Making inside of yourself a safe place to be

As I embark soon on a new adventure to a new place, one which is very likely to be less comfortable and entertaining from a Western perspective than my previous home base, I feel completely at peace with my decision. Driving around Calgary yesterday morning I imagined chatting with a local teenager about my choice and explaining to them the amenities that I will soon be without as I settle into typical town life in a West African country. There will be no shopping malls, no cinema, very little diversity in restaurant food and certainly no luxuries such as Apple Stores and Cirque du Soleil. I’m visualizing instead sunlight, warmth, a simple home with a simple office and some dusty roads to get from one to the other*. These images brings ease to my heart. I could imagine however that it would make my hypothetical teenager cringe in distaste. She would then turn to me, bewildered, asking “How the hell are you going to survive out there ?!?” wondering why on Earth I would choose to move to a place like this, and do it willingly.

When I think of the many forms of entertainment and distractions that my Canadian reality currently offers me, I consider why they exist in the first place. For some reason, ever since I’ve arrived back here from Africa earlier this summer, the topic of mental health here in Canada has often been on my mind and shared in discussions. I am told that after an economic downturn when Calgarians were earning the big bucks working for oil & gas firms there has been a slump, many lay-offs and consequently many people moving from a place of personal financial power to what can be seen as a fall in the ranks. They are dealing with life’s ups and downs, as we all do, and some are letting go of how things used to be with less grace than others. Depression and its extreme cousin, suicide, have already been present for a long time, and now, or so I am told, they are finding a stronger foothold. Calgary has been an economic powerhouse for many Canadians (and many immigrants) and has drawn people from outside of the province for a long time. Migration for the chance of better economic conditions happens all the time and everywhere, and it can also bring with it a lacking sense of community and belonging. If so many of us are from somewhere else and we have all essentially gathered here in the pursuit of the dollar, does this common purpose actually bring us together in any real, community-building way?

Human beings desire meaningful and lasting relationships with other human beings. No amount of facebooks, instagrams or facetimes can ever substitute our basic human needs as the social creatures that we are. If you think they can then I think that you are kidding yourself. Yes the online tools can be useful in so far as we can share basic communication and ideas with those who are far away, and with those who are nearby, at least in my humble opinion, they can serve to plan an actual face to face meeting.

Art, literature, entertainment, great food and beautiful shows can add richness and beauty to our lives, yet whether or not they can be a part of our long-term happiness depends on why we reach for them in the first place. Our own emotions and experiences of life can feel so overwhelming at times that all we want to do is to escape, and for that, I am unhappy to report, we have already found a million and one solutions. Consider every addiction ever heard of and every experience where we are stimulated and lose all sense of time – and therein we have found an escape. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying we need to be aware of it, and to be aware of why we are doing it. Escape once, escape twice and continue reaching for something to numb that which is alive and real in you and you are in many ways cheating yourself. This can be a calculated cheating and please believe me when I express my heartfelt empathy for all those facing huge losses and traumas in their lives. Nevertheless, my attention comes back to whether or not what are doing is done with awareness and if, with that awareness, we can begin to glimpse the consequences of these escapes. The less we feel safe with what is present now in life, the less that we can trust in a mysterious unfolding of events that so often we can not comprehend, the less we feel safe within ourselves.

What I felt like saying yesterday in this conversation with the Canadian teenager in my head, is that what allows me to live in places devoid of what some people might consider good living and good entertainment is that I have created – and I continue to create – safety within myself to be with myself. I realize now that any practice I have ever practiced in being gentle with myself, in being kind and considerate with myself in any struggle that I am facing has created a place of softness and relaxation within me. This softness allows me to breathe, if even just a little or for just one second more, and to be with myself as I am and to be in peace. If a situation still feels overwhelming I can choose to escape into a movie, a book, take a trip or grab a bottle of red and go dancing (yup, sometimes it’s the best solution!) then I do so consciously and not without acknowledging that I have taken the time, sometimes nothing more than a short minute, to practice finding safety within myself first. Practice, practice and practice more and what unfolds is a mind and an internal universe which is a place of comfort. It is a place where I happily go and I visit it not to judge, hurt and scream at myself but instead it is where I retreat inside to find understanding, to connect with peace and, as is often the case, simply to breathe, accept and to let it be. This place has become sacred and, over time, even enjoyable so that when I’m done connecting within and I’m reaching for entertainment I reach much more often now for that which will add beauty to this internal universe as opposed to reaching for something or someone who will help me to escape it.

Up to now I never fully considered what all of the readings and teachings in buddhism, yoga and meditation – everything that I learn and practice which rings so true in my heart about surrender, acceptance, non-violence and non-stealing – would really mean when put together. What I have recently discovered is that this trust in the Divine, the trust that I have in my own path and the understanding of how things truly are coming together to form an internal place of safety and light that serves me in any time and through any storm. And because this special place is within myself and always present I take it with me everywhere that I go.

I can only add that I would wish such a place of safety would be uncovered and accessible inside each and every person.


*That’s not to say that markets and musical concerts and shows in my African town don’t exist, because they do, but they certainly won’t be presented in the same way as we would expect it in Canada. This makes them interesting, yes, but rarely restful.

Image: practicing a 3-legged dog at yoga teacher training in Canada, summer of 2018. Photo credit to Inspired Yoga Institute

Oh but to live in a chicken coop again

Stories of home and hearth : central Alberta, Canada – June-Sept 2013

When the Fishers and I decided to work together last summer, I was to be living out at their farm near the town of Didsbury most days in the week, and touching base with the big city life in Calgary the other days of the week.

I decided it would be fun to bike commute one way by bicycle, about 100km across the open prairies in a day’s time, and would catch a ride with the Fishers back into the city on our weekly trips to the Farmer’s market.  In between, I would be working and living at the farm. The work would be divided between online marketing activities, farm work and food prep.  Ah, but living… that’s where we needed some luck: my lodgings.

On a large property filled with scattered farm equipment, old sheds and trucks and even a trailer or two the Fishers knew that finding me a spot to call my own would be more a matter of creativity than actual concern.  We initially toyed with the idea of using one of the trailers.  Then, when the flood hit in June, I had a little room to myself in the main house.  But finally, with a phone call that made me smile, laugh and shake my head (at the hilarity of my life) I heard the news from Nolan – “I just went to see the neighbours and they have this old, unused chicken coop that we could turn into a little cabin for you”.  I knew that Nolan was very handy in anything construction related, but I couldn’t help but repeat it back to him, “a chicken coop?”.  “Don’t worry”, he assured me “it hasn’t been inhabited by a chicken since before the war.  There’s no smell.  Actually, it’s in really good condition for such a historic structure”.

To top it off, the neighbours were aghast at the thought that I would be living in their old coop and even offered me a room in their own house instead.  I thanked them and declined their offer.

Nolan quickly sent me a few pictures of the weather beaten hut with the downwards sloping roof characteristic of poultry residences.  I was promised general maintenance on it, a fresh coat of paint (inside and out) and a few equally historic, and perfectly quaint, pieces of furniture for inside the cabin.  I mean chicken coop.  Sheesh. Honestly, we tried to rechristen it ‘the cabin’, but once a coop, always a coop.

And mine was a real class act.

the before shot (still at the neighbours property)

the before shot (still at the neighbours property)

Continue reading

Community Supported Agriculture – easy on the wallet?

(Alberta, Canada; summer 2013)

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14 weeks of CSA goodness (week 1 top left; week 14 bottom right)

Data collection: Jolanta Szewczyk (CSA member)

Summary and write-up: Kasia Szewczyk of

CSA farm: Eagle Creek Farms (Bowden, AB, Canada)


There are many advantages to participating in a CSA program – access to locally and sustainably grown produce, supporting local farms and businesses and enjoying in-season and fresh vegetables.  But what about the basic financial cost of CSAs?  Is it monetarily worth it to participate in a CSA program?  This year a Calgary-based CSA member, Jolanta Szewczyk, has taken meticulous care to record the weight and quantities of vegetables received from her summer CSA program (with Eagle Creek Farms out of Bowden, AB) and has compared these items with produce available for sale in Calgary’s grocery stores.  The following summarizes her findings and shows that CSAs are not only great for the environment and for our communities: they’re easy on the wallet too.

The Challenge

Collect photos, weights and prices on all items collected over the course of a 14-week long CSA program.  Questioning the following: will the CSA program save us money? If yes, by how much?

Quick facts

What farm: Eagle Creek Farms (Bowden, AB):

Delivery to: Calgary, AB (Canada)

Duration of CSA program: July – October 2013 (14 weeks* of deliveries)

Type of share: Full share**

Cost of share: $600*** (weekly avg. = $42.86 )

*produce is picked up once a week

** full CSA shares are often described as adequate for families of 3-4 individuals or 2 “keen” vegetarians

*** All prices are in Canadian dollars (1 CAD = 0.95 USD; Nov. 17th, 2013 from

The weekly routine:

  1. Pick-up produce
  2. Take it home, group it together and photograph
  3. Weigh each item seperately OR count bunches
  4. Save info to spreadsheet
  5. Throughout the week while visiting various grocery stores*, make note of prices of same** produce, and note in spreadsheet
  6. Tally up the results, and share them with you!

*the grocery stores referenced in Calgary include

  • Community Health Natural Foods
  • Co-op (organic and conventional)
  • Safeway (organic and conventional)
  • Crossroads Market (various farmers)

as often as possible, organic produce prices were used

**CSA farmers occasionally provide customers with heirloom and rare varieties of vegetables that cannot be found in grocery stores. When this happened the most similar item available was used as a price reference

Variety of produce (over the course of 14 weeks)

Eagle Creek Farms provides an impressive variety of produce throughout their summer CSA program – below, the full list of items received (tally marks show item appeared more than once)

  • arugula IIII
  • basil
  • beans
  • beets (yellow) III
  • beets with tops I
  • bok choi
  • broccolli I
  • cabbage greens
  • cabbage
  • cabbage red
  • cabbage green
  • cabbage italian
  • carrots (with and without tops) IIII IIIII I
  • cauliflower I
  • chard II
  • celery leafs I
  • cilantro II
  • cucumber
  • dill II
  • garlic (bulb) IIII IIII
  • garlic scapes II
  • green onion IIIII IIII
  • kale III
  • kohlrabi III
  • lettuce IIIII IIII
  • lettuce (romaine)
  • onion (bulb) II
  • parsley (baby)I
  • parsnips I
  • pea shoots
  • pepper IIII
  • potatoes (early variety) III
  • potatoes (heriloom) I
  • potatoes (purple) I
  • radishes III
  • raspberries
  • spinach I
  • strawberries I
  • sweet peas (unshelled) IIII
  • tomatoes IIII
  • turnips (with tops)
  • zucchini

(42 ITEMS – including all varieties)

  • wild flowers IIIII  and sunflowers

Items appearing 5 (or more) times in 14 weeks: carrots, garlic, green onion, lettuce, potatoes


Considering all 14 weeks of the CSA program, it is absolutely a great value-for-money!

Compared to the $600 paid for the full share, the actual value of the items received totaled $711.15 

 Savings of $111.15 !!

See our spreadsheet for detailed info

Be aware that:

1. first few weeks there are fewer items (as season takes off late in the prairies)

2. quantity of food will vary week to week – sometimes there is too little of this, or too much of that. It’s important to stay flexible; buy extra veggies if needed and share with friends and neighbours when there is too much!

Weight of food received (14 week total): 77.80 Kg (171.5 lbs) of vegetables, herbs and berries

The spreadsheet shows our week-to-week calculations

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 12.05.

Allowing for differences between CSA members

Our little price study has been faithful to the produce that we received, but it’s important to keep in mind that produce types and quantities will vary somewhat between CSA members of the same farm!

IMG_33671. Exact weight of items will vary between CSA shares:  In efforts to decrease plastic bag consumption, Eagle Creek farms lets CSA members take their own produce from larger bins, indicating how many scoops or bunches are destined for which share type (see photo).  Naturally, these kinds of measures will create discrepency between CSA members.  Also, when units-per-item apply (ex. 3 beets or 2 heads of cabbage), the size and weight of items will also vary.

2. Items can vary between CSA shares: For the most part, CSA members take what is available – when the farmer puts out sweet peas, that is what you are getting! Some farms however, like Eagle Creek, will give their CSA members options (take 2 of X and 2 of Y or 4 of X and none of Y and so on) and will often place a “trade box” at the end of the line so that unwanted produce can be replaced with the available replacement items.  In this way, it is unlikely you’ll see many CSA members with exactly the same produce in their bags and boxes every week.


Before this study we already loved CSAs because they give us the opportunity to:

  • support our local, sustainable farms
  • partake in eco-logical farming focused on working with, not against, nature
  • buy direct from the farmer – no middle-men!
  • enjoying local and in-season veggies
  • partake in delicious, high quality and nutrient-dense food

To top it off, we now also know that it’s well worth our money too!!

Additional information:

CSA Alberta website:

Eagle Creek farms: 

full spreadsheet with our 14 weeks of calculations

gallery of 14-weeks of produce photos (coming soon!):

Pitfalls of CSA programs & how “going corporate” can improve your customer experience

The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model is great, but far from ideal.  The modern consumer is accustomed to convenience and choice especially when purchasing food.  The typical CSA model flies in the face of everything these consumers are used to.  It requires an individual to find and sign-up with a farm, pre-pay in advance for produce not yet seen nor oftentimes grown, receive a weekly box of vegetables (often not knowing the quantities and kinds of veggies inside) and to show up at a specific location and time every week to pick them up.  Let’s face it, you’re asking a lot from your consumer!

View of downtown Calgary, Alberta (courtesy Flickr Creative Commons - author: minniemouseaunt)

View of downtown Calgary, Alberta (courtesy Flickr Creative Commons – author: minniemouseaunt)

However, because healthy and nutrient-dense food is so sought after, people still do go for and enjoy their CSA experiences.  In fact this alternative model can create a sense of newness and community as people come together for a like cause – to cooperate with farmers and receive a portion of the local and sustainably grown harvest.  Aside from the revolutionary spirit that takes over and turns a blind eye to all its blatant downsides, the CSA model could do with some improving.  Remember, it’s all about give and take.  Ask yourself: how far do you want your customer to come to you before you reach out to them?

Let’s now look at how corporate CSA programs address these problems and aim to improve the overall customer experience.

  1. Convenience of location 

Instead of creating a new location (in the mind of your first-time customer) bring your product to a location that is already established and important to them.  By bringing your veggie boxes right to their office you’re taking the mental time and hassle of customers having to learn, remember and attend your weekly Farmer’s Market or CSA drop-off point.  First-time members are not likely to be sold on the “join our community” argument as they do not yet know you nor are they sure they want to be a part of your community.  Leverage the existing community and culture present at their work place, and you’ll also create perceived value – that of now not having to go to the supermarket to get the groceries that miraculously popped up on their doorstep!

  1. Convenience of choice
Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons - author Darius

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons – author Darius

A CSA program assumes that members receive a portion of the harvest and eat what is naturally being harvested at the farm – bringing everyone one step closer to a more diverse and seasonal diet.  However, one individual has only so much flexibility when faced with unliked or excessive veggies of a particular type in their weekly box.  They may be able to hand off the squash to their spouse who adores them, or they may not.  By delivering a certain number of boxes to a group, a group that already knows and is familiar with each other, you’re actually providing them with more choice.  They’ll quickly figure out that Jack loves potatoes and will gladly trade his onions for them and that Marlene is keen on swapping her radishes for more beets.  As the proud farmer you are, you’ll still be gently nudging individuals in the direction of trying your produce or revisiting previously unliked vegetables… but also leaving them the option to opt out if they simply refuse. to. eat. that. swiss. chard.

Is someone from the office leaving on holiday? Most likely during the course of a CSA program, whether it runs for 12 weeks or 21, more than 1 employee is going to be absent for their weekly box delivery.  Once again, the group comes to the rescue.  There’s simply more flexibility with coworkers, those already participating and those not yet convinced, to step in and adopt the unclaimed veggies.

  1. Leveraging an existing community and culture

It takes time to become established in any market.  Farmers, especially small-scale and relatively unknown, need to constantly market themselves and network with the community.  You’ll still need to do this, as the customer interaction is invaluable in understanding what your buyers want, need and love about your food, but taking the stress out of turning every acquaintance into a new CSA member is a welcome change.  By going corporate you’re leveraging an existing community and network of individuals who will talk and share their experiences and ultimately, from year to year, grow their own group as more of the CSA member’s colleagues catch on to what a brilliant idea it all is.  Depending on the company or corporation in question you may be initially working with 15 individuals from a pool of 20… or from a pool of 200 or 2,000.  Some companies are very big – and this can really work in your favour if existing CSA participants enjoy your produce and the program.

CRW_1857resizedUltimately – this means that you can spend less time chasing down new clients and more time at the farm, with your family and growing that food!

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“Corporate CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Programs – the basic scoop” 

Corporate CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs – The Basic Scoop

What is a corporate CSA program?

A regular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program means individual people buy half or full shares of veggie boxes from a local farm for a season.  A corporate program works in very much the same way except that a group of people, in this case a group of colleagues from a company, sign-up together for CSA shares and enjoy the advantage that come with a group sign-up.

An example of one such comparison between an individual and corporate CSA program run at Fisher Farms in central Alberta, Canada is seen below

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The two main features of the corporate CSA program are:

  1. discount – in this case a 5% discount per share (approx.) is extended to every person in the group
  2. direct-to-office delivery – saving the corporate members’ time and energy necessary to pick-up their shares from their local farmers market or agreed upon drop-off location

Why corporate CSA programs are a good idea

They are more efficient and easier to organize than regular CSA programs and encourage year-to-year growth within companies and a loyal following.

Efficiencies gained

  • direct marketing allows for lower overhead costs due to cutting out the middle man, no paying for market stalls or retail spaces to sell produce
  • once you get several companies signed-up within the same downtown core of a given city, commuting times are short between locations and you can get to all the groups quickly
  • products are pre-paid and picked up in bulk at specific time and location.  No unsold produce and no waiting around twiddling ones thumbs.
  • thinking of organising additional workshops or farm tours? By working with affluent clients, with their taste-buds already immersed in local and sustainably grown food, you grow your pool of customers and their networks that are likely to be interested in other products, activities and packages that your farm has to offer

Easier to organize

Corporate or group CSA’s will often be orchestrated from within by 1 or 2 key members.  These “evangelists” inform their group as to prices, schedules and key concepts and bring you the final lists and, often times, everyone’s payments in one deft movement.  Instead of chasing down individual customers you need to work together and communicate with the right evangelists… and they will create groups for you.  Remember to reward their efforts too!

Encourage year-to-year growth and a loyal following

Corporate groups bring a lot of growth potential with them.  In corporations of hundreds or thousands of people, a dozen or so come together to buy your fresh veggie boxes… so what about the remaining unfed employees?  They may not join in year 1, but rest assured that colleagues will talk to eachother, share their experiences, and if they are satisfied with their boxes will most likely encourage an even greater number of people to sign-up for the following season.  There is a certain amount of effort and trust shared between CSA members, corporate or otherwise, and their farmers which creates a higher sense of loyalty from year to year.  Corporations just like individuals aren’t likely to change farms every year if they are satisfied with the quality and delivery of the produce.

Initial investment required

The following are the two most common challenges when starting up a corporate CSA program at your farm

  1. Finding and Rewarding your Evangelists

The person on the inside, the one pushing for and marshalling their colleagues to join a corporate CSA is your “evangelist” and they are working hard to promote you, your farm and the infallible quality of your produce.  Finding these individuals can be tricky, but once they appear on your horizon they are likely to remain there, especially if you reward them and treat them right.  Did you notice a company signature on that last email from Marjorie, your trusted friend and CSA member?  Remind her that you run a corporate program and reward organizers lavishly – then sit back and watch the magic unfold.  Did she round up a dozen colleagues and organize everyone’s forms and payments for you? You’d better treat her to a $50 gift certificate to her choice of farm fresh produce.  Did she get another 20 people signed-up for the following season? Gift her with a free share!

Bottom line is – treat them right, reward them for they are equal to your hardest workers and are bringing you new customers and money without you having to wag a finger.

  1. Getting in

By getting in I mean… getting in.  And getting started.  You won’t always get to work with the top-notch “evangelists” out there meaning you may have to make up for the slack and find a way for the potential members to get to know you, trust you and sign-on with you.  This may mean going out to the company and putting together a “Lunch ‘n Learn” so that employees can get to learn more about you and, ideally, meet you.  I say “ideally” because if you’re terrified of public speaking and would rather shovel cow shit for a week than talk in front of a group of people for 10 minutes… you may have to send an intern, family member or cousin in your stead.  Anyone who can tell your story well and with passion is a candidate for the job, but keep in mind that potential customers ultimately want to learn about you, your farm and your food.

Presenting isn’t the only option – a farm day for a potential employee group or a Saturday BBQ at the farm may work as well.  Get to know them and share your story and you may even be surprised at how receptive and enthusiastic everyone will get.

In short, there may be some initial investment required to get a corporate CSA program off the ground and flying – but the efforts are well worth it and pay dividends in following years.

Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms – an overview

Compiled from my notes from attending the “You Can Farm” workshop; Internet research and videos – I’d like to make this overview of Polyface Farms readily available to anyone interested in:

  • alternative farming business models
  • making more money from sustainable farming
  • the Salatin success story and the foundations upon which Polyface Farms has been built


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New materials, plants and ideas

So after the awesome Seedy Saturday event this past weekend I’ve made definite advances in my Calgary Woodlands design.

First and foremost I purchased seeds and even a few plugs – anything from sunflowers to kale – I know I’ll need a lot more but atleast it’s a start.

Have collected several dozen burlap bags from Fratello coffee distributors – great and beautiful material and I’m curious to see what place my creativity will find for it. Also adopted a bag of coffee husks… I’m sure they’ll come in handy ☺

After meeting with the backyard owners there are concerns as to how to hide the Global buckets from sight (it may be a practical, ecological and great food growing idea but it sure aint pretty!) – we’re thinking wooden screen to cover a whole row of them in one go. There is also debate over installation of rain barrel… for aesthetic purposes we may end up having to hide it under the deck (tougher access and no gravity fed watering) but ah well…

Am loving the process, will post further progress soon – for now I’m focused and super pumped to see Joel Salatin in High River tomorrow!!


A collage of planter ideas using recycled materials

This is a collage of a dozen or so planter ideas I’m thinking of putting into action in the new Woodlands Perma project

collage of recycling ideas

So, basically…

I’ve got to phone around local businesses to see if I can get a few shipping containers, coffee bags and the like (I love the look!!) and figure out if there’s an ecological spray-paint that could transform yogourt containers into works of art…

Plus, I have several hundred CDs on my hands and would like to find a gardening use for them.  Perhaps I’ll cut them in half, stick ’em in the dirt and use them as bright, reflective vegetable and herb markers? Maybe I’ll make a giant cylindar “thing” and find a way to plant in it?  Who knows…

And get this – There’s an old, broken bike on site that we can use for planters too!  The seat’s getting replaced with a potted plant for sure, and I’d like to hang baskets from the handlebars.  Perhaps attach a vintage looking wagon and have plants there too.

Plants, plants, plants.  We’ll have them poking out of rubber boots, coffee bags and bicycles in no time!!

Sources of inspiration include:

top 30 DIY planters from: 

Dishfunctional designs – about recycled salvaged materials for the garden: 











An Indian summer in Calgary


A last-minute decision to spend a few weeks in the town where I grew up: Calgary, Canada.

An opportunity to reconnect with old friends, family and places. Escape the other-worldly frenzy in the hundreds of parks and bike paths. It’s a little chilly, yes, but it’s so very beautiful!

Enjoy the photos 🙂