When I was a young child, my grandmother observed me holding a butterfly and commented “Your kindness is appreciated”. Her words affirmed my essence and I held onto them because she voiced something I felt deep inside. I loved my grandmother. She saw me in a certain way and that implanted something in me; she shaped my identity. As a youth, I enjoyed wildflower pressing and creating nature-art. I was connected to nature and considered studying Environmental Studies at university, but my values were eroded by the dream of a middle class life with a good steady job that could support a couple of kids, a house in the suburbs and two cars. I chose a career in IT that offered a higher salary to sustain the lifestyle I wanted. By middle age, I felt alone, lost and out of sorts in a high tech world. The incongruence between my core values and my way of life created a perfect storm – a storm that I see reflected in society’s struggle to balance ecology and the economy.
I searched for meaning in the human potential movement. I began asking the existential question: who am I? I ended my marriage of 28 years and changed jobs. To cope with all the changes in my life, I turned to yoga and meditation. I searched for purpose by walking the land of my ancestors – the land where my beloved grandmother had lived and gardened. I found spiritual grounding in that garden surrounded by forest. I call it Sophie’s Garden. The forest became my church – a place to go for renewal. I healed my mind and body by restoring my connection with the community of nature, but I yearned for a human community. I dreamed of developing a place where people come to experience community, to eat local organic food and to become acquainted with local medicinal plants. When I described this place to a friend, he said that it sounded like ‘permaculture’.
I googled ‘permaculture’ and discovered a philosophy and language that spoke to my heart. A video by Bill Wilson, a permaculturist, describes his connection with nature. Here was a person who relates to nature that way I do. I felt compelled to learn more and enrolled in a two week course to obtain my permaculture certification. At Midwest Permaculture in Wisconsin, I experienced a sense of community with the other participants. At Occidental Arts and Ecology Centre, I explored intentional community and learned how to blend economy with ecology. I found my tribe! Finding my people was like coming home.
I returned to Manitoba with the intention to integrate organic market gardening and building a community. Slowly, I am unfolding toward this purpose. Will I be able to find my tribe in Manitoba? At a start-up farmer’s market at Redwood & Main, I met Sally, who facilitates workshops for the Farm Mentorship Program. By participating in her workshops on managing a market garden, I developed a network of small organic market gardeners… people like me.
Currently I am engaged in the most challenging creative work I have ever undertaken: to integrate food and permaculture systems with conscious community. Sometimes I get discouraged by the resistance of conservative rural Manitoba. Another challenge is self-sufficiency. I am learning to overcome my fear that I will not be able to be self-sustaining by working with the land and selling my produce.
I respect activists who fight the oil industry and Monsanto, but I am not a warrior with a passion for fighting enemies. I want to create openness for transformation toward a new paradigm. I am waiting for the next Nelson Mandela or Gandhi to show up and lead us forward to a new vision. It could be Pope Francis. I am ready to follow a leader who inspires us to create a new reality by working together. I don’t know anyone with that skill set, but I wait patiently and hopefully for someone like Elon Musk who does not fight the oil industry like Neil Young (bless his heart); he invents technologies that will render the oil industry obsolete. I am inspired by the wise man who said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”