Edmonton Based Inventor Victor Benitez’ Revolutionary Self Watering System


This week on Terra Informa we hear from Dylan Hall who spoke with University of Alberta grad Victor Benitez about his innovative new design that may change the way we garden in an urban setting. Then we visit the archives where we receive an edifying conversation with economist, activist, and academic Raj Patel on food justice.

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Raj Patel: Choosing justice in our food

Most of us want to feel good about where our food comes from; we’d like to think that our food is healthy, that the farmland is worked responsibly, and that the land workers are treated justly. These feelings often translate into decisions we make at the grocery store, but how much choice do we really have when we’re pushing our shopping cart through those aisles? To find out, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips spoke with economist Raj Patel—a visiting scholar in the Center for African Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and an honorary research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. We reached him in California.

Victor Benitez: Automated Urban Gardening & New College Work

Want to skip the choice that you need to make at the grocery store? Want to know exactly where your food comes from? Love the thought of gardening but don’t have the time? Victor Benitez, a recent physics graduate from the University of Alberta, is trying to find a solution to these questions. He has recently started a company, New College Work, based on technology he invented: a self-watering garden system. Terra Informer Dylan Hall spoke with Victor to find out the details and motives behind this ambitious project.
Website: http://www.newcollegework.com/

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Alternative Foods: Terra Informa Thanksgiving Special 

This week on Terra Informa we looked to the archives for some alternative dinner suggestions that will deviate from your classic turkey and potatoes thanksgiving dinner.

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Girl Gone Wild: Cooking Cattails

In this week’s edition of Girl Gone Wild, wildlife documentarian Jamie Pratt took Terra Informa’s Chris Chang-Yen Phillips out to cook up some cattails from her family’s backyard pond. Check out Girls Gone Wild on Twitter.

 Eating Insects

When we in North America think ‘delicious” our minds aren’t generally drawn to a fat and juicy caterpillar or a crispy chili-fried tarantula. However, after a recent UN report called for the world’s population to start consuming more insects as a more sustainable source of protein, fats, and minerals, while being easy and quick to produce, we may soon find insects of varying shapes and colours squirming their way onto our plates. Morgana Folkmann talks to entomophagist and advocate Dave Gracer about eating the things. Ryan Abram also shared his eating adventures in South East Asia.

Plant-Based Eggs

Which came first? The chicken? Or the egg? In Josh Tetrick’s California-based facility, the eggs they’re scrambling are coming to you from broken-down plant protein. Hampton Creek Foods was founded on the sensibility of sustainability, and concern for the planet. How to feed a rapidly growing population of more than 7 billion people? Food technology is an undeniable part of our future and Tetrick speaks to Natalee Rawat about his motives behind creating the first plant based egg.

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All About Lakes: Urmia, Great Bear, Sturgeon


This week’s episode brings us three archive episodes about lakes. Enjoy!

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Iran’s Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia is one of the largest salt lakes in the world. Located in Iran, between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, it is a breeding ground for flamingos and one of the largest habitats of a salt-water shrimp. Lake Urmia is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It plays a crucial role in the economic, ecological and social health of the region. Currently, the lake is in danger of drying up. More than just an environmental problem, the deterioration of the lake could impact the 13 million inhabitants of the region. Terra Informa correspondent Kathryn Lennon talks to some members of Azerbaijanji communities in Edmonton and Vancouver to hear their concerns.

More on this story: NASA Earth Observatory Photos, Campaign to Save Lake Urmia, Lake Urmia appeal by the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)

Science Short: Great Bear Lake

In this week’s Science Short Rebekah brings us an interview with PhD student Louise Chavarie about her research on Lake Trout in Canada’s biggest freshwater lake. Great Bear Lake is the largest lake that’s fully within our borders and the 7th largest in the world. It’s situated in the Northwest Territories, where it straddles the Arctic Circle. Louise and Rebekah discuss the contribution of lake trout to the diversity of the lake, and the dangers the lake faces in light of a warming arctic.

Girl Gone Wild: Lake Sturgeon

Well every now and again Terra Informa correspondent Chris Chang-Yen Phillips takes a trip with our resident wildlife expert, Jamie Pratt. She’s the creator of the Girl Gone Wild wildlife documentary series, and this time we decided it was time to journey down Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River in search of an ancient fish — the Lake Sturgeon.

Drayton Valley Western Review
North Saskatchewan River Guide
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

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Photo by M Karzarj.

Field Guides, Sea Birds, and Bark Beetles


This week, we’ve compiled an animal lover’s dream episode from our archives. First, the infamous John Acorn speaks about nature guides and his love of birds and bugs, then we delve into biologist Rachel Buxton’s research on Aleutian Seabirds and sound artist David Dunn’s unique investigation into the lives of Bark Beetles.

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John Acorn on Field Guides

From our archives, we’re catching up with one of Canada’s most avid naturalists. John Acorn is an entomologist, television personality and author of 17 books. His best known role is probably as the host of “Acorn: Nature Nut” the popular tv show on all things creeping and crawling. But when he’s not writing television shows, teaching students or working on his research, John Acorn is often at his desk writing field naturalist guide books. If you think there’s not much controversy in how to draw or write about a few butterflies or beetles, think again. Terra Informa correspondent David Kaczan spoke with John Acorn.

Aleutian Seabirds

The petrel is a bird that spends its entire life at sea, only landing on remote islands to copulate. But, things have gone from bad to worse for this seabird in recent years and many biologists are hatching up ideas to help the petrel population survive in an era marked by climate change and overfishing. Some of these ideas even have 80s rockers tapping their toes and thinking about our responsibility to protect the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems. Matt Hirji talked to Rachel Buxton about her research into the area.

Acoustics of Bark Beetles

David Dunn, sound artist and composer produced an album in 2006 called The Sound of Light in Trees: The Acoustic Ecology of Pinyon Pines, in collaboration with the Acoustic Ecology Institute. With tiny microphones, he records the sounds of bark beetles in New Mexico’s pinyon pines. Beyond a fascinating listening experience, this is an innovative approach to the ecology of insects, and to monitoring bark beetle populations

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Photo credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program

Tiny Organisms, Big Impacts! Moss and Bees


This week’s episode features two stories about itty bitty organisms packing a big environmental punch. Learn about mosses with Tasmia Nishat and from the archives, get the scoop on urban beekeeping in Edmonton with Chris Chang-Yen Phillips.

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Urban Beekeeping

There are plenty of frontiers in urban agriculture: community gardens, backyard chickens—beekeeping might be the one that makes neighbours and politicians the most nervous. But after years of debate and a pilot project eased us into the idea, Edmonton has finally opened the doors to backyard beekeeping.

Edmonton’s City Council changed its bylaws in April 2015 to allow residents to get their own licensed beehive. So what does it look like (and sound like) to get a delivery of thousands of bees?

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips joined Kyla Tichkowsky, Steph Ripley and Lisa Lumley to find out.

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Photo credit to Mike Phobos

Edmonton’s River and Art Scene


Morning Star By Alex Janvier, 1993

This week, we have two very timely stories for you. First off, a new story by Terra Informer Amanda Rooney about what many believe to be Edmonton’s greatest attraction: the North Saskatchewan river valley.  Apt timing, as this weekend will be the first ever Edmonton River Fest. Then, an episode from our archives, an interview by Chris Chang-Yen Phillips with First Nations Artist Alex Janvier. Also apt, as a massive tile-mural created by Alex Janvier and installed in the floor of the new Rogers Place arena in Edmonton  was unveiled just last week. We top it all off with a poetry reading from Gary Snyder that speaks to the mid-September air.

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Stories from the Edmonton River Valley

In this story, Terra Informer Amanda Rooney collected perspectives on the Edmonton River Valley. In the following piece, she talks with citizens walking along the river bank before diving into an interview with Brittney Jackson, a scientist and rafting guide with Edmonton River Watch. They cover a whole range of interesting tidbits about the river: from citizen science opportunities to Edmonton’s water treatment plant to myths about the dirtiness of the water.

Words from Artist Alex Janvier 

Last week, a massive public art installation created by Alex Janvier and  set in the floor of the new Roger’s Place Arena in downtown Edmonton was unveiled to the public. The piece is made of nearly one million byzantine glass smalti tiles, and is 14 metres in diameter. the mosaic is named Tsą tsą ke k’e — Iron Foot Place, and depicts the natural beauty of the Edmonton landscape. In this story, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips spoke with Alex Janvier about his life and work, about two years ago, when this mural was still a dream.

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All About Mountain Gorillas Leading up to the Edmonton Gorilla Run

TI Sept 6 Mountain_gorillaIf you don’t already know what’s up with mountain gorillas, you’ll be in the know after this week’s episode! Join Shelley Jodoin on an informational adventure learning what there is to know about mountain gorillas, and then find out from Ashley Kocsis and Raemonde Bezenar why you might come across a mob of mountain gorillas in Edmonton on September 10.

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Mountain Gorilla Ecobabble

In this ecobabble, Terra Informer Shelley Jodoin tries to figure out what all the fuss is about mountain gorillas. She learns the differences between mountain and lowland gorillas, about the volcanic Virunga mountain range that they inhabit and other fun facts.

Edmonton Gorilla Run

If you happen to be in Edmonton, Alberta this weekend and see a gang of mountain gorillas running through Corbett Field on Saturday morning, have no fear! We are not being invaded, Planet of the Apes is not going down here and now. What you are seeing is the 7th Annual Edmonton Gorilla Run! Last week, Terra Informer Ashley Kocsis reached out to the Executive Director of the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada, Raemonde Bezenar. A fellow Edmontonian, Raemonde is the initiator of the Edmonton Gorilla Run which will be taking place this weekend! On Saturday September 10th, Edmontonians will be meeting at the University of Alberta at Corbett Hall near 114th street and 82 avenue. People will walk or run 5km to fund-raise for the conservation of African Mountain Gorillas and most will do so in gorilla suits.

Article: Raemonde Bezenar and the Canadian Friends of MGVP

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Photo by Dave Proffer.

Farmsters and Community Climate Change Consultation

This week’s episode is coming from the archives, even though the pieces are a couple of years old the discussion is still very relevant as Canadian farmers continue to get older and are not being replaced increasingly by city folk – known in our episode as “farmsters”. Let us introduce you to the new generation of farmsters who are bringing their arts degrees, intsagram brunch photos, and alternative farming models to the table.

This week’s host Amanda Rooney briefly talks about the Town Hall on climate change that she attended in mid August. These town halls are run under the People’s climate plan .

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Here Come the Farmsters

There are plenty of things you can say about the Millennial generation. We’ve all heard the statistics on young people are moving back in with mom and dad after graduation. We’ve heard that the average cost of a house has increased to the point of prohibiting young professionals from entering that erstwhile next step of adulthood known as “home ownership.” And large scale industrial projects threatening our natural spaces are driving people young and old into the streets of major cities all over the world to protest inaction over climate change. These days young people are likely to finish university with a mountain of debt and spend years underemployed while career track positions remain out of their grasp.

Some folks have chosen a radically different approach to life post-liberal arts degree. I’m talking about farming. Scores of city-dwellers are leaving behind the urban lifestyle in favour of farmshares and ecovillages. Lauren Markham, writing for Orion Magazine, refers to this new phenomenon as the emergence of “farmsters.” Like hipsters, only instead of wearing flannel and weeping over their lack of prospects, farmsters are taking matters into their own hands to bring about change in whatever small way they can.

Danielle Dolgoy knows her fair share of farmsters. She meets them at the farmer’s market and reads their uplifting posts in her news feed. She called up her old university pal, Kate Rustemeyer, to talk about Kate’s decision to start her own CSA on a shared farm in B.C.’s Slocan Valley of the West Kootenays.

Links: Craft OntarioYoung AgrariansLauren Markham’s articleHoe Down CSA at Tulaberry Farm

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Photo credit to Frank