The Leap Manifesto

In the midst of my election campaign my Dad pointed out an editorial piece in the Globe and Mail newspaper and I was able to grab the “day-old” paper and read it. It was about the “Leap Manifesto.”

Just seeing the word “manifesto” was enough to draw me in, because, let’s face it, when was the last time you saw this word? I’m pretty sure that for me it was in a high school history class in about 1973 and it was part of the phrase the ‘communist manifesto’, so using that word makes a pretty bold statement right off the bat.

The Leap Manifesto was written by a number of prominent Canadians including Naomi Klein and David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis and Arcade Fire and bunch of other hip musicians. And yes, they are a bunch of “lefties.” You’ve heard me rant about government deficits so you know I swing both ways on the political spectrum.

But this piece was different. It was a big, bold pronouncement of what we had to do to save the planet. How motivating it was for someone like me, running for the Green Party. It basically summarized all one’s worst fears about climate change and said we have to leave 75% of the known carbon (oil, gas, coal) in the ground if we hope to avoid a catastrophe. So far, this is backed by science, so I’m on board. Then it discussed how to do that.

The goal is to get the economy de-carbonized, or to stop using oil and gas and coal by 2040. Completely. Zero carbon. Nada.

It’s a tall order and one that would have been easy to achieve if we’d starting paying attention back in the 1980’s when I entered the environmental movement. But now it’s a big deal. It’s a ‘World War II/Apollo Moon Landing’ kind of commitment required. We all have to get on board and make some big changes, and governments have to lead the way. Governments have been horrifically negligent in this department and since they represent our views, we’ve been kidding ourselves that we can ignore this problem. But we can’t, and the “Leap Manifesto” is a refreshing, honest attempt to open a discussion and get people moving in the right direction.

The cool thing for me was that as I read through their goals and how to achieve them, it was basically the Green Party Policy Platform that they were highlighting. Now that’s a morale booster!

As the election wound down I found Naomi Klein’s latest book “This Changes Everything” on my bookshelf. I loved her books, “No Logo” and “Shock Doctrine,” and I started to read her new one just as the CSA got underway in the spring and it was just too big and too dense to get through. Michelle had borrowed it for me from the local library so I only had about 3 weeks in which to read it and there was no way I was going to finish it that quickly and so I bailed on it. Then I found it at a thrift store for $2! It’s only about 3 months old! And it’s hardcover! And 600 pages long and $37 new! Who can afford to do that? I don’t care! I own it now!

So I’m back into it and I see where the “Leap” came from. She suggests that we could have meandered to a solution if we’d got started long ago, but we can’t anymore. Since the science is clear about what we have to do, we have to ‘leap’ to get there.

The good thing is that I got through all the dark stuff before the election was over. I had committed to only read shiny happy stuff after the election, so now I’m on the ‘solutions’ part of the book, so I can keep reading it. And like so many of these books that I have read over the years it’s just rehashing all the stuff I know and have read before, but I read it again anyways.

Michelle and I have made our leap to a zero-carbon house. We have a long way to go in the transportation department but this is where government incentives have to come in. With a price on carbon, the automotive industry will finally have to do the right thing and mass produce electric cars. And we’ll just add another tracker with solar panels to charge our car and we’re off to the races.

And it will be easier for everyone once our governments do the right thing and start charging for the right to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is what’s causing it to warm up. We have to pay to take bags of garbage to the dump (at least here in my rural area.) This is the same thing, only with carbon.

I like big, bold ideas. I like revolutions. And we need a revolution to fix this mess. I’m glad a group other than the Green Party is speaking out about this necessity. Once we get enough of these groups screaming loudly enough, the powers that be will listen. I wish I had been elected to Ottawa (well, sort of) so that I could be getting going on that, but that didn’t quite work out. Maybe next time (or not! Michelle is strongly discouraging me from running in an election campaign ever again).

The good news is our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems serious about climate change and just had a First Ministers (the premiers of all our provinces) meeting to discuss a strategy before the Paris climate meetings. And low and behold the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley just announced that her province would be putting a price on carbon. No really, that Alberta. The one with the tar sands. The one that wants to ship bitumen all over the place. How great is that!

In the meantime, check out the “Leap Manifesto.” Go on, I dare you. Get out your Karl Marx beret, find that Che Guevara T-Shirt and be radical. Life’s too short not to. (And while you are there, sign the petition.)

Sixteen Weeks of Lettuce – I Did That!

There used to be a TV show that I liked and after the credits it had a little “identifier” for the producer, with a kid saying, “I did that!”

I’ve had a few of those moments lately. Well, I get them all the time the way I live, but a few stand out. The first is this pile of dirt and gravel. I know. It’s just a pile of dirt. But it’s kind of a big deal to me.

I did that

A few years ago I assembled this metal shed that I store stuff in, like rototillers, and I positioned it on a raised area because it is in a low-lying area that floods in the spring. At the time I quickly put together a wooden ramp (yes, from scrounged pallets) and I’ve been using this temporary ramp for years. It gets really slippery when it’s wet, which seems to be a lot of the time, and it was just a lousy temporary solution. But there’s a kind of inertia with all of the things that you’ll ‘get around to some day’ and it’s been on the ‘to-do’ list’ but it just never got done.

If I had a tractor with a bucket it would have been done ages ago, but alas, I don’t, and any day that I had the energy to work on it, there were more pressing (i.e. paying work on the CSA) that took priority. So this fall I finally started dragging wheelbarrows full of sand from a sand pit, which is about a 5 minute walk away, and began building up the ramp. I decided to just do 3 trips a day, to save my back. And my arms. And my ankles.

It’s nice though, because I have to walk through the woods to get to the sand and Jasper just loves accompanying me on my trips to get sand. It’s like he has this radar and doesn’t matter where on the property he is, once I start towards the path through the woods with the wheelbarrow, he will appear out of nowhere and blasts by me at break neck speed and is at the sand pit in about 4 seconds! Then he comes back to make sure I’m still coming … then he sprints back … and so on and so forth.

Once I got the ramp built up I took some gravel from the driveway and topped it off, to keep it a little less muddy on wet days. And now, about once I day, I walk over and look at this pile of dirt and say, … “I did that!” And it feels really great. I could stare at it all day. And when I actually have to use it, well, I just swell up with pride at my accomplishment. It’s the little things.

With the CSA over I’m in a mad dash to get a million other small jobs done before the ground freezes. Many of our friends and family members have asked me how the CSA season was this year. I think it was a huge success. We had the whole “drought/freeze/flood” thing in the spring which forced me to have to replant a lot of stuff, and it took out a lot of peas, so there were some things that weren’t as good as other years. But overall I think it was a fantastic year. I am really proud of the baskets we put out this year. In fact we even ended up with a bonus delivery 2 weeks after our Canadian Thanksgiving (the second week of October) because we still had so much stuff we wanted to get to our members.

We got a lot of positive feedback about our lettuce this year, for which I am extremely proud. I don’t say this to boast but rather to note that I have been challenged in previous years to have a steady supply of green leafy stuff. Lettuce doesn’t always like heat, so it’s hard to keep it during the worst of the summer heat. I always have lots in the spring and fall, but there can be weeks in July and August where it just doesn’t look good enough to give to our members, or I simply don’t have it because I haven’t timed the planting properly.

This year everything came together to allow us to provide lettuce to our members every week of the deliveries. Sixteen weeks of lettuce. I technically could have provided it in our bonus week, but the boxes were so full it was going to get squished when I closed the lids, and with spinach and kale the box already seemed to have enough greens.

Humans seek self-actualization. We strive to do things well. Some people try to better their personal athletic milestones. Others keep score comparing the size of their retirement accounts. Or the shiny metal box that sits in their driveway.

I find myself increasingly removed from those sorts of goals and increasingly focused on things that come out of my soil. And heck, even my soil itself. Running a CSA is a stupid amount of work. And it’s one nightmare of an organizational challenge. Timing the plantings from when we start our transplants in February to the final delivery just requires an immense effort. And every year we get better at it. And every year I’m less stressed about having enough vegetables in every box. And every year, and every week I am more and more proud about the final product we’re putting out.

cam with peppers FB

It seems to me that one of the challenges in this life is that the jobs that often pay the most provide the least opportunity for personal satisfaction. Oh sure, there’s that paycheck scorecard, but then you just find yourself wanting to hop on a plane to reward yourself.

I get a big grin on my face every time I think about how much organic produce we grew and provided to our amazing CSA members. For 16 weeks we provided just about every vegetable you can grow in our growing region, and we maximized the time we provided each. We had 16 weeks of lettuce! We had lettuce every week and “I did that!”


Cam lettuce

The Technology House of Cards

I am a dinosaur.

I started selling microcomputers in 1982, bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers off the line in 1984, started my own electronic publishing business in 1987 and kept pace with technology until a few years ago. Heck, I even used to set up and administer websites. Look ma, I love technology. But no more.

Michelle has taken over that part of our lives and I grow food. I put seeds in the ground and tend them and deliver food to people.

I realized I’m a dinosaur when I read an article about how automakers are starting to phase out CD players in cars, because people don’t use them. Or at least young people don’t use them. I tried to get into the whole ‘iTunes’ thing, but I just never got it. I think it was probably because I always got my daughters’ hand-me-down iPods when their batteries were giving up the ghost, so I just got frustrated and couldn’t be bothered.

The Guardian recently published an article about how people in the IT crowd were terrified about the potential for havoc caused by hackers. I guess it’s kind of like how climate scientists are terrified about feedback loops, but really, who trusts experts? Because really, putting our entire financial system and critical infrastructure like power grids on-line where they are so vulnerable to hacking, well, that’s just the way things go. Accept it.

When we moved off the grid 17 years ago our radiophone system was complicated and our internet was dial up so we couldn’t use the phone at the same time as the internet. So we didn’t do much with it. Maybe 12 or 13 years ago we got satellite internet but it was still wonky and slow and it took us (the “royal us,” in other words, Michelle) a few years to be confident enough in it to start trusting it for things like on-line banking. It’s always disconcerting when you’re doing stuff on-line and the internet craps out in the middle of the transaction. So where DID that money go? Do we have it, or does the bank have it, or is it just gone?

So I believe I can safely say that like most people we really didn’t start trusting the internet to begin migrating a lot of their key activities to the internet until about a decade ago. So in just about a decade, we have taken all the activities that humans developed over millennia, like exchanging physical goods with physical cash or something approximating that, to putting all these life supporting, essential activities into binary code, as electronic bits on this human created enterprise, called the internet.

When I see the confidence many people have in this whole bizarre concept I am quite terrified. This really hit home recently when I spoke to someone in the computer industry who seemed quite gob smacked that humans, in particular North Americans, are so blindly trustworthy to believe that nothing bad could happen to their ‘stuff’ when it all exists in the ether… as electronic bits floating around on electronic networks. Many (or most) of us have seen glitches in the matrix with our stuff, whether it’s payments or bills or whatever, and we just blindly keep trusting more and more of our essential activities to this technology juggernauts.

It’s all good … until it’s not.

And I know what you’re saying… ‘Well I couldn’t resist. My employer direct deposits my paycheque electronically into my account, and many government departments won’t deal with me unless it’s electronic, and a lot of businesses seem determined to force me to migrate to doing things on-line (you know, because they make more money when I do.)”

I try not to push our books on this blog too often, but I think people need a re-set sometimes, and that’s the reason I wrote “The Sensible Prepper.” People need a reminder that having a backup plan is not a bad idea. Indeed, it’s increasingly becoming a really, really good idea. It is not a ‘guns and ammo’ survival book. It is a logical plan with lots of tips for you to implement. The kind of tips for which there is no downside. Sometimes you just need a gentle reminder and some logical pointers on where to start. You can order the book here:



One thing that I would strongly like to recommend is that you always keep a hundred dollars in your wallet and $400 or $500 in cash at your house. This might make me sound like a crackpot, until it doesn’t. Cash machines go down some times. Interac machines go down. Computer networks go down. People’s accounts get hacked and their identities get stolen and things can go very badly sometimes. If you don’t keep cash in your wallet because you’re worried about being robbed and losing that cash, then you aren’t looking at where the real threat is.

But hey, that’s just old food growin’, wood heatin’, book readin’, CD player usin’, cash usin’ Cam talkin’, so don’t pay any attention to me. I hear Apple has a new electronic payment system you can use on your smartphone. Woo hoo, gotta go get that app!

The Best Breakfast…EVER!

I love fall. It’s my favorite season of the year. No really. The bugs are over. My second and third favorite seasons are coming up… winter and spring… and Thanksgiving here in Canada is over and so that means … yup…. the Most Wonderful Time of the Year will soon be here!

I used to see those cheesy posters that hung in bedrooms with the “Live Every Day as if it’s your Last” slogans. Now we’re inundated with them on Facebook instead. And it’s sooo easy to read those things and say, “Ya, I’m going to do that! Today!” And then an hour later be whining about something and spend the rest of the day brooding and miserable.

But once the weather gets cooler I find I start really enjoying every day. I love cold weather. How Canadian, eh? I do not like being hot, which makes running a CSA where I work in the sun all day just a stupid proposition. But I do love growing food and in the fall I really enjoy putting potatoes and onions and garlic and sweet potatoes and squash away for the winter. As I harvested potatoes this year there were 3 grades. Grade A Number 1 were for our CSA members. They were the prettiest and the best size and shape. Grade B were not quite good enough for paying members, but they are fine for us, so they end up in our root cellar. Grade C potatoes are for our chickens. These are the really ugly ones and small ones, which I could peel and eat, but it’s just too much work because they’re so small and with the volume I have it would be days worth of work.

Which brings me back to my favorite part of this season … the woodstove! The heat it throws off. How I provide my own fuel. How it’s the center of our home and the universe for so much of the year. It serves so many purposes from heat to hot water to food preparation. And that outdoorsy smell. There is nothing as comforting as working outside and smelling wood smoke and knowing that at the end of the day your home will be toasty warm from your own physical labor. Sorry to drone on, but really, I love my woodstove. I hazard to guess that many urban dwellers do not share the same connection with their natural gas powered furnaces, which is a pity.

Now that we are using our woodstove I can cook up those Grade C potatoes for the chickens. They’re still getting lots of broccoli plant leaves and other greens from the garden, but they do like some variation in their breakfast meal and potatoes provide that. In the summer we tend to give them large flake oats and ripe bananas that we buy at a reduced price. Our climate has not warmed enough to grow bananas (yet) but we grow marvelous potatoes and the ladies love them. I grew them in my soil from my seed stock (last year’s saved potatoes). I cook them on my woodstove with wood that I cut. The ladies will provide me with awesome eggs to have the energy to cut more firewood and their manure and straw from the coop will end up back on the potato field as fertilizer. Makes me want to hold a chicken up over my head and sing “The Circle of life” from the Disney version of the Lion King, a movie I haven’t actually seen but I’ve seen parodied often enough.

Which brings me back to the ultimate goal of this blog, to talk about the absolute, most fantastically amazing breakfast I had today. At my house. Like every day, but today’s was especially exceptional.

I had garlic left over from last night’s dinner so I grated some potatoes in with it. Then I put some of the garlic in with my eggs, into which I also added spinach from the garden. I had toast made with Michelle’s unbelievably great homemade bread, made with a lot of whole-wheat flour that she ground from the wheat berries we bought from a local organic farmer. The eggs and hash browns were cooked on the woodstove. The hot water for the coffee was boiled on the woodstove (and yes, the coffee came from afar). We toasted the bread in the electric solar powered toaster (and yes you’re tired of it, but when you live off-grid, everything electric is ‘solar powered’.)

With all my finagling the eggs were on the back of the woodstove top, so they cooked really slowly which I think makes them taste better. The perfect texture and consistency. Plus they had our garlic in them, as did the hash browns. The coffee was so hot it was like it just came out of a nuclear reactor. OMG it was such a great breakfast! I just wanted to eat breakfast all day!

Does this make me pathetic? Is it wrong to want to go to bed early so morning will come sooner so you have breakfast? Maybe. Probably. But if they just spotted the asteroid and it was headed for my home this afternoon, I can’t think of a more awesome last meal than one of our breakfasts.

Quite a few years ago we were doing a renewable energy show in Toronto and we stayed in a hotel that had a restaurant called “Azure.” At the time I thought it was the best breakfast anywhere. They offered absolutely everything and you could eat until you were unconscious, which was kind of dangerous since I then had to go and stand at our booth all day and hawk books.

I realize now though that it was $30/person even back then. I shudder to think of what it would cost now. If we said $40/person, add tax and tip it would be close to $100. If I was aggressive in my input costs… cream for the coffee, olive oil for the potatoes, our breakfast at home might cost us $3/each. And I really grew most of it. And I made the heat that cooked it. And I sat in my kitchen with windows on three sides in a home I love in a place I love surrounded by thousands of acres of forests and ponds and lakes.

I think I’ll take my breakfast any day. In fact it’s almost 5 pm now, so I’ve got another 5 hours before I can go to bed… and then get up and have breakfast! How can I speed this up? OMG, I AM SOOOOOOOOOOO EXCITED!!!!!!!!


All Candidates Meetings As an Exercise in Intellectual Resilience

Yes, I know, another blog about our recent federal election. The election is over but I just wanted to share my thoughts on the experience. I am sorry if my blogs have been a little election obsessed lately, but it turns out that when you run as a candidate in one, it does kind of take over your life. It certainly takes over your psyche… i.e. you think about it non-stop – from when you’re digging carrots to when you wake up at 3 am and want to think about shiny happy things like cutting firewood in order to get back to sleep but all you can think about is how to respond to questions at the next ACM – that’s cool political poli-speak code for “All Candidates Meetings.”

I know Michelle uses a bunch of software/games to keep her brain active, I know there are things like Luminosity which are designed for this … to keep your synapses firing to ward off old-age-related brain clogging. I’m finding that running in an election is very much like this, only scarier.

All political parties change their policies on an on-going basis; to meet changing world and economic circumstances, as well as voters’ fickle mood swings. So no candidate will be completely knowlegable on every aspect of their party’s platforms. The Green Party is no exception, although it changes much less. Because we have yet to form a government we have been able to stay pretty true to our vision for the future. The challenge for me, even though I tried to read/memorize the entire 185-page document called “Green Vision 2015,” is that I wasn’t able to be completely knowledgeable about our party’s policies.

The party did provide ‘talking points’ of the key policies that we put forward in the election, but there was a still a gap in my knowledge. I have heard of cabinet ministers in sitting governments taking their policy books into debates so they get it right, so I feel better about doing so at ACMs. And quite frankly if I attended an ACM where candidates didn’t have to refer to a policy book with the range of questions they receive, I’d be highly skeptical about their responses.

So the question is, how do you take a 185-page policy book, and 15-page ‘talking point’ overview, and distill it down to 2 minutes to encapsulate the essence of your party for voters coming to an ACM? It’s extremely terrifying and absolutely intellectually invigorating. No pain no gain right?

We got lots of questions along the lines of, “Oil prices are low but gas prices are high, what is the federal government going to do to bring down gas prices?” The other candidates talked about how complex the oil industry is and used words like “oligopolies” and stuff like that. Well I’m finally comfortable enough in my new ‘Green Party’ hat, we’ll call it my new green skin, that I would simply say that “the Green Party is going to create a vibrant new economy where you can stop having to buy gas from corporations who you don’t seem to be too happy with. Wouldn’t that be great, and here’s how we’ll do it…”

As soon as I started down this road I could see the questioners’ eyes start to roll back in their heads and they often started shaking their head in the “No, I don’t want to hear this” vein, but I’ve learned to persevere and flesh out the concept. The fact remains, the International Energy Agency says we hit peak conventional oil in 2005, all that’s left is hard to get or tar-like bitumen or shale oil, so the price of energy is going to go back up. If you want to keep driving your big honkin’ pickup truck an hour to work every day, well there’s nothing any government can do to help you. You’re simply going to have to respond to an inevitable economic reality. You can vote for a party that’s honest about this and offers a way forward, or you can grumble.

We also got the “how are we going to pay for healthcare?” question a lot. Canada has this unbelievably awesome universal healthcare system. Michelle’s treatment for breast cancer 5 years ago was absolutely stellar. And it didn’t cost us a penny.

A decade ago the Liberal government’s Paul Martin negotiated the health accord with the provinces (which actually administer healthcare directly) and the federal government increased the money they provide to the provinces for healthcare by 6% for the last decade. If you do the math, it’s quite terrifying how much of an increase that is, especially considering that much of the time the economy has been contracting or had very little growth. The recent Conservative government had said that when the current health accord runs out, in 2017 I believe, they would limit yearly increases to the rate of economic growth. The first two quarters of this year the Canadian economy contracted, so one could interpret that as meaning that they would actually claw back some money, but I think they said they’d keep increasing it at least 3%. They also dropped our G.S.T. (Goods and Services Tax, or sales tax) two-percentage points and dramatically reduced our corporate sales tax while they were in power. So the government had way less money to play with every year. It will be interesting to see how our new Liberal government handles this problem.

This comes at a time when Canadian society has just crossed this age Rubicon. There are now more people in Canada over 65, than under 15. In other words, you used to have a large majority of younger people working and paying into the system, with fewer at the top using the services, so it was sustainable. Now, not only is the productive tax-paying group at the bottom end of the age range getting smaller, the bulge at the top is placing enormous pressure on the system. This year people over 65 used 40% of our total healthcare budget. In the next two decades as a tsunami of the population reaches 65, we’ll use 60% of the healthcare budget. Do the math. It doesn’t add up and it’s not sustainable. Any politician who tells you it does is being unrealistic.

The Green Party has excellent policies designed to keep people healthy and keep them out of the system. I typically answered the healthcare question by suggesting that if governments are going to have to keep spending record amounts on fighting historic wildfires, or $60 billion for Superstorm/Hurricane Sandy in New York, or $6 billion for historic floods in Calgary, etc etc. they won’t have any money left for healthcare. We simply have to focus on climate change first. It’s not what anyone wants to hear, but I said it over and over again during the election campaign. As you can tell, I was able to turn just about any question at an ACM into an opening for me to talk about Climate Change.

For me personally, every time I bend down to weed carrots or pick spinach, which I like to do on my knees while wearing kneepads, I say to myself “Take it easy Cam, stretch it out, work your way down slowly, because by the time you need that knee replaced, the cupboard might be bare.” Actually, I think I’ll go and do some more stretching right now!


My Radio Phase

I have gone through many ‘phases’ in my life. There was the time after high school I was going to be a landscaper and snow plow driver in the winter. I landscaped one summer and that was enough of that … and with climate change I don’t think the income potential from a winter’s worth of snowplowing is very secure, at least not in the Greater Toronto area where there’s money but often a lack of reliable snow.

I’m pretty sure my mom thought that my switch to a plant-based diet was a ‘phase’ but after a quarter century that one looks like it’s sticking.

After high school I worked loading trucks for a year (my ‘Styx’ ‘Blue Collar Man’ phase). Then I went to college and got a diploma in radio broadcasting. Once in I discovered that I didn’t really have what it took to speak effortlessly between songs unless I scripted it, which just meant that I sounded like I was reading. I also discovered that on-air people didn’t make much money, so I got into radio sales. Shortly after starting at a radio station in Peterborough my general manager called me in to his office to tell me that he had ordered jackets from a local men’s wear store for all of the sales staff. I, being a newbie, was happy to go along with the team so I purchased one.

Well it turned out it that the jackets were optional and I was the only salesperson who bought one. I offer this photo as proof as to why my fellow salespeople chose to pass on a CKPT Radio suit jacket.

Cam CKPT Jacket

The jackets were made of brown polyester with fluorescent orange call letters of the station. I was mocked by the other salesman (and yes, it was all men in those days) for walking around town looking like the station’s weatherman. Luckily I was young and stupid and spent many days trudging through the streets of Peterborough with my briefcase and my binder of radio facts selling radio advertising. Gloriously enthusiastic about selling radio and oblivious as to how I might appear. Those were grand times!

I think the other reason that the other salesmen might have stayed away from the jacket was because it was 100% polyester and smoking was still popular in those days. It was no wonder I wasn’t incinerated at some coffee shop … where I learned to drink coffee and eat donuts.

This was about the time that “WKRP in Cincinnati” was on TV with Herb Tarleck as the Sales Manager. Now he wore outrageous suits! My friends from my radio days often called me “Herb” in reference to him. In fact they still do.

Recently I was invited to CJBQ Radio in Belleville, ON for my final media interview for the campaign. Well actually it was a one-hour live call in radio show, which I have never done before. So it was one of those ‘approach-avoidance’ things I learned in my first year psychology class at university (in my one year at Queen’s during my university phase). I was really excited about it and pretty terrified at the same time. If the topic had been something I am really comfortable talking about like living off the grid, renewable energy, growing vegetables organically … I would have been fine. I have those topics down pat.

The challenge is that even though I have supported the Green Party for many years, the “Green Vision 2015” policy book is 185 pages long, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read it, unless you’re Elizabeth May the party leader, you can only be so familiar with all areas of policy.

All Candidates Meetings posed the same challenge. If someone asked a question on a topic that I wasn’t familiar with, I might have to answer off the top of my head, but with 3 other candidates taking turns giving the first answer, there was a 75% chance that I’d have a few minutes to rifle through the policy book or think through an answer that is in keeping with the other policies of the Party.

Radio was different. There was no delay. No chance to rifle through the book. Just give an answer. And I assumed that with it being “talk radio I was going to have to be on the defensive. There would probably be at least one climate-change denier with any number of facts to suggest why 97% of climate scientists were wrong. There would the ‘why are you wasting your time with a party that is so unlikely to form a government’ question. Oh, and the “If you tax carbon you’ll destroy the economy…” line which I will admit by now I have developed a strong comeback for.

But no such luck. Lorne Brooker, the host, seemed happy to have me on. And the callers went pretty easy on me. The good thing was I didn’t blow it. I think I represented the Green Party well. The great thing was that it was a blast. It’s been… well… more than 30 years since I sat behind a live mike on a radio station. But it sure didn’t feel that long.


I’m thinking that growing food is way too much work. And the garden isn’t air conditioned like a radio studio. So I’m thinking it’s time to get back into radio. To which I sing the happy jingle our station used to play to convince advertisers that ours was a good investment for their advertising dollars… “Look at radio, hey radio… you’re lookin’ good!” Oh how I miss those days!

The Other Guy Without a Car

(The title refers to this recent blog post.)

I am always impressed with the cool people I meet during an election. I’m sure it’s because I actually get out and meet more people than when I just stay on the farm and work, but it’s a nice change nevertheless. DSC_0385

I was interviewed by CKWS-TV last week about the campaign. This was fun since I used to work there, eons ago in my ‘TV sales’ days. I arranged to meet the reporter at “Seasons” which is the fine food store in Napanee where we have our weekly drop off for our CSA.

We did the interview in the store and then started chatting afterwards. It was clear to me that Darren the reporter was very well read. It’s hard to say that without sounding pompous and arrogant, but that is not my intent. It was just that he seemed to have a lot of interesting perspectives I don’t often get. As we spoke about climate change and humanity’s lack of response to it, he got into how humans aren’t wired for this. Even though on one level our intellect is light years ahead of where it was when we lived in caves, we still have some of the caveperson instinct. In other words we’re wired to be concerned with immediate threats, like the panther in the tree while we’re hunting. To be concerned with an existential problem that burning fossil fuels might create ‘in the future’ is not a clear and present danger so we’re unable to process the information and come up with a logical reaction.

I have read this in a number of books about climate change. It would help explain the meme or social construct I point out when Michelle asks me how the All Candidates Meeting went. I say “Great, people nodded their heads in acceptance about the need to deal with climate change and then they said ‘But what about income splitting?’” Lots of the communities in our riding are situated along rivers which keep having ‘100 year’ floods, every couple of years. So I say “What about the floods and they say ‘yea, the floods, but what about terrorists?’” Sigh.

So I kept chatting with Darren and at one point I asked him what kind of car he drove, to which he replied “I don’t own a car.” Wait… What? You don’t own a car? You mean you lease? “Nope, haven’t had a car since 1998.”

I think it’s so wonderful when you meet someone you are instantly in awe of. To meet someone who just decided ‘I will go against the overwhelming social trend and not own a personal transportation device with an internal combustion motor’. He had “potential Green Party voter” written all over him!

Darren lives in downtown Kingston (which I love) and he can walk to work. He owns an electric bike. He uses a vehicle at work, which the company provides. He takes the bus when he has to, but in Kingston that means leaving the beautiful downtown with a vibrant “Princess Street” retail community to go out to “Kingston Township” with its strip malls and monstrous big box stores which resembles every other suburban wasteland. In other words, he’s really not missing anything.

When he travels to visit family, he takes the train. In other words, he sits in comfort and reads while the rest of us are trashing the tiny blood vessels in our brains as we deal with traffic that never ends and drivers who are becoming more erratic in their behavior as each year passes.

Yup, it’s a logical, intelligent thing to do, yet so few of us do it.

We know another couple in Kingston who took one of my “Thriving During Challenging Times” workshops. They started with two cars. Dropped to one. Starting cycling a lot. Got used to winter cycling. Changed their work situations to better accommodate their changing transportation situation, and then got rid of their remaining car. Again I am just in awe.

I own a car. For many rural dwellers it is a fact of life. Michelle and I try and use it as little as possible. If we do go to a city we run a day’s worth of errands and then avoid going back to the city for as long as possible. I am appalled with the mileage I racked up during this election, but I rationalize it with my belief that the Green Party message is that important to get out, and the fact that I drive a fairly fuel efficient small car. Yes, that’s a huge rationalization.

There are times when we’re not running the CSA that one of us will realize it’s been several weeks since we were in town. We still pick up the mail and essentials periodically, but the car can often sit for days. Still, we’re not even in the ballpark of Darren from CKWS – aka “No Car Man”.

My son-in-law was home for (Canadian) Thanksgiving this weekend and spent a great deal of time discussing the Tesla, an electric car, which he loves. I think it’s awesome too, especially if you’re charging it with solar panels rather than coal fired grid electricity.

And that’s why I keep buying lottery tickets. Someday there will be a Tesla in my driveway, and another array of solar panels to charge it. In the meantime I shall charge up the lithium-ion battery on the electric bike, dig out that head band that keeps my ears from freezing in our fall weather at the 30 km per hour (20 mph) speed that the bike generates, and start picking up my mail and running my errands on the bike. No Car Man has shamed me into it!

**Here is the clip that Darren filmed of all of the candidates in my riding of Hastings-Lennox&Addington. Today is October 15 and it may not be up for long so if the link doesn’t work CKWS has probably taken it down.


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 next workshop here at Sunflower Farm will take place in Spring, 2016. 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."
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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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