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Gaia College is supporting SOUL (Society for Organic Urban Land Care) in preparing an application to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) for an addition to the National Occupation Classification (NOC) to recognize organic gardeners, horticulturalists, and landscapers. You can learn more about the NOC here. This information is used by the Government of Canada as well as current and future employers to reflect the ongoing occupational research to incorporate information on new occupations. This application will be a description of the unique work, skills and education for people working in the organic land care sector.

To help us out, please complete our short survey on your professional background, education and experience before midnight (local time) Sunday, November 19. You can find the survey here.

Interview with Christina Nikolic

Christina Nikolic says she knew pulling up roots in Europe and transplanting to the New World would change her life, but she couldn't know just how profound that change would be. “I had no idea just how important and radical this move would prove to be, or on how many levels.”

Arriving at Calgary International, a Landscape Architecture Diploma from Osnabrück's University for Applied Sciences under her arm, she looked forward to a new life in a new country on the verge of a new century. The self-proclaimed "green sheep” of her family first found employment with a local garden centre, and after becoming a "Master Composter/Waste Advisor" with Clean Calgary in 2000, led adult education courses in composting and environmental stewardship.

Although ecology classes had been an available option while at school, they were not a core element of her German studies. The focus had always been based on conventional methods. Reflecting on her schooling in Germany she says, “What's "conventional" or traditional anyway? Before the so called Green Revolution with its synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, itself a very recent development, all agriculture and horticulture was organic; but because natural systems weren't fully understood, those methods weren't always sustainable or successful.”

Relocating to the West Coast in '03, Christina looked for similar employment with an environmental focus, but funding to non-profits had been cut and those kinds of jobs were rare. Still, life in the tourist mecca of Victoria provided a welcome occupational detour working with the city's iconic horse-drawn carriages. Between tours of James Bay and the parks, she used this time to found Stewardship Natural Landscape Design, which operated successfully for eight years.

But it was a chance e-mail from Janine Bandcroft's Left Coast Newsletter that led her to SOUL. And that's when the paradigm truly began to shift. In 2004, Christina joined the Society for Organic Urban Land Care and connected with the people behind Gaia College. She studied with Heide Hermary and became a Certified Organic Land Care Professional. She also joined the SOUL Board of Directors, and has convened with them from 2005 to present in a nearly constant commitment.

Christina says she discovered affirmation of her earlier doubts through SOUL and the teachings of Gaia College founder, Heide Hermary. Hermary was, with husband Michael, pioneering a new understanding of working with and in nature. "I found answers to my nagging questions by learning to look at often-maligned pests, diseases, and weeds from a new angle. The college introduced me to the modern scientific and practical foundation of organic land management. This made me realize the multitude of connections between soil ecology, nutrient balancing, and plant health. Now there's no turning back."

For Christina, Gaia’s lessons were learnt so well she went on to become Heide's protege, illustrating her two books, 'Working with Nature' and 'The Essence of Organic Gardening'. 2005 saw Christina joining the college as an instructor. She's now either teaching, or co-teaching the Ecological Landscape Design, Organic Master Gardener, and Plant Knowledge courses.

When Christina discovered motorcycles and got her license in 2009, she says, "it was something to push the comfort zone, training to be aware and alert. In a way this is similar to committing to being organic. It quite possibly influenced both my personal and professional life."

Case in point: Her 2010 purchase of online retail business, The Organic Gardener's Pantry from friend and colleague Phil Nauta. 'The Pantry' sells organic fertilizers, soil amendments, and microbial inoculants to organic gardeners, landscapers and farmers. "It's been a steep learning curve, and more comfort zone pushing,” she says. “But it's a successful endeavour with steady growth, now in its eighth year."

Christina regularly appears as a speaker at trade shows, in the media, and at garden clubs, spreading the organic word. She's also offering part time gardening services, feeling the need to keep in touch with the earth.

And what's next?

"Without a doubt I will continue learning and teaching for Gaia, honouring Heide's legacy who set me on this course; perhaps translate some of the teachings and bring them to Europe some day. At the same time, I'd like to keep growing my organic fertilizer business. In the long run, I envision a world where organic land care is the industry standard. And, hopefully, I will always have gardens to play in."

This article was originally published by Pacific Free Press.

Despite traveling half-way around the World to find it, Victoria was a homecoming of sorts for South Africa native, Elmarie Roberts. The educator and organic gardener arrived in Canada with her young family in 1994, settling first in Vancouver.

It didn't take long for the Roberts' to look further west, and to starting a new life on Vancouver Island.

Elmarie's journey into organic farming was a roundabout one too. Before getting her hands back in the dirt, she taught ESL classes, operated an Aromatherapy studio, and worked with the charitable, St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Her career however began to go in another direction when taking an Organic Farming as a Business course at Victoria's Camosun College led to the Haliburton Community Organic Farm and the creation of her Sunbird Farm. It also led some years later to Gaia College, where she both earned Growing Food and Organic Master Gardener certificates, and employed her teaching instincts becoming an instructor for Gaia's Growing Food in the City course.

"It's a good thing," she says, the teacherly tone of her lightly accented Afrikaans coming across over the telephone line.

"You can feel it in your bones, when one is out there working with your hands in the soil."

And it's a coming of full circle in a way, going back to her beginnings of growing up close to the land.

"My dad was in the parks department of the local municipality," she tells me, her voice casting back over the years to her childhood in South Africa.

"I loved hanging out in the greenhouse with him, and discovering what was under the pots," she says, reminiscing about,

"...those early, formative years, when you remember happy things, like the warmth and the smell of a greenhouse...and plants just growing beautifully everywhere."

Elmarie has since passed her Sunbird Farm plot along to new farmers, and while she still keeps her fingers in the earth maintaining a demonstration plot growing herbs, flowers and seed, she's concentrating primarily on passing along knowledge gleaned at Gaia College, and her eleven years running her hands through the soil at Haliburton, to a new generation of organic farming students; imparting to them both the practical lessons of organic gardening learned, and more vitally the spiritual connection between farm and farmer.

Elmarie Roberts currently teaches Gaia College's Food in the City course, and is an instructor too at Haliburton Community Organic Farm's newly initiated EcoFarm School. She reminds, farming is also about community and, "...sharing something sustainable, something healthy, and something that makes us happy."

The full interview can be found here.