I bring classes to the garden
showing them how to sustainably grow food,
how to use a shovel,
how to nurture spaghetti squash
and marigold flowers,
and perhaps most importantly
how to truly play in the dirt.
I am able to pass down my humble amount
of ecological knowledge that I’ve gathered from Mrs Carnrite
like the smooth stones of her wise words.
At the beginning of the growing season
A little owl of a Grade Two girl asked,
“Are you a butterfly?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, trying not to laugh in her face.
I also couldn’t help being a little flattered.
“No I’m pretty sure you are,”
she said certainly.
So that was that.
This very morning I created a pumpkin patch
with several Grade Sevens.
When I close my eyes in class
I see the lace of little carrot tops.
It is hard not to loose hope
in the face of an environmental devastation.
Especially when the UN tells us we only have 12 years left
to limit serious climate change catastrophe.
To be honest I’d like to curl up
like a foetus
in the corner of a very dark room
to spend the rest of my life napping.
But the garden brings me hope.
It was Terry Leblanc,
an indigenous elder
“You white people talk a lot about caring for creation
but we talk about creation caring for us.”
The garden is what has brought me healing.
The healing that comes from
putting my hands in soil.
When I close my eyes
plants print into the pink of my eyelids.
Humming into new life.
Stamps of hope.
Shifra Hetherington is originally from Ottawa, Ontario, but has now—after spending the majority of her 16 years moving from house to house—settled comfortably in Langley, British Columbia. She is currently studying at Langley Fine Arts School, where she is proud (and very happy) to call herself a dance major. Shifra is extremely passionate about dance, plant-based nutrition, the sustainability of our environment, showing kindness, love, and respect to all people, digital minimalism and every topic that fits under the umbrella of health and fitness. Shifra’s innate observation skills combined with her very inquisitive nature often lead her to delve deeply into subjects. This guided her to discover plant-based nutrition. Her journey into the world of creating and experimenting with plant-based cooking and baking began when she was 12 years old and has now bloomed into a passion fueled by knowledge and compassion. She enjoys sharing this with her family and friends by making them delicious food! When Shifra is not studying, dancing, or having fun in her extracurricular activities, she loves being active outside in nature - hiking, biking or riding her unicycle, reading a great book, or learning something new from one of her favourite podcasts. She has recently become fascinated with the brain and how it works. This has led her to explore the possibilities of a career that involves the study of the brain, specifically one that specializes in understanding the relationship between the brain and behavior. Shifra aspires to be the beautiful brightness her name means, and to "live a life that is purposeful, fulfilling, brimming with joy, and uplifting to the Creator who sculpted her with His hands and breathed life into her."
Q & A with Shifra
Q: How do you take steps to living a sustainable and environmentally conscious life?
A: “I eat plants! The easiest and most delicious way to make a difference in the world and to create an environment that thrives, is more sustainable, and healthier all around is simply to put more plant foods on your plate!”
Q: How do you think eating more environmentally conscious will help to solve world problems?
A: “Well, it is really quite simple. If we choose to incorporate more plant foods into our diets then we can reduce our carbon footprint drastically. When I took the time to study and research these ideas for myself I came to one conclusion: plants are king. “
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with living a more sustainable and healthy life?
A: “When I was younger, I never paid much attention to the food I was eating in terms of nutrition. I was like any other young child: my mom would put food in front of me and I would eat whatever was on my plate, no questions asked. Thankfully, I was raised by health conscious parents who prepared and provided good nutritious food. Through my experiences at meal times, I was taught what foods made me feel good and what foods did not because the foods that produced the latter response were not going to be on my plate.
It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I began to understand how food affects us. I became very interested in making my own meals and cooking for myself. When I turned 13, after watching several documentaries and reading through mounds of research, I realized that the animal products I was consuming along with everyone else served the purpose of satiating hunger, but did not nourish the body. Then and there, I decided that I wanted to stop contributing to suffering and pain by buying dead animal flesh and feeding my body with it. Instead, I wanted to nourish and fuel my body with colourful, delicious, life-giving plants. Food is not just something you shove in your mouth to satiate hunger, it fuels your body, mind, and soul.
“Food is not just something you shove in your mouth to satiate hunger, it fuels your body, mind, and soul.”
"When I took the time to study and research these ideas for myself I came to one conclusion: plants are king. “
What will you do to green up your life?
All photographs & text by Asalah Youssef