Toxic Realities & Radical Remedies

A Grassroots Bioremediation 3 Month Intensive

This 3 month hands-on urban grassroots bioremediation intensive course will explore and experiment with a diversity of community bioremediation tools in the hopes of creating healthier places for harvesting food and wild medicine, cultivating environmental justice, healing the commons, and building skills locally for ecological detox, resilience, regeneration, and rewilding in the urban jungles of East Vancouver on the Unceded Territories of the Coast Salish Peoples.

As a result of the culture of colonialism and capitalism, the Earth is suffering, its life-support systems are under severe strain, and we have inherited a toxic legacy that keeps growing with every new development or disaster. Finding safe places in the city to grow healthy food and medicine is becoming increasingly difficult. Resource extraction, aging infrastructure, climate chaos and extreme energy is leading to countless environmental disasters.

Indigenous communities, people of colour and low income neighbourhoods are all too often sites targeted for heavy industry, military bases, waste dumps and higher levels of pollution. People in these communities are likely to suffer more health and environmental impacts than their affluent, predominantly white neighbours. When it comes to recovering from environmental disasters and industrial accidents, these communities often receive little notification, support or effective cleanup, if any at all.  At the heart of this course is the fierce need to support environmental justice struggles, decolonization, and step up in our shared responsibilities to care for and heal the lands and waters that sustain us.


Many of us have yet to see the work of grassroots bioremediation in our communities. Maybe we’ve heard stories or been to a workshop where we’ve learned that certain mushrooms can clean up oil spills and some plants can suck up heavy metals. But when faced with contaminated places or environmental disasters, we often have no idea how to translate the myths and promises of regenerative solutions into living realities. These are skills that we all need given the world that we live in and the many toxic legacies we’ve inherited.  Though we don’t have all the answers, we hope that in learning more about how to practically apply grassroots bioremediation we can move beyond simply talking about what is possible and into physically practicing it and meaningfully connecting it to the lands and waters we call home.

This fun, fierce , practical, and engaging course will provide grassroots bioremediation skills to youth and passionate community members of all ages who are interested in working with the land, growing and gathering healthy food and medicine, and getting involved in the healing and regeneration of damaged and contaminated sites in their communities. We’ll work with many different tools and living allies to help facilitate detoxifying and rebuilding degraded urban soils and filtering pollution in our waterways. We’ll learn the basics of oil spills and look at ways we can support the Earth and our communities in recovering in their aftermath, as well as from other environmental disasters.


What is Bioremediation?

Bioremediation is the science, art, and magic of working with living systems and biological allies such as bacteria, mushrooms and plants to regenerate the health of contaminated lands and waters. Its study can offer valuable tools and techniques for community members wanting to proactively address the legacy of environmental pollution which we’ve inherited from our industrial civilization.

Grassroots bioremediation is a sustainable remediation practice where many techniques can be learned at a community level at low-cost with a focus on working with biological interventions to deal with the contamination at the source, instead of hiding it or moving it elsewhere. There are different techniques used in bioremediation:

  • Microbial remediation: using microorganisms to breakdown and bind contaminants.
  • Phytoremediation: using plants to extract, bind, and transform contaminants.
  • Mycoremediation: working with fungi to clean up contaminated soil and water.[/colored_box]

The Course

Where: Purple Thistle Centre,  975 Vernon Dr, Unceded Coast Salish Territories (Vancouver, BC)

When: January 16th-March 20th.

Thursdays evenings from 7pm-9pm, and several weekend day long work parties or lab skills (Feb 1-2nd, March 1, March 15th).

Course Structure: 

A total of 14 classes will be offered,  with 10 weeknight classroom sessions and 3  weekend day long work parties, field trips, or hands-on intensives. Our living lab and work parties will take place at the Purple Thistle Food Forest, gardens, and other neighbourhood sites (to be determined!). By starting this class in winter, we’ll get a lot of theory, scheming and dreaming under our belts just in time to put our new skills into action come spring and summer.

Students will be encouraged to undertake independent study projects that they will present at the end of the 3 month course. Independent projects can include (but aren’t restricted to):

  • Designing a grassroots bioremediation experiment
  • Designing their own grassroots remediation project for a community site or personal site.
  • Making their own zine, audio or video for frontline communities on topics such as grassroots bioremediation, oil spill 101, environmental health issues, common contaminants, plant and mushroom remedies for detox and community care, etc.

Interested students will also be connected with a community  mentor so that when they leave the course, they can deepen their grassroots bioremediation studies and practice in an area of their choosing.


Course Topics (tentative and subject to change):
  • Grassroots Bioremediation 101 + Environmental Justice and Decolonization intro
  • Uncovering and Mapping the ecology of ruin, broken landscapes, and hidden stories of Vancouver
  • Contaminants 101 (heavy metals and chemicals)
  • Soil Testing
  • Site Assessment/Reading the Land.
  • Radical Mycology
  • Grassroots Mushroom Cultivation Intensive
  • Mycoremediation Installations (mycoswales, mycofilters/bunker spawn, in-vessel remediation, spore slurries, etc)
  • Microbial Remediation
  • Thermophyllic Composting, Activiely Aerated Compost Tea preparation, Efficient Microorganisms, and Biochar.
  • Phytoremediation
  • Hyperaccumulators + Extracting or Immobilizing Heavy Metals with Amendments.
  • Exploring the  Role of “Weeds”, “Invasive” Plants, and Entheogenic Plants in Ecosystem Healing
  • Working with  Biodynamic Preps, Flower and Mushroom Extracts and Essences and Other Forms of Energetic Plant Medicine.
  • Starting and Designing Grassroots Bioremediation Project – social remediation, community organizing, project design, working with bureaucracies, companies, and regulations, fundraising, etc.
  • Solutions for Water Contamination and Filtration + Daylighting Streams + Wetlands + Watershed restoration + Floating Island Construction.
  • Oil Spills 101 and grassroots bioremediation responses
  • Self Care for Grassroots Remediators (personal protective gear, plant and mushroom allies for supporting detox and good health in contamination situations + making a personal detox and preventative medicine kit).
  • Site Transformation Work and Art Parties – Putting it all into practice, throwing down some living installations, some artful interventions and celebrating! Installing mycoremediation installations, mushroom beds, plantings, compost, making signs, and more!


Main Instructor and Facilitator: Leila Darwish

Leila Darwish is a community organizer, author, permaculture designer, educator, urban gardener, and  grassroots herbalist  with a deep commitment to environmental justice, decolonization, food sovereignty, and to providing accessible and transformative tools for communities dealing with toxic contamination of their land and drinking water.

Over the last decade, she has worked as a community organizer for different environmental organizations and community groups in Alberta, BC and the USA on campaigns such as tar sands, fracking, nuclear energy, coal, climate justice, water protection, and more. She is a certified permaculture designer, a graduate of the Linnaea Farms Ecological Farming Program, and has also apprenticed on different organic farms across Canada and the USA. She has given workshops on grassroots bioremediation for a diversity of groups and organizations across the United States and Canada, and is the author of the new book “Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes”.

For more information and to grab a copy of Leila’s book, check out

Guest Teachers: 

Several amazing guest teachers, such as radical mycologists and mushroom cultivators, herbalists, grassroots remediators, and soil scientists, will be brought in to assist in teaching different classes throughout the course. Stay tuned for this soon to be revealed list of bad ass collaborators!


The course fee is a sliding Scale 100$-300$.

Grassroots bioremediation has to be affordable and accessible at the community level so we are working hard to offer the course at the lowest cost possible and also to make sure that everyone who has the heart and passion to learn these rad skills and to do this work can attend! If you have the ability to pay the full course fee, we’d love/need you to, as its already a heavily subsidized course and we need your help in making this happen. If you cannot, please let us know and we can figure out another arrangement –  there are scholarships and work trades available.

Application Process:

There are only 30 spots available for this course, so apply ASAP! Registration deadline is December 12th!

Priority will be given to individuals from impacted and marginalized communities as these communities bear the brunt of the toxic impacts of environmental destruction and colonization.