AN INTERVIEW WITH SARIKA IGLOI
Sarika Igloi, staff member & eastside faerie gardener coordinator, is interviewed by staff member, Whitney Bard
Whitney Bard (WB): How long have you worked at the Co-op and what positions do you hold?
Sarika Igloi (SI): I’ve worked as a staff member for a decade and was a working member while I was in college. I work a variety of positions, but you’ll often see me up front cashiering and seeing to the needs of our membership. I also work in the Deli, Wellness and Produce departments, and on the Facilities Team, helping keep the physical space of the stores in working order, and I teach garden oriented classes.
WB: How long have you been a gardener?
SI: I’ve been gardening my whole life. I learned gardening from my grandmother, Maria, who was from Czechoslovakia and was really affected by WWII. She was able to find sanctuary in the peace of the garden and it was through plants that she and I found a connection. My first job was doing yard maintenance for neighbors to earn enough money to buy a leather jacket I’d seen in the window of a pawn shop. In all the different professions I have enjoyed, I have always incorporated plants and gardening … I feel really driven to cultivate and share that relationship to the natural world with my community.
WB: Tell us about your involvement in the gardening at the eastside.
SI: The Co-op moved into the eastside location 1994 and had hired my company at the time, Green Gaia Landscaping, to complete the installation of the landscaping in exchange for working member cred¬its. In 1997, I was hired as a staff member and continued working on the project.
WB: It’s called the faerie gardener project, what does that mean? Who is a faerie gardener?
SI: Faerie gardeners are people who are interested in land and water conservation, for the future of wildflowers, pollinators – we are committed to preserving spaces that maintain healthy ecosystems. We are a very diverse group, we have people of all ages and abilities, including citizen scientists, local arborists and gardeners, students, people of color, queers, women, men … all of whom participate in keeping our Co-op safe and accessible to all. We also receive help from time to time from AmeriCorps students. We were inspired by the Highlander Research and Education Center and the Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tennessee and the work they do around restorative justice, community building and FUN! Basically, anyone can be a faerie gardener; everyone is welcome!
WB: Where did the idea come from?
SI: We were encouraged by members and staff who requested a bird and butterfly garden. As humans taking up space on the planet, it is really important to be stewards of the land and care for pollinators by nurturing the native plants they love to visit. We wanted to dedicate space to growing these native species of plants, and there was a lot of excitement from working members to participate; it’s a really nice opportunity to include different abilities in our community because folks can donate any amount of time they have to weeding, building, developing systems like water filtration and mycoremediation, and they can even also donate materials such as bird feeders, paint, untreated lumber, and native plants.
WB: What is a memory from the early days of the project?
SI: I have a vivid memory of learning the power of cooperative projects and community building after Alejandro (another staff member) and I visited to the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. We attended skill share workshops where folks had been in New Orleans after Katrina and were telling stories of bioremediation, which is using plants, such as sunflowers and grasses, to clean toxins and waste products from the soil. I remember understanding really profoundly how important people volunteering their time to tend the land in this way is. We were reading this really great book, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living and I was inspired to collaborate with the working members on a project of mycoremediation along the gutter of the main garden between Pacific and the Co-op’s building. Following the natural lay line of the storm water drainage system, we lay down mushroom teabags – burlap sacks filled with mushroom mycelium, coffee chaff and wood chips – and during high periods of rain the mycelium is active and denatures gasoline which means the large, toxic molecule is broken into smaller hydrogen bonds which the mycelium consumes and renders inert, thereby cleansing the land. I have had samples of our water tested throughout the years and it shows that this system is effectively cleaning the water of petrochemicals.
WB: How are working members involved?
SI: The Co-op is a really special place; the members have ownership and are able to become involved to contribute their labor in a variety of ways to help the Co-op run, from stocking produce to cashiering. Not to mention, since I volunteered my time before being hired, basically the whole reason I am working at the Co-op is the working member program! The working member program is a really wonderful way to become engaged in our community, I encourage anyone who wants to be involved to jump in! I’ve been blessed to have worked with some really talented people in the faerie gardener project over the years … without their help, the garden wouldn’t keep growing. I really want to honor them, they work so hard and I appreciate them so much. We have a lot of fun, every year we do seed swaps to share hybrids we have created which are most apt to succeed in our region.
WB: Tell us about a memory of a project or skill that a working member brought to the garden
SI: Last summer, we fed our beautiful Golden Rain crabapple trees Bokashi compost, a process we were taught by Aida and Amina Namukasa, a really cool mother daughter team of working mem¬bers. Aida is an amazing horticulturist, teacher, writer and friend. From her we learned the Bokashi process of sealing compost in a bucket with layers of a specific blend of high fermentation rate microorganisms. It feels really cool to participate in the full cycle: we use compost produced by our Deli and about 45 days after sealing the bucket, we have super nutritious compost to feed the plants around the store!
WB: How has the program grown since its inception? How has the land changed?
SI: We’ve really come a long way. Twenty years ago, when I was working on it through my landscaping business, I had no idea one day I would be in charge of facilitating this ambitious project. When we first started, it was a raw canvas. Each season we have continued to build on a cohesive design. In collaboration with my coworkers on the Facilities Team we have been able to realize our dreams of a tended space which cleanses the land and is filled with an abundance of thriving native plants which attract important pollinators and creates an opportunity for community building and skill sharing amongst working members who are able to trade their precious time for dis¬counts at the store. We are proud to say that we are now certified through the Audubon Society, using the guidelines of the National Wildlife Federation, as a Wildlife Habitat and as an official bird and butterfly garden.
WB: Why is it important for our business to be stewards of the land on which our store is located?
SI: In our abundant ecosystem in the pacific northwest, it is very easy for opportunistic invasive species such blackberry, morning glory, etc., to overpower the native species which live in balance with one another. Human beings are responsible for so much environmental destruction – by introducing invasive plants, polluting toxic chemicals, and viewing the land as a vessel from which to extract resources. At the Co-op, we’re going to be taking up some space on what¬ever land our store is located on, and as long as we’re here we want to be healing the land and encouraging the growth of native plants. We’re the only company that I know of in the country that has taken the responsibility of creating a storm water filtration system through mycoremediation. Having an edible landscape with native flora gives people a place to come and enjoy a delicious lunch from our Deli and enjoy the herbs and wildflowers which are native to our region.
WB: Does having access to the garden center help the work?
SI: Yes, absolutely! We have a high acid soil in the pacific northwest, so we use some of the wonderful soil amendments from Black Lake Organics. They add volcanic ash, clays, and kelo, which the plants just love. The Bokashi compost starter is also available right in the garden center. Many of the plants now growing around the store or in the garden come from starts and seeds sold in the garden center. Being in such close proximity to the garden center, we get to test out all the cool new tools and plants.
WB: Are there any other goals or dreams for the future of the faerie gardener program?
SI: We’re excited to develop the wheelchair accessibility ramp so that folks can wheel into the garden from the walkway. We’re putting in a humming bird feeder and some kestrel boxes this season, and we’re hoping for a birdbath as well.
WB: Anything else you want to let our Co-op community know about the faerie gardener program?
SI: I want to say thanks to my coworkers Ami, for all of her collaboration with the Board so that we meet the needs and values of the Co-op. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be able to work with my community to integrate art and science into our everyday lives. I have met so many wonderful people and learned so much from them over the years so I just want to take this space to say thank you! I am so grateful to nature and its guidance, and to my family: my Mom and Dad for being volunteer rangers and taking me out on hikes, Grand¬ma and Grandpa for their love for wildlife habitat and teaching me to garden, and my sister and brother for all the encouragement to study local flora and fauna. I am thankful to my partner, Jonsey, for her delight in nature and marine sciences, and for my friends who are naturalists and arborists: Jan and Eli, Flaco, Crieghton, Jenny, Paris, Billy, Kari, and Ava with all her tremendous dedication to teaching mycoremediation skills. Thanks to my coworkers, Ben and Ale for supporting water justice, Laura, Jackson for his encouragement to formally teach classes at the Co-op, and my facilities crew (especially Gary) for tending to the critters on our land and having such dedication to our Co-op stores staying safe and welcoming. And finally, I want to thank all the volunteers at the Co-op over the years – just a few of the friends and families who inspire me, thank you!
WB: Finally, what is your favorite flower?
SI: That would have to be red flowering currant! I love the scent, it’s earthy and sappy and attracts hummingbirds, which are one of my very favorite birds. I also love dogwoods, it’s hard to choose! Wait, actually huckleberry is probably my number one favorite. It’s impos¬sible to choose, I love them all!
By Whitney Bard, staff member