M.A. (traditional plant use), B.F.A. honours, artist, farmer, wildcrafter, builder, teacher, writer, visionary.
Steven has more than thirty years experience living co-creatively with the Earth, practicing traditional living skills of growing food, building and healing. Steven created Livingstone & Greenbloom in 1986, Toronto’s first green landscaping company. In 1996, he created the Algonquin Tea Company, North America’s premiere bioregional tea company. He has given talks and run workshops internationally for more than twenty years and taught plant identification and wilderness skills at Algonquin college for 11 years. In 2014 Megan and he started the Sacred Gardener Earth Wisdom School. Steven released his first book, “The Story of the Madawaska Forest Garden” in 2016, and his second “Sacred Gardening” was released in June 2017.
Megan has been living and loving in the wilds of the Ottawa Valley for 12 years. Always drawn to wild spaces her whole life, she finds peace, beauty, and inspiration in the deep teachings of her daily life.
Megan has a degree in Fine Arts from Fanshawe College and loves making anything with natural materials. She is passionate about sharing how to preserve food through fermentation and integrating herbs and wild plants in our daily lives. Check out Megan’s work at meganspencer.ca.
The Sacred Gardener
The Sacred Gardener was chosen for our farm/school’s name because it conveys something that we feel is unique in our approach to both growing and teaching here on the farm. While there are many places, books and ways to learn about gardening or working with the Earth, there are very few that put the needs of the Earth first. This means not just thinking about production and convenience for ourselves but making the effort to step forward gently with real ecological/spiritual integrity.
In everything we do we try to honor the ancient agreements with Nature. These agreements, which enabled our ancestors to survive and us to be here now, have long since been ignored and forgotten by western culture. Even radical forms of “environmental” action like organic gardening, permaculture and wilderness skills such as hunting and foraging are done with little or no thought as to the consequences of what we’re taking. We are always in the center of our thoughts and move forward with unflinching entitlement to what we take.
Long ago before these agreements were forgotten it was clearly understood that we survived through the gifts and grace of the land. While all animals must take to survive we are designed to work within the cycles of abundance that the Earth provides. But humans are born takers, just look at our hands; we can reach outside the gifts of abundance causing imbalance and harm. As hunters and foragers, we did not just have respect but had deep reverence for that which gave us life. This reverence and the need to heal what is out of balance is the origin of art. When we took anything, even what we now think of as “dead matter” like stones and sticks, we keenly felt the hole that was created. In reverential thankfulness we prayed, danced and made images and stories, not to fill the hole – because this is not possible – but to feed that which we have taken from.
When humans first began to garden it was a ritual to feed that which gave us life. Gardening is a literal metaphor of reverence. When our ancestors dug up roots we would create a rift or hole in the ground. We would respond by seeding the ground with prayers and the offspring of the plants (the seeds) then pat our offering gently into the wound. Through this beautiful procreative act we were rewarded with more food and so we made more seed offering and grew more with each passing year. We married our families to the plant families and gave ritual payment each year. The agreements proceeded well for everyone because as we took more land to grow we also took less from Her, from the rest of the Wild that gave us the plants and land to grow. To honor the contract of more land and keeping seeds of the Wild we created altars in and around our gardens to feed the deities of the plants and growth. Not one action of planting, harvesting or tending passed without a prayer for She who gave us life. This is the basis of Sacred Gardening.
In Steven’s Words
In the early 1980s, I learned how to forage before I learned how to garden and I think this changed my view of what gardening could be. My vision was of a co-created area of intensive polycultural foraging that honored the Wildness in and around the garden, as opposed to the fascist dictatorship of Nature that we see even in most organic gardens. As I was working with co-creating this form of garden I traveled to the highlands around Chiapas Mexico and found people (the Lacadonian Maya) who had been practicing gardening this way for millennia.
When I came home after six months I started an M.A. at Trent U. on the topic of “Native Plant Use and Gardening in the Southern Algonquin Bioregion.” From this research I fully realized what I had stumbled into – the original form of gardening – I’d stumbled into Eden. I realized that European Gardening – the standard by which we judge and categorize other “more primitive” forms of gardening, however efficient, was, in fact, a historical anomaly. And that even what we call the Neolithic period and the start of agriculture is skewed because of our backward view of what we think agriculture is – a large monocultural field. Forms of human agriculture started at least a hundred thousand years before when we think it did.
Agriculture is not just something we invented it is practiced by many animals and is, in fact, part of the continuum of evolution here on Earth.