It’s been less than four days since I arrived just outside Little Current. The farm I’m on is called Manitoulin Permaculture. I live in a tent with a fluctuating population of 5-10 other people. Over the past few days we have had Buddhist monks visiting. They stay in a large dome in the forest, I stay in a tent.
To get to Manitoulin I left from Tobermory and took the Chi-Cheemaun, which means big canoe in Ojibwe. There I was picked up by Shane, the lead intern at the farm. We talked about what I wanted to accomplish on the farm and a bit about how things work. Although we didn’t get into details, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
-Since our crops aren’t all ready to harvest we pay a small fee to run a communal food purchase. We subsidize our food with produce from the farm. For instance, we have a big chicken coop right next to my tent, who double as my alarm, that lay eggs for us to eat at breakfast. It is great fun chasing them and plopping them into their egg-laying station.
-Laziness is extremely frowned upon, although it is 7am here, and few people are up, I can feel them wondering what I am wasting my time on now. In fact, the farm is run more as a tight-knit military group or financially ambitious co-op. We have two greenhouses in operation on the farm and we are installing a commercial greenhouse and community garden in town. All of our proceeds go right back into the farm.
-Food is communal, and dinner is cooked on rotation. there is always someone to socialize with and eating dinner together is nice. The French workawayers have made soup and dessert every night so far. I will be sad when they go.
-There is a hierarchy which depends on your time spent with the farm and your expertise. Anyone can pursue small projects, as I saw when the workaways built a ladder for the chickens, but if you want to pursue a bigger project you need to have proven yourself. The real bosses are the landowners. The big boss, Justin, is not here yet, so his Mother, Kerrene is the temporary boss. She is 70 years old and spry; she runs the local newspaper, the local gym, and arranges large festivals while keeping the farm running smoothly.
Since I showed up with little expertise I’ve given myself the task of reading their permaculture literature as my passion project during the first week. To them, reading seems to be a waste of time, since it was not long after devouring half their forest gardening textbook that they asked me to start my own. Fortunately, I learned enough by reading and asking questions to have a clue before I began what would be their largest forest garden to date.
Everyone here is extremely knowledgeable about permaculture, cooking, electronics, plumbing, construction, and computer science. Shane programmed a sprinkler system for the greenhouse which reacts to local conditions and waters accordingly. He also built a programmable shelving unit for indoor potted plants which he hopes to sell as furniture. Most people here are starting or running a business already. Connor is perfecting his Kombucha recipe and Jamie is selling her gourmet mushrooms.
I am encouraged to dive into any project I like and the people here are happy to teach me everything they know. I learned how to wire a solar panel, how to propagate willow, how to identify types of succession in ecosystems, and how to make Siao Pao.
I am told that we haven’t even gotten started.
Yesterday, while planting in the solar field, Jamie told us about her school bus. One day her and her friends bought a big yellow school bus to travel in. Jamie was desperate to keep it from looking like a hippie bus, and swore to do something proper. She hired a local Ojibwe artist to paint it. She was a bit vague on exactly how it happened, but I guess the painter fell through and the paint was taken up by her and her friends. She had surrendered to the fact that whenever people, paint, and a school bus get together the bus always ends up looking like a hippie van. She said that afterwards she felt like she couldn’t escape the ‘preconceived notions’ that people had of her group since the first thing they saw was the vehicle.
During my research on intentional communities I found a lot of similarities between ours and those of the 1970’s. There is a sense that we are trying to rebuild the garden of Eden. We are all connected by shared interests and disillusionment with ‘the traditional life’, many of us coming from Ottawa. It reminds me of a post-apocalyptic settlement…
I came here to experiment with food forests and time. I thought that a proper design would give us the sense of having more possibilities and a better quality of time. I have technically been here three and half days but it feels like five. That isn’t to say that it is difficult, on the contrary, I feel that there is a more enjoyable quality of time here. As for possibilities, my horizons are opening up. I am given more information and more responsibility day by day. I am the resident student/scientist/researcher. I have done some backbreaking labor too!
My plan is to do around a thousand words a week for you guys. It has taken me a while to get my bearings, but now that I’ve gotten this one out I think the rest are within my grasp. Today is the day the shower should be running, and the first day of soil preparation for my forest garden. I wish you could see what the stars looked like out here. Here is a picture of our fire pit and our banjo player.