The long way home

16 08 2012

A while back, I embarked on an epic motorcycle trip from Salt Spring Island down the Pacific coast and then headed east just north of San Fran all the way back to Ontario, meeting up with pops and the boys in Wyoming. I was pretty good on the blogging front for the first few days, but eventually was unable to keep up with it. Anyway, here’s a bit of a general overview of the trip…

Day 1: Salt Spring Island, BC – Olympia, WA

Day 2: Olympia, WA – Newport, OR

Day 3: Newport, OR – Crescent City, CA

Day 4: Crescent City, CA – Orr Hot Springs near Ukiah, CA

Day 5: Orr Hot Springs – Nevada City, CA

Day 6: Day trip to Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley w/ Crissy & Gavin

Day 7: Nevada City, CA

Day 8: Nevada City, CA – Sand Mountain, NV = 315 km

Day 9: Sand Mountain, NV – Salt Lake City, UT = 807 km

Day 10: Salt Lake City, UT – Rawlins, WY = 476 km

Day 11: Rawlins, WY – Chardon, NE = 650 km

Day 12: Chadron, NE – Mitchell, SD

Day 13: Mitchell, SD – Oshkosh, WI = 858 km (Longest day of the trip!)

Day 14: Oshkosh, WI – Sault Ste. Marie, ON = 588

Day 15: Sault Ste. Marie – Lion’s Head, ON = 420 km

My total mileage for the trip was 6,619 km. Using the Conservation International‘s calculator, my 1982 Honda Sabre V45 produced 0.88 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Covering the same distance by plane would have been three times as much.

Here’s some photos from along the way…

After spending at least an hour driving over a steep and winding road, I was welcomed by this breathtaking vista on the other side

Best coffee of the trip! I did my best to avoid the “crack shacks” (selling espresso) that are especially abundant in the Pacific Northwest and hold out for the good stuff!

The Redwoods

Crissy and I at Sand Mountain in Nevada – the most amazing campsite that made for the most magical full moon experience

“I survived Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America”…and thanks to Crissy and Gavin, it wasn’t lonely at all!

Thank goodness for zap straps!

Mount Rushmore – a quintessential stop along any great American road trip

Getting my tourist fix

The boys are back in town

Dad in front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota with murals and designs made from corn and other grains

The weathered, sun-kissed and wind-blown gang of six after about 3,700 miles, Tobermory bound at last


Some entrepreneurial ideas…

6 05 2012

The gears in the back of my head are always turning when it comes to community development. I think the rural landscape is slowly fading away as the masses flock to the cities. However, fortunately, there is a resurgence of people moving back to the land and embracing a slower, quieter lifestyle. Even though small is beautiful, I do think many small towns would benefit from at least a handful of key establishments, either business or social enterprises. Because the Bruce Peninsula is near and dear to my heart, I specifically have a constantly running list of business I would start (or would recruit others to start) if I had sufficient capital. (Interested investors should give me a call!) So, here’s what comes to mind at the moment…

  • A good, used bookstore, possibly with an accompanying cafĂ©, maybe a music collection too
  • A microbrewery & pub, no TVs please, but plenty of live music and maybe the odd night of karaoke (I’ve been inspired by the Brew Pub here in Squamish)
  • A local cheese maker. Pine River just isn’t close enough. Maybe one kind of like the one here on Salt Spring.
  • A little cinema, not a Galaxy or Famous Players. Just something with a screen or two, and maybe an outdoor screen out back for warm, summer nights. It would some classics and documentaries too, and maybe host a film festival now and again. Driving an hour each way to Owen Sound (longer if coming from Tobermory) is just too far and not a very good use of our precious energy resources. That said, I enjoy a good film as much as the next person. I particularly enjoyed “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” which I watched here on Salt Spring at the Fritz.
  • And last, but not least, a local credit union (or other form of financial institution) to make it all happen. It’s time we took our money off of Wall Street and put it on Main Street, where we can see benefits beyond interest. Check out this page from the New Economics Foundation as a launchpad for what I’m referring to.

Anyway, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What do you think our community needs?

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