As the old saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. This is something we believe in at Muddy Boot Prints only with a slight twist. ‘It takes a village to educate our children’.
Whenever possible we try and connect with local organizations and incorporate their work into our programming. Our most notable friendship is with EartHand Gleaners, a local environmental artist non-profit in East Vancouver where we share space with them at Trillium North Park in Strathcona. This friendship is invaluable to our programming as the work they do offers us a completely different view on the world. One of the main foundations of EartHand Gleaners is ‘before something is bought, can it be made’. Their focus is on working with natural materials that are grown locally, many at Trillium Park, and using these materials to create everyday items that we use. Often times projects that they’re working on seeps into our programming.
The most recent project that EartHand is working on is the Land and Sea Project. Sharon Kallis, Rebecca Grahm and Tracy Williams are heading up this long term project to “deepen and expand discussion about traditions in living from the land and sea and relate that back to contemporary foraging practices and cultural use of materials through facilitated Weaving~Conversation Circles.” The goal is to make traditional fishing nets as the 1st Nations once did, from stinging nettle fiber. Fishing nets were made this way by all coastal 1st nations up and down the west coast until the early 1950’s when synthetic fiber was introduced. Over the course of the last few months EartHand has been offering community workshops and attending local festivals to assist in processing the nettle to make it ready to turn into rope which will then be used to make into a large fishing net.
How does this relate to Muddy Boot Prints? As mentioned earlier, often times the projects EartHand is working on seeps into our programming. One of the many steps in nettle processing is ‘scuffing’ the fiber. Scuffing is essentially pounding the fiber that has had the pith (hard inner layer of the stalk) removed making it more supple so it can be spun into twine or hand rolled into rope. Seizing an opportunity to involve the children at Muddy Boot Prints we taught the children how to scuff nettle fiber!
NOTE: The leaves of stinging nettle is what gives the rash. Once the leaves have been stripped from the stalk, the fiber is fine and easily handled without issue.
To begin a looking table was set up to show the children the process of what we were doing. On the far left is the raw nettle fiber that was ready to be scuffed. Along the top is the scuffed fiber (our goal) ready for the next step which would be to comb it out and spin it into yarn or hand roll it into rope. Along the bottom is an example of the finished product, a small portion of a fishing net attached to the special tool required to make the nets with.
Most children are visual learners. Having this looking table was a great way to demonstrate to the children the process thus far that had happened in processing the nettle, what would happen to it after we’d scuffed it and what the fishing net would look like when it was all finished. They were able to gently touch each of the items to get a kinesthetic feel for it all too. Prior to scuffing, the nettle fiber was tough and scratchy. After it was scuffed, it was much softer. Offering the children a sensory opportunity to experience this process helped to deepen the understanding of what we were doing.
After we’d looked at what we were doing, we began! We set up a small area for the children to work in one at a time. We spoke to them about how to use a rubber mallet safely and they listened intently. The children really rose to the challenge and took great care in using the mallets as it’s not something they would normally get to do. Some children gently tapped the nettle while others didn’t hold back. They were also very respectful of offering everyone turns too which was heart warming to witness.
We did this activity for a week with our wee ones to ensure that every child had the chance to experience scuffing the nettle fiber. When a child was doing it for the second time, we took the opportunity to ask them what to do next in our process. This gave them a chance to refresh their knowledge and assist in teaching their peers which helps to build better relationships and offer them self confidence.
From the looks on their faces, the children all felt very proud after their turns of pounding the nettle. They were doing big work and doing it well. They also helped each other out when they needed it. All of this leads to building a strong team of friends who take care of each other when they’re at school.
While we barely ‘scuffed’ the surface of what really needed to be done, the process of doing it was what was most important. And we loved every minute of it.