The Day of the Triffids at Sunflower Farm

The growing season is winding down here at Sunflower Farm but I thought I would share an experience from this summer, albeit a little late.

Since I’m pretty sure I’ve used the song title “Whoops I Did Again” in a previous blog, I won’t use it here, but suffice to say that every year that I grow food I get better at it, but I continually make the same mistakes. I’m even aware that I’m doing it wrong but like some terrible substance abuse issue, I do it anyway, even though I know the outcome will be bad. It’s like when I buy a box of sugared cereal and feel like a dirt bag after eating the stuff, but a few months later I buy it again because as I tell Michelle, “It’s sooo cheap it’s like they’re giving it away!” Which clearly, they are not.

Each year we expand our greenhouse square footage, and each year, or rather each fall, I vow, I will NOT plant tomatoes and peppers and eggplants SO CLOSE TOGETHER. And guess what happens each spring? I have a large patch of virgin greenhouse soil and those ‘oh-so-small’ transplants look so tiny compared to the vast expanse of space where I am planting them. And yes, I make the same mistake again and I plant a whole bunch of tomato and pepper and eggplant plants way too close together!

Someday I will have an aircraft sized greenhouse covering my entire garden and I will finally give each plant a logical amount of space when I plant them. (Michelle’s Note: No he won’t.) In the meantime, each August my greenhouses will be chaos and I will beat myself up over my inability to look 2 months down the road at the likely outcome from such a short sighted, poorly thought through strategy.

This year I had the added bonus of putting a greenhouse in the wrong location and really blowing it. I had set up an area in the paddock for the acquisition of a large greenhouse. Unfortunately circumstances prevented me from acquiring said large greenhouse. But I was able to improvise a quick and dirty workaround with the frame of an old portable garage from a neighbor who had been caught in one of those heavy wet snow/rain/freeze conditions, which had collapsed it. I bent the steel back in place, got my other neighbor to weld up some of the worst breaks and with a sheet of salvaged plastic from the local grocery store I was in business.

I had rototilled the area repeatedly after providing a generous amount of horse and chicken manure in straw last winter, so it seemed like it should be good location. The soil wasn’t great, but none of the soil is on my sandy property where glaciers deposited ground up rocks as they retreated 12,000 years ago.

As I wrote in my gardening book you have to be careful with heat loving plants like tomatoes that do well in greenhouses, that you don’t give them too much nitrogen, otherwise you get lots of green growth and not enough fruit. And, well, guess what happens if you put a new greenhouse on a spot that you have aggressively fertilized thinking it may be deficient in some ways? That’s right, the plants take over.

overrun greenhouse

Once again I had to volunteer to do all of the greenhouse harvesting in order to avoid having to hear Michelle go on and on about my inadequacies when it comes to proper plant spacing. It’s just the lesser of two evils. It also supplements my morning stretching (which I don’t call yoga) by forcing me to contort into all sorts of unnatural and otherwise unhealthy positions to harvest fruit from the most inopportune locations. This I accept.

But the paddock greenhouse was just on a whole other level. In fact, it was difficult to get through the door let alone harvest stuff. It truly looked like that horrifying 1962 movie “The Day of the Triffids” about plants that take over the planet which was truly terrifying to me as 9 year old when I saw it on TV but which seems so laughably humorous with today’s level of movie horror.

And not only did the plants grow with hopeless abandon, so did the weeds since it was grass last year and was laden with seeds just waiting for the optimal conditions of heat and moisture to take over, which a greenhouse provides.

Okay, so I screwed up, but I admit it. I have never been a fan of authors who claim infallibility. In something like growing food if you aren’t learning new stuff and making mistakes, then you aren’t moving forward.

triffids in the greenhouse

In that department I point out something I wrote in “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” about how you need a reasonable number of corn plants, preferably planted in at least four rows. When you look at the corn silk on an ear of corn, each thread of silk is attached to one corn kernel on the cob. The tassel at the top of a corn stalk is made up of many small male flowers which shed pollen in the wind, and you need each thread of silk to be fertilized, otherwise you get one of those crazy corn cobs with hit and miss kernels or crazy patterns and variations on the standard theme of symmetrical rows of uniform kernels. When I tell people about this they get all freaked out like they should have known this from birth. Like when I tell them the name “Liam” is actually the last half of the name “William. Wil-liam” (as opposed to Will-I-am). I didn’t learn this until my grandson arrived on planet earth.

It turned out somehow that I ended up with two corn stalks in this new greenhouse. So this year I could test this thesis, and voila, corn growing in a greenhouse produces a corncob but because there is not enough pollen for fertilization, you don’t get any kernels. How cool is that!!

unfertilized corn cob


So apparently life at Sunflower Farm is one great science experiment after all! I think Einstein said ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. That does not bode well for my over zealousness in greenhouse plant spacing. Luckily I don’t think I covered this much in my gardening book, so all (most of) the information in the rest of the book is sound. Yes it changes yearly with climate change but this is just something people who grow food are going to have to live with.

Meanwhile, if you place two corn plants in a greenhouse, prepare to be disappointed! Stay tuned for more exciting science-y stuff to expand your brain!

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LAST CHANCE! We have a few spots left in our October 24th workshop. Go here for details and to register;



Finding My Inspiration

Holding my seven-week old grandson is good motivation to run in a federal election representing a party that is committed to deal with something that poses a threat to him and every other child. But an election is an exhausting grinding process. It has really sapped my energy. It doesn’t help that it is occurring at the end of my growing season when I’m usually winding down but still have a lot of harvesting to do. Running in an election gives you a huge respect for anyone who runs for public office, regardless of what you think of his or her ideology.

I was in an All Candidates Meeting recently and a young woman asked us for our party’s platforms on helping people with disabilities. Luckily I was the last of the four candidates to answer so I had a few minutes to find that section in my “Green Vision 2015” policy book. It had 10 specific actions that Green Party MPs (Members of Parliament) would undertake. I highlighted the 4 I thought were most appropriate.

My fellow candidates spoke off the top of their heads (as I often do) and mostly gave their personal perspective. I hate doing it but when you have a 185-page policy book you cannot be knowledgeable on all areas so I felt it was more appropriate to read the 4 policies I felt were most applicable. I really hate just reading stuff, but I refuse to just make stuff up.

After the debate the young woman and her mother came up to me and said, “Your answer was exactly what we wanted to hear! Now share that with your fellow candidates.” Those moments are deeply gratifying. It’s always interesting to do something you’re entirely uncomfortable with, and have a good reaction.

Recently I was in Napanee to do an interview with “Station 14” from Kingston. I had arranged to meet at a gazebo in a park near the river. When I arrived there was a young man packing up some camping gear. It was pouring rain and he’d obviously spent the night. He had two tire tubes he had just patched out trying to get them to dry.

I began talking to him and discovered that his name is ‘Jackson’ and he is from Madison, Wisconsin. He is cycling to New York City to attend the wedding of a friend. I Google mapped it. There are easier ways to get to NYC than by bike through Ontario. But Jackson has decided to forgo transportation that burns fossil fuels. It’s one thing to ride a bike to get around Madison, but an entirely different issue when it comes to cross country travel. And yet there he was, sticking to his ideals. I found it entirely refreshing and inspirational. I encounter this kind of resolve in very few people I meet. The paradigm of our system has taken the wind out of many of our sails and we just take the easy route and do what everyone else does.

The interviewer had trouble with her microphone so during the 10 minutes she worked to fix it Jackson and I continued to chat, which helped her see if anything was coming through. It turned out she only wanted me to record me for 45 seconds. She wanted me to distill the 185-page policy book and endless policy briefs I’ve received and hours and days of developing my framework for why Canadians should vote for the Green Party, down to just 45 seconds. It was one of the worst interviews I’ve given. I should have used that time to just stand there and figure out the best way to encapsulate a decade of learning Green Party policies down to 45 seconds. But I didn’t. Frankly learning about what motivated a guy to ride a bike halfway across the continent to a wedding was just too darn interesting to miss.

I believe Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

As I speak to people during the election and suggest that living off the grid and not contributing carbon to the atmosphere through my home (my car is a different story, especially with how much driving I’ve been doing in the election) isn’t that big a deal, I sometimes get the feeling people are switching off. “Ya, that’s okay for you, but I could never do that.” Or “I would never do that.”

I believe the Green Party’s “Fee and Dividend” will give everyone an incentive to do this, while creating a dynamic local economy as we transition to de-carbonizing our economy.

I’m hoping that putting myself out there as proof that it can be done and that you don’t have to live in a cave and that we really do have running water, will start to have an impact. One can only hope.

I know meeting a guy walking the talk, or ‘riding’ the talk, inspired me once again. We just have to figure out how to cut through all the noise of modern life and convince a critical mass of others to jump on board. Makes we want to ride my bike to the next All Candidates Meeting. I’m thinking I’ll start right after the election though. No one wants to vote the guy with the sweaty shirt and helmet head. Guess I’m not there yet.


Here’s the Station 14 interview. My interview starts at the 1:30 mark.

If you visit my Facebook page you’ll see links to some of my other media reports.


The Campaign Blog

Sorry for the delay in providing timely updates of late, but with the Canadian federal election coinciding with harvest season, it’s been a bit overwhelming to say the least.

For smaller parties like the Green Party of Canada just getting on the ballot can be challenging enough. You require a $1,000 deposit and 100 signatures of people willing to verify that “Cam Mather” is actually someone who resides in the riding, and is not for instance, A) the family pet, B) Deceased, or C) a fictional circus clown. This is a logical step to save embarrassment for the organizers of the election but places a burden on smaller parties.

We live in a riding in which the boundaries have just been changed. I went from one with a very effective EDA (Electoral District Association) or riding or constituency association, to one in which we had to start from scratch. Building an EDA from the ground up is an enormous amount of work but for anyone stupid enough to move off the electricity grid without knowing anything about it, it’s nothing new for me to take on such challenges.

I’m very proud to say that I am on the ballot and have been attending All Candidates Meetings (ACM) and talking to voters. Last Monday I left the house before 8 am, spoke to some civics classes at North Hastings High School in Bancroft, had a lunch ACM with the North Hastings Business Association and then a general ACM in the evening attended by about 150 people. I got home after 11 pm. These meetings can be pretty raucous so I arrived home pretty wound up, unable to sleep and so I’m ending up hugely sleep deprived. But no one said democracy was easy.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about various topics but every time I ask someone, “What do you think about the weather?” everyone, bar none, agrees that climate change is happening. This even includes members of the current Conservative MP’s volunteers. No one disputes it. And yet how many questions about climate change have there been on the prepared questionnaires for these events so far? Zero. How much publicity has climate change received from the national media? Yes, you guessed it. It’s missing in action.

So how do human beings participating in and contributing to the single greatest threat to the human species manage to allow a federal election to be dominated with questions about the economy? Or pensions? Or healthcare? Or any of the dozens of other public policy issues that become completely irrelevant if our governments are going bankrupt cleaning up after floods or trying to put out raging forest fires like the kind that seem to have consumed… well… THE ENTIRE WEST COAST OF THE CONTINENT!!!! From California to Washington, from British Columbia’s rain forest to the 300 fires that were burning in Alaska at one point, how long before the species wakes up and realizes that “Houston, we do indeed have a problem” and we need to talk about it.

Needless to say I do not allow the topic to be ignored in any debate that I have participated in. I have opening and closing remarks, which I can obviously devote to the topic, but as much as I hate to admit it, I am becoming an expert at taking most questions and turning them back to the urgency of dealing with climate change. All politicians are experts at saying “That’s a great question, and yes, I too am concerned about ____fill in the blank____ and our government has a program completely unrelated to that, but because I think it’s awesome I will now describe it to you, every though you didn’t ask me.” So yes, I’ve gone over to the dark side.

For instance in answer to the recent question posed, “What would your government do to bring more Syrian refugees into Canada?” my answer went something like this. “Well, Time Magazine just did an article that says these are climate refugees. There has been a prolonged drought in Syrian exacerbated by climate change forcing millions of farmers into the cities, and president Bashar al-Assad couldn’t deal with them, and protests turned into civil war. My opponents in this debate will only talk about how their party will deal with the ‘problem’ and bring in more refugees.” Not surprisingly I point out that the Greens are the only party talking about a ‘solution’ to what’s causing the problem, that being climate change.

The Green Party plan is brilliant. We will put a price on all fossil fuels as they come out of the ground. Oil. Gas. Coal. We won’t touch that money. IT IS NOT A TAX! We will put the money into an account, and every quarter every Canadian over 18 will a get a cheque for their share of the pot. We will divide it up equally. It’s a “Dividend” cheque.

For the conservatives of the world it’s perfect, because the government doesn’t get the money, nor will we tell people what to do with it. They can buy big screen TVs, fly to Peru, buy a Hummer, have fun! I’m pretty confident though that people who are seeing their home heating costs go up will most likely invest in new windows and insulation. These will be installed by local contractors. They may install a geothermal heating system, or a woodstove installed by local people. They’ll buy their firewood from neighbors. You can’t ship these jobs offshore. Deal with climate change and at the same time create a vibrant local economy. Please try and find any fault with that.

Twice during ACMs we’ve been asked, “Oil is cheap right now so what will your government do to lower the price of gas?” I simply say that I want to create an economy in which they won’t need to patronize the large oil companies that they seem to loathe. We have the technology today, on the shelf, to completely decarbonize our economy. All that’s lacking is the leadership to get us there, and my leader, Elizabeth May and our party are the right leaders for the job.

Michelle always proofs my stuff so I can tell you right now she is rolling her eyes. Poor Michelle. Every morning when I come in the fields for breakfast I somehow manage to launch into some political rant, at which point I see her mind wandering to A) the latest episode of “Call the Midwife” B) wondering how our grandson Liam is doing or C) why she didn’t clue in during high school when I ran for Student Council what she was getting herself into. But luckily, she lets me rant. And then I go back and dig sweet potatoes and try and figure out how to nuance that next questionnaire back on to the Green Party’s absolutely brilliant “Fee and Dividend.”

My poor fellow candidates. They must be getting soooo sick of hearing about that darn “Fee and Dividend”. Yet if by some fluke I don’t get elected and one of them perchance ends up in Ottawa in the government, and they happen to be involved in a caucus meeting where the discussion of how to deal with climate change comes up, I’m just wondering what might pop into their heads?

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Added Later – In response to the question below, to donate to Cam’s campaign, please visit the Green Party of Canada’s website;

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Our Visit to Ireland

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably know that Michelle and I don’t fly so maybe the title of today’s post made you wonder, “How did Cam and Michelle get to Ireland?” And no it wasn’t a virtual tour; it was more a case of Ireland coming to us.

Immigrants from Ireland, many after the great potato famine, settled our closest village of Tamworth, and the nearby Erinsville. There is a wonderful group in Tamworth ( who regularly organizes Irish cultural events including a whole week during the summer when people come from across North America to learn Gaelic and soak up Irish culture.

Our community is always invited to participate and this year there was a concert held in the local Legion hall with the band “Four Winds” and they did indeed come from Ireland! (

The date of the concert was bad timing for us because Michelle was just coming back from Toronto after visiting with our new grandson and since it was a Wednesday night, I was busy weighing and bagging green and yellow beans. Yes, it’s quite a glamorous life here at Sunflower Farm during the summer! Thursday is CSA delivery day so on Wednesday I pick beans in the brutal sun and heat, and then pack them and put them in our cool root cellar. And yes, I’d love to pick them the same day, but with all of the other vegetables we pick fresh on Thursdays, it just wouldn’t work. And when I look at green and yellow beans in the stores that come from Mexico, I’m pretty sure beans picked 24 hours previously are a great deal fresher than the competition.

The organizer of the concert was looking for accommodations for the band members. He asked if they might stay in our guesthouse and since they were arriving late (after the concert) and leaving early the next morning, it wasn’t a problem. I got back from picking Michelle up from the train station just after 7 pm and had the beans packed and the kitchen cleaned up by 10 pm and the band arrived just after 11.

And what a delight they were. I love Irish accents, and am drawn to Irish movies because of them but to spend time with real authentic Irish people is, well, ‘brilliant!’ I say brilliant because it’s a word the band used often and their enthusiasm was truly contagious.

There had been a full house in town for their concert and Tamworth crowds are very enthusiastic, so when the band arrived they were, as one would expect with musicians after a concert, ‘pumped.’ They came into the house and just couldn’t get over how ‘brilliant’ it is that we are off the grid and how remarkably ‘brilliant’ they thought Sunflower Farm was (even though it was pitch black on their arrival) and it just went on and on. I could have stayed up all night listening to those accents if I didn’t have to be up by 6 am to start picking lettuce.

After they headed out to the guesthouse I fell asleep to the sound of the most enthusiastic laughter from the guesthouse. Clearly our houseguests were enjoying their stay in Canada so far.

In the morning Michelle helped with picking and packing the CSA boxes until 9 or so when the band members started getting up and coming into the house. Michelle served them some coffee as they took turns showering. (They were heading somewhere else for breakfast.) I came and went as often as I could since I appeared to be on top of the CSA box organization. And it was truly a joy to sit and learn about Ireland and Irish culture. I asked lots of questions based on my misinterpretation of their country and learned so much. And they continually reminded us how ‘brilliant’ they thought our place was, even more so in the daylight. I have now incorporated brilliant into my every day vocabulary. I have also perfected (or enhanced) my Irish accent, which I spoke to myself for two days before their arrival. I believe I only attempted to use it once that morning and they didn’t seem to take offence, which was good since it was used in with the greatest respect for their culture and the history of my community.

I must also say they were some of the most gracious guests we have ever had. Each of them thanked us many times for our hospitality, which, since I kept tromping in with mud covered work boots, was most reassuring.

We gave them all copies of our book, “Little House Off the Grid” and I don’t think I need to elaborate on their choice of words to describe it. And they happily returned the favor with the most detailed verbiage from each member of the band signed onto their CD. It’s a good thing CDs haven’t shrunk in size, or they would have been hard-pressed to fit it all in!

Four Wind signed CD

Before they left we did our ubiquitous photo in the front of the solar panels, which was their request. After living with solar power for 18 years I assume everyone is ‘over’ solar panels, so it’s always joyful to meet new people enthused about their brilliance. It is a very cool way to live and I never tire of people reminding me of how great they think it is. I need a reminder of this to sustain me during the dark months of November and December that approach on the horizon.

Four Winds Sunflower Farm

We have had many people visit Sunflower Farm, now from all over the world! Each time someone comes from a faraway place I’m always worried about how well we’ll get along. And each time I am amazed about the similarities of people and how much I enjoy their company. Each time they leave I feel I’ve made new friends and miss them. I hate to travel because I hate to leave this place, and I’m always so pleased when someone from faraway can bring his or her world to me for a while.

Four Winds CD Cover

Michelle and I have been enjoying the “Four Winds” CD immensely. We discovered Celtic music a few decades ago when we toured the East Coast of Canada and Cape Breton Island in particular which has nurtured it’s Celtic culture so well. And now, any time we want to we can fire up the CD and spend some time in Ireland. “I’ve got to tell ya, it’s brilliant!” (Said in my awesome new authentic Canadian attempt at an Irish accent)

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Spaces for the October 24th workshop here at Sunflower Farm are filling up. If you are planning to attend, please be sure to let us know.  Visit for more details and to register!

I Need a Hero!

In my perpetual virtual reality of popular music defining most moments of my life, I have been singing “I Need A Hero” from Bonnie Tyler a lot recently. It was one of those ‘80s cheesy videos with big hair and everything so … well… 80s. And a great song too!

I had a rough go in the pea patch this year, what with our spring drought/brutal late frost/rain deluge weather. So despite planting many more than usual, we got far fewer peas. I am sure the overpopulation of chipmunks this year was also a factor. I worked hard to get a good crop but once the pea season was over my focus shifted to the 179 other priorities I had elsewhere in the gardens.

I make pea fences out of chicken wire and the peas grow up the fences. I’ve tried just letting the pea plants spread out over the ground, but I believe giving them something to climb really helps them to flourish, and makes them easier to pick too. I weeded them a few times during pea season but once the peas were finished and attention was diverted elsewhere, the weeds started to creep back in. Of course the peas were done, so really, who cares?

Well it turns out, I do care; I just couldn’t find the time to get to them. Finally at the end of August I had a tiny of window of time and decided it was time to remove the chicken wire fences. That would be if I could find it, since the weeds were now 9 feet tall and required a chainsaw to take them down. Luckily most hadn’t gone to seed so it was important to get them out of there!

garden before

At which time I returned to 1990s and the band “Go West” with their song “The King of Wishful Thinking.”  (So ‘90s!)

I figured that maybe there was some handy trick to removing the weeds easily. No use of chemicals and little physical effort. Just weed removal with minimal burning of calories.

So I thought I’d stop in and see my friend John Wise who grows organically south of here. John has been farming since the 1970s and has grown most everything. He supplies our CSA with strawberries. Yes, I thought. John can help. He’ll have some suggestions.

I drive by his place on Thursdays when I’m doing my CSA vegetable deliveries. Thank goodness John will have some suggestions. He’ll be able to recommend that easy, no toil, fast way to remove those weeds before they go to seed. Cause really, “I Need a Hero!”

And what luck! John was working on a tractor when I got there. Excellent, now all I had to do was listen intently to his marvelous suggestions for that magic solution to my weed problem. He’ll probably suggest over seeding with some exotic mustard seed this fall will do it. John will know. It will be a piece of cake.

When I explained the situation to John he laughed. I knew he would, but I asked anyway, because I am ‘The King of Wishful Thinking.’ Needless to say, he let me down.

Even after growing vegetables organically for almost 40 years sometimes I convince myself that I’ve just missed something and there is some sort of magical low-energy, low-calorie solution to my problems. Whether it’s fossil fuels kilojoules or human calorie burning, there never is. It’s just shut up and get on with it.

John said, “Have you got a scythe? Cut’em down and haul them out of there! Fast!” You DO NOT WANT THOSE WEED SEEDS IN THAT GARDEN NEXT YEAR! Thanks John. That’s not the response I was hoping for.

John said “Ya, I remember doing that to 6 acres back in 1998 and I had to pitch fork all the weeds out of the 6 acres once I had cut them.” John has that gaunt look of someone who spent World War II carving railways through the Burmese Jungle.

So that week I shut up and just got on with it. Of course there was a return of a heat wave, which was inevitable, so I started at 6 am when I got up and worked until breakfast at 8. First I hauled the big tall stuff like ragweed out. Then I bent over and grabbed all the quack grass and low grass that were in the process of going to seed. Then I took out the fencing and irrigation. Then I hauled out more weeds. Then I rototilled. I did a section every day making sure I didn’t overdo it and hurt my back.

And here it is after all of that effort. I even managed to get a load of manure on it once I got it cleaned up.


Here’s one of the piles of weeds. The weight of biomass that weeds can produce in such a short period of time never ceases to amaze me. Nature bats last, let me tell you.


During that week of extreme weeding I woke every morning with a sore lower back and arthritic hands that were locked in grotesque hook-like contortions like something from a zombie movie. That’s what you get from clutching 7-foot long weeds and yanking them out of the ground. I’m getting used to it. It feels pretty good. It’s my body saying, “Well at least you don’t need a chiropractor from sitting at a computer 10 hours a day.”

I stood in the garden each night as I progressed and told myself, “Not bad, you’re getting there.”

And I hummed “What I’ve Done” by Linken Park cause it’s been a lot of work. They may have had a darker message, but I’m taking the high road.

I’m thinking that there are other ways to remove the weeds. No doubt there are chemical alternatives. But I couldn’t do that. This whole organic growing food thing is a crazy, time consuming, backbreaking, low tech, and difficult way to grow food. There are no easy work arounds. Most of the time it’s just shut up and pull weeds. I have accepted that.

Tonight I will go out and stand where all those weeds once were and marvel at my accomplishment. They magically disappeared … without a hero. And obviously, I’ll be in my happy place, out standing in my field.

Over The Hump

I made Michelle laugh the other day. Out loud. Michelle never laughs at anything I say anymore. Unless it’s hysterically funny, and heaven knows I try. But after 77 years together or however long it’s been, my only hope for laughs is to change the audience.

We were at breakfast discussing her staying in Toronto to help our daughter with our new grandson. It’s one of the busiest times of the year in the garden, plus I’m the Green Party Candidate in Hastings-Lennox & Addington in the October Federal Election, and there are a few other things on the go.

Anyway, I was trying to convince Michelle that I could handle Sunflower Farm by myself for a few days if she was away when I uttered the fateful words … “We’re basically over the hump in terms of the garden …” which sent Michelle into convulsions of hysterical laughter. I have to admit; as soon as the words left my mouth I started laughing pretty hard too.

I’ve been playing this game since March. As soon as I get all the potatoes in the ground I’ll be ‘over the hump’ for a bit. As soon as I get the garlic weeded I’ll be ‘over the hump’. As soon as I get all the onions pulled and dried and stored I’ll be “over the hump.” And so it goes. When you run a CSA you never get “over the hump.” The work just keeps on coming. In waves. Endless waves.

Compared to other work I’ve done this is awesome. I love it. It’s hot and exhausting, but it’s real work. With real tangible results when I’m done. There is no computer crashing or needing to be upgraded to version 7.2. There is no inventory going out of date. There is no obsolescence. Just food. Planting and growing and harvesting food. It’s so basic. And hard. And simple. And so awesome.

The onions turned out to be an enormous amount of work to harvest. Once I get them out of the ground I cut off the stalks and dry them on wire racks. Michelle got this photo of me using an umbrella to keep the direct sun off me, because it is brutally hot work. Once they’re dried I have to pack them and store them ready to distribute each week. Then I have to rototill the patch where they were.


Now I’ve started my replanting with our fall lettuce and spinach in those spots. Next it’s on to the potatoes and the first ones I planted are ready to be harvested. And cleaned. And stored. The tomatoes are coming fast and furious and we usually wash them to make them look their best. Then it will be time to harvest the sweet potatoes. It’s a different type of harvesting than regular potatoes, but still a ton of work. And the garlic is dried so now I spend a few hours every evening cleaning it.

We have had a great harvest of corn this year. Last year the corn was a bust and the raccoons ate what little we had before I could really harvest it. This will be week 4 for corn. Our earliest corn, the shorter stuff on the right is “Spring Treat” which is pretty much done and last week we started harvesting “Jackpot” which is the taller corn on the left. Spring Treat was sweet and wonderful.


I am so pumped about having corn this year, organic corn, “organic, non-GMO and all that other stuff” corn! Delivery morning for the CSA is just a blast. I got Michelle to bring out the camera last week after I’d picked about 300 ears for our members. I was so proud of it. There is simply nothing like growing food, and when you’ve struggled with something in previous years and you have a good harvest it’s absolutely fabulous.

So I’m going to be honest with myself. I’ll be ‘over the hump’ with the CSA the second week of October, Canadian Thanksgiving. The election gets busy for me in September and October but Election Day is October 19th, so I’ll be over the hump the third week of October.

There will still be much to do, emptying and storing all the irrigation equipment, cleaning greenhouses, rototilling weedy sections, putting any of our roots crop away for our use and for next year’s planting. Saving seeds. Planting next year’s garlic. Then getting on with the all ‘fall projects’ I’ve been putting off like upgrading the chicken coop for the new chickens, and making the garden I had potatoes in this year bigger, and starting to cut next year’s firewood, etc. It never seems to end. I don’t think it ever did for our ancestors.

Cheap and abundant energy has freed most of us up from the drudgery of all this mundane day-to-day grunt work. Now we have time to play video games, gamble at casinos and fly to foreign destinations, and sit in traffic, and work out butts off to pay all the bills to support our suburban houses and lifestyles. I do not participate in any of those activities. I do not feel I am missing too much.

I believe as the ‘big one’ finally catches up to me and I fall to my knees clutching my chest in the potato patch where I hope to exit this mortal plane I’ll finally be able to mutter “It’s okay, I’m ready, take me now… I’m finally over the hump!”

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We have begun sign ups for our fall workshop, planned for October 24th. See the sidebar for more details, and be sure to register soon as spaces are limited!

Stop Making Sense

I think Stop Making Sense was the Talking Heads album with “Once In a Lifetime” about a dazed and confused guy, which is how I feel after spending a weekend in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and more specifically at The Survival Expo (August 8 & 9).

The GTA is like this death star monstrosity of humanity that keeps growing and expanding by the day. It’s where I left to move to the middle of no-where and after 17 years away it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to go back. Oh sure, I have a grandson there now, so there will be more trips, but I’m beginning to find the madness of a big city overwhelming. The traffic and pace of life is horrific, and how people behave in it often surprises me.

I’m also left to analyze “The Survival Expo” itself which was great. It wasn’t what you’d expect; at least it wasn’t what I had expected. The attendees seemed to be people who just wanted to make themselves less dependent on essential infrastructure. Both of my ‘off-grid’ workshops were full and many of the 100+ people who came to them, along with many others, stopped by my booth to discuss their plans.

We had made posters of the covers of our books, “The Sensible Prepper” and “Little House Off The Grid.” Little House Off the Grid features an aerial photo of our house taken by our neighbor Mike while he flew overhead in a helicopter. Mother Earth News always uses this photo when they post our off-grid story and I can’t tell you how many people stood at my table at Survival Expo and said, “That’s what I want to do!” You know sometimes it’s really nice to hear that. Especially in the middle of the summer heat when the weeds are winning the war in the garden. I can never be reminded enough that I’m ‘livin’ the dream.”

While there were guns and ammo dealers and potential customers, there was a real cross section of people I didn’t expect to see. I spoke to 4 doctors who were getting started on their path to independence. That made me take pause.

As so often is the case in my life multiple themes converged and I had just started reading a book by Michael Lewis called ‘Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World.” It’s his take on the economic collapse and a really great perspective on what went on in Iceland and Ireland and Greece and Germany. I kept reading stuff and saying “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought was going on.” It really seems amazing the mass delusion from 2000 to 2008 when people across the world thought this easy money bubble and growing wealth based on money for nothing would never end.

It didn’t end well and the only way we got out of the mess was by printing a whack of money. Magic money. “Quantitative Easing” we called it so it sounded more official. But it was still money for nothing. And now we’ve used up that trick and there’s really nothing left in the arsenal. So what do we do next time?

I asked a lot of the people who stopped at my table what had brought them to the show and many talked about this low level of anxiety they had that something was up. Something was amiss. The inflated stock market was artificial. Something was about to happen, like there was a glitch in the matrix.

Which brings me to my final intersecting and seemingly unrelated theme, which was “The Matrix”, the movie by the Wackowskis whose latest endeavor is “Sense 8” on Netflix. I won’t try and explain the series, but the opening theme is fabulous. It has that House of Card’s coolness factor with great music and fast changing images.

Every time I watch it I think of what a marvelous and diverse place this earth is. I think of how amazing the variety of geography and humanity is. And then I start thinking about how when I was born in 1959 the planet had 3 billion people. And then in 2000 the planet had 6 billion people. The population doubled in 4 decades. And now it’s 7 billion plus.

And this gets me thinking that’s an awful lot of people added in an awfully short amount of time. Each one of those individuals needs to be fed and kept warm and employed and there are just billions of transactions and interactions everyday. And there’s no template for the whole thing because we’ve never had this many people before. Not even close. Which begs the question, how can we possibly keep this all organized in any logical, smooth running way? Which was the other response I got when I asked people why they were at the expo. They would say things like, “Well with all the stuff you see going on in the world right now makes you kind of think that maybe we can’t keep a lid on it much longer.” I certainly hope they’re wrong, but I respect their point of view.

Which makes me wonder if someone has this all figured out, how it might all play out, and if governments might be thinking that things could conceivably go off the rails at some point and that they need a plan to deal with it. Heavens knows the American military seems to be awfully concerned about climate change and the wars that could erupt because of food shortages and water shortages and a myriad of other potential results from a warming planet.

And so I was pleased to be able to provide these individuals with a framework for a path they may want to take to have a “Plan B” for some of these scenarios. I’ve spent a lot of time working through the process here at Sunflower Farm and I think we’ve got it down fairly well. And when I suggested that they purchase my book, “The Sensible Prepper,” I had no problem, after listening to their concerns, suggesting it might we worth the investment on their part. I am, after all, a salesman. You don’t have to live off the grid to have a strategy for an unknown future. We know there will be turbulence. Heck, there’s often turbulence with just a couple of us interacting … ramp that up to 7+ billion and what else could you possibly expect?

I believe you should just put a lot of love out there into the universe and towards all the other travelers on spaceship earth as we navigate an exciting, challenging future. And have a “Plan B”.


Here are the links to the books I mentioned;

A Love Letter to My Grandson

 Dear Liam

Welcome to the world. Your mother had quite a time bringing you into this world, but we’re all very glad you’re here. I love you even though I haven’t met you yet. I hope to see you for the first time this weekend.

You were born at a most auspicious time (for me mostly, but I’m a male and like most males you’ll soon learn that you are the most important person in your life). You arrived just a few days after a federal election was called in Canada. The election date is October 19, which means that I’ll be extra busy for the next… what… 42 weeks? This lengthy campaign time helps the big established parties. I am a candidate for a smaller one called the Green Party. But that’s okay. No one is forcing me to run.

I hope you read this sometime when you’re here at the farm, surrounded by lush green forests, as I am today. I spent my day in my garden full of wonderful vegetables. I picked beans today for our CSA members. Lots of beans. I picked beans all day while your grandmother worried about your arrival. I worried too, but I still had to pick beans. If the place still looks great when you are old enough to appreciate  it, it will mean I have been successful in my campaigning. It will mean we have put a price on carbon and we are in the process of de-carbonizing our lives and the economy. This is a good thing.  A really, really important thing.

It’s important because as I write this the scientists who study the climate are very worried. They are seeing signs that we have to burn fewer fossil fuels because the climate is starting to behave erratically, like your grandfather often will when you visit.

I’m running for the Green Party because I love you, even though I haven’t held you yet. I want you to enjoy as marvelous a world as I have grown up in and enjoyed my whole life. I’m also running in honor of your great grandfather. Your mom called him “Papa.” Papa worked all day making steel and came home and gardened and spent a great deal of time working for the New Democratic Party (we’ll call them the orange party). He worked very hard for them and yet they never formed a government in Canada. But so many of the wonderful things we enjoy as Canadians … unemployment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, maternity leave, and universal health care, came about because of them. They just kept hammering at these issues until the other two bigger parties decided to get with the program and implement them. We’ll call them the Red and Blue parties, although if we’ve been assimilated into the United States by the time you read this, it will be the opposite of which party you think is which.

Your long, arduous arrival to this world was aided by midwives and a doula and doctors and nurses in a very expensive hospital. It didn’t cost your parents a penny. This is because Papa and his “orange party” managed to convince everyone else that if we shared the cost of healthcare, if we spread it out over the entire population, healthy and not healthy, rich and poor, we’d all be better off. Your great grandfather was awesome and I loved him very much too.

And so I’m going to be spending my time over the first few months of your life trying to convince people that we need to spread the pain of dealing with climate change out equally over everyone by putting a price on carbon. Our government will take that money and put it aside in its own bank account (like I’d like to set up for you if I had any money) and we’ll give everyone their share of that fee every quarter in a ‘dividend’ cheque. Ask your parents what that is. They can do with it what they like. I think most people will try and figure out ways to burn less carbon and the marketplace will help them, and we’ll all be better off.

Some people will say “But other bigger countries aren’t doing it, why should we?” It’s because ultimately all countries will de-carbonize and it’s way better to lead than to follow. That way we’ll be ready and we’ll create some awesome new jobs and technologies and people will say “I want to be like Canadians!”

My Green party is led by an awesome woman named Elizabeth May. The Green Party in the U.S. is led by an awesome woman named Jill Stein. They are very smart and work very hard and I hope they will lead our two countries soon. The job of the Green Party is very hard, but a great U.S. President, J.F.K., talked about taking the hard road (or one of his speech writers wrote) “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,‪ not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

This climate disruption thing is very much like that. We have to win. Maybe you’ll read this some day just after you get back from swimming down at Fifth Depot Lake. How awesome is swimming in a fresh water lake!

Rather than running around during an election, especially at this time of year when the farm is very busy, I’d rather sit and watch Netflix on the TV. It’s awesome. By the time you read this they will probably be beaming content into a microchip in your cerebral cortex to save on bandwidth. But they’ll be no Netflix for me for a while.

When you get older and come to the farm we’ll go on long hikes. And I’ll show you how to use a chainsaw (when your mom says you’re old enough). And we’ll build forts! Oh the forts we will build together. And I hope you come to love the peace and quiet here the way I do. And the birds and the trees. They’ll still be doing their carbon sequestration thing because The Green Party managed to get a price on fossil fuel carbon and the marketplace, and the people who interact in it daily, made better choices. I hope your great grandfather is proud of me, even if I don’t win this election. I hope you’re proud of me too. And I’ll stop trying just about the time you’re old enough to build forts. And then I’ll put all my efforts into helping you build the most awesomest fort ever!



p.s. Your grandmother will say stuff like “Oh your grandfather just wrote that blog for therapy.” Always believe your grandmother.

ppss. Sorry about not setting up a bank account for you. It’s because I don’t make any money running a CSA or running for the Green Party. But I have a box of hockey cards with your name on it! Just wait until we put them on the spokes of your bike.. they will make your bike sound so cool!

pppsss. When your grandmother bakes you a raspberry or blueberry pie…sure… she deserves hugs and kisses, but don’t forget who planted and weeded and pruned and watered and fertilized the dam plants for years.

ppppssss. Sorry I said ‘dam’. I hope you’re mother isn’t one of those mothers who won’t allow bad words around her kids. If she is, just remember I love you very much, even though I probably won’t talk much when you’re here (for fear of saying too many bad words!)


The “S” Word – Survivalist, That Is

I was invited to speak at an expo being organized this summer in Niagara Falls Ontario. It looks like a really cool event. It will focus on people interested in homesteading, on off-grid living, on being more prepared for emergency situations. The only challenge is the name of the event … it’s called “The Survival Expo.”

I discussed this in the blog where I mentioned how The Globe and Mail newspaper had called me for a comment on the ‘bunker’ found in the woods in Toronto. Could a survivalist have dug it? Well sure it could have been dug by a survivalist, but I spent a lot of time explaining how my book “The Sensible Prepper” was written to provide people with some basic strategies to cushion themselves for some of these extreme weather events and infrastructure problems that seem to be happening with more regularity. It wasn’t a survivalist book. But that’s how they described me, “author of a survivalist book.”

Oh, and it turns out the ‘bunker’ was just a man-cave dug by some young males practicing their newfound construction skills, as a place to chill out.

I guess I’m at the point where I’m just going to resign myself to the fact that people want to pigeon hole me as a survivalist. I suppose that’s not a bad thing since it seems to be fairly prevalent in the zeitgeist or mood of our time. The other day a movie popped up on Netflix called “These Final Hours.” I hadn’t heard of the movie but we watched it and enjoyed it. It was about a cataclysmic event that will end life on the planet and how the various characters deal with it. As the end of the movie Netflix suggests a bunch of other apocalyptic movies and there are lots of them. I find that it’s a topic that is often simmering under the surface of conversations throughout the diverse group of people that I talk to.

At “The Survival Expo” I will be talking about off-grid living. It has taken 18 years but our system works very well right now and I have lots of perspective on pitfalls to avoid and the correct approach to the whole thing. The organizer is setting up media interviews and people will hear ‘survivalist’ and expect me to be crouching in a bunker, dressed in camo, armed to the nines, ready for mayhem. I do not own any camo clothing, even though it is pretty standard attire in my part of the world. I believe you can buy a camo coloured reclining chair to watch TV in, but I’m not sure how likely it is that the deer or other prey would get as a close as peering in your windows to require camo inside your house.

A couple of things have recently helped me embrace my inner “prepper”. The first was the September 2015 “Harrowsmith Gardening Digest” that a friend gave to us after she was finished reading it (Yes, I have thoughtful friends like that. Thanks Heidi!) In it there is a 16-page article entitled “A Dozen Things We Have in Common With Preppers.” I’m assuming the ‘we’ to which the article refers is normal, everyday country dwellers. It includes things like gardening and seed saving and emergency preparedness. And I thought, all right, someone else is calling what country people do routinely… “prepping.” And that’s a good thing.

And then I bought a great 2011 hardcover book called “Cascadia’s Fault” (for $1.00!) discussing the likelihood of a very large earthquake off the west coast where the seabed is subducting under North America. It will be large quake and it could reach from Vancouver Island to California. It will cause massive damage and a massive tsunami, giving people on the west coast about 8 minutes to get to higher ground before the first of the 8 waves roll in. It was quite terrifying, but fascinating in how they identified the last time it caused a quake in 1700. It could happen today, or in 100 years but the data seems to suggest it happened about every 300 years, which means that it is due … well… anytime.

The author spends a great deal of time outlining all of the things I discuss in my book “The Sensible Prepper.” How to put together a bug-out bag. How to have an evacuation route. How to have a meet up point that all the family, including the kids are aware of in case the event happens while they’re at school and you’re at work. And really, who wants to sit the kids down and discuss what happens when a tsunami wrecks your town? I guess the alternative, which is to be dazed and confused and not have a meet up point is not a good option. Regardless I found the book very reinforcing. It basically says west coast emergency personal want you to take the kind of steps I recommend in the book. At which point I feel quite normal, and respectable and very un-‘survivalist’ic. (And if you don’t have my book yet it’s available here or from amazon. Be sure to use the links from this site!)

I am reluctantly embracing my inner survivalist and will go with the zeitgeist. It’s kind of tough at this time of the year when everything is so green and healthy and full of life and it just feels like every day is a miracle here at Sunflower Farm. At least I can watch a zombie movie tonight and be brought back to reality.

So for fun I’m sharing a video by a great Canadian artist named Corb Lund called “Getting’ Down the Mountain.” Apparently I’m not alone in thinking about peak oil, the vulnerability of fiat currency (or paper money) and some of these other issues I ramble on about in my books.

Sorry, he uses the “S” word in this video, but not “Survivalist”…the bad one you don’t want you’re kids saying.

A RED Letter Day in the BLUE Berry Patch

(Cam wrote this last night just so you understand why he is writing in the present tense.)

All those little inspirations you see on Facebook and read in those ‘don’t worry, be happy’ books always talk about how you need to enjoy every day. Every day is a new beginning. You could be struck by lightning tomorrow so live every day like it’s your last. It all sounds so easy.

This works until you realize that if it was your last day you’d eat about 5,000 calories of really unhealthy food, and if you ate like this every day and compound this over a period of time … say … every day … well, you would definitely increase the likelihood of each day being your last!

I do strive for this state of mind but it’s difficult. I find myself increasingly turning my thoughts to people in my life who have passed away and thinking “Mom/Brian/Ian/Ted (fill in the blank with someone from your life who has passed away) doesn’t have the option of doing what I’m doing, whether it’s weeding/cutting firewood/unloading manure … so I should enjoy it. It sounds somewhat morbid but it usually works. You focus on the individual and you become really grateful for doing what you’re doing.

I have been very light on blogs of late because the CSA is an enormous amount of work … all of the good kind. I’m pretty exhausted at the end of a day and don’t usually have the energy to even sit at my computer and type. But tonight I do. Today was a red-letter day. Tonight I am absolutely energized.

First off, it rained last night. We had gone a long time without rain and my sandy soil was starting to dry out. I wasn’t in the freaking out stage yet, and I had been staying ahead on watering, but nothing beats a rain. And the rain came when a front moved through which made today sunny but without the humidity, so it was marvelous.

Our friends John and Denice let me into their blueberry patch today. It isn’t officially open yet for the “you-pickers” since there aren’t a lot of ripe berries yet. But if I kept moving I was able to pick some for our members. It was sunny. It was comfortable. They don’t have bugs there. They have an osprey nest because they’re beside Stocco Lake and the birds call to each other all day long and I saw a parent land with a fish for a baby. And the blueberries were amazing.


I am no longer a “Type A”, accumulation-focused individual when it comes to money … hence … why I am able to run a CSA, but I do love filling up a basket of blueberries and then dumping them into the pint containers that we give to our members. It’s delightful. I kept thinking of the alternatives. Driving to a city for work. Working in an industrial park. Sitting in a cubicle. Working on a computer. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, I am just grateful that some divine force in the universe diverged me from that path and onto one in which I spend my days growing food. And I continue to focus on the fact that if I have to do something to earn an income, what could be lower impact than providing people with food? Locally grown, organically grown food. People have to eat. This is simply the best way to do it. It’s really quite outstanding.

Once I got the blueberries done I zipped home and jumped right in to our raspberry patch. The raspberries are at their peak and I was able to pick a little clamshell package for everyone. This might not seem like a lot but when you realize how much work is involved with the picking, and growing things like raspberries, you are truly left to marvel at the produce sections of grocery stores. How there can be so much food, so cheap, is a truly wondrous thing.

I am never happier though than when I’ve produced something like this myself. I remember planting every section of the two main berry patches. I remember that fall I transplanted all those raspberry canes into the back section to boost it up and fill it in some more. I remember the many times I have slung horse manure onto the raspberry rows during the fall and winter. And the straw from the chicken coop. The soil in the raspberry patches that started out as pretty much sand gets better every year. Once in a while I’ll hit a cluster of berries and one will fall and I’ll crouch down to try and retrieve it. I keep another container near where I’m picking for these casualty berries that we feed to the chickens. OMG they love raspberries! They must be so good for them! And how great that must make their eggs!

When I’m down at the soil level of our raspberry patch I love how dark and cool it seems. And what a unique little ecosystem it is with bugs and microorganisms working to decompose material that falls into it. I know where the energy from raspberries comes from and it’s kind of a big deal. It’s the sun that also powers my house, and the soil.

By dinnertime I was bagged and we had all the blueberries and raspberries ready to go for tomorrow’s member pick up. Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I’ll start picking spinach. Michelle will start with lettuce and green onions. Tomorrow our members will also get radishes and snow peas and kale. Next week beans should be ready.

CSA box

In all the ways I have earned a living since I started working part-time in high school 40+ years ago, which includes about a ba-zillion jobs and careers and businesses that I’ve started and run, nothing compares to what I do now. Even after publishing some amazing books about sustainable living, there can simply be no greater satisfaction that loading up all our boxes with an enormous amount of healthy, organic, sustaining, earth friendly, body building, soul enriching produce that I’ve grown and picked.

I love what I do. My food is grown and picked with love. I’m not sure you can assume that about the grocery store stuff.

I think it’s time to raise the price.

Or lower it.

I don’t think that will change my job satisfaction.


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Michelle’s Note: From time to time I like to point out the “Tip Jar” on the righthand side of this website. Feel free to leave a little something if you enjoy this blog! We appreciate it!



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Our next workshop here at Sunflower Farm will take place on Saturday, October 24th. We call it The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop. Covers just about everything doesn't it? For more information and to register, use the pull down menu "Visit Sunflower Farm" where you will find a tab for "Upcoming Worshops."
About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their business, Aztext Press. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is a sought after speaker for conferences and keynotes and has motivated thousands to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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