I’m Headed West
On a cold day in late November I hit the road with some Sugarland lyrics running through my mind.
“The last time I see him, we packed up my things
And he smiled like the first time he told me his name
And we cried with each other
We split the blame for the parts that we couldn’t change
Pictures, dishes and socks
It’s our whole life down to one box
There he was waving goodbye on the front porch alone”
Leaving is always hard, more so when you really like your life at home. Great friends, great family, a job I really like, and Cooper the dog. But I packed up my things, loaded my van because I felt compelled to go on this journey, I feel like there is a story to tell, or rather a number of stories to tell, and my sense of curiosity could not be satisfied without setting out on the road. My heart is heavy but I will be back in the spring, for now though you can find me on the road.
Coming up: Features
Before I delve into the details of my journey so far I want to make a few quick announcements for our shorter term attention span readers. Our podcast with Dr. Marnie Luck has been posted, it offers a look at the simple things you can do to stay healthy this winter and well in to the future. On deck we have two local Toronto chefs who are doing incredible work. Both are helping to build a more sustainable and just food system. Podcast episodes with Lewis Robinson and Johl Whiteduck Ringuette coming up, stay tuned for their stories.
I will be writing feature articles on a few of the people I meet and the organizations that they work for along the way. I wish I could do this with everyone that I talk to because these stories are so compelling but as a one-man show I can only take on so much. These articles I write will aim to add more insight into the impact that these local heroes and agents of change are having on their communities. Check back in the coming weeks for features on Nish Dish in Toronto ON, Roots to Harvest from Thunder Bay ON, Farm Fresh Food Hub in Winnipeg MB, and One Organic Farm in Melville SK. In the meantime check out their websites because they are all doing incredible things! (for our not as tech savvy readers, click on the pink writing, which is a direct link to the sites)
Find Me On The Road
I am currently writing from Calgary AB. Sitting at Philosafy Café in the Marda Loop neighbourhood, enjoying a cortado, Chinook sunshine warming my legs, and the promise of the Rocky Mountains in the week ahead. So far on the Farm Talk Radio tour I have been in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. I feel so grateful to be Canadian, to have the opportunity to share so many of these incredible stories, and to be involved in the local food movement which has so much potential to create meaningful social, political, economic, and environmental change. It is time to disrupt our current systems and each person I have met is doing so in a unique and meaningful way.
I have travelled 7,149 km in my Chevy Astro Van, I have spent $1,004.11 on Alberta crude (or other forms of gasoline), and listened to podcasts and Neil Young on repeat for 88 hours (or rather that’s how many hours I have been driving). The local radio stations have provided endless entertainment whether it was Christian rock and political talk in Manitoba, Rider radio in Saskatchewan, or the Oilers radio show around Edmonton.
The 100 Candles, 100 Friends of Farm Talk Radio, and $100 has been off to a strong start. Very touched by the contributions and support so far. Writing these postcards from the road (as I am currently doing today) has been fun and has allowed me to connect and reconnect with some wonderful people. Our costs continue to grow as we really try to build out this platform so please continue to share with your networks and those that it may inspire! I am currently looking at other funding options and potential sponsorship opportunities, please get in touch if you have any leads.
Thanks for taking the time to read this brief update, and now back to our original story…
To this date my first leg to Collingwood was the worst of the driving. Blinding snow, getting dark, and the crazy Toronto drivers heading home after a long day of work. I had some treats from Harbord bakery, a book for our next podcast guest (still paying it forward), and a warm fire waiting at my buddy Ryan Hayhurst’s farm in the Beaver Valley. Check him out at Niagara Escarpment Organics for all your herbal medicine needs and so much more.
I spent a full day in Collingwood catching up with old friends, planning my route at Gibson and Co, and enjoying a long walk back in the bush with Ryan and his beautiful dog Spotty. Good nourishment with Root fest for dinner one night, followed by Brassica fest the next, we grow local and eat local around here! I should also say support local as we watched the Raptors and Leafs win their respective games! I set off early on the morning of the 29th for Sault St. Marie.
What a beautiful drive North on the TransCanada highway. Passed Sudbury where I have been on canoe trips with friends and was then off into unexplored territory for me. The drive along Lake Superior is one of the most stunning I have ever seen. The barren craggy shores, the ice, the exposed rock, the trees, and the cold hard beauty of the Lake make it easy to see how generations of poets, writers, and artists have been inspired by Northern Ontario. I stayed in an awesome Airbnb in the Sault, sampled beer from Outspoken Brewery, and got an early night. I was feeling kind of under the weather and I need to be well rested for the long days ahead. Reminder, don’t share dessert at Pollyanna with sick friends before you leave, although the food and company were both excellent and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Forgot my oatmeal and maple syrup in the Airbnb which was a bit of a downer because those are both central to my morning routine! It was a quiet drive, often not seeing other cars for long stretches, lots of transport trucks passing through but few other wayward explorers as far as I could tell. Most little outposts were closed for the season and the harsh realities of the North were very present on my mind. I had lunch in WaWa, saw the plaque for the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and listened to Neil Young’s song that mentions Blind River in the lyrics. The economic hardships seemed apparent through the quiet towns on route, gas prices were high, food is expensive, and jobs must be hard to come by in the long winter months. I am only a day’s drive out of Southern Ontario and yet it feels like a completely different world and reality.
I was welcomed in Thunder Bay by a friend and fellow local food advocate Syd. I spent a great night doing yoga at the Body Mind Center, dinner and drinks at In Common, and a comfy to couch to crash on.
I spent the day in Thunder Bay eating Finnish Pancakes at Hoito, drinking endless cups of coffee at St. Paul’s Coffee Roasters, and exploring. Had the pleasure of talking to other producers at the Farmers market and sampling some local fare. Got an interesting picture of farming in the North from a 3rd generation farmer at Belluz Farms.
I went skating on an outdoor rink with the tankers on Lake Superior in the foreground and CP rail in the background. The cardio and fresh air were great after a few long days of driving. Had a very last minute opportunity to talk to Alia Johanna of Roots to Harvest about the incredible work that they do. This organization uses food as a tool to empower marginalized people and provide transformational educational and employment opportunities for them in the community. It was a really inspiring chat with Alia and a podcast episode and feature article will be dropping in January. I also had the pleasure of talking to Erin Beagle, the Executive Director, on the phone from Winnipeg a few days later to help me fill out the picture.
Got an early start and drove much of the first few hours in the dark. Had breakfast in Dryden Ontario, which is where my Grandpa was born, pretty cool exploring some of my roots as I drive across the country. I finally made it out of Ontario around noon. The flat plains of Manitoba stretched on into the horizon and the immense fields right outside of Winnipeg made the transition from rural to urban very minimal.
I watched the Jets game from my Airbnb and enjoyed some charcuterie and cheese from the Cheese Encounter (Thunder Bay), and other farmers market goodies. I still try and eat as locally as possible when I am on the road, the cold days makes it easy to preserve things in the van. Sometimes too much so as my apples from Belluz Farms started to freeze!
I took a rest day to explore the city. Lots of things were closed including the Human Right Museum and the Times Have Changed High and Lonesome Club, heartbroken on both accounts. The Times has been described as “A Tom-Waitsian masterpiece of honky-tonk glitz and grit.” Check it out if you get a chance!
I spent a productive morning in the granola district, at Thom Bargen, drinking endless cups of coffee and green tea, catching up on emails, updating my logbook (which I base this long winded ramble off of), and doing phone interviews. I had a late lunch of vegetarian lasagne at Stella’s, no romaine lettuce for my Caesar salad, no problem since it was made with spinach and arugula! Enjoyed a beer called My Grandpa’s Sweater by Barn Hammer Brewing.
Another evening in, I must be getting old or something. It felt great to cook and watch the Raptors game. I also had the opportunity to talk to Anna Sigrithur from the Farm Fresh Food Hub, a project aimed at connecting buyers and sellers of local, sustainably produced food. More info coming up on that initiative later, in a feature article, also coming out in January. Anna is a podcast producer! It was great to connect with her and also great to listen to her podcast Ox Tales, a thought provoking podcast about food, served fresh from the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.
One Organic Farm
My plan was to drive from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, hoping to stop in Melville on the way to talk to Amy and Travis Heide of One Organic Farm. Our timing didn’t quite work and I caught Travis on his way out. In those few minutes I was convinced that the answer to changing our food system and disrupting the monopoly of industrial agriculture lies in the type of operation they are running and the incredibly inspiring work that they do. To hear their story please check out their website, www.oneorganicfarm.ca. Here is a little click bait to get you hooked,
“This brand was created with the intent to create an impact ,not just on the way the food industry and major roll players view, perceive and negotiate with farmers but also an impact on the lives of those outside of our frame of reference.”
I am hoping to connect with them in the new year and would love to be able to delve more into the fundamentally important work that they are doing.
The rest of my drive to Saskatoon was filled with large fields, grain silos, and Canadian Pacific rail cars. Fresh on my mind was this crack that Travis and Amy are offering into a future that is different from the past. One that challenges the current system of global food production, the industrial agriculture model, monocropping, GMO seed, and a system that continues to take more away from the earth than it gives back.
I spent a quiet evening in Saskatoon, ate at a restaurant called Thomas the Cook, wouldn’t recommend it. Thomas not the Cook might have been more appropriate! Oh well you can’t win them all. My heart is full from another good day on the road.
Northern Alberta Century Homestead
Good drive up north of Westlock Alberta to a homestead in Northern Alberta. I saw signs for Fort McMurry, Peace River, and Slave Lake, and had Living in Alberta by Dave Gunning running through my mind. I was welcomed by Kay Ruxton and her daughter Kathy and I immediately stepped back in time.
My grandmother spent two summers with the Ruxton’s when she was in her early 20s, living on their farm, and working as a youth minister in their community. A life long friendship was formed and I felt very grateful to be greeted with open arms, much as my grandmother would have been, all those years ago.
I spent a fantastic day touring around with Kay and her daughter, hearing stories, and eating homemade and home-grown meals! We had a nice chat with my grandma on Facetime, looked through photo albums, and I heard stories about raising cattle, pigs, chickens, and grain on a century homestead. I even got to see the log cabin, which was the original Ruxton home. This journey has brought so many gifts and this truly was a special one.
The morning dawned dark and cold, the sky clear and the air fresh. I felt so revitalized after a day in the country, hearing stories of a simpler time, but one that also has so many important truths that cannot be overlooked.
I had a pretty tight schedule to get to Calgary to talk to Dennis of YYC Growers. I went straight to their warehouse. Here, this farmer/producer owned co-operative aims to put sustainable food on every Calgary plate. With a winter CSA of 400+ members and a Summer CSA which can swell to 700+ I would say they are doing a pretty damn good job! Dennis and I are going to connect again on Monday and sit down to record a podcast episode. I am really looking forward to hearing more about SPIN farming, managing a large CSA, and helping connect local producers and consumers.
I swung downtown for a quick coffee with John Glanzer. My mom put me in touch with him and he is a friend of Farm Talk Radio. It was great to connect with him, hear his story, and hand him a postcard from the road. John is incredible, he helped create a Camphill community in Vancouver, does important leadership work in the corporate world, and brings a much need critical but empathetic listening ear to a number of issues.
That’s all for now folks. I am off to my Airbnb, which has beautiful hardwood floors, a meditation room, and a creative household of other entrepreneurs. I am really looking forward to a weekend in Calgary, some time for much needed rest and reflection, and time to catch up with old friends.
Stay tuned, I am sincerely sweating for you (although a lot less than during hot months of farming season), and you can find me somewhere on the road!