Sea to Seed, Music and Permaculture in Canada’s Gulf Islands

Publisher: Commonwealth Writers Blog
Sea to Seed: Music and Permaculture in Canada’s Gulf Islands June 4, 2015


In what is now named the Salish Sea there are a string of islands that house a unique enclave of sustainability and endurance. On Canada’s Gulf Islands you will find artists and farmers, writers and former war-resistors – plus many other manners of life – all sharing space and time. People build their own homes and heat them with wood stoves.  Hitchhiking is one of the primary modes of transport; community meals happen on the regular and residents often barter and trade items instead of buying. Scant internet and mobile phone reception means there is little interruption from the outside world.

To an outsider, it might sound like paradise. With names like Saturna, Thetis and Gabriola, these modest landmasses are rife with utopic potential. But the isolated nature of these islands brings its own set of challenges, especially if you are a farmer. Farm equipment, feed and livestock have to be shipped to and from the island. For an individual to travel between islands and the mainland can involve up to 3 ferry rides on a single journey.

These conditions bring a sort of banding together, in a place where the localisation of food systems can help drive down the cost of living. And, perhaps surprisingly, there are a fair number of younger generation farmers tilling the soil. Many of them participate in the local music scenes and music festivals along Canada’s west coast, itself a vibrant culture.


It is on this music festival circuit that permaculture advocate Syd Woodward became inspired to create a new movement. Woodward grew up on a farm and his long standing passion for sustainable agriculture and conscious farming practices led him to build a multimedia collective that would, through storytelling, work to challenge current social narratives. Aptly named Overgrow The System, it has met with praise worldwide. But not content to stop there, Woodward decided to innovate a more personal approach to the challenge with his Sea to Seed project.

Billed as a tour of farming, music and regenerative culture, Sea to Seed sees the 51-foot Andromeda boarded by 10 artists, musicians and storytellers, and sailed from island to island in the Salish Sea over the course of one month. On the boat, they pitch in to make food, create and share ideas, and help things run smoothly. The group is given lessons in basic seamanship at the beginning of the journey.

GROUP picture

When the weather conditions are seasonably warm and favourable, trips between islands can take as little as 3 – 5 hours. Yet on each island, these impassioned rabble-rousers spend 2-5 days visiting with local farms, donating their time to work on the land and learning first-hand about sustainable agriculture. Their mission is to collect stories, strengthen ties and, together with the farmers, create another sense of the word ‘community’. There are potluck meals on the grass, communal dinners and intimate nighttime campfire sessions at which musicians from the tour play alongside local troubadours. All acts are conceived and orchestrated with an intentionally mindful attitude.

Tall and handsome, with a punk aesthetic, 28-year old Woodward resonates deeply with the earth. He stresses his intention of “seeing and being present for the natural rhythms of the world.” He emanates confidence and, more than that, tenacity. He wants to do things, make things, see things.  Describing himself as a “left-leaning hippie-type”, Woodward says that one of the goals of the initiative is to “become conscious of the stories we are being fed and how to collectively transform them into the stories we want to be living”. And Woodward seems to know well how to bring people together.  He has a strong sense of commitment to his community – a community in which he is helping to foster a renewed sense of belonging. He constantly asks himself “how do we work together as well as within the land? The issue with the whole agriculture paradigm is that the larger community aspect gets passed by. I wanted to find a way that the world of music and art can serve the people who are making local food a reality”.

Permaculture, where farmers consciously design ecosystems that mimic patterns and relationships found in nature, is itself a burgeoning movement in Canada. The idea of social permaculture builds on that premise by designing the community to reflect the sustainable, regenerative practices of its agriculture. It is a way to build an inclusive farming community that empowers its own citizens.


In this light, Sea to Seed is a revelation to many. The images of the tour are sun-kissed with a nostalgic feel, hearkening back to a time where community was about communication and farmers held high importance in the system. Now, in Canada and across many other countries, giant agricultural companies dominate the market. Their pesticides leak into surrounding farmland and water, contaminating small crops and slowly pushing local farmers to the brink. Meanwhile, the federal government’s laws, taxes and subsidies are shifting away from protecting the small-scale farmer while industrial farmers wear gas masks and biohazard suits as they irrigate the food that we eat.  Where food production is concerned, the gap between right and wrong grows dangerously large.

In the Salish Sea, the situation is no less dire. Faced with a massively declining fish population, fracking and the prospective drilling of big oil pipelines through the land, this area is inundated with conflict. Aptly, the theme for this year’s Sea to Seed tour is ‘Resilience’.

Sea to Seed bolsters community spirit and engenders the kind of equanimity that is necessary to fight governmental anti-environment initiatives and big oil companies who are railroading local communities for their own monetary gains. Syd is passionate when he speaks about ‘showing an alternative way of being that doesn’t rely on using these resources that are destroying our world.”

Magdalene Joly, a farmer and chef on Denman Island was attracted to the event because it connected her to a larger group of artists and food activists that shared her basic values. “So much time and work and energy goes into growing food and sometimes as a farmer the food sort of disappears and you don’t really know where it’s going. This was a really good way of honouring our work and the food.” On Denman, the farm-to-table communal meal was prepared so that every dish had a story to go along with it – one that was shared by all.

All images courtesy of Syd Woodward

boy on ship

Following your bliss

Standing by trees and sunset

New article up on Rebelle Society! I’ve been enamored of Rebelle for years, their writing always seems so honest and giving. My first article for them is about finding out who you are and taking steps to be where you want to be. Not an easy choice but always a worthy one.


We’ve all done it. We’ve all been sitting behind a desk, staring aimlessly at a computer screen, wishing we were somewhere else.

Walking to the office enmeshed in the rat race and wondering where your life went wrong. Leaving work at 5 o’clock, and in your mind you aren’t heading home, but running, sprinting, flying fervently in the direction of your dreams.

The thing is that pushing yourself to do something just so you can achieve the status quo, or so you can have a certain level of stability, is not a bad thing. A lot of people work unfulfilling day jobs, and satisfy themselves with other endeavors on the weekends and evenings.

I am decidedly not one of those people. And if you clicked on this article, then I have a sneaking suspicion that you aren’t one of those people either. Chances are, you are looking for a reason to get out from under your menial existence and live the life you’ve imagined.

Here’s five ways how you can do just that.


1. Spend time with yourself.

You know you want something else. You know you are destined for greatness. But you aren’t sure where to start. Truth be told, you aren’t even sure what you want out of life. The best and most profound way to figure that out is to spend inordinate amounts of time with yourself.

Take long walks, write in a journal, learn how to meditate. Take classes in things that interest you. Spend time looking at online blogs and sites that inspire you. Do whatever it takes to get to know yourself intimately. It may be hard at first, because we are all so used to socializing in our spare time.

But trust me when I tell you that it is in those quiet moments, when no one else is around, that you will find the true you. It will happen noiselessly and gracefully, and before you know it, you will be heading solidly in the direction of your dreams.


2. Be brave, be bold, be fearless.

Nothing great ever happened because someone chose to remain meek.

Do something daring and brave. Quit your job, move out on your own, make a short film, start an online magazine… do something that you’ve been dreaming about but never had the guts to do. Life rewards those who take chances.We see it time and time again in the media and in the lives of our heroes.

So, be fearless and step out into the unknown. It’s scary but necessary. And once your fear subsides, you’ll realize that the trick is to stop thinking about the things you want and start doing them.


3. Use your connections/community.

By the time you are in your mid-twenties, you’ve managed to build up a sizable community around you. Chances are, you have migrated towards the same kind of people that you one day want to be. In my case, it was a community of artists, visionaries, freethinkers and risk-takers.

When I took a look around, I noticed that I had a number of valuable resources right at my fingertips. Use these.

Reach out to everyone you know who can offer valuable insight or connections and tell them where you’re at. Social media is an amazing tool for this. Ask everyone for help. You will be surprised at the generosity of others. So many people will respond with advice and direction that your plate will be full.


4. Put your work out there.

The biggest fear of any budding artist, writer or would-be professional is to be rejected. Everyone has that fear. But a big part of getting out of your own way is to put yourself out there for everyone to see. Be brave and accept rejection as part of your career. It will happen, but it will also make you better.

Being thick-skinned is a very big part of working in your chosen profession. Putting your work out there shows that you are unafraid to do what needs to be done in order for you to get what you want. People respect courage. So be fearless and you will probably find that you will receive more praise than trolls.


5. Work hard, every day, all the time.

Hard work is a given. It’s one of those standard things that we hear all the time, starting from your teachers in middle school. While you can work hard every day, what no one teaches you is how to focus. In order to get what you want in life, you need to live, breathe and eat it.

If you want to write, write all the time and use every available situation in your life to inspire you. If you want to make art, take classes, pick up raw materials and experiment, spend time going to galleries and looking at other artists online.

The point is that whatever it is you want to do, make sure you are 100% dedicated to doing it. It may cut into your social time or your eating-cookie-dough-and-watching-Netflix time but in the end it will be worth it.

Following your bliss sounds simple, but it’s a challenging task. Life is geared towards so many distractions that it’s easy to get sidetracked from what you want. But if you could imagine it, what would your dream-life look like?

If you’re like me, than those daydreams were my life-blood for a good long time before I got out of my office chair and took the leap.

You could do it too. It may not be the most obvious choice, but it will ultimately be the right one.

Reasons I’m not dyeing my grey hair


Grey hair

While hipster twentysomethings are dyeing their hair “silver,” my unkempt mom hair has started to go grey in not so subtle or fashionable ways. My 4-year-old thinks it’s hilarious, my parents are appalled that I haven’t dyed it yet, and I’m pretty sure that my MILF status is actively waning. But I refuse to color it, and here are five reasons why.

1. I Am What I Am. I showed some old Popeye videos to my daughter recently and was pretty impressed by everyone’s favorite sailor. I was trying to convince her to eat her spinach instead of stuffing it into the couch cushions, but I ended up in total hero-worship. I realized that Popeye is so fantastic because he could not give two shakes about what others think of him. Including Olive Oyl, and she’s his gal.

Letting my hair go grey has made me commit to a similar way of being. I’m not trying to be anything I’m not. I’m acknowledging that I really don’t have control over my aging body, and best of all, I’m accepting who I am becoming with complete submission. It gives me a sense of pride, and permission to just be me

2. MILF jokes aside, I do seem to be attracting a different kind of person these days. Being a single mom means it’s slim pickings to begin with on the romance front, and most of us tend to prefer curling up on the couch with a movie to going on another bad date. But I have to say that lately I have been drawing very attractive, confident men into my life who are looking for similar qualities in a woman. By putting my grey out there, I think I’m spreading the message that I’m happy with who I am. And boy is it working.

3. Who has the time? I have one child and I barely have the time to shave my legs or tweeze my eyebrows. For those of you who have two or three kids, do any of us really have the time to dye our hair every 3-5 weeks as the grey demands? I tried dyeing it myself once, and my greys started popping out after two weeks. So the choice became either spend a red-wine and dirty Scrabble night with friends or spend the night dyeing my hair. Since my daily conversations generally run the gamut from poop all the way to princesses, the R-rated option will win out over splattering hair dye on the bathroom sink every time.

4. Who has the money? Between ballet classes, organic food and chemical-free bath products—plus a new pair of shoes every freaking month—giving away good money to my hairdresser is equivalent to giving away precious time trying to do it myself. No thank you.

5. Weirdly, it’s keeping me young. My grey hair is my rebellious side shining through, a big F-you to society, my uber-conservative parents and all those ads geared towards ‘age-defying’ this and ‘look younger for longer’ that. Choosing not to buy into that makes me feel like I’m 17 again and flashing my fake ID at the punk bar I’m not supposed to be at. It feels naughty and a little thrilling. Which is the kind of feeling any parent on the dark side of 35 wouldn’t mind keeping around a bit longer.

The truth is that going grey is a huge stigma in our society, especially for women. I have had to deal with the occasional hater making jerky comments, but for the most part I forget that I have greys, and I think that’s a good sign. It means that I’m confident enough to buck the system. It makes me less judgmental about my looks and the choices of others, and it also has managed to keep me firmly grounded in reality.

Stay in the loop. Please subscribe

Subscribe. Lush lips and phone

Are you too busy to remember to check back here? Please subscribe to get my new blog posts about topics in areas such as entertainment, film and video, lifestyle, parenting and politics. Enter your email below then check your inbox to confirm. Unsubscribe anytime. Feedback welcome.

Subscription form