In 2005 I enrolled in an alternative environmental education program for grade 10 students in the Upper Grand District School Board. The program was called, “CELP”, the Community Environmental Leadership Program. Two years later I participated in the sister program, Headwaters, an interdisciplinary exploration for grade 12 students that brings in various themes: climate change, gardening, leadership, alternative energy, teachings from First Nations, Canadian literature, and more.
For me the most meaningful aspect to the programs was the integration of Joseph Cambell’s “The Hero’s Journey” philosophy. The Headwaters program integrates this by encouraging students through a metaphorical and physical process of self-discovery. The last 2 of 12 stages in the process call students to find their “source”, the things they are passionate about, and then journey “home” with the lessons that have been learned throughout the entire journey.
This is enacted physically with the students hiking to the source of their local watershed (Blue Springs Creek), then canoeing on the river that flows out of the spring to Guelph, where most of the students live.
My life, and the lives of hundreds of students who participated in these programs, was greatly transformed by this elegant and meaningful teaching around caring for the planet, and caring for each other in community.
In November 2009 cancer took the life of Mike Elrick, the founder of these two programs, and my greatest teacher. His passing shook the Guelph community deeply, and former students around the world mourned his loss.
The fall of Mike’s passing was when I met my life-partner, Sebastian Ramirez – a former “Headwaters” student who took the program in a different year.
Since 2009 Seb and I have been on what we call our “journey home”; we have been on a deep exploration of farming and land-stewardship that has led us to running our own organic farm business (in the place we grew up) for the last 2 years on borrowed land.
As a result of great serendipity, our persistence, and great privilege we will become farm owners this June. We will be taking over an 83 acre, certified organic farm and business 30km from Guelph. In addition to growing great food, our farm will be a place where our community will gather to care for one another and the natural world.
In Canada farming communities are getting older and challenges relating to economics, climate change, and knowledge transference prevent young farmers from starting up. However, there is a growing movement of people who, because of their passion for protecting the earth, use sustainable agriculture as a way of stewarding land. Their stories are bringing something new to Canada’s rural voice, and connecting the city communities from which they migrated to rural communities.
To this day Seb and I name Mike Elrick as the first spark behind our farm dream. Without his passionate introduction to the magic of the land on which we live, we may never have had the drive to face the many barriers that farmers face, and feed our community in a way that brings nourishment to both people and land.
Thanks for reading,