As some of you know two friends and I operate a small urban farm in East Vancouver called Green Guys on The Drive. You can read more about it here in a previous post.
There are two parts to this project that I like. The first comes with the curse of being an engineer at heart, meaning that “if it ain't broke it's not interesting”. This means each year we find ourselves tinkering with the farm to make it produce more food. This year's “fixes” include adding a soil garden to our harvest and a greenhouse for our seedlings.
Given that the two other co-founders have quite committed professional obligations with not much spare time and the fact that I am still in recovery mode it's a bit of an ambitious project for me to take on at the moment. I plan on accomplishing this by asking for help from my community of family and friends who have come to value the garden (thank you already to Dylan, Mom, Jeff, Tim, Dennis, and Alex); which is the second part of the project that I like. Creating and maintaining an experience of community for myself and the garden's members.
Google offers two definitions for the word community:
As I've grown older I've found myself much more attracted to the second definition of community and have found myself in search of situations where I have the experience of community. This search was not always a conscious one. Until my late 20's it showed up as a search for meaningful hobbies, fulfilling relationships, and a strong desire to have my best friends live in the same damn city that I did so we could hang out.
It wasn't until after my Whipple surgery when I was talking to a naturopath about some of the struggles with my current employer, my lack of hobbies, and an often felt experience of social coldness in Vancouver (Tina and I had recently returned from Thailand and were finding it difficult to re-insert ourselves into the social scene here in Vancouver) that my search for community became a conscious one. It became conscious after she suggested I cultivate some hobbies that could help me create a sense of community for myself.
This piqued my curiosity and started a deliberate exploration of the idea of community and what that might look like for Tina and I. I'm not going to lie, while the experience of community was not new to me (I could remember three distinct moments when I felt a strong experience of community), the steps required to recreate this experience were a mystery to me. I didn't really know as a young working professional how to create it for myself and Tina and thought at first that it was something
that would just “happen” with time. Not so.
The first experience of community was growing up in a middle class neighbourhood in Kitsilano with Dylan where there were several families on our block with kids our age who we became fast friends with. We would spend our weekends and after school time playing in the back alley or in one of our backyards. During the summer our parents would have joint picnics at Jericho beach which was within walking distance. No formal play dates or commuting required.
The second experience was when Dylan and I were growing up on our Dad's Guest Ranch. We were part of a team of employees who worked hard to create a positive experience for our guests. And yes when everything was going well there definitely was a very strong experience of fellowship among the team... and of course when things weren't going well this would evaporate and tribalism would set in. From where I sit now I remember the periods of fellowship much more than rough periods of tribalism.
The third experience of community and definitely the most influential on my life was my time at Big Bar Elementary; a one room school where Dodie Eyer was the sole teacher and she taught anywhere from 12-18 kids ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 7. How did she do this? I am not entirely sure although I know her ability to create a strong fellowship among the students and fostered a value set that encouraged the older kids to look out for, and help the younger students definitely helped. I can remember Dodie reading books like Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Hatchet and many other fine novels to us for an hour a day as well as never being assigned homework and still entering Grade 8 at the top of my class. I will also never forget the many recesses and lunch hours spent playing Kick the Can in the Fall and Spring (a favourite) and ice skating on the school's ice rink and sledding in the winter time on the school's sleigh hill.
The school was also the centre of the community and held community events such as Rendezvous (a gathering in early Spring with contests like who can boil the water fastest or cook bannock given a pot, snow, kindling and a match), Big Bar Turkey Shoot (a marksmanship contest using rifles where the winner for each category earned a prize such as a turkey), Halloween (all the kids in the community would gather at the school in their costumes and walk around the room collecting candy – there was also a pumpkin carving contest and pinatas), and last but not least a community Christmas concert.
Reflecting on these three experiences of community I realize that all of them had people living in relatively close proximity to each other engaged in a common interest or activity.
So while I moved from one job to another in my late 20's and early 30's I continued to experience a yearning for community similar to my childhood while also spending some time thinking about how to re-create this for myself and Tina here in Vancouver. Work and taking care of my physical health though continued to be a priority and I didn't make much progress on creating an experience of community until I reached a brick wall while trying to manage my health and my share of the mortgage.
A year after being diagnosed with desmoid tumours and receiving a year of tamoxifen therapy to no effect while also working for a local tech company as a lone wolf (I was the only member of the learning and development team and had little to no support or camaraderie at work) while also hardly talking at all to anyone about my health struggles I learned what near crippling anxiety felt and its connection to severe insomnia. This trifecta tanked my quality of life. Fortunately my Oncologist ended the tamoxifen therapy and put me on four months of chemo. I say fortunately for two reasons. First, the chemo stopped the growth of the desmoids and actually caused some of them to start shrinking. And second, chemo was a wake up call for me and provided a reason that was acceptable to me to take a medical leave from work. I took nine months off. Next to marrying Tina and spending two wonderful years in Thailand it was the smartest thing I have done.
During this break and among other things I sought support from Inspire Health, a supportive cancer care organization, who advised me that among some small tweaks to my diet I should develop a hobby or two to help me through the chemo.... up until this point in my life I hadn't really taken hobbies that seriously other than satisfying my travel bug when it started acting up. Going on chemo changed this.
I took up pottery and came across a design for a vertical hydroponic vegetable garden. I asked my friend Brandon if he wanted to build it with me. He said “hell yes”. And so started our somewhat haphazard foray into vertical hydroponics.
At the same time I also came across the idea of COMMUNITY supported agriculture and we were away and running with our first growing season (thank you friends and family for trusting us with your money to get started during that first year). Now we are in our fourth year and I have found an experience of fellowship with people living in the same city who all share an interest in community, local food, and local economy.
This has been huge for me and has and continues to make a big difference in my day to day quality of life.
I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Dan and Company
We got this... This has been the mantra of Dan's friends and family as they help him navigates a difficult medical rodeo ride. This blog contains entries from Dan as well as his friends and family.