Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What will I be when I grow up?

Yesterday I was pondering (again) the journey I have taken - going so far away (physically, emotionally, intellectually) to find myself here in small town Alberta wanting to make a life here.  It is weird and perfectly normal all in the same moment.  I got home to find this lovely poem in my inbox, written by Ben Hanbury - one of my MSc classmates and I asked him if I could share it.  Thank you Ben for finding words for what many of us likely feel:

What will I be when I grow up? - Ben Hanbury

After a lifetime of riding ocean swells, chasing storms, running from a little boy's pain of growing up, I find I am back where I started
In my bedroom

After a lifetime of questioning deeply, searching for meaning and going beyond. I find myself once again back at the beginning
Did I ever leave?

After a lifetime of searching for identity, belonging, a sense of worth
I find that these things come and go like the seasons

One moment I am a tree, roots planted firmly in the earth
The next I am a leaf blowing in the wind
When will I arrive?

I have no-thing to offer, but I have so much to give

I long for the certainty I once had
The devotion to the ocean

Everything has changed but something is the same

What is this new ocean of devotion?

Sometimes I am like a well, that will quench the thirst of those who come to drink. But for those who don't realise the nature of their thirst
I am invisible, a pale shadow of myself

When the Buddha knelt by the stream and let go of his bowl it floated upstream
This was a sign that awakening is possible

When I let go of my life sometimes it floats upstream into wholeness
Other times I get washed downstream and fall over a waterfall

I can find no refuge in the mundane world of the old paradigm
the world of becoming someone

I never want to become someone
I pray however to always be someone becoming

Friday, December 10, 2010

The process or the parts?: Wild relatives of common foods and how they are a part of the future of food

I just read this article in the Globe and Mail with great interest:  "Wild relatives of common crops may hold key to future of food" (From Friday 10 December edition).  I was intrigued and heartened to see this topic being address in one of Canada's national newspapers.  Realising that we have bred out the resilience out of our food crops and that the challenges posed by a changing climate are not likely to be survived by our current, domesticated forms - The Global Crop Diversity Trust is seeking out the native, wild ancestors of our common food crops.

“All our crops were originally developed from wild species,” Dr. Fowler said. “We need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future. And we need to do it while those plants can still be found.”

I applaud this recognition and effort - but, for two reasons, I question the next step: the sealing away the seeds of these plants in a vault or even keeping them growing in a few, elite labs around the world.  

As I wrote in my thesis ("Home Coming: An exercise in belonging by exploring ecological resilience and the farming communities of east-central Alberta"), I believe that keeping the seeds active, growing and in relationship with today's climate and environment will better serve tomorrow's growing conditions.  The seeds, the land, the climate and the people need to coevolve together and not develop separately.  Yes we need to capture and preserve the biodiversity that brought us this far and we need to nurture it into the future.

From page 48-49 of my thesis:

The word that I have found myself using to capture what it means to enter in and work with the processes and patterns that are present is to coevolve.  To grow together and through that growing together to create a real belonging.  Let me give an example that helped me understand this concept better.  

The importance of biodiversity seems to be gaining in understanding and recognition such that 2010 has been named the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity and over the last few years more projects have been initiated around seed banks and seed saving.  One of the biggest projects is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault based in Norway that seals dehydrated seeds into airtight containers and freezes them nearly 400 feet down in the Norwegian mountainside.  This vault can store around 4.5 million seeds and scientists from around the world are part of retrieving seeds destined for this ‘back up’ supply. Considering the extent of biodiversity loss that current ‘development’ is bringing along with it and the environmental chaos that is predicted to come along with climate change, it seems like a pretty good idea to be saving a diverse range of healthy seeds that we can rely on in the decades to come.  However as I start to consider how adaptation and change happens through the interplay of processes and components that make up a system, I begin to doubt the overall reliance and faith that seems to be given to the ideas of banks and vaults where seeds are being locked up.  Seeds are a part of life and the process of adaptation - shouldn’t our focus be on growing and keeping alive more seeds, and more diverse types of seeds?  If the environment and conditions are changing, shouldn’t we be allowing the seeds to coevolve with the environment and allow them to change with it?  I believe this is the method that Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organisation works.  They work through a network of local seed banks across India where seeds are grown and nurtured under diverse growing conditions.  The seeds are catalogued and conserved for their growing properties, some kept and some kept into production for the next year.  It is an approach to seed saving that stays within the dynamics of life, an approach where the seed, the environment, the farmers and the communities continue to change and develop together. 

The growing needs to happen in various locations, in a decentralised, democratic manner.  A few scientists growing these varieties in a few research stations around the globe means that when these seeds are needed - we will be at a point vulnerable to a power struggle in terms of who owns the seeds and who decides when they are used.  And by the time that decision is made or power struggle won, it is likely that the people most in need of the seeds will be at such an emergency point that their concerns will be beyond growing food.  The challenges we face as a global community are great enough - we don't need to create another set of resource wars and famines because we were too centralised with our seed supply.

If this makes sense to you - you may want to read more about Earth Democracy:
10 Principles of Earth Democracy - click here
Earth Democracy and Navdanya - click here 
and to look into the work of the Land Institute in Kansas - click here

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Prairie Grassroots Activists

Last week we went to the two day Western Canadian Grazing Conference held in Vermilion, Alberta.  I am used to attending a conference or 5 a year and this was not much different in format:  name tags, keynote speakers, workshop sessions presented by experts equipped with slides, networking over lunch and in the coffee breaks, trade fair of the sponsors wanting to tell you more about their product or organisation.  What made this different was the topics and the slides - very little mention of the words "strategic" or "framework" or any other corporate/academic buzzwords.  And the slides were of big horizons, deep rooted grasses, healthy animals with the odd number thrown in.  And of course - each of them introduced us to their wives, husbands, children, family. 

These are the GRASSROOTS activists who are focussed on working with nature - the prairie ecosystems that they are a part of.  They are seeking ways to live sustainably - environmentally, economically, socially - and to repair the damage that has been done by the learning curve we have been going through in becoming part of this land.  I was impressed by the approach I heard multiple times: I don't listen to what people tell me can or can't do - I find out myself what will work for me, on my place.  That's the spirit of the independent scientist that we've lost in many parts of our lives.  Wisdom and motivation was passed on as we listened to talks about sheep and cow bonding; diversity of the grasses and health of the soil being the key to raising animals; and in questioning the profit-motive that assumes more production leads to more profit - flipping the thought and putting forth "What level should I produce to make a profit?" and finding that balance as the conditions change.  And these men and women were all here - living in the Canadian Prairies - they aren't coming in from other countries telling us what they do 'over there' - they are here, they are the activists that are taking care of OUR grassroots.

It was excellent to hear Dr. Sauchyn speak about the impacts of climate change on the Prairies; Wendy Holm addressing the crisis that farming is facing while bringing a sense of possibility and change; and Don Campbell who mixed perfectly the philosophic and the practical showing us the grass he's grown and the land he's restored on his own family farm.

As a backdrop to part of his presentation - Don projected this poem up behind him.  It summed up and spoke to the best of presentations and conversations from those two days.

I am the basis of all wealth, the heritage of the wise, the thrifty and the prudent.

I am the poor person's joy and comfort, the rich person's prize, the right hand of capital, the silent partner of thousands of successful people.

I am the solace of the widow, the comfort of old age, the cornerstone of security against misfortune and want. I am handed down through generations as a possession of great value.

I am the choicest fruit of labour, the safest collateral and yet I am humble. I stand before every person bidding them to know me for what I am and asking them to possess me.

I am quietly growing in value through countless days. Though I might seem dormant, my worth increases, never failing, never ceasing. Time is my aid and the ever increasing population adds to my gain. I defy fire and the elements, for they cannot destroy me.

My possessors learn to believe in me and invariably they become envied by those who have passed me by. While all other things wither and decay, I alone survive. The centuries find me younger, always increasing in strength.

All oil and minerals come from me. I am the producer of food, building materials and the home to every living thing. I serve as the foundation for homes, factories, banks and stores.

I have not been produced for millions of years, yet I am so common that thousands, unthinking and unknowingly, pass me by.

Who am I?

I am land

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting REALLY close to the source of my food

This past weekend was a bit surreal - in the midst of the hard work, the puzzling over 'what next' and the buzz of people around us offering their help - I would pause and almost burst out laughing, astonished at where I was and what I was doing.  

I grew up on a mixed farm and was around when we would butcher a cow, seeing only parts of the process and really only ever helping out with the meat wrapping inside our house.  This weekend I witnessed and helped out in (almost) the whole process of butchering a steer.  I wasn't there when it was killed but arrived soon after, with my Dad who was willing to coach us through the skinning and cleaning of the carcass.  

It was V's first time doing this as well and his first step in his venture of raising and providing baby beef to local consumers, the local consumers at this time being his family.  The idea of baby beef is that the calf is born in the spring, butchered in the summer and lives a life rich in grass and milk: no need for grains or supplements to bulk it up or get it through the winter.  It is natural, young beef - lean and tender.  Key to this is also that it lives a no-stress life: no feedlots, no getting on trailers and being shipped to auction or even to a slaughter house.  It is born, lives and dies all on the native prairies grass.  

We let the carcass hang over night and then the next day began the process of cutting and wrapping.  With a little help from a couple of V's family members (whom I don't think had actually ever done this before, either) and a book - as well as a couple calls to my parents - we began.  When the suggestion was made (around 4pm) that we could some of it today and the rest tomorrow, my face showed my opinion clearly: "no way!"  It wasn't bad work - but it was not something I wanted to drag into a 3 day process.  Although when I heard the concern in my Mom's voice when I said we were about a quarter done (after working for a couple hours) I thought we may need to call them in as reinforcements.  Luckily - V's Dad had the same idea, he made a call to a local neighbour who hunts a lot and in a couple hours later we had we being guided by the 'pros':  4 gents in camouflage arrived to help out, they'd been delayed because they had to finish gutting out the deer they had shot earlier.  

With their help - we finished up around 10 and by midnight (after all the cleaning was done) fell into bed, exhausted but feeling fulfilled and accomplished.  All that remained to do was grind the hamburger (which you do later, after it has frozen a bit) and to divide out the packages among the family.

Now some of you would know me as a fairly strict vegetarian but that was driven by the mistrust I felt for the food I was finding in the grocery stores and restaurants, in our mainstream way of raising and growing food.  And for that time in my life and with what was around me - being vegetarian and sticking to a label that was a bit more black/white made it easier for me to make choices and to also communicate to other my choices.  In reality - it was never was that black/white.  So I am embracing the grey as a beautiful shade to paint with and am finding out that most people 'get it' and accept it.  At least the people who matter to me and that I am around a lot.  

So this is where my food journey has taken me - I have learned about the delights of local food in Italy, have been an avid label reader and discerning shopper in the Netherlands, have sung the praises of the organic veg and fruit I could get delivered to my doorstep in Singapore, have sampled local delights like fresh caught and grilled fish in Laos, and now I am getting even closer to my food in Canada:  working my way to become producer as well as consumer and enjoying the sense of fulfilment it brings to me and to those around me.  

As an aside note: I really didn't know if I would be able to handle doing this... but wasn't really turned off during the process.  Yet I still gag when it comes to taking out the compost or feeding the chickens scraps... I can't figure that out.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Land Institute and searching for Wes Jackson

For about a week at the end of October, V. and I took at road trip through the midwest of the USA (Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana).  There were several highlights of the trip with one of them being a stopover in Salina, Kansas and visiting the Land Institute.
I guess I heard about Wes Jackson and the Land Institute sometime about 2 years ago with their work and ideas become more exciting to me the closer to the Prairie land I get.  They are working to develop an agricultural system that builds the ecological resilience of the prairie while providing a grain yield comparable to the current annual crops that are grown across the North America prairies - at the expense of the ecosystems.  
We weren't sure when we'd arrive so didn't get a chance to book a guided tour however the Institute is open access for people to walk around and guide themselves.  I did ring the doorbell of the main building to let them know we were there... and with the hopes that Wes Jackson would answer the door.  :)  He didn't...  but that didn't stop me from peering at every person I saw on site to see if it might be him.  The pictures below are some highlights.  Added now to my list of things to do before I am 40:  attend the Land Institute's annual Prairie Festival.
(Photos from the whole trip can be viewed here.)

The original Land Institute
The new Land Institute

NOT Wes Jackson :(... but a really friendly fellow

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting into the Flow with Waterlution and the Lab 2010

I'm catching up on my blogging here - I'm almost a month 'behind' in getting this out which tells you a lot about the last month.   Rich in experience and only now taking the time to write out reflections or share the adventures.

The 18th-24th October gave me the chance to bring together the content of my Master's programme and thesis with the experience I've had in hosting and facilitation.  
The Canadian Water Innovation Lab 2010, an 'unconference' hosted by Waterlution started with about 40 of us gathering together at the Banff Centre for the Arts to build our hosting skills and to connect as the team that would then be a platform for the 180 others we would meet up with at Camp Chief Hector.  This Pre-Lab allowed to enjoy being a participant and to reconnect to the kind of process and hosting work that I had been doing 'pre-MSc.'  It was a good way to settle back into this role and to 'dust off' some of the skills that I had left a bit on the side shelf while working on my masters.  It allowed me to observe where I want to be engaged and also what I am comfortable with letting others take on.

Then there was the Lab itself.  The article below (from the East Central Alberta Review, 11 November) and the videos that can be found on the Waterlution site (I would say start with Part 5 & 6) can give you more details on it.  From a reflection point of view I am left with two key points:
- how important the process is: the process of connecting with others, exploring together and co-evolving into our new ways of being.  Many of the participants were experts in their field of water but the main challenge has been the engagement with others, the communication flow and the (lack of?) deep dialogue
- how much I have learned about food, agriculture and the Alberta context:  felt good to get feedback and response to the thoughts that have been crammed into my head and on to paper through the process of my thesis

It was an amazing experience to step into right out of the Master's - a uniting of my work (content and process)  and a connecting to so many more amazing individuals from this land (and waters :) ) 
Click to enlarge

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Harvest of Plenty

On the 9th of October I once again found myself in the presence of inspiring food revolutionaries who are doing the bold thing of growing and eating good, healthy food that nurtures those that eat it as well as the ecosystems that it is produced in.  When I made my intent clear to move home to rural Alberta I was constantly met with doubtful looks and probing questions about how I would fit in.  The rural folk are not known to be as widely travelled or as liberal in thought as I guess most of people perceive me.  I kept assuring people that I was positive I would find some others 'like me' - it might just take some time and some openness on my part.  Well - it didn't take long (see the post from my first week home. ) and they aren't as rare as some would think.  

Last Saturday, the weekend of Thanksgiving which was perfect timing to celebrate and discuss ways of making access to good, healthy food a possibility for all, roughly 20 of us met on a farm near Castor to participate in one of the many Kitchen Table Talks that are being held across Canada, as part of the People's Food Policy.  I had been in touch with Kathleen - the host of the event - and was surprised and delighted when she asked me to facilitate with Eva.  I enjoyed being a part of the process and especially in being a part of the harvest of key experiences and ideas that are relevant to Canada's food policy.

As we introduced ourselves, stories began to unfold.  Men, whom on first glance one might paint as the typical redneck farmer, broke down as they talked about the concern they have for the children of the world and the responsibility they feel for providing families with nutritious food.  The women shared the pride they felt when they could look at the table of food in front of them and say "all of this was grown on my farm."  

It was a day of shared laughter and frustrations.  These were producers and consumers who are taking possible legal risks because they believe in the private right for a consumer to purchase food from a producer they trust without the heavy regulations (that ARE necessary in an industrialised food system) getting in the way.  And we were all people who loved to eat healthy food that tastes great, which is exactly how we ended the day.

They are my heroes, my inspiration, and my kind of people.  I can only hope to be a part of the next generation of these rural, food revolutionaries.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Signed, sealed and being delivered

It's taken me some time to put together this post.  After sending my thesis off to the printer - I needed a break from typing out words in any form of narrative other than short emails.  So here I am - a few days later - reflecting on how these days feel and acknowledging this milestone.  

On the 30th of September I mailed my thesis to the UK finishing my part in the journey that has been my MSc.  It was done with a sense of completion, satisfaction and readiness to move forward from here.  The text I have written feels inadequate because it does not contain or capture the richness of the experiences I have this summer, the inspiration I have been given by the people I have met, nor all of the ideas that are bubbling inside.  In that way - I expect it has been a success.  For me - my MSc and this thesis was a key step in my coming home and rooting into the topics and the places that I am passionate about.  I have taken that step and am ready for the steps that follow.  And in the last few days, it has been nice to know that I can go berry picking (rose hips, hawthorn and mountain ash) without the guilt of feeling that I should behind a book or computer screen.  

Title page of thesis:  Home Coming: An exercise in belonging by exploring ecological resilience and the farming communities of east-central Alberta

Word cloud from the complete text of my thesis

If you would like to take a look at the complete edition - you can download it here:  https://public.me.com/brendalynnschroeder

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Almost there

In one week - next Thursday - I should be picking up my thesis from the printers and taking it over to mail off to the UK.  I am almost done: almost because there is still some editing to do, some areas I am not satisfied with, a title page and final bibliography to pull together.  Almost because until I mail it - it will never be done.  Almost because no matter how close or how far away the deadline was - it will never be done.  In fact I only now feel equipped to really begin.  It's a familiar feeling - one that I have had every time a project (big or small) ends.  I guess its a sign of being alive, being driven to learn, being ready for the next step.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Coming due

2.5 weeks until I need to post my thesis.  That makes me slightly nauseous.
I really want to hand in something solid at the end of this month and also to hand it in at the end of this month and so balancing a feeling of aiming for completion with a feeling of aiming for perfection and hoping to find satisfaction somewhere in between.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 'EPL' strategy to personal planning

First a disclaimer or note to readers:  I did read Eat, Pray, Love and am proud to say I did discover it before it became one of 'those books' that everyone has read and is everywhere and is now a movie... which I doubt I will see anytime soon.  Both because of my current location and because I am hesitant to.  This post refers to the book but please see beyond that if you are one of the people sick and tired of hearing about 'the book.'

It was almost two years ago when it felt like my entire life was under question.  I knew what I didn't want to be doing and who I didn't want to be doing it with but I was still figuring out what that meant in terms of where, what and with who I DID want to be.  My solution was to borrow a simple exercise from Elizabeth Gilbert in the now infamous book Eat, Pray, Love.  Early on in the book she talks about how she just kept asking herself what she really, really, really, really, really wanted to do.  (I may have got the number of 'really's' off here - I don't have the book on hand to provide references)  She kept asking this and kept listening to the responses.  She did dismiss responses nor did she jump on any immediately.  But she listened for the ones that 'stuck' and for the patterns that emerged in them.  I tried that and ended up spending my last months in Asia exploring places and experiences with people that truly made me and allowed me to laugh.  I ended up hopping over to the UK to take up the Masters that I had always wanted to do.  And I landed in Canada to begin a journey of coming home, really HOME.  Thinking that worked out pretty well...  and coming to another point where I see a blank sheet, foggy road, open field in front of me... I thought I would try it again.

So I am asking myself... what do I really, really, really, really, really want to be doing, today - and I am listening to the daily responses - the changes, the patterns and looking forward to how things emerge around that.

Yesterday - I wanted to be eating, cooking, sharing food that I've helped grow - enjoying the abundance of nature and live, friendship and family - over a kitchen table.

Today - I want to work with farmers and rural towns to build resilience and alternatives; I want to raise and cook food that gets talked about in magazines and books; I want to ride horse

What will tomorrow be, I am looking forward to find out...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dealing with the doubters and dissenters

I'm grumpy, stormy, irritable.
It's PMS + rain falling + anxiety from being somewhere in the middle of my thesis and trying to figure my way out.

Today I intended to finish the first half and step nicely into the second.  I wanted to feel solid, complete about the first half but the hermeneutics of the process is that the first half feels inadequate but I can't see myself really bringing clarity or strength to it without going into the second half - discussing context and application of the ideas in the first half.

And last night - sitting on the back of a motorcycle as we drove through sun-drenched prairies - I was okay with that plan.  The doubters and dissenters inside my head were muted, if not quiet.

And then today I received an email from advisor.  It was a supportive email but it gave acknowledgement to those doubters and dissenters and made me have to have quite the conversation with them.

The tension is good in that it is the right for me to go: is this the right, next step? Where am I right now? And - How interesting that I am at this point!  It is to bring clarity and confidence about where I am, why and where I want to go and some sense of how all my thoughts fit in.

Which is good and healthy and part of the whole experience.  And I just needed to let myself be a bit grumpy and stormy while looking the tension in the face and use it going forward.

But - oh - how happy I will be when this thesis is complete and in the mail!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beyond the next 12 months

During the organic gardening course at CAT I was struck by the time-scales that the projects were being run on.  The leaders shared with us their own experiments with composting, gardening and reclaiming materials and the idea of 6-12 months being 'short' and 'being impatient' amused me.  The last years of my life have been such that being able to think or plan beyond 12 months has been more of a joke than possibility, let alone do something that you expect to wait for 2, 5, 10 or more years for results from.

And I know that is what I have been craving - the stability and place to be based in order to flow with and change along with it.  To plant a seed knowing that it may be 1 year or longer before I see a flower or taste its fruit.  And in the last 3 months I have seen myself getting more comfortable with it.  Putting in horseradish that will take a year to establish before we can use it; seeing trees planted and thinking I may be around to see them grow; burying cherries in order to ferment and sprout the seeds - waiting until next spring to see which seeds are ready to be planted and then being ready to wait for their seedlings to emerge.   I have slowed down and settled in - the first week home I could barely wait until a seed took a few weeks to sprout, and now I am thinking of trees that will only bear fruit in 3-4 years time.  

Alberta's big horizons have always impressed me - maybe they are making an impression in me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"You are Here"

I am over 1/4 done my thesis (close to 1/3) by the word count and I am inching closer to the end of part 1 (of 3) of my thesis.  Statistically that is pretty good - considering I have over 2 months left until it has to be posted.

And yet it feels like I am just getting close to the end of a very small bit of the thesis; it feels like I have yet to say anything new or analytical... the section left to write in part 1 is the most important as I now need to make the leap from ecological frameworks and understanding to looking at human/social systems... the grounding and the framework I need to establish in order to get to the application part of my thesis (climate change and farming communities in East Central Alberta)...  

I would liken the feeling I am having is like having hiked uphill on a path that many others have walked before - and then looking back and thinking, "I've only gotten THIS far and it has been THAT long?"  And then looking at all that is stretching in front of you and wondering if you have enough time and space to do it all.

Yet - I know that if I haven't and don't continue along the process I am in, the next sections won't contain the insight or depth I am looking for - that I am looking for not just for a thesis document to hand in but for the kind of work I want to be doing post-thesis.  

So I am turning off the word counter because I know if I keep on working at the pace I am, it is not going to be about having enough words:  I am going to have plenty to edit and piece together.  It is about the learning, the insights and the internalising of the ideas and that process (for me) is taking words from books, running them through my head and bringing them back out on paper.  

All this sounds pretty obvious because - why would I be doing it if it wasn't for the learning?  But trust me, after almost three months of reading, research and writing - one begins to wonder what you are doing it all for, what added value you are bringing through the time and effort, and if you are getting anywhere.  So it's good to remind yourself of the process as well as focussing on the part you are in.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Procrastination and other projects :)

To some people - they may see my putterings in the garden and yard as procrastination.  I consider these projects as key to my 'coming home' and 'becoming native to this place' - you'd be surprised how much of my thesis is formed while I do the following:

- turn the compost that I started just over a month ago: it really is decomposing!
- help my single zucchini plant pollinate itself (I hope) by taking a qtip to the male flower and then the female
- picked pineapple weed from our front lawn and hung up to dry to make into a tea
- helped Dad with shingling the shed in the back yard

All this and 800 words, editing and some research.

Pretty good day!  Off to yoga now :)

(jalepenos on the GrOw)

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I am sitting on the front porch of the cabin at Sunrise Farm - sipping red wine, camera ready for a great shot of the birds, deer or sunset... or whatever else might come along.  Amber - the farm dog - sits next to me, every so often vying for attention with my computer and the scenery around me.

Tomorrow I wrap up my stay here.  Since Wednesday morning Don Ruzicka has patiently carried me next to him on his quad as we rode through his chores for the day.  I have helped out where I could in feeding the pigs, chickens and turkeys; held the gate and passed ear tags while we sorted, tagged and moved cattle; weeded strawberries; and spotted black rot - to be cut out from the still young shelter belts.  And all along we've carried out a constant conversation that flowed from the practical (yarrow and sage are signs of over-grazing) to the philosophical; from the daily work needed to be done on this farm to the way our communities and nation and world is shaping up to be.

Don's a fountain of knowledge - ideas, quotes, contacts and sound thinking flows from him as he gathers eggs or lets his pigs enjoy a a stream of water.  He's encouraging and open and looking for new thoughts, ideas and connections to add to his already abundant understanding of agriculture and life today in the farming communities of Alberta.  I am humbled, honoured and thrilled to get to crank ice cream beside him :)

(long pause while I watch 10 ducks land on the creek in front of me)

These four days have reconnected me to why I've come home and why the theories and books that were making me cranky a few day ago, are important.

I am looking forward to getting back home and getting more words on the page for my paper.  For losing myself in the material and I am nervous what I may find when I do.  Good nervous. Just strapped myself into a rollercoaster and now at the top of the first steep incline nervous.

Ready for the ride - although hoping it doesn't go too fast because I do want to enjoy the view along the way.

(complete set of pics from the farm are here)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An update and an excerpt

It's been almost a month since I have been home and a couple weeks since I posted here.  I guess the last days have fallen into a pretty decent routine of breakfast - reading/writing - some gardening or something outside - lunch - more reading/writing/gardening - dinner, cooking it sometimes - cards or knitting or some less 'brainy' stuff but maybe still related to my thesis.  Also - mix into that getting logistics to coming home sorted (almost all done) and the break in there when I go out to Vance's for a walk on the farm or he comes into town to catch up.

It's great in terms of getting to enjoy the summer and having time to think and work - although I am getting restless in terms of missing a bit more of an active/social life.  It is good to be able to balance the heady stuff with things like weeding the garden, picking raspberry leaves to dry, foraging along the pond for wild mint and yarrow...  we've had two ripe strawberries and more asparagus from the garden and just holding breathes to see what survives the rain and wind from the last 24 hours.  We've had over 10cm of rain since last night at 6pm - (18 hours) and it is still coming down.

I am off tomorrow to spend 4 days working on Sunrise Farms (mentioned in the earlier post) - I kind of wish the sunshine and heat was still around but guess I won't be too hot in my coveralls!

Will try to post more from there but in the mean time - thought to share this small paragraph from the introduction of my thesis.  I was writing about the approach I am taking and why.  This was the final, more personal point:

"A journey to become native to this place.  This place in time and space that humanity is within; this place in the ecosystems that we humans occupy; this place in Alberta, Canada - were I grew up but never really felt a part of until now.  Wes Jackson’s book “Becoming Native to This Place” gave me this underlying statement and understanding of what my journey has been about.  I have sought education and experiences to help me witness and understand the wider global context that my life sits within; I have held deep the question “how can we humans flourish, unapologetic-ally, on this earth?”; and I have felt pulled back to Canada, to Alberta and to the rural life I was raised in.  These questions and explorations are my journey to becoming native to this place and I believe that as I live my inquiry I am a part of all humanity re-placing ourselves."

We did make a trip out to the farm that I grew up on.  It was unplanned (at least from my part) and it was a bit overwhelming in terms of the memories that came back.  Just walking through the yard, a smell or the sight of a certain tree or spot near the barn... and a sweet, simple memory would be waiting for me.  I hope to make another trip out there before the place is sold.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Roots and Shoots

It's now been just over a week that I have been home and what a week it has been.  Am going to capture here some highlights:

Open Day at Sunrise Farm:  Last Thursday we went out to Sunrise Farm to join about 25 others in walking about the land and learning of the journey that Don and Marie Ruzicka have been on these last 15 years.  The conversations that happened through the day moved from co-planting trees to create shelter-belts and wildlife areas to how our economic system does or doesn't 'count' and on to our role (as farmers and as humans) in the broader ecosystem(s) we are apart of.  It was like being back at Schumacher.  What a wonderful gift - to find a philosophical home as I reconnect to my physical home.  

Old friends: was fortunate to be 'kidnapped' on Saturday by one of my dearest friends from high school.  Deanna picked me up and took me up to Edmonton to see one of her daughters dance in an Irish performance on Saturday night.  It was great to reconnect with Dee and to have some time to cuddle her kids - I do enjoy being Auntie Brenda.  I came back to Stettler with a bag full of wild mushrooms and some horseradish... probably not the usual thing a woman goes to the city for.

Gardening, composting and cooking:  am enjoying putting down roots - literally.  I have picked up some potted herbs for cooking, planting some seeds I picked in the Dartington Gardens before I left, and set down the horseradish roots from Edmonton.  And am now practising patience in hoping for the seeds and roots to produce.  
In the patience field:  I built a compost in the backyard and again - now the waiting game of decomposition begins.  I was pleased to find some very fat worms under it and take that as a sign that they are busy at work in the bottom layers of food scraps and cardboard.
And cooking:  those mushrooms have served us once alongside our garden asparagus and my basil plants to make a yummy pasta... and tomorrow the rest of them will feature at our BBQ.

Connecting ideas and getting back into the labyrinth of my thesis:  I just finished reading 'Web of Life' by Capra and have a good sense of my first chapters as well as the inquiry I am on...  and so will be taking more steps in that direction over the next days.

Speaking of labyrinth - was amazed to stumble across one in the park right by my parents place... but it needs some care by the park maintenance, you get half way in and then lose the path completely.  NOT the metaphor I need right now :)

And another good find:  a local, organic winery that is about 2 hours from here selling their wines at the farmer's market... tasting notes to follow soon ;)

Pictures can be viewed here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tonight was the first night I cooked dinner since I have been home - and what was really nice was cooking dinner with ingredients from my parents garden and backyard. 

I made a quiche with asparagus and winter onions from my parents garden and added into the salad chickweed, which is normally a weed that is pulled out but is now part of our salad garden and my first foraging attempt.

It turned out better than I expected as it was my first time making a quiche and with a rice-flour crust at that (my dad is gluten intolerant).  It was definitely a crowd-pleaser (Vance joined us) and is a do-over.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Written on the 13 June - the sun was shining but my head was hazy so apologies for the disconnected thoughts and emotions:

24 hours (almost) at home and  I can say I am unpacked.  Or at least as unpacked as it is going to get until I find myself in a permanent home (however many months from now).

After bouncing from Romania for a wedding - Ireland for some gorgeous views and wonderful music - Wales for an Organic Gardening course and then back to the College for my last bag: I arrived into Calgary airport yesterday at noon with no ticket out and declared myself a Canadian resident again.

I AM facing small bouts of anxiety feeling like I am behind on my thesis because I have been 'away from it' the last weeks (despite being fine according to my timeline and plan) and also feeling like I need to start moving to get a job and pay back my loans.  But I am keeping calm and blaming this anxiety on the jet-lag grogginess I have been walking around with.

Getting on the plane to come home was easier and less emotional than I thought it would be - but once the many good-byes were said, this step was really another in a path that was set out last year when I left Singapore.  It is a big step but it is not a change in direction and so it feels natural.  It is something I have been preparing for over the entire 8 months spent at the College.

In the last few hours I have unpacked into my bedroom and begun to make my parent's basement my temporary home and office for the summer.  The desk is set up, clothes put away, books laid out... all I need to do is arrange for internet and to tack up my previously designed 'thesis maps' and I am set to get back to work on my Master's.  

It was interesting being 'reunited' with my items from Singapore.  I went through the boxes I had shipped and pulled out the books, a few kitchen items and other things that I will use this summer... the rest can wait in the boxes until I have my own space again.  Just seeing and touching some items took me back to different times and I am reminded of how much has changed, come together, fallen away over the last year. 

And it has already been nice to share with my parents ideas for little projects around here (setting up their compost), reading more about what 'weeds' we have in our garden that are edible (my mom seems excited about getting into a bit of foraging with me), and bird watching with my Mom from our back porch.  The back porch and garden have already become my favourite spots again.  While my desk in the basement may not have the stellar view I had at the college - having a sunny patch of grass and a little garden to sit next to, I am in heaven; I am home.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Test flight

My bags are all packed and the room cleaned out - am ready to  begin the physical journey home (the mental and spiritual journey began a long time ago).  But it feels funny because I am not heading home just yet.  That flight is on the 12th June.  

Before then I will be in Romania for a wedding and then will meet up with a friend and we'll travel up to Ireland, take an organic gardening course at the Centre for Alternative Technology and then pop through Schumacher College for a few days.  THEN the real goodbyes will happen and I will be on a flight back to Calgary.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

guru --er--- teacher and guide--- yes.

While I understand the concept - I have never been quite comfortable with the ease that many people accept a guru or spiritual master into their life.  Some have explained to me that it is part of the practice to surrender your growth to the master who knows better than you the journey...  surrender without questioning - probably something I am not good at.

I wouldn't call her a guru nor is this about spiritual matters - but I can begin to understand the trust you can place in someone as your guide through a journey that is new to you and that they have been through with many others.  My thesis advisor  is proving to be a guide in more than just my thesis; it is also a lesson in surrendering (a bit) to someone and letting them guide me through the process without having to question or rebel when they say "what you need to do next is"...  it helps that she gives really 'good' (meaning ones that are congruent with me) reasons for her suggestions.  But my trust in her comes from the fact that it is a very new path to walk for me (this writing a thesis of 30,000 thing) and I need her guidance.  It is a lesson in being able to accept help, guidance and to need another.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Circling the Labyrinth

This week I spent quite a bit of time mapping out the scope and timeline of my thesis, going through lists of books and websites that I have bookmarked over the last months, talking through my ideas with our course tutors.  I realised what I have been doing is circling around the outside of the labyrinth that I am about to enter.  

Over the last months - the labyrinth has become a physical presence and a deep metaphor for me.  The overall process as well as many small processes (each paper, for examples) that I have gone through here has felt like walking a labyrinth.  Walking deep inside the pattern, the image - sometimes I am able to let go and enjoy the journey, knowing I will be led out again; other times feeling like I am in a maze that I won't find a way out of.  Knowing the process of writing my thesis will be like this - I have been preparing myself, mentally and emotionally, to step again onto the Labyrinth's path.