Farmer on the Move

Well, I guess it’s official since I’m putting it on the internet: this will be my last growing season in Vancouver (I think). I’ve put a lot of thought into leaving the city, whether it’s time, whether it’s right, and while I am discovering that it’s more and more difficult for me to decide for certain what’s “right” in a lot of situations, here’s the decision I’ve come to.

First and foremost I have to admit that try as I might, I’m just not a city girl. When the moon is full on a clear night and the ground is covered with snow, the streetlights blocking out the silvery light make me want to cry; two nights ago that’s exactly what I did.  I want to walk in the forest, talk to my neighbours, babysit their kids, and live in a place where there’s no anonymity to protect you when you treat other people like obstacles instead of beings (to the car full of assholes who threw a beer can at me when I was biking past you last night, I’m talking to you!).  In a small town, everybody knows each other and you know that you’re all stuck there together – you have to get along.  There are trees, and darkness, and silence, and people know what it means to be a farmer.  Not that there aren’t conflicts and challenges, but with nowhere else to go you learn to work them out instead of isolating yourself or just calling in the authorities to deal with it.  There’s also a sense of independence, a direct connection to the resources that we live on that removes the illusion of limitlessness. When you actually see the trees coming down and the soil blowing away, it’s easier to make the leap to relying on local systems, local economy to support the community. When you know how far away things have to come from, it’s easier and more intuitive to collaborate with your neighbours to start doing for yourselves. I’m ready to live in a place where the economy doesn’t need “outside investment,” a place that doesn’t want outsiders’ money but rather to build a community economy that encompasses all the ways that we can create and measure value, including money, but also including so many other things that in the vast anonymity and consumerism of the city have become invisible.

On the other hand, I think it’s pretty safe to say with some degree of certainty that cities need help. Cities need to learn to live within their environmental means, which means adjusting the social and economic structures of the city to make that possible. And if everyone who cares about these things leaves the city, then it just gets worse.  Am I running away, abdicating my social responsibility to share what I’ve learned to benefit others?  I struggle with that, unsure how to balance my desire for the country with my feelings of obligation to people that have never had the opportunity to know anything but the city.  If you’ve only ever known concrete and cars, are you really free to choose something else, to take a road that you don’t know exists?  But at the same time, so many people when presented the choice still choose cell phones and shopping malls over forests and fresh air, so who am I to try to change their minds?  This is my conflict.

Of course, I can’t ignore the factor of the Olympics, either.  Does anyone really believe that once they get drug dogs and random bag searches on the SkyTrain and security cameras all over downtown, they’re just going to take them all down after the games?  I certainly don’t believe it.  And I will never, ever sacrifice my freedom for some illusory feeling of “safety,” especially when the threats that all this crap is supposed to protect us from are mere boogeymen, the manifestations of the empire’s fear of dissent, of anything it doesn’t control.  I also live in one of the neighbourhoods that’s been most effected by the recent rash of gang violence in Vancouver, and I feel that it’s pretty safe to say that fifty years of more cops and stiffer sentences hasn’t stopped gangs before, so what makes them think it’s going to stop them now?  Until they give up this rediculous prohibition rhetoric and admit that the war on drugs is just a scare tactic to convince people to put up with diverting resources to funding cops that should be going to education and health care, it’s only going to get worse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  I think this is a lot of what has kept me here so long; my vision of how it could be. I bike past car sales lots and I see fields of vegetables, those big glassy showrooms converted to greenhouses full of tomatoes and cucumbers.  I see food growing in every lawn, I see homes of natural materials sprouting in every parking lot, built with joy by the people who need somewhere to live and feel safe. I see kids playing in the dismantled streets because we don’t need personal automobiles any more.  A big part of me feels guilty leaving before that vision is acheived; but at the same time, the blessing that I’ve had in working on this farm project has been to meet so many people that are dedicated to making the city a living, breathing place, people that love living in the city for what it is. Not everyone wants to live in the woods with no electricity, I’ve discovered; I can’t imagine why not, but there it is. And meeting so many amazing, dedicated folks who love the city and want to make it better has let me feel okay with leaving.

And so by this time next year, we hope to be putting seeds in the ground on the North Sunshine Coast for a food forest and market garden. We’re looking to lease 3 to 5 acres of farmland, build a simple cabin, and put all these skills we’ve been collecting into real practice.   I hope to use the space and the freedom to push the envelope of what simple, sustainable technologies can do, learn new things and bring them back to the city to share the skills with people who want to put them to work here where they’re so desperately needed.

This also means the The Farmhouse Farm will be looking for a new farmer, someone who wants to take the foundation that the last couple of growing seasons have built and take it to the next level. Interested? Let’s chat.

All hail the urban farming revolution!