Friday, March 13, 2009

Hi all.

This is what I'm doing now: Nelson Urban Acres

Follow my new blog there if you're curious as to what I'm up to.

Sorry for the lack of updates. I'm so bad.

Farmingly yours,
Farmer Pauly

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Another little summary of the area that I just wrote to someone. (Hopefully the more I do this the more I can convince some of you to come out here... ;-)
The West is treating me well. I love Nelson and the Slocan Valley. You'd probably love it, too. It's such a happening, ecoactivist-friendly place. There's so much good stuff going on here: gardeners raising chickens in their backyards, a great organic food co-op where you see everyone you know, an in-town organic coffee roastery and an organic brewery, the Kootenay Co-op Radio station that airs a great program called "Deconstructing Dinner"... The houses are colourful and unique and practically everyone has a vegetable garden, and fruit tumbles onto the neighbourhood back alleys. There's so much amazing arts and crafts in the downtown. Every business features the works of local artists on its walls. And then you go into the valley and you meet timber-framers, carpenters, natural builders, textile designers, illustrators, website designers, permaculture gardeners and raw milk farmers. Canada's first grain CSA is just around the corner in Creston; the local French bakery bought several shares, which they'll mill fresh for their dough. There's such a concentration of good people here that are so with it!

It's really exciting to imagine making this place my home. It really feels like being part of something important and meaningful.

I'm still looking for land. I'd like something close to Nelson... maybe even in Nelson. But if so then ideally on the outskirts, because I don't want to be far from the wilderness. Meeting those urban chicken farmers is inspiring me to do urban agriculture here. In any case I'd like to wait until real estate prices take a dive, because I think everything is still pretty inflated at the moment.

[To my friend who's in Europe:] I'm so glad you get to enjoy Europe for a month! How lovely. One thing that gave me the warmest feeling about Nelson was how much it reminded me of a little Bavarian town in the mountains.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

"It's an era of possibility."
- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Here are some recent photos.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Here's an update I wrote to Matt about a week ago:
I built another cold-frame for winter greens right outside the kitchen. We moved the other cold-frame from the sweet potatoes (which we harvested) over to the existing greens in the garden and I built the new cold frame off of that one. I then transplanted a bunch more greens seedlings into the bare spots, mostly kale. I have no idea if there's enough warmish weather left to allow the kale to grow before winter, but the plan is to at least keep them alive during winter so we can harvest from them for salads. Mike harvested a delicious salad this evening from random greens he found across the property. I think there was arugula from the front yard, some kind of choy that had self-seeded in the garlic bed, and watercress that is totally overcrowding the banks of one of our creeks.

I'm making 7 gallons of plum wine. It's probably day 5 or 6 by now, and I tasted some of it. It tastes a bit like sangria - very fruity and sweet still. Obviously there's much more fermentation that still has to happen. It's actually a recipe for a plum port that I'm following, so it will end up being sweet. I'll show you the winemaking equipment on my webcam next time we chat. I decided making wine was a good idea considering how expensive liquor is out this way (I'm not sure why; I would have expected it to be cheaper, seeing as I'm so close to wine country).

I spent Thanksgiving in Nelson with Meta, Chris and Quanah. We were invited to Kate & Leon's place for dinner. They are endlessly generous people. They've given MCQ so many useful things for their apartment already. I'm not sure what to say. Well, I did say thanks to them before we ate dinner. I brought a spelt plum cake that I had made, and also made an spelt apple pie while I was there. (M&C are all about spelt.) They were deeelicious. The next day MCQ and I wandered the streets of Nelson, but mostly the neighbourhood back alleys uphill. They are so charming. That's what I love most about Nelson. It's ridiculously charming in places. There are back alleys everywhere, and in them you find overhanging fruit tree branches pouring ripe fruit onto the pathway. It's almost like being in a small country town up there - no sounds from the busy downtown streets seem to reach that far. We picked armfuls of plums, pears and grapes because otherwise they would have just gone to waste. Meta made a dessert from them when we came back.
In summary: I'm still having a great time out here.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm in Nelson, BC, a true jewel of a city in the Kootenay mountains.

I must say that the fact that Nelson has its very own brewery producing all the different types of beer you'd ever want - certified organic, to boot - is really the icing on the cake. I have a bottle of the Nelson Brewing Company's oatmeal stout - exquisite, I might add - sitting next to me as I type. The Nelson Brewing Company's brewery occupies part of the Kootenay Warehousing Building, a cute hundred-year-old structure a few blocks uphill from downtown Nelson. This building also happens to house Nelson coffee authority Oso Negro's coffee bean roastery. Oso Negro produces the best organic, fair-trade coffees for distribution to cafes and health food stores in Nelson and area, including its very own, ridiculously popular Oso Negro Café, where you really have no good reason not to visit at least once a day if you live in Nelson. It's gorgeous, like virtually every other establishment in this city.

My dad and I are camping in the Nelson city campground. I visited Nelson earlier in the summer and really liked it, but it turns out Nelson is even prettier than I realized. We've been walking and driving through some of the neighbourhoods, and it really feels a lot like a European town - German to be more precise, even though there's probably no actual German influence here. The hospital is perched on the mountainside and surrounded by lush vegetation of all kinds. Random plum trees and pear trees bear the sweetest fruit over sidewalks. Walkways, stairways and alleyways wind their way around terraced homes and gardens. Houses are painted in many bright colours and kept in remarkable shape. No wonder people want to live here so badly. It's pretty darn easy to fall in love with this place.

We're trying to help Meta and Chris find an apartment here. One of the ladies running the campground told us that finding a place to live in Nelson is hard work. You have to read the classifieds every single day and just take whatever you can get. If you're picky, then you're probably going to end up homeless. (I guess other people want to move here that badly.)

I just wish there were more towns in Canada, especially in Ontario, that were built with as much care and attention to detail as Nelson was. Most other towns I know sprawl far too much. This is even true of any of the other valley towns we passed through in BC as we were driving towards Nelson. Their aesthetics simply paled in comparison. Most of the towns in the prairies, especially in Saskatchewan, were ugly as hell. (I should note this isn't so in any German prairie towns I've visited.) What went so right in Nelson, I wonder? Obviously it has a lot more history than most of the other towns, and that certainly plays a key role. But Cobourg has history, too, and beyond the downtown there's basically nothing to feel good about in that "feel good town". My dad jokingly said that seeing Nelson makes him almost feel like a fool for living in Cobourg.

I'm probably not going to live here right in Nelson, as exciting as that thought is. Winlaw is the place for me, for now. But I'm very thankful that Canada has a town as beautiful and loved as this one.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

DVD Rewinder - $16.49


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So I'm back in Toronto. I took a bus from Nelson to Winnipeg and spent about a week in Winnipeg with Matt, who was there for a conference of urban planners. We had bought tickets for Saturday at the Winnipeg Folkfest, and the weather was pretty godawful that day. Apparently it was the first time in all 35 years of the Folk Festival's history that a whole day was cold and rained out like that, and Matt and I were lucky enough to choose it! (Of course, all the other days were sunny and warm.)

But we still had a great time. We got to see some good performers, like Hayden and Calexico, and we drank hot maté from the Twelve Tribes booths - Maté Factor and Common Grounds. The Twelve Tribes have a community near Winnipeg, but I heard about them when I was in Nelson, where they have another intentional community as well as a café, which is very beautiful, in-town but on a hillside surrounded by trees. The people who work there are very hospitable and generous (forcing much free food and drink upon me), and not preachy at all (though I didn't bother asking about the Christian-based religion their movement seems to be founded upon). Their maté and their food are incredibly good.

I spent the rest of my time in Winnipeg getting to know the city a bit. City of empty parking lots, I like to call it. It's a little strange. The streets were pretty empty in general, especially of pedestrians. The mosquitoes weren't bad at all while I was there, though I was expecting them to be bad considering that the city has been getting fogged for them regularly (since West Nile broke out, I guess?). I'm not sure why this year the mosquito presence was so low. The mosquitoes weren't nearly as bad as usual in Winlaw, either.

I'm back in Toronto now. I'm not really all that happy about the air quality. I suppose I was pretty spoiled when I was out west. The heavy, humid, yellow, smoggy air seems to go as far east as Cobourg, probably much farther. The humidity itself I can bear, it's just all the pollutants that mix in with it that I find make it barely bearable to breathe. Yes, I guess I've become somewhat overly sensitive to these things... ;) Food, water, and air quality rank pretty high on my list now.

Anyhow, I'm in Ontario for the time being, but chances are I'm bound for Winlaw again in a month or two. I think I've succumbed to the lure of the West.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

I wrote this a couple weeks ago in Nelson. Sorry for the delay in getting it posted...
I have been having SUCH a good time in Winlaw. Peggy's farm and Peggy and her WWOOFers, Mike and Janet, are so much fun. Peggy has a story for every conversation topic, and she always tells it in a way that makes you laugh. She spent six years in northern California (Humboldt county) learning about natural building. She bought this farm in Winlaw a few years ago. She's so laid back, in a way I find to be very balanced. She also takes on a lot of projects and knows her stuff about straw-bale, cob and light-clay construction. We helped her build part of her sauna, which she hopes to have finished by winter. We've been doing lots of plastering and some straw-bale construction. I scythed her garden perimeter and built her a cold frame for her one sweet potato plant. There's tons to do at her place, and it keeps me pretty stimulated. There are also constantly things going wrong, but it's never really a big deal to Peggy. She quickly makes light of almost any disaster. At least, this has been my experience while staying on her farm, and it's probably one of the reasons I'd have no qualms staying there for a lot longer.

I love it in Winlaw and Nelson. Well, I still don't know much about Nelson, save the 4 or so days I've spent here, but it seems like a pretty rocking town. There's definitely a large number of well-off, somewhat alternate-reality retired folks here, too, and unfortunately some completely differently-minded former Albertans and their townie skate-park kids. There is a Wal-Mart, too. But in general I think people are youthful and positive, artistic and thoughtful. There are also quite a few people obviously affected by hard drugs, but at least they're more interesting than most of the people you see in, say, Cobourg.

Winlaw is the place for me, though. At this point I could totally see myself becoming Peggy's long-term farm assistant, as Mike seems to have (he's been there since last fall). I felt so at home at Peggy's, and I think so did Janet (she's leaving the Kootenays at the same time as I am). Peggy's expecting Janet and me to come back before long. I'd really like to. Everyone here repeats how beautiful Winlaw is in the winter. They apparently turn the rails-to-trails path into a cross-country ski path during that time, so instead of biking to the health food store, you'd ski.
I have many more pictures posted now. Enjoy.
BC 2008

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Here's an update I sent Jon not too long ago:
I met Peggy at the permaculture course, which finished 3 weeks ago. She has a farm in Winlaw, and she's super fun. 34, really experienced in natural building as well as gardening, super friendly, pretty frank, and you can ask her anything. I came to Peggy's and one of the first things I asked her was whether she had a scythe. (I was inspired by the tall, thick cooch grass that came right up the edge of her garlic, onion and potato beds.) At first she didn't think she did, then she remembered that someone had visited her once and left their home-made scythe here, but nobody's made use of it since. She wasn't sure if it was any good, but showed it to me and I fixed it up a bit. The "bar" of this scythe was carved wood, and the blade was attached by that copper stripping stuff (looked somewhat makeshift) and was getting a bit loose. I added another screw and it seemed to tighten it well. I sharpened the blade with a file and got it quite nice. It only had one handle on it - for the left hand - so with my right hand I had to hold it by the bar. I used it to scythe around the vegetable patch. It worked really well - very sharp, maybe sharper than Ricardo's scythe, even - but I found myself switching the way I held it with my right hand pretty often because it would get sore. So I think I need a proper right-hand handle which would allow me to turn my wrist exactly halfway between the two positions I keep switching it between (as I imagine most scythes have). I haven't had a chance to build one, but that's the next step. At the end of scything, I noticed the blade had come a bit loose again, probably from all the dirt and/or rocks I banged the blade against as I used it (which can't be good for the blade anyway). I'm sure I have to learn how to avoid banging the blade against anything, but it's a bit tricky when the grass is so tall and the land isn't flat and hasn't been fully rock-picked. That just seems to be how most of the land is around here.

Yeah, BC is awesome. You know it. I'm having trouble coming up with reasons to prefer Ontario over BC. Sure, the land isn't flat here, it's rocky, and it's expensive. People are worried about the private hydro-electric installations and say the rivers are at risk. I learned today that California has destroyed most of its rivers extracting gravel, and it now relies on imports from BC's gravel pits, thus destroying BC's rivers. The way clearcut logging and planting happens here is apparently the reason for the annual droughts and also the proliferation of the pine beetle. And it's common knowledge that the economy of the Kootenays is sustained by the drug trade. The mosquitoes are bad in Winlaw (not that it matters much). But the people are fantastic, the markets are wonderful, Nelson has the largest selection of bulk items in Canada at the Kootenay Co-op (bulk essential oils?!), the air is incomparably fresh and delicious, the summers are hot but not humid like in Ontario, the vegetables and fruit trees grow large, the creeks supply the cleanest water without filtration (for now), organic, raw milk is not difficult to obtain, the mountains are gorgeous... and I haven't even been camping or gone to the natural hot springs yet (I will be soon, though).
As you can tell, I'm pretty tempted to make this place my home...

More updates soon.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A few words I wrote to Matt...
Having a pretty interesting time here - good interesting. I'm getting a better sense of this valley, Nelson and Winlaw. Starting to feel a bit more at home here.

I've been having the best food. So many greens from the garden, from various gardens. Last night I had greens from someone's garden in Nelson, who just converted his friend's backyard to gardens from pure cooch grass (is this the same as twitchgrass? Spreads by the roots, pretty hard to kill completely...). He was growing a variety of spinach that was a beautiful deep red. He was also growing a stevia plant! I tasted a couple of the small leaves - man, they're sweet. I'd never eaten fresh stevia before. What a trip. And tonight I had more greens from Ricardo's garden, and an abundance of greens he has, too! Everything's starting to get gigantic now that we're experiencing the longest days of the year. It's pretty exciting, but it makes it hard to keep up with harvesting! The crazy part of the summer begins already...

Nelson is a pretty darn charming town. I got a chance to wander through some of its neighbourhoods today. The gardens people have in their yards are numerous, varied, and abundant. The houses themselves are quaint and cottage-like, each one full of character. Much of the public space is unmanicured and wild. As I remember seeing in Portland when I visited a couple years ago, there is an abundance of flowers in Nelson, roses being the kind that most often caught my eye.

The Soulstice celebration was pretty fun. I think my favourite part of any party like that is the dancing part towards the end.. when I'm properly unsober and feeling the rhythms of the music or drumming... I love being in "the zone", you know? The day after was super super lazy at Ricardo's. Ricardo had three of his friends from Nelson staying for a couple nights, and I liked their energy, so I decided to be social and tagged along. We had some mushroom chocolate sauce on Breyer's vanilla ice cream topped with oats and maple syrup. It tasted divine, I tell you. The sauce had a mild but pleasant effect on me.

I ended up spending the next day still hanging out with Ricardo's Nelson friends. They were planning a day trip canoeing and fishing somewhere along the Kootenay River that passes through Nelson, and Ricardo said I shouldn't pass it up. So I joined them. We didn't end up actually fishing probably because we wasted too much of the day getting ready for the trip, plus the boat was a little tippy with the four of us in it, but it was still a sweet trip. There's a cave and some petroglyphs across the river in Nelson.

There are also some less favourable things I learned about the Kootenays. It's a little discouraging to know how much of the population of Nelson and Winlaw is involved in the drug economy, and the reason that people can afford the high prices for land around here. It seems many of the residents in the valley who can afford the more expensive properties have a profitable relationship with the trade of one drug or another. Yet despite the Kootenays probably being the drug capital of Canada, I've heard the culture here is in fact a lot more positive than on Saltspring Island. It sounds like the drug culture out there has really screwed some people up, and Nelson and the Kootenays are a breath of fresh air in comparison.

Another sobering point about life in the Kootenays: winter can be quite the challenge, especially in the Slocan Valley (i.e. Winlaw). It gets very dark and the world is engulfed in many feet of snow. It's gorgeous, but the snow is heavy, and practically impossible to deal with without some kind of vehicle or other powered means of transportation to get you to the plowed road. You may also be chopping wood constantly to heat your home. The creeks run low, so water is a concern; melting snow on your woodstove is apparently too slow of a process to be practical. Generally, it sounds like valley residents don't leave their homes as much in the winter. If you're not living right in the city, then plowing/shovelling the driveway becomes a huge chore, and can be enough to keep you inside your house worrying if your supply of food is going to run out. It's important to keep a well-stocked root cellar or pantry in the winter if you're not living right in town. (And when the shit goes down and they bomb Iran, maybe that'll be important for everyone... yikes!)

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Friday, June 20, 2008

It is the evening before Soulstice, the biggest annual celebration of the Slocan Valley. I can hear drummers practicing a distance up the hill. Soulstice just happens to be hosted by Ricardo, my dear WWOOFing host. Danielle, a longtime Winlover ("Winlove" being this village's nickname) I recently met, pointed out to me how fortunate I am to have gotten the opportunity to WWOOF for the man she dubbed the "Wonderful Wizard of Winlaw". I'm probably getting the best possible first experience of Winlaw that this village has to offer.

Ricardo and I wandered through Nelson yesterday to do a few errands. It seemed as if almost every other person we passed knew Ricardo, offering anything from a friendly greeting to an ecstatic gabfest. From the various people he met, Ricardo gathered that Soulstice is the talk of the town. He didn't even advertise this event. I guess he is a wizard.

In preparation for the visiting masses, I've been helping Ricardo get the garden looking its most fab. One thing that I've been doing is scything his cooch grass, bracken ferns and thimbleberries surrounding the fruit trees, and I daresay I like the work. I think it does my body much good. Ricardo has quite the experience using a scythe. He used to have a job bushwhacking paths through the forest using a scythe. I found a file to sharpen the blade yesterday, which probably doubled my productivity. I will have a scythe on my farm.

I posted more photos...

BC 2008

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

I have some new pictures... I will try to get more pictures of people.

BC 2008

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I have some pictures from my trip. Click below to view.

BC 2008

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hey friends,

I'm having a pretty great time in Winlaw. It's a magical place. Here are some things I've written to others about my last couple weeks. Enjoy.
Well, the permaculture course rocks. And it's only been two days. Today we hiked through the mountains and listened to Shanoon, an expert in medicinal herbs and wild edibles, describe how virtually everything we came across not only had a use to humans but was in fact much more nutritious than almost any garden variety crop, explaining why they're much better absorbed by the body than conventional medicines. It really made me rethink the concept of "weeds", and what it means to put a plot of land to "use". Most people begin with the assumption that land must first be cleared before you can make it useful. What I learned today showed me how absurd of a notion that is.

The people taking the course come from all kinds of backgrounds and levels of experience. Yet we're all so in-line with our philosophies; when Gregoire (the teacher) says something that in my mind begs the question "but how do you do it without fossil fuels?" or "but don't tires leach chemicals into the soil?" it seems there's always someone in the group who beats me to it. It's sooo refreshing to be among a group of people - indeed, living in a whole village - where everyone is generally on the same page! Nobody in this valley asks you to explain what permaculture is; they were brought up knowing the answer. Few question why you don't drive; they assume you don't and know why. :)

I would say that the soil is very rocky, at least at Ricardo's, but it produces green abundance like crazy. And Gregoire's land is totally easy-breezy to till, as it's lower in the valley flatlands than Ricardo's and probably has been farmed for longer. Everything that grows here is giant-size - the trees, the ferns, the dandelions. Even the people are. I feel like a dwarf sometimes, to be honest. It's like being in Giant World in Super Mario 3. Most of Ricardo's friends are pretty tall. Ricardo himself is 6'6.
Serene and magical. We've been eating a huge salad of wild lettuce and sorrel from the garden every day, Ricardo and I. The organic eggs in the only Winlaw food store are produced in Winlaw, a village of 400 people. Ricardo's hosting a solstice party on his highest clearing where there's a stage and an old school bus. One year 500 people came.
Today we visited an old farmer and his wife. Frank is pretty concerned about peak oil and is basically running his whole farm by hand. He's a metalworker and inventor, but he's pretty anti-technology; he thinks it's mostly to blame for our current predicament. So they're sowing buckwheat and rye and barley and peas and corn and sunflowers all by hand. Growing corn for enough chickens by hand. And their chickens are beautifully healthy looking - 13 eggs per day. They even have mothers incubate their chicks naturally. Pretty good considering all the other food growing and construction projects they've got on the go. They're building lots of cob stuff, and also concrete. He showed us his beautiful concrete root cellar with potatoes and preserves in it. And then we all just hung out at his house for an hour eating home-grown oatcakes and drinking tea. At the end he talked about how he wishes there were more young farmers out here leasing the land of older folk who don't have time to do anything with their land. It reminded me that renting/leasing might be a really good idea for the short term.. maybe even long term. I'm going to be looking into it.
The children I've met are so beautiful. I've met a couple gypsy mothers with the most well adjusted kids. Lots of young couples here with young kids and babies feeding them organic food. There are people with glowing auras and old souls. I'm going to visit a herbalist next week, an older woman named Shemaha with a face worn and weathered. She can be a bit blunt to you at first, but she has the warmest smile, and much wisdom to share.

Not to mention that it's sooo beautiful here and abundant with vegetation and wildlife. It smells incredible - nothing like the prairies or Ontario. It's so in-your-face sweet! I feel so spoiled to be here, eating wild and garden greens for dinner every day, drinking directly from springs and creeks. I've been learning a lot about medicinal plants and wildcrafting. It's amazing how many of the plants in the forest have medicinal or nutritional value. I now look at the forest floor in a completely different way. I see food everywhere!

The general sense I get from the people in Winlaw is bursting positivity. Everyone pretty much knows all about the unfolding world crises; people are just preparing for them by gardening. It seems like everyone has a garden. Almost every friend of Ricardo's that he introduces me to ends up in conversation with Ricardo about something relating to plants or animals. There are so many people who have come to Winlaw for the same reasons you and Chris talk about, too. Many people came here because they simply didn't believe in having "careers".

I haven't even really seen Nelson yet. I got there the first day and Ricardo took me to a cafe and the farmers market. I was already impressed by how interesting the people looked and how beautiful and charming the town was. But then he drove me to Winlaw and I haven't had to visit Nelson since. There are three buses that go between Nelson and Winlaw every day, for $2.75 I think.

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