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A Growing Team at Growing Chefs! Introducing Derrian Mulligan

July 21, 2017

Hi, my name is Derrian, and I’m the newest addition to the Growing Chefs! team. I’m joining the team as a Program Assistant for this summer, working with Selma van Halder and Amanda Adams to prepare for this year’s fall edition of the program. If you’re interested in taking part in Growing Chefs! you can find out more here. I’m part of this amazing charity because I am passionate about food security, self-sufficiency, and the power of food to bring communities together. I am very grateful to be part of this dedicated team!

 

I grew up on a farm on traditional nēhiyaw (Cree) territory, also known as northern Alberta. My family and I grew and made most of what we used, from food to clothing to cleaning products. We had a large garden where we grew a variety of vegetables and raised chickens, turkeys, and even some steers (castrated bulls grown for their meat). When my siblings and I were bored, you could find us climbing maple trees, falling into stinging nettles (which are delicious, by the way), stealing carrots from the garden, or following horse and deer paths through the bush with our Australian Kelpie, Coca.

With most of our 320 acres uncleared, my parents taught us the value not only of clearing and planting the land, but of the abundant and varied foods of the Boreal forest. We would drive out to the edge of our fields and collect ice cream buckets of saskatoons, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Those berries that we didn’t eat on the ride back to the house were made into preserves and canned in a marathon afternoon of overflowing colanders, gallons of boiling water, and pounds upon pounds of sugar.

 

My mom also taught me about using essential oils, baking soda, and vinegar to clean just about anything, something I continue to learn about and apply today. She made excellent white bread using only yeast, bread flour, salt, and water, a skill that I now teach to others through the Cedar Cottage Food Network. When I would get too hyper and it was too cold to leave the house without risking frostbite, she would give me a jar of whipping cream and I would shake it to make delicious unsalted butter. One of my favorite treats was butter sandwiches, made with mom’s bread. I would sometimes add clover honey from the beehives on our property.

My dad has been a journeyman baker for over thirty years, and used to make our birthday cakes every year to our exact specifications: covered in Smarties? No problem! When he was home after school, he would pull homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies out of the oven just as we came in the door — one batch with walnuts, and one without, just for me. I’ve since learned to love walnuts and I frequently bake with them.

 

As a youth, I moved to unceded shishá7lh (Shishalh) territory before moving to the unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), ˈskwɔːmɪʃ (Squamish), and Stó:lô peoples as an adult. Moving to a new ecosystem, as well as addressing my settler privilege as a person who strongly identifies as Irish, was a struggle as I stumbled through early adulthood. Since this is a lifelong challenge, I am always seeking out new ways of interrogating my presence on this unceded territory; for example, I took up permaculture, which is based on traditional Indigenous knowledge, and I plan to take part in the Wild Salmon Caravan this autumn.

I have returned to many of the practices that I grew up with on the farm, like foraging and gardening. I have connected to this new land by taking up farmsitting and hiking, as well as learning to identify animals, plants, fungi, and minerals. I’ve learned some new skills, too. Most recently, I have taken up growing King Stropharia mushrooms, carving, and hide tanning. Although I don’t eat meat, I am passionate about learning to use what others may see as waste products, whether it be hides, feathers, teeth, or bones. This practice better connects me to the cycle of life, as well as the animals from which these parts have come.

 

My dream is to one day start an animal sanctuary and food forest, complete with honeybees and chickens. A food forest is a form of traditional Indigenous knowledge, and the original vertical garden. It allows more calories per square foot than conventional farming does, enriches the soil, and provides food and shelter for the local fauna. One of my favorite things about permaculture is that it creates the conditions under which very little time, energy, and resources yield a great amount of product, which means that those who live off the land in this way have more time to enjoy the beauty of that land. If you are interested in these millenia-old ways of land stewardship, I encourage you to watch a documentary called Tending the Wild.

I believe that food and land are powerful tools for connecting communities and passing on knowledge, which is why I also want to run a free school in which folks can access the food forest and those forms of knowledge I have been learning. Until then, I’ve been focusing on satisfying my drive to educate people and bring them together in a hands-on way. Growing Chefs! was an obvious avenue for me to do this while I prepare for the big move out of the city.

If you’re not already part of the Growing Chefs! team, I highly recommend joining us! The time commitment is small compared to what you’re giving back to your community. Sign up today!

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