Liveblogging Victoria

I’m sitting on a cafe patio, not far from the kites and the dogs of the honest-to-god ocean, drinking a decent cup of coffee with my face turned to the sun. Admittedly, the sun is struggling a bit, but hell, this is January, and during those weaker moments it’s easier for me to see my laptop screen as I tap away at work and job-seeking.This is exactly the moment I was thinking about for those final few weeks of the last term.

Coming Back Home From Home Via Home

I keep doing this trip, one way or the other. I’ve wrapped up my thesis, gradumacated, spent some time with my newly enlarged family on the minifarm in Ontario (not necessarily in that order), and have now arrived in my adopted heartland of Victoria BC to have extended brunches with my friends and look for work.

Celebrating An Ecologist I Don’t Quite Know

Chris Darimont is a wolf researcher who used to hang out with some of the people I used to hang out with in Victoria. As a wolf researcher, he claims traditional pride of place amongst the tribe of ecologists. As such, your contemporary future-looking ecologist might be tempted to disparage him as a megafauna fetishist, but I gather he actually does some interesting, post-Mowat research.

So it’s nice to see that the Government of Canada has equipped him with an NSERC grant and posted him off to Southern California. Other NSERC fellows I have known have found great success in these United States before returning to enrich the Dominion. And Chris is drawn towards the human side of the picture, so good luck with that, I’ll follow when I figure the I’m up for it.

North to the Present

My bff Tim Irvin has just launched a new project: Arctic Inspired

He’s compiling arctic canoeist’s experiences for a non-profit book. Tim is a veteran arctic canoer. I’m really stoked that he’s also planning a major solo trip this summer.

lone caribou, tim irvin

This book is for all those who have travelled in the tundra and been moved by those experiences. It is for all those who are intrigued, but have not yet made the journey, cannot make the journey, or would rather read about black flies than swat them. It is also for the people of the north; in gratitude for the opportunity visitors have had to see, and be inspired by, themselves and their land.”

(If you’re shocked by the beauty of the website compared to other non-profit nascent concepts, it’s because it was made by a couple of my other bff’s over at Pink Sheep Media. Full disclosure: I am an occasional consultant for Pink Sheep in return for couch credit.)

Daffodil Jobs Available in Victoria

A surprising number of people now come to my sight searching for daffodil-related information. So I thought I would let people know that Vantreight Farms is, according to their website, still actively hiring for the season. I assume it’s in full swing over there.

Incidentally, read the comments for this earlier post.

Treeplanting Documentary and Foreshadowing

Erika Drushka has made a documentary called “Rooted Lives” about 3 long-timers on the coast. There’s a website with a trailer here. Looks absolutely fantastic.

I notice the contact address for Mighty Films is on St. Charles St. in Victoria. The name’s a little familiar too. Have I met Erika?

And a reminder that there’s an increasing amount of quality audio/video about planting out there. I’m still blown away by just how little treeplanting has been mined as a source of material for mainstream movies and TV and such. Everybody in Canada knows somebody who plants. It’s like there’s a three-decade old war and nobody has bothered to make a Full Metal Jacket or From Here to Eternity about it. Or Band of Brothers. You could totally just photoshop some dreads onto the guys in Band Of Brothers, re-title it and re-release it for huge bucks in canukistan.

Jose-Luis at Twisted Tree Productions has made a project of filming short videos of treeplanting and related topics. Click on “Image and Video Bank”.

Here’s video of Ed from Barenaked Ladies strapping on the bags for TV.

Here’s Nicki Mosely’s radio documentary from a while back:

[audio:] still has the trailer for the “Getting Screefed” movie that never happened. Watching it now, I notice that one of the guys has the same Highland Helicopters hat that pilot Tim gave us, and I wore for a season, and then lost, and then Sherwin found me a new one somehow.

And there is more and more and more great photography out there, if you search around. When I started, Handmade Forests was the beginning and end of the subject. Since then, photography has come to the clearcuts in a big way, and the results have been phenomenal. There’s also a burgeoning movement of planting-blogging, as the facebook generation moves into the blocks.

Also there’s a great new project in the works which I’m probably not at liberty to describe at the moment, except that it’s about music and looks like it’s coming together nicely.

I can feel myself losing touch with my treeplanting existence. The memories are all there somewhere I suppose, but I’m losing my direct access to them. Now when I look at these movies and photos and hear these stories, they evoke a compelling world that I would like to experience, like a fantasy novel, instead of triggering my own experiences. What’s up with that? It’s a sad experience. It’s not like I didn’t go through this, in overwhelmingly enormous detail, day in day out, for what felt at the time like forever. I lived lives in the bush. Why I can’t I feel them?

Oh yes, there’s a chance I’ll be planting a contract in Creston this spring. Come to think of it, maybe the memories are safer forgotten. Oh god.

Vantreight Hill Shot Down in Council

It looks like Vantreight Farm’s proposal to develop a piece of their land has been shot down:

Council rejects Vantreight proposal — Times Colonist

The proposal for about 250 homes on a 13-hectare chunk of land that Vantreight said is rocky and unfarmable has caused much division in the largely rural community. Although the majority of people who spoke at a packed public meeting Monday were in favour, municipal staff recommended against it.
Vantreight proposed a “green development” on the property at 8410 Wallace Dr., using a system that recovers organic waste, water and heat from the residential development to provide energy and organic fertilizer for the farm.

But the proposal is contrary to the Official Community Plan, the document that outlines the long-term vision and goals for the municipality. It would also require changes to a regional plan on where growth is to happen, and isn’t on municipal sewer or water system, municipal staff said in a report to council. The site also has Garry oaks and woodland, none of which appeared to be saved with Vantreight’s plan.

Staff said a smaller development might be appropriate, and some councillors suggested Vantreight come back with that, rather than a proposal so clearly beyond what the community plan calls for.

Nuff respek to the Central Saanich council for sticking by their community plan I suppose, those things are often the last line of defense against heavy development, but I have to admit, I’m awfully torn on this one. Somebody commented in my very first daffodil post asking how to get work at the farm. I’d hate to think it’s not going to be an option in a year or two. And were they really going to recycle their own waste? Damn, that’s really far out on the edge of green-ness. If they could be held to that, they’d be setting a precedent for other developers.

“This proposal, whatever you may think of it, is about saving one of the last farms of this size in Central Saanich,” Warner said. “This is our one last chance for one farm of this size.”

Farmland on the Saanich Peninsula is so expensive that farmers can’t make a living off growing crops alone. “Not any legal crop we’re allowed to grow, anyway,” Warner said.

“This is land that could well be of use to us 100 years from now. It has the ability to produce food for this region that we may not get again. Think about that.”

Vantreight Farms’ Non-Daffodil Developments

In the late winter of 2006 I worked as a picker at Vantreight farms, which if I remember correctly is the second largest daffodil farm in the world. At the time there was much controversy and knowing unspokeness around the farm fields because Geoffrey Vantreight Jr., the grandson of the founder, had just passed away and his sons were feuding over what to do with the property. With real estate value what it is in the Victoria region (and the Saanich peninsula being drop dead gorgeous in certain lights and from certain angles, which I had plenty of opportunity to experience bouncing out in the farm bus as the sun came up), the land the flowers are grown on is arguably worth far far more than the flowers will ever sell for. On the other hand, the land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is a sort of functional greenbelt and which requires a lot of baksheesh to the Victoria City Council before you can develop in it. As I was slogging up the muddy rows of maturing daffodil stems with my pairing knife, the entire matter had landed in some sort of court or binding arbitration, and the future pre-summer livelihood of Quebecois hippies, Punjabi-Canadians, migrant Mexican labourers and the occasional aimless BSc. was hanging in the balance.

According to a slick new addition to the website, it appears the matter has been resolved. A fancy flash interface will show you a series of map overlays which propose a

“mixed-use housing development on land that is not farmable or in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) featuring 31 single-family homes, 92 townhomes, and 141 condominium units. Net revenue generated from the proposed development of this land will be invested back into Vantreight Farms, which grows approximately 18 million daffodils per year, generating 1,500 to 2,000 jobs annually. This development is essential for Vantreight Farms to modernize and expand its operations and also to assist us in becoming economically, environmentally and socially sustainable for generations to come.”

Interesting. Judging from the amount of money they’ve spent on GIS and web development, I’d say there must be some ongoing controversy they’re trying to allay.

update: Shortly after posting this I got a call from Ryan Vantreight, grandson of Geoff Jr., who was concerned about some of what I said in this post. He offered some extra information, which I’m happy to present here (I hope this is an accurate summary of Ryan’s main points)

  • Geoff Vantreight Jr. passed away in 2000, not 2005.
  • There was indeed a court-adjudicated dispute between the Vantreight brothers, Ian and Michael. My rough understanding is that each of them owned a part of the land, and for the farm to be viable all the land would be needed (that’s my recollection, not what Ryan told me, it may not be exactly right). Ian wanted to buy out Michael’s half, and Michael wanted to sell outside the family.
  • Michael won the case, granting him the right to sell to anyone and especially not to Ian. Ryan, who is Ian’s son, worked to convince the two brothers to reach an agreement regardless of the court decision, and Michael subsequently agreed to sell to Ian.
  • The sale was made, with the intention of keeping the entire property as farm. The cost of the buy-out meant a lot of debt, which currently hangs over the farm’s head.
  • Vantreight Farms, like most in Canada, is suffering from decreasing margins and increasing costs.
  • The consequence of all this is that the Vantreight Hill development proposed on the website is an effort from the pro-farming side of the family to raise money to cover the debt and modernize the farm to make it more financially viable.
  • (I’m not too worried that modernization would mean the end of seasonal picking on the farm. I’ve watched Star-Wars-esque machines, under the control of a couple of guys, harvest an acre of California cotton in 15 minutes which would have taken dozens of pickers a day back in the day. But I have a hard time imagining how any similar machine could harvest daffodils of just the right stem length without enormous wasteage, too much to be affordable. I think.)

  • Ryan particularly emphasized that the development is (as I quoted in the original post), not in the ALR or farmable land. Having looked up to it from the trenches many cold and hot days in the fields, I can verify that it doesn’t look like anything you can farm on.
  • He also suggested that part of the farm modernization would include extra crop rotation and other environmental improvements. Further details regarding those improvements are expected to be on the website in the near future assuming the project proceeds.
  • Monday is the day that the whole issue goes to council for a green or red light. I asked if their were other options if it was turned down and Ryan said that this is the first in a series of make-or-break challenges to the development. The results will be posted on the website
  • I’m in no position to verify or dispute any of this of course, but Ryan certainly sounded like a reasonable guy. I carry a deep and I think justified suspicion of residential development around Victoria (think Bear Mountain and shudder), and a condo development for a condo development’s sake isn’t much to celebrate. But I like the daffodil farm and remain grateful for the paid work I did there. Nor can I rule out doing some more of it. Vantreight farms is a couple of rare things — a large yet family owned enterprise, and a (so far) functioning farm. If Vantreight Hills is what’s required to keep the farm afloat, then it can at least be said that there are less justified condominium development proposals in the world.

    Jasper in Kona Today

    I’ll be spending much of today watching the Kona Ironman world championships stream. As I’ve learned before, watching an ironman is a serious effort that requires real commitment. It’s a ridiculously strong field (it is the world championships) but my boy Jasper Blake is going in with a peak year’s training behind him, some substantial successes and last I heard, and a strong body and a strong head. And I don’t think there’s a human being on the planet who can beat him on shear gruesome suffering-it-out. That guy’s got more tin than Indonesia. This being Kona, that might come in handy.

    Travelling Home from Home via Home

    It’s been a summer season in Victoria, and anyone who knows Victoria or summer doesn’t need to be told that it was a good one. I had a final scooter ride around the weathery pacific peninsula that is a city and ended it with serial coffee drinks at the spiral cafe with my friends. Tonight I’m printing boarding passes, tomorrow it’s the ferry to Vancouver and the plane to Toronto and the car to my folk’s minifarm. Then the Kawasaki dealership is going to fix up my wheel bearings and seals and I’ll ride her back to Michigan in glory and, I’m told, humid heat. Should be in town Sunday or Monday, to sample the summer season in Ann Arbor. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

    “Life is never either or, its and and and and and.”
    — Phillip Roth

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