Catalyst Podcast Ep. 1: Performance Farming with Adam McPhail

I’ve wanted to start a podcast for a while. I love talking to people and hearing their stories, and often learn so much about life and myself in the process. The PDC course brought me a lot of firsts: first field school, first time sharing my own music and hooping for an audience, and first time interviewing someone with the intent of making a podcast.

The start:
I initially approached Tamara McPhail about doing an interview, which never materialized. I was very interested in the story of how a team of women battled with the courts for years to win the deed to Linnaea Farm. This woman is so inspiring, confident, and wise. I wanted to get to know her but also felt hugely intimidated, and I also got the feeling I was asking questions that were not really my place to ask. During our brief chat we talked about some things that I was very curious about, namely the parts of farm life that we were not immediately privy to. The hard times, the personal conflicts, the realities of living in what, in a purely economic view, is poverty. Me, ever the journalist, wanted the ‘real deal’, the ‘true story’ of farm life. I knew the breezy picture we got in the beginning of our stay could not be the whole picture.

Tamara succinctly called it ‘Farm Porn’. Seductive images and storylines of farm life that we valorize, but when the lights turn back on the gritty reality is unmasked. Farm life is physically and mentally extremely hard work with little to show in economic payoff. Although living deeply in connection with the land has a magnificent intangible value, it is the little things that start to chip away at that veneer, such as affording to retire, go to the dentist, and send children to university. Perhaps with more student groups and a revamped educational centre we can build more successional stages into the ongoing growth of Linnaea Farm.

With no sign of Tamara I approached Adam after his final lecture and asked if he would like to chat. Luckily Adam agreed to spend some time with me and shared his story. I am so happy I got a chance to get to know this incredibly wise, intelligent, and funny person. I hope you enjoy this candid interview!

Some quotes from Adam:

“Somewhere between science and our own will there are solutions.”

“We have to be strong and vulnerable all at the same bloody time. Keep that spirit up, like I CAN DO IT!”

“Living is performance is art is beautiful”

Personal Reflection:
Adam brought up a point that brought into question the agricultural programs now offered by universities- before this was common a small farm like Linnaea didn’t have to compete with flashy new educational programs. Now the market for ‘farm knowledge’ is being taken over by well-funded educational programs that have been developed in a classroom rather than by the farmers themselves. Coming to Linnaea from exactly a university run program definitely took on a different hue after that piece of insight was offered- why do the little guys always lose??

If I had a say in the matter I would wholeheartedly support these world-wise and hardworking people to spread their deep knowledge and support their endeavours. I hope this podcast can shed a little light and bring a little wealth to Linnaea Farms and her Stewards. In particular Adam highlighted the history and traditions of Linnaea as something newer educational farm sites do not have. A rich culture of land stewardship, community, and conflict is often something I feel disconnected from as a ‘terrible white person’, but while at Linnaea I learned that traditional knowledge is something everyone has access too. It is borne not solely from ancestry, but can also come from developing an ongoing relationship with the land.

Further Info:
Check out Adams zany, intelligent, and informative farming videos on his FARMOUT broadcast.





Returning home = bumpy landings

Ok, who turned the world upside-down? Lakeside reflections at Linnaea Farms.

I didn’t know drinking the PDC kool-aid came with a nasty real-world level hangover! Coming home after the Permaculture Design Course at Linnaea Farms has left me feeling like I have been spat out the end of a tornado. Though I have landed right where I started the person who returned has certainly changed. 

I admit to having a fairly dismal view of the world and people in general … as a whole. It has been so indescribably awesome to experience the exception that is the PDC class and field school. I didn’t see in my daily life the kind of lives that I was exposed to in this course; people who are crazy and wonderful and brave enough to make their lives about something strong and intangible. A sense of responsibility, perhaps. ‘Meatpunk’ Max suggested a strong justice bone. I saw in these people; Tamera and Adam, Sabina, Max, Mike, Oliver, David, Brent, and Liz and Kristen (did I get everyone?!), teachers and peers, a presence of deep integrity. A sense of stewardship, of belonging deeply to this planet Earth we call home, and an unwavering urge to protect her from the follies of our very own species. 

When exposed to lives such as this, then returning home, the whole experience hardly seems to exist. Returning to the norm after experiencing such a radical shift from my usual daily reality has resulted in a few bumps, a few rude awakenings, and a sense of disillusionment and directionlessness.

Sitting back in my house the whole trip is already starting to feel like an awesome dream that doesn’t quite fit in to the reality I have gotten used to. Where are the awesome permaculture energy capture systems on everyone’s roofs? Where are the permeable surfaces and water catchment systems and food forests and composting toilets? Where are the serial-gardeners and community makers and stigma shakers? Mostly where is a farmhouse where I can walk out of my room to a house full of friends- people I can talk to about some of the most intense thoughts I’ve had and instead of being met with disdain or derision, find that they too have felt or thought the same things.

What bouys me from these thoughts is that what we just experienced was definitely real, the people we met are still doing their amazing things, and we can keep this momentum going in our own lives. I’m looking forward to reading everyones blog posts and getting a sense of what everyone was able to take home from this course. Already it has been awesome to read the few posts that are up and to get a sense of the PDC field school through someone else’s eyes. 

A few tips I’ve used for a smoother landing:

  • Take care of yourself and attend to your basic needs: drink lots of water, eat well, and get enough sleep.
  • Practice a form of flow that feels right to you: listening to music, drawing, dancing, exercise, gardening, meditation, etc. are all great ways to calm your mind and build that inner resilience to change.
  • Trust yourself and trust your feelings: we all just put ourselves out there in a tender, ‘safe’ environment, among people we have only recently gotten to know. Trust in the goodness of people, assume good intentions, while still practicing your boundaries and letting character judgements reflect long term actions, not short term vibes. One week is a great way to get a taste of a person, but true flavours and complexities are known only through the process of building relationships.
  • Reflect on the week to integrate what you’ve learned into your life: whether that is by researching your chosen topic, writing these blogs, starting your own garden, arting it out,  talking about it with friends, or whatever you do to express yourself and make yourself whole again.

The transformation process is not an all-at once thing that blows you out of the water. There are many small shifts, and each one takes some getting used to; you’re basically un-learning a long-standing habit and relearning a new one. ” – Penney Pierce

Here is a link to a passage that spoke well to the transition I am feeling right now: There Are Many Small Shifts, Penney Pierce . Check out the whole ‘Mystic Mamma’ website for awesome inspirational and earth-inspired poetry with a touch of mystical wisdom. 

I know I am a bit worn out, overwhelmed, and hit the ground a little hard today. Hope everyone is doing well! For anyone that wants to stay involved and keep this ‘permacult’ going I made a Facebook Page and Group for us to stay connected 🙂 

Permaculture Reflections by Paige Whitehead

Read this post on Paige’s blog

Im currently taking ES 481: Intro to Permaculture Design at UVic. My team, the ‘Welland Permapunks’ are working on creating an improved design for the Welland Legacy Orchard located in View Royal just off the Galloping Goose trail, pictured above. Part of this class involved a field trip to the incredibly inspiring home of Ann and Gord, aka Eco-Sense. Here are my reflections on this immersion into permaculture ‘culture’:

Recently I visited a permaculture homestead called Eco-Sense with a Permaculure Design class (ES: 481). This permaculture-style homestead was truthfully an incredible, inspiring model of the power of applied environmental ethic, ingenious and innovative design solutions, and straight up hard work. I know, sounds too good to be true, but heres the kick- its already happening! The main point which hit home for me was the hardcore attention to detail and data to create meaningful language for people across disciplines; simply, the math made sense. Check out their research reports for yourself.

Ann and Gord, a couple who have devoted themselves to transforming their very lifestyle to be Earth-healing, have honed their permaculture techniques for over 10 years, and have the data to back up their claims of being, pretty much, the best people ever. Their house is peppered with sensors that, along with some well-designed spread sheets, determine: how much energy is saved each year by switching to solar power; how much heat the natural cob walls hold and store (vocab word: thermal mass storage), and how that translates into a decrease in electricity needed to heat their home. They produce over 80% of their food onsite, are active members of their local government, and host workshops to teach others how to retrofit their own homes/lifestyles. Plus have a dog and duck who are best friends or sworn enemies, depending on the time of day.

Check out their blog or visit an open house to see it for yourself. Each element of their house and surrounding ‘food forest’ garden have been designed with the intention of decreasing strain on our Earth system, and in fact create systems which are healing rather than destructive. Honestly, the part that struck me the most was the heated floors (heated by hot water running through piping underfoot), though that may have been due to the freezing weather our class endured while touring their sizeable property. I never thought being a bonafide eco-warrior could also be so luxurious!

I left this tour feeling inspired, daunted at the amount work to be done to transform whole cities, whole nations (thats the goal, right?), and with an underlying sense of unease and insignificance. These people spend each and every day owning their footprint on the Earth in a way I have never seen before, and it made my choices to bike to school and compost food scraps seem appallingly trivial.

The night I returned from the field trip I dreamt of a warzone. I was handed a gun with the understanding that I would be using it to kill. Running between cement blocks, I aimed and shot at everything and everyone in sight. Blood ran in front of my eyes, the landscape swirled around until the only colours were shades of grey and crimson red. I continued to run, jumping over bodies until I stumbled through a doorway and slammed it closed. Gasping for breath I took the time to look around and noticed I was actually standing within an animated world, and the landscape was changing. White paint rollers, computer generated, soon covered the bloodstained ground, cleaning up the mess before the game was reset.

I woke up disturbed, yet curious as to what exactly sparked a dream of such violence. It took me a while to realize I had a nightmare. I thought back to the class visit to Ecosense, and revisited the feeling of dread. The dream left me with a sense of urgency, desperation, and futility, and touched on the underlying sense of unease I felt mixed in with the inspiration and insignificance after leaving the permaculture site. Then, fear.

Deep rooted fear.

To me, Ann and Gord’s home was a testament to applied universal consciousness. Their incredible devotion to building wholesome, healthier lifestyles, communities, and infrastructure not only for the individuals directly involved, but for future communities as well is what this deep care looks like (who else has taken Duncan Taylor’s Systems Theory class?). Yet within this drive, this push to create, is also a deep fear of what will happen if we do not. The warzone in my dream mirrored the violence we are committing on the Earth, and we, as part of the Earth, are committing on ourselves. People who are on the front lines of climate change research, or environmental refugees who have lost their homeland, would probably agree with this feverpitch- it’s a war out there. Not just ‘against’ climate change, but also to somehow acknowledge, treat, and heal results of our unsustainable culture which has infected the world.

I am writing this to acknowledge this conflict. I know I feel it, do you feel it? Yeah, of course, it could just be I have been spending too much time focused on the dark side of Environmental Studies, but sometimes I want to scream. Is it enough? Will it ever be enough? So much of this healing work is volunteer and ‘hobby’ status, or requires one to first be independently wealthy. This work is incredibly important, perhaps the most important, beautiful, and humanistic work I can think of, yet I yearn for something that would give the current system a clear wake up call, and something that could support these people who care so much with the necessities of life: air, water, food, homes, community, health, purpose, and yes, money. How? Well one thought: eventually these permaculture buildings will be so energy efficient, and loaded with so many energy capturing systems, that energy companies will be purchasing electricity from us. In fact, thats exactly how Ann and Gord keep their energy bill down. Yet, even if we had 20 Ann and Gords, 100 Ann and Gords, with the current growth rate of our population and the average energy consumption rate per capita increasing…. somethings got to give.

This is when the internal warzone kicks into high gear, and when I need to remind myself to keep breathing and chill out on the apocalypse thought loops. Some days I want to exempt myself from this struggle, from having to attempt to answer these questions with a lifetime of work that may fail- the challenges seem insurmountable. It would be so much easier to stop caring, keep my head down, get back to my studies, and let more important people worry about these big problems. Its not appropriate to be so raw, to be so preoccupied, or to assume such responsibility.

It’s safer to leave these thoughts the way they are, within my mind.

But I think they’re in your mind too.

Side note: quote from Is it me or is it capitalism:
“Take environment degradation. Dr. Samuels says depression is often caused by feeling guilt when we hurt someone we love. We love the planet, and as we’re bombarded with images of its imminent demise—­dying polar bears, mass migration, catastrophic oil spills—we may take upon ourselves the responsibility for having damaged it. Neoliberal environmental ideology pins responsibility on us as individuals who should be using locally fermented lip balm (hah), rather than on the CEO of Exxon.”