Last November, I wrote the letter that follows to Chilliwack’s Mayor and Councillors, in large part to protest the city’s use of glyphosate for control of weeds downtown. I also suggested a healthy alternative. Mayor Ken Popove’s thanks, but no thanks letter back to me is also below.
A bit oracularly I’d written:
Even if in the future it turns out that glyphosate is somehow proven to be in no way harmful to humans, however, its use for cosmetic purposes in downtown Chilliwack will very likely become a public issue before that happens.
I just saw in The Chilliwack Progress that glyphosate has become that public issue:
Way to go Natalie Forstbauer!
Happy BC Day!
Gerry & Caroline
November 17, 2018
His Worship Ken Popove
Mayor of Chilliwack
and City Councillors
8550 Young Road
Chilliwack, BC V2P 8A4
By Email and Canada Post
Dear Mayor Popove and Councillors:
For the past twelve years, my wife Caroline Letkeman and I have been living on the edge of downtown Chilliwack at Yale and Williams, fairly well known as the city’s “sorry corner.” Throughout the past eleven years, I have been cleaning sections of the downtown sidewalks, gutters and planters. I have only been dedicating a couple of hours on average per day to this task, because I have a different career and necessarily higher priorities than cleaning even the dirtiest of streets. I try to be on the street job each day around six a.m. and be done whatever I’m going to do before the downtown store or office people arrive.
The remainder of my work day, like right now for example, I devote to writing and research. In 2016, I wrote Mayor Sharon Gaetz and the then Councillors requesting — unsuccessfully so far — that the city pave a short, unpaved, potholed, but heavily-trafficked piece of alleyway from Rowat Avenue to Shandhar Hut Restaurant. Mayor Gaetz wrote back, so there must be a file. I was born in Chilliwack, went to Chilliwack Elementary, Junior High and Senior High, have been a resident for some years, use the address below around the world, and have my own websites with a bunch of biographical material, so there are all kinds of records of who and what I am.
In the process of cleaning sections of downtown Chilliwack’s streets over considerable time, through all the seasons, every kind of weather, different city governments and work crews, and from interactions with residents and visitors, I have observed a number of things and formed a few perhaps helpful ideas, some of which I will pass on to the Council in the near future. As everyone knows, there have been many discussions, plans and efforts over many years to beautify and revitalize Chilliwack’s downtown. My ideas dovetail with this purpose.
I have also taken a slew of photos of downtown conditions and curiosities to document my observations and efforts. Some of these things I will include in a book I’m assembling about my Chilliwack street cleaning experiences, which I have given the working title Wack Job. Right now I am writing you about a life or death matter. Death is represented by the glyphosates the city uses to kill vegetation — for supposedly cosmetic purposes. Life is represented by the common clover plant.
My crusade for cleaner streets and a cleaner planet started in earnest with picking up trash when I was out running in the Berkeley-Oakland hills in California in the 1980’s. I created a group concept, Runners Against Trash (RAT), and in 1995 Runner’s World gave me their “Golden Shoe Award.” http://www.gerryarmstrong.org/50grand/media/rat/runners-world-1995-02.html
I’ve picked up a lot of trash in a lot of places, and kept some miles on roads and trails litter-free for some time. I’ve done some “rat runs” with other rats, but mainly I have done it alone, with gloves and a ratbag. For people who are not runners, there is Citizens Against Trash (CAT). Our motto: “You can join for free and keep everything you can carry.” I have had a book full of offal adventures, and talked trash wherever I’ve sojourned, but only a few points from the Chilliwack period are relevant right now.
In early 2007, after a couple of years of relative isolation, I started picking up litter around Wayside Plaza, the strip mall where Caroline and I live. At the east end of the plaza was, and still is, a Subway. At the west end was, and still is, Plaza Liquor Store. North across Yale was, and is, even closer now, a 7-Eleven, and a little east of that is a Tim Hortons. I’m sure all of you are familiar with these fast-litter outlets, and know first-hand that just beyond Timmies are Chilliwack Middle and Secondary Schools. So the litter was, and still is, profound.
After I had the plaza’s surface litter taken care of, I started scraping and sweeping up the months or years of dirt and weeds that had built up along curbs, around parking stops and street poles, in sidewalk cracks, etc. I used a push broom I borrowed from my brother, and thought it was a good upper body workout that would help my trail running. It did; I won the 60+ age group that year in North Vancouver’s Grouse Grind Race.
After a few hours of pushing broom over some days, and the plaza parking lot and surrounding sidewalks never looking so spiffy, my landlord Alex Marks, who is a fellow mountain trail runner, caught me at work and offered to pay me to keep doing what I was doing. That developed into a daily routine where I get up early and pick up trash and sweep sections of Chilliwack’s sidewalks and streets for a couple of hours or so. My main human encounters are with the downtown’s canners, hookers, addicts scavenging for butts, the recently arrived host of homeless folks, and the odd early exerciser. I try to be home before kids are walking to school and stores and offices start opening, and before I have to do other things.
Alex and his associates own several properties along a half-mile or so stretch through downtown Chilliwack, between Wayside Plaza and the Royal Hotel, and down Mill Street to Victoria Avenue, and I pick up litter from these properties’ entranceways, sidewalks and gutters, and keep the deeper filth and weeds from settling in too comfortably. Obviously, much of what I do for Alex & Co. is technically the city’s responsibility. Because I’m often on foot between these properties, I also work as reasonable to pick up trash and sweep up the detritus along the way. Chilliwack’s downtown magnolias drop an unending ton of organic material, and so do other trees. Sand and dirt accumulate from the Fraser and farm land, and road and air hydrocarbons add grime. And oh the cigarette butts!
My tools are the lowest of tech: work gloves, a table knife, a bucket, a broom and a dustpan. I have a rake and pruners for dealing with planter issues, but generally just take care of basic delittering, and sweep when called for. Key to all of this is access to dumpsters, which Alex & Co. supply. They also have supplied me with gloves and brooms, all of which I admittedly wear out.
At first, there was no one dealing with the nasty masses of crud and growth that built up in curb corners the city’s street sweeper machine never reached. The gravel on the sidewalks after the winter road sanding and snow plowing mess wasn’t being swept up, and you had to feel for the folks pulling grocery carts or pushing walkers, of which the city has a whack. There appears to be no street parking plan or operation to facilitate machine sweeping, and there are increasing downtown stretches these days where cars park at all hours and the sweeper must bypass. Those areas have to be cleaned by hand, so please take a look at the gutters and drains in front of the Royal, where the machine sweeper hasn’t reached for ages.
There was, and is, famous Downtown Chilliwack Business Improvement Association employee Harold Zinke, who picked up sidewalk litter, and now there is also Sarena Myers, and they use somewhat more high tech litter grabbers. But there was a missing function, so I worked as I could a couple of hours a day to make the town a bit cleaner and a little more pleasant to be in. I call what I do “urban detailing,” and it is the best I can do without power equipment.
Mayor Popove has known for several years what I have been doing downtown, because I made a special effort to clean areas used by the annual Classic Car Show, which, until recently, he organized. The gutters become the showroom for these beautiful cars and clean areas make the experience nicer for the owners and the thousands of spectators. I also have made an effort to clean the downtown street locations film crews were setting up in, and to pick up any shoot litter after they leave.
About two years ago, Amber Price, owner of The Bookman on Wellington, who had seen me working around town, reached out and hired me to clean up in front of the bookstore, and thereafter to keep the front and back areas looking as nice as reasonable. There had been an ice storm that winter and quite heavy snow, and the city’s planters were little jungles of broken branches, crushed bushes and winter road debris. The downtown star magnolias have very brittle branches that break in any decent wind and need to be picked up afterward. City work crews, in my observation, tackle the downtown detritus more regularly and conscientiously than when I started dealing with it, and I am grateful for that. But there still is, I believe, a missing more daily function, between what the BIA does and the Operations Department does.
Every year, and multiple times, the city sprays the weeds that grow in sidewalk cracks, in the little spots of soil around power poles, and in many different locations downtown. The persons doing the spraying have told me at different times that they were using Touchdown Total and Roundup, both of which are the common herbicide “glyphosate.” For some years, there have been concerns around the world about the health and ecological risks of glyphosate, and there have been studies and legal cases linking its use to cancer and other serious health problems. See, e.g., https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45155788
The World Health Organization published a report concluding that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate has been implicated in the precipitous kill off of bees. https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/glyphosate-linked-to-bee-deaths
And its wide use has proliferated glyphosate-resistant weeds. https://www.pioneer.com/home/site/us/agronomy/weed-mgmt-and-glyphosate-resis/
Certainly the agrochemical industry has pushed back against these concerns and warnings, and richly defended glyphosate use. Even if in the future it turns out that glyphosate is somehow proven to be in no way harmful to humans, however, its use for cosmetic purposes in downtown Chilliwack will very likely become a public issue before that happens. Moreover, even if glyphosate is ultimately shown to be totally harmless to humans, bees and life forms in between, its use in downtown Chilliwack does not for an instant achieve its users’ purposes. It does not beautify or revitalize the downtown. And it risks so much, including unnecessary bad public relations.
Although the evidence of glyphosate’s health risks is largely invisible, or discernible only with scientific technology, other problems with the city’s procedure are very visible. It leaves dead weeds, which catch more litter and detritus to create a junky appearance. Dead weeds also create a greater fire hazard than live weeds or no weeds. For me, the brown weeds create the feel of a dead zone, a place in which people would instinctually be uncomfortable. Dead zones are not places for visiting, shopping, taking children to and having a good time, as the city executives and planners hope. It could be that dead plants in the middle of the growing season communicate a subliminal message of danger or poison to humans.
Other cities in BC, I believe, have stopped cosmetic weed spraying, and I have read that other provinces, e.g., Ontario, have banned glyphosate for cosmetic purposes province-wide. Its continued use will then very likely cause people to avoid downtown Chilliwack, rather than attract people, which is what the spraying is now supposed to accomplish. Moreover, I believe that cosmetic spraying is not needed at all, because weeding can be accomplished the way it was before herbicides were invented – by hand or knife and fork. Please also see: https://www.care2.com/greenliving/12-ways-to-get-rid-of-aggressive-weeds-without-resorting-to-roundup.html
On the positive side of growing things, rather than killing them, please consider clover. Because of the horticultural component in this idea, I wrote Brian Minter much of this some time ago, and he provided an important insight. The city’s horticulturalists should feel free to critique my facts or add their own insights.
Clover has been in my life as long as I can remember, which is the early 1950’s here in the Wack. It started with 4-leaf clovers, certainly, probably the realization of how lucky they are. Even as a child, I found a lot of them. But to find a 4, you have to look over numberless 3-leafers. I read somewhere that the ratio is in the realm of 1 per 10,000. That’s infinitesimal, or looked at from the other direction, astronomical; so I’ve looked over and loved a ton of clover – leaves, clumps, patches and fields.
Pretty well all the clovers I’ve ever plucked have been 4-or-more leafers. By mistake, I’ve definitely pulled out some 3’s. I’ve uprooted or destroyed whole clumps of 3’s as weeds, because clover-as-weeds weren’t wanted where they were growing. And I’ve mowed them down in the millions in lawns. But I’ve only ever looked for 4’s, either for plucking, or just for the search. It’s all the 3’s, of course, not the few 4’s, that make clover as nitrogen-enriching as it is to earth, as beautiful as it is to us humans, and as bountiful as it is to the bees. The 3’s also provide the background, foreground and playground for the 4’s, and so forth.
In my life, I’ve found thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of 4’s, hundreds of 5’s, dozens of 6’s, three 7’s and three 8’s. (When I wrote Brian Minter, I had only found two 7’s and two 8’s.) The last of the 8’s was in Chilliwack just this past summer. I’ve found 4’s or more in three Canadian provinces, five US states and nine European countries. I found a 4 in October 2014 on Sakhalin Island, Russia, right across the Pacific Ocean from us, and I found a 4 at the end of September last year in Salekhard, which is right on the Arctic Circle.
Although I’ve found 4-leaf clovers across the planet, I have always considered since my childhood that Chilliwack is the 4-Leaf Clover Capital of the Universe. Some people say it’s the Corn Capital, and it might be because there are tons of it here. But I think, aw shucks, if it is, Chilliwack is also the 4-Leaf Clover Capital.
It might seem that I’ve frittered away a lifetime looking over clover clumps, but I’m fairly fast at it, and at this late point I don’t feel that I’ve wasted even a minute. There are things, I think, which are not as good to spend time looking over than clover. Borrowing from Robert Frost, one could do worse than be a lover of clover.
In the spring in 2015, I bought some Dutch White Clover seed at Minter Country Garden and sowed and grew probably a half pound in some gravelly and otherwise weedy or barren spots around where Caroline and I live. We followed instructions, obviously hit good growing conditions, transcending our impoverished soil, and the clover flourished and prospered. These little clover patches produced everything I imagined: lush, deep green, long-stemmed, large-leafed beauties, and also lush, petite-leafed, shorter stemmed cuties. Through the year, I plucked about two hundred fifty 4’s, plus six 5’s and three 6’s, and these unassisted patches have continued to produce luckily to this day.
Almost all of the 4’s or more I pluck, I give away; so I try to have or find a water container for delivery and presentation to the lucky, and usually delighted, recipients. People seem to like them. The clovers last ten days or so, closing up at night or in the dark, and opening up in the light, like a flower. Some even root in a glass or a vase and will last for several weeks.
Parts of the clover patches I watered a bit during the long dry spells of their first summer. Some parts dried up, and some parts did well without watering. The patches sort of circled the clover wagons and withdrew toward the center or split up into clumps, which remained verdant. After any rain, they seemed to grow like crazy. Then their flourishing days were behind them, like right now, and they got ready for winter. They survive Chilliwack winters well, and I’ve found live and upright 4’s on cold Christmas and New Years Days. Along with this letter, I am delivering to the Mayor’s Office at City Hall a very splendid 4-leaf clover I found just today, November 17.
As you know, Chilliwack’s coat of arms and flag contain an emblemization of the city epithet, “The Green Heart of British Columbia.”
The “green heart” in the emblem is formed by 4 green hearts, which also form a 4-leaf clover. A 4-leaf clover is also the 4-H logo, and Chilliwack has had a very long and strong relationship with the 4-H program.
My idea is, instead of spraying weeds and creating a dead zone, to seed some of those downtown weed spots with clover, and encourage its growth and greenness. The clover spots would still have to be weeded, but that is not difficult, and clover cover actually assists in controlling weeds. There might be a few days through a long dry summer when the clover clumps could use some watering, but that would not add much work because city crews already regularly water the downtown’s lovely hanging flower baskets.
Seeding clover around the downtown would certainly make it greener and feel more alive. A public relations campaign to announce that the Wack is cosmetic spraying-free, bee-friendly, and going greener than ever, it seems to me, would find no opposition, and could also be fun. Chilliwack could become known not only as the green heart of BC, but the 4-leaf clover capital of the universe ™. Cloverdale lost much of its claim to any such title or status when it was amalgamated into Surrey, so the Wack has no real competition.
The single, repeated complaint against clover as a weed is that it attracts bees. It seems to me, however, that this would not be a problem with little clumps or lines of clover around the downtown that would tend to get walked over. And giving bees some clover nectar and love might be a good thing in our planetary relationship with them right now. And they would pollinate our unsprayed clover plants to seed themselves.
I also have a vision of a “clover maze” on a plot of vacant city land downtown. Pathways of micro clover can be grown and mowed through strips of unmowed Dutch White. Children and responsible adults can walk on the lawn-like paths of microclover and search for 4-or-more leafers in the adjacent taller, larger clover. https://vancouversun.com/homes/gardening/brian-minter-make-your-lawn-more-eco-friendly-with-micro-clover
The “maze” could be planted and sculpted into the shape of a lot-sized clover, or any other shape some clever clover maze designer could come up with. That it’s a maze is funny, of course, because of how difficult it is for anyone but a pre-toddler to get lost in a field of clover. It could be fun. It could create video, media and PR opportunities. It evidences the city’s new ecologically-healthy direction. And it could not but attract people downtown.
Here is a simple design for an 80’ by 80’ lot:
(Light green is mowed microclover. Dark green is unmowed Dutch White clover. Dark stripes are 4’ wide.)
I see on Chilliwack’s site, Mr. Mayor, that you are up for meeting with your constituents to discuss community issues, so please consider this such a request for such a meeting.
I wish you great success as mayor, and great success for all the councillors, and for Chilliwack.
2-46298 Yale Road
Chilliwack, BC V2P 2P6
Sent: December 5, 2018 3:55 PM
Subject: RE: Downtown beautification and revitalization
Thank you for taking the time to send this email and for the four leaf clover you dropped off at my office. It sounds like you have a passion for gardening and I appreciate that.
When it comes to litter and sweeping streets, the City spends a considerable amount of resources and these duties have become more time consuming with the increased homeless population downtown and throughout the community. The City spends more than $200,000.00 annually on litter cleanup and homeless cleanup and another $400,000.00 on street and bike lane sweeping.
The City of Chilliwack Highway and Traffic Bylaw No.3023 – Section 21 does state that every owner or occupier adjacent to a boulevard, sidewalk or public footpath on a highway shall:
- Remove all snow and ice from the sidewalk or footpath as soon as practicable following a snowfall, icefall or frost within a reasonable time of its deposit, but in any case no later than noon on the day following its deposit; and
- Keep it clear of all litter, rubbish, debris and unsightly or overgrown vegetation.
Despite the previous bylaw provision, the City puts forth great effort, both in practice and reaction to litter and abandoned materials. The City actively conducts weed control throughout the community; the majority of this task is done mechanically (weed wacking) and approximately 25% of this task is done with the use of non-selective herbicide (glyphosate). The purpose is to control weed growth in expansion and control joints in sidewalks, curbs, gutters and around tree wells. Herbicide is used in urban standard areas where mechanical, steam or high pressure water methods pose a risk to injury of public or damage to private property.
The use of herbicides is controlled by the province and the City uses best management practices in the storage and application of all herbicides and reports the volume of product used and the square area treated on an annual basis. The Operations Department does not use herbicides within the groundwater protection zone over the Sardis/Vedder Aquifer. The Operations Director, Glen MacPherson, reports that all of the City’s greened areas are either natural turf (grass) or planted beds with bark mulch ground cover. There is plenty of clover in our turf areas as we do not use selective herbicides to prevent clover or broadleaf weeds from occurring in our grass. Our policy is “the best treatment of weeds is healthy grass” and we do this with good turf management practices such as automated irrigation and fertilization.
Gerry, your efforts are certainly appreciated in clearing and weeding. I hope you get enjoyment from it. You may not be aware that our downtown landscape will be changing soon with the Algra Bros redeveloping a big block which should bring about positive changes. If you have any questions specific to the items noted in this email, please feel free to contact Glen MacPherson at macphersonatchilliwack.com or 604.793.2810.
City of Chilliwack
8550 Young Road
Canada V2P 8A4