Vancouver Island eco-trip inspires gratitude

Over the May long weekend, a group of 23 students and four staff members embarked on Trinity College School’s first service trip since 2019. The rust was quickly shaken off when the group touched down in Victoria, British Columbia on May 17th and made their way to O.U.R. Eco-village located on Shawnigan Lake, BC, to spend six days learning about permaculture. This experience-based learning community had the entire TCS group getting their hands dirty tending to animals like cows, goats, pigs and chickens, as well as prepping the flower beds for numerous fruit and vegetable plants to sustain the village over the busy summer. Over the course of their stay they would be introduced to the endless ways we can be living a more sustainable lifestyle.

O.U.R. stands for “one united resource” and this is practiced throughout the whole 25-acre village to strive towards the three pillars of permaculture, which are: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. Putting these into action, right away the village staff began educating the group on all of the sustainable facets of life evident within the village. The group learned about water filtration through the village’s reusable water system. They learned about how much energy is stored and used through solar panels. They learned about the importance of respecting the land and its original inhabitants. And they also learned about how to have fun while you work!

Reduce, reuse, recycle was taken to a new level at the eco-village when it came to the topic of waste. Food waste was kept to the very minimum through how food was organized, how participants ate every last bite of the delicious meals and then how the scraps would be used to feed some of the animals or go into the compost to feed the soil that the fruit trees grow in. A remarkable 90% of the food, tools and all materials found in the village are either repurposed or originally from the village.

One of the key projects for the group was working on the cob building, where participants built two tall and sturdy walls, including one at the entrance of the village which was shaped to look like a dragon’s tail. We used a natural mixture called “cob” that has been used to build several buildings and homes around the village, and which serves as a natural insulator. The students had to mix the materials with their hands, slap it on the wall and shape it in the design they would like. The progress they made in two days was incredible and those walls will be there forever!

It was clear to see the progress resulting from the hard work the students put into the cob building, as well as their efforts in making food (e.g. apple crisp, granola, cereal, stinging nettle tea, pesto, sun tea from lavender, and butter, cream and milk from cow’s milk), and prepping the land and planting potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and sunflower seeds. However, the biggest takeaway for the group was the work they did on their inner selves. Before each meal, the participants would gather in a large circle, introduce themselves and say what they were thankful for in that moment. This encouraged them to be open and honest with themselves and the community around them. The biggest life lesson the village encouraged was, if you take the individual or “i” out of “illness” and replace it with a community or “we,” then you get “wellness.” And that is what the eco-village strives for, wellness for all.

Not only did this group work hard on the farm, but they also played hard. The island pulled out all the stops for this TCS crew with beautiful weather on a hike up Old Bauldy Mountain and a walk down to swim in the very chilly water of Shawnigan Lake. The last day of the trip was also packed full of excursions to the Kinsol Tressel Bridge (one of the tallest freestanding timber rail structures in the world); touching the ocean at Whiffin Spit in the Sooke Harbour; and sliding down a 20-metre slide above the mountain tops at Malahat Skywalk. Fun was also had on the village grounds with the evenings being spent by the campfire, playing village-wide hide-and-seek, watching a movie with large bowls of popcorn or even a full-on karaoke night!

On the final night, students and teachers shared openly what they had learned, what the eco-village meant to them and what they were planning on implementing in their lives back home. Some of the answers were: they have made lifelong friends and built deeper connections with fellow students, they tried new experiences that pushed them out of their comfort zones, they saw and felt the value of hard work in the environment around them, they realized the difference in living a more eco-conscious and sustainable lifestyle, and they gained a new appreciation for the small things in life that we don’t normally take the time to be grateful for.

The air was filled with heartfelt goodbyes on the morning of Monday, May 23rd as the village staff expressed their gratitude for the TCS crew’s willingness to take on all of the information and tasks given to them over their stay. One of the many powerful words used with in the village is Hych’ka, which means “thank you” in Coast Salish, a Pacific Indigenous language. Hych’ka to Trent, Brandi and the entire eco-village for opening up their home and teaching these bright-eyed students what it means to truly be thankful.

The Vancouver Island trip participants were: Aeowyn Comissiong, Alex Pickering, Ally Jiang, Andrew Pickering, Boas Bromm, Dalayna Baker, Darren Du, Eason Fan, Grace Frost, Hayden Worden, Josh Cates, Josie Scott, Junhyeong Hong, Kate Blain, Logan McGivery, Mika Romao Vandepol, Morad Aref, Rachel Bannister, Shaun Karim, Sophia Masur, Sophie Ahuja, Xenia Blankenburg, Xyon Johnson, Mr. Matt Fox, Ms. Cheyne Cole, Mr. Luke O’Connell and Ms. Tiffany Bathurst.

- By Cheyne Cole, chaperone