Crafting a connection: Land skills workshops carve community space on campus


A spoon carving workshop offered at the ENVigorate Festival in March 2023 saw Jim Jones, UW PhD candidate and Ontario Land Skills director, share the sentiment “You only carve your first spoon once.” The popular workshop, along with other nature and crafts-based workshops, has returned to the UW campus for the spring term in the form of the Land Skills for Wellness and Sustainability (LSWS) workshops. 

The land skills workshops were an idea shared and brought to life by Jones and professor of geography and environmental management Steffanie Scott, supported by the Sustainability Action Fund from the sustainability office. 

“We found that we had a mutual interest in land-based themes: Steffanie, from the perspective of land as teacher pedagogies, and myself, as someone who’s interested in how working with crafts and skills involves a shift in attention,” Jones said. ”Using those kinds of ideas [helps] us shift towards much more sustainable ways of being and connecting to the land in the future.” 

Jones is the director of Ontario Land Skills Network, located in Caledon. The Land Skills Network works to connect craftspeople and offers workshops and programs for various land-based skills. This network is supporting the land skills workshops on campus and is always looking for more craftspeople to join and share their craft. 

The land skills workshops started in the beginning of spring 2023 and will run until the end of the term. So far, workshops on spoon carving, connecting to the land, and herbal teas for managing stress have been run. 

“You have to know and love the land, all life, in order to truly take care for it. Deep nature connection practices, done as a class or individually, lead to learning outcomes beyond the curriculum. They can expand peoples’ perspectives of separateness from nature into perspectives of interconnectedness,” Scott said. 

The land skills workshops provide a space for the UW community to come together and learn new skills with a focus on sustainability and mental health. 

“This is all about combating or helping to combat the mental health crisis in Canadian universities by creating more community spaces, by giving students a sense that Waterloo is a place that they belong to and not just the faculties, not just the buildings but the land itself,” Jones said. 

The opening workshop on connecting with the land welcomed participants near Laurel Lake to reflect on their relationship with the land, listen to the world around them, walk barefoot feeling the earth, and journal about their connection to the land. 

“We’re all really hypermobile individuals. We’re losing that sense of attachment to a place which is so important. There’s good science on this that talks about the importance of connecting to a place for your own mental health,” Jones said. 

Upcoming workshops include basket weaving, nature weaving, scything — a traditional hay making method — and nature walks in collaboration with Guelph Outdoor School. There will also be another spoon carving workshop, supported by the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC), with John Wagner, a spoon carver from Curve Lake First Nation and a friend of Jones. Wagner will be teaching carving traditions of the Eastern Woodlands First Nations. 

“The more you engage in the activities, the less you’re out there consuming. In terms of sustainability goals, if you’re knitting, if you’re carving, you are consuming some natural products, but you’re spending a lot of time just utilizing skills and practicing skills,” Jones said. Developing these skills and gaining an appreciation for the craft is part of the goal of the workshops to promote sustainability and reduced consumption. 

If you are interested in joining in the next land skills workshops or connecting with Ontario Land Skills, follow them on Instagram @ontariolandskills and visit the sustainability office land skills website. 

“I would just like people to know that if they’ve never tried something like this before, just to come along and give it a go. We’re all very, very friendly and very supportive,” Jones said. “It’s just even if you just do it once, you know, it might change your view of the world.”