Brews and kazoos

23 07 2013

I figure I’m due for another update. I’m enjoying the sunny south Oakanagan and maybe even acclimatizing to the desert, nearly 40 degrees as of late. Still living the dream in the Vanagon, and enjoying the simplicity that it offers. I’m realizing that the simple life is more of a journey than a destination though.

I spent the months of May and June working at Covert Farms, likely the largest organic farm in the south Oakanagan. I enjoyed working outside and learning to grow food, however in this time, I realized that this scale of operation wasn’t for me. After much contemplation, I decided to move on from the farm. My dream of being a farmer is still alive and I believe the world could certainly use more farmers. That said, I’ve tentatively concluded that I would rather farm part-time, and perhaps only have a large backyard garden where I could grow food for family and friends. I’d rather share my harvest than sell it, if I can help it. Food is sacred, and something seems to be lost when you put a price on such a sacred thing. Yet it must be done.

Driving the Green Bean, our sweet work truck at Covert Farms

Driving the Green Bean, our sweet work truck at Covert Farms

But life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, right? Shortly after I decided to leave the farm, I was offered a part-time job at the Firehall Brewery, a small craft brewery in Oliver, where I had started volunteering just a couple of weeks earlier. I’ve been there over a month now and it’s been a steep but fun learning curve – beer science, some beer history, washing and filling kegs and growlers, giving tastings/selling, and of course, lots of quality control. Further, with the brewery only being a mere year and a half, it’s also a great opportunity to learn about starting a small business.

Our Holy Smoke Stout starting to lauter during last week’s brew. This award-winning stout gets its smokey flavour from the smoked barely malt. Traditionally, all beers had this smokey flavour because all the barley was dried on open fires.

I’m also working part-time at a beach resort in Osoyoos as a server/bartender in the restaurant and at the beach bar. Once again, not where I was expecting to find myself this summer, but I’m learning lots (the dos and don’ts of serving at a fairly fancy place) and saving some coin for travels.

When I’m not working either at the resort or the brewery, I can be found reading about bees on a platform in a tree above the river, playing the kazoo or harmonica (or at least trying to), hiking in the mountains, lounging by the lake with friends, and a rockin’ and a rollin’ down the road.


My new home

7 05 2013

Much has changed since I returned from Amsterdam, most importantly, I am now the proud holder of a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences. Back at Quest, I learned about some contemporary revolutions, learned some Spanish, and completed my Keystone project (comparable to an undergraduate thesis) on collaboration among small-scale farmers in rural Ontario. Last week, I said a bittersweet goodbye to the community that I have come to know and love over the past four years. Now, the big question, “What next?”

Right now, I am sitting in the sunshine, enjoying a warm breeze and the beautiful view of Covert Farms, just north of Oliver in the southern Oakanagan Valley. If all goes as planned, I’ll be working here for the next six months, hopefully learning to grow food. I’ll be living in my cozy ’89 Westy  and trying my best to survive the heat.

Westfalia at Covert

Not sure what exactly life has in store for me this summer or come November, but for now, I’m pretty content to enjoy the ride.

Hot, hot heat

1 06 2012

Yesterday I had a relaxing start to the day – woke up shortly after 8, packed up, had breakfast and went for another soak in the hot springs. I would have been quite content to stay there all day, but places to go and people to see. After 20 more minutes of that windy road, I arrived in Ukiah. I gassed up and called Trini from River Dog Farm about a possible visit when I passed through. Although we had never met, Trini had done some farm sitting at Foxglove in April while Michael was in Australia, and I’d heard remarkable things about her and her organic farm.

Another few hours of driving down the scenic 20 and increasingly unbearable heat, I finally arrived in Guinda. And what a farm! I had been told that she had 5000 chickens, so I thought maybe they just did poultry and eggs. To my surprise, I soon found out that they had 500 acres – which also included 450 pigs, tons of produce, a huge orchard and tons of nut trees (almond and walnut). Trini gave me a complete farm tour. The next day, Saturday, she was heading into Berkley (an hour and a half away) to sell at the farmers’ market there. I was blown away at the scale!  It was so interesting to compare and contrast between a home garden, a larger market garden like Foxglove and what I would call a large-scale organic farm like River Dog. After a delicious fruit smoothie and a bit of gas (compliments of Trini), I was on my way – with a jar of their own almond butter in hand! By now it was about 5:30.

My destination for the night was Nevada City to meet up with my friend Crissy. The heat was still strong and despite my long rest at the farm, I was still feeling it, so  I stopped in Colusa and had my first-ever energy drink – a mango passionfruit Rockstar. I continued on to Yuba City and called my friend from McDonald’s wi-fi. Then, I made the final stretch, but not without a quit roadside stop to put on my clear glasses since it was getting dark. Around 9:30, I finally met up with Crissy at Bitney Springs, just past Rough and Ready (yes, that’s a town!) I followed her to her place, up yet another windy, steep road. This time there was loose gravel too. Thank goodness I had unloaded my stuff in her truck which made the trek a bit easier. I made it! More good riding experience.

I got a night tour of the property. I couldn’t see much of the vista, but it felt beautiful. Then, we chatted a bit before hitting the hay in the VW Westfalia. What a dream van! I better start saving up!

I think I’ve arrived to some kind of heaven!

Welcome to the Rock

6 05 2012

I’ve landed on the Rock, otherwise known as Salt Spring Island, and am quickly settling into island life. I arrived on Tuesday and have worked 3 days here at Foxglove Farm, run by Michael and Jeanne Marie Ableman. So far, I’m enjoying myself and learning a lot. I have been itching to get my hands into the dirt for quite some time now, so I’m glad to finally get to do so. I’ll be a farm apprentice here for the month of May.

At Quest, we complete at least one, but up to four, experiential learning blocks. This means learning outside the classroom. My farm apprenticeship will count as my first

experiential learning block. Back in April, I had to find a site supervisor (which is Michael in this case) and a faculty supervisor, and complete an experiential learning plan, identifying the context, activities, objectives, assessment and application. My learning objectives for my apprenticeship are:

  • To learn to grow food more successfully
  • To develop research methods to apply to my Question (particularly a process for measuring collaboration and social capital in a particular context)
  • To begin considering possible Keystone projects (like a thesis, which I will be completing next year, in my final year at Quest)
  • To gain a greater appreciation for the food I consume

In addition to my day-to-day farm duties, I will also conduct some interviews, maintain a journal, and continue to read one of my seminal works, E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, as well as a collection of

research papers.

As you may recall, my Question is “What is the role of collaboration in developing effective institutions?” I hope this experience informs answers to some of my sub-questions, such as: Why should we

collaborate? What circumstances do and do not benefit from collaboration? How can we facilitate collaboration? How can we measure collaboration? What does it mean to be “effective”? More specifically, in the context of the farm, I am thinking about:

What form(s) does collaboration take on the farm (both internally and with the local community)? What role does social capital play in facilitating these collaborations? Is the farm an effective institution? If so, what makes it effective? Do farmers’ markets serve as a social hub that facilitates collaboration and generates social capital? Obviously, I’d like to focus a bit more, but for now, this is the scope of my studies.

Now on to what I’ve actually learned! Although I cannot chronicle everything, here are some of the main things (most of these can be accredited to Michael):

  1. Observation is the most importantagricultural skill. Michael claims he doesn’t know anything about agriculture. He just knows what he sees, and tries to make connections and understand why certain things are happening. To hone our observation skills, we are supposed to walk around the farm twice a week (following the same route each time), recording our observations. I did my first observational farm tour on Thursday. (This kind of reminds me of an activity we did in ERM in high school where we visited our spot every week and and made observations.) Observation, along with a bit of common sense, is all you need.
  2. Cultivating (with a collinear hoe, the best tool ever!) beats hand weeding any day. Ideally, you never have to weed if you do this often.
  3. “It’s often not about the big ideas, but the millions of little details that make the difference.”
  4. Human waste is not managed effectively (Thanks to Chris for this insight). For example, why do we shit into good drinking water? Further, urine is nitrogen-rich and totally being under-utilized.
  5. It is difficult to do everything well, so grow what you like to eat. If you love it, it will usually work out for you.
  6. You need to know the context of the land. We are merely passing through. Ownership is overrated.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break all the rules and experiment. Find out what works for you. Give up everything you’ve been told. Don’t hold on to dogmas too tightly. We really have more ignorance than knowledge, so approach farming with a beginner’s mind. Take risks and innovate. (Planting spinach and eggplant together is our own example of this) A farm should be a manifestation of your own needs and personality.
  8. Don’t underestimate the aesthetic. Take a peak at our patchwork of kale for proof!
  9. Diversify your palate. It seems to be narrowing, so we can only really distinguish between salty and sweet. There are so many other flavours we are missing out on!
  10. It’s not about products, but systems.
  11. More people need to be farming. A few percent of the population is not enough!People write about food, work in food policy, etc. without actually doing it. It is hard, but gratifying work. Put the farmer out of business by growing your own food. It is more fun at a smaller scale anyway.
  12. Pleasure is a more effective motivator than doom and gloom. If for no other reason, grow food because it tastes good!
  13. A bit of a paradox emerges when you look at collaboration in small towns, generally speaking. On one hand, a small town is a very conducive climate because the sense of intimacy and community provides a common vision and facilitates networking. On the other hand, there is a deepsense of ownership and often stagnation that can prevent something from evolving and emerging.

Okay, so maybe that was more than a few, but learning is good, right?

Photo of trailer that I am living in at Foxglove Farm

My Little Abode, Foxglove Farm, Salt Spring Island