Category Archives: collaboration

An update on the Carolinian Food Forest

The third breakout session I attended was with the delightful Jessica Roder Roberston, owner of Wildcraft Permaculture out of London, Ontario. I had met Jess volunteering in September 2012 at The Carolinian Food Forest fall planting and looked forward to hearing about how the project was going.

Jess shared the timeline from conception to phases of implementation from 2011 through to May 2014. Part of what makes this project unique is not only is it an edible food forest on public land (very rare in Canada and the US) but it is comprised only of species native to the Carolinian Forest, a lush forest much richer in diversity than the Boreal Forest I grew up in Southern New Brunswick.

I recognized some species (strawberries, fiddle heads) but others were completely new to me in 2012, like paw paws and butter nut.

Jess narrated the evolution of the original design to what is currently growing on the site. There are many challenges in a large, public site and there has never been a Carolinian Food Forest planted EVER before. Given the highly experimental nature of food forests in general and this particular project’s constraints I think it is a success.

Jess’s biggest challenge was the social systems not being in place to maintain the project. That certainly resonated with me. I know I’m far more patient with plants than people and my biggest challenges are often working on group projects. I offered during the Q & A that many people who are drawn to food forest gardens are often non-conformists, we don’t often play with others and can sometimes lack the experience of working on collaborative projects outside of our paid work.

At the end of the session I recommitted to putting energy into this really cool project. If you are interested in helping out and can get to London occasionally please do invest some time is this awesome initiative.


My Fabulous Failure

I was talking to a friend today about how I came to be in fundraising. It was an odd transition from retired Canadian Forces Air Navigator to some odd job contract work to volunteer management to fund raising and kind of all over the place in not for profit work. I love my job and I’m getting the results I need to keep it but I’ve not always enjoyed success.

I learned mostly from volunteering at events like Pride London and political campaigns to volunteering for what was then the AIDS Committee of London and my biggest, most fabulous failure the London Area Rainbow Coalition (I think that was the name? It was a while ago).


At the time people in London were agitating for change, for a place where the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, 2-Spirited, Queer and Questioning communities could gather.

Some friends and acquaintances formed a board to address the issue. We created mission, vision, and values. We held a couple fundraising events but when push came to shove we simply could not deliver anything concrete to the community. We all wanted something to happen but our early enthusiasm petered out as we went months without being able to move the agenda forward.

As quickly as we formed we dissolved in a boring meeting over coffee and donated the funds raised to a local charity.

It was a fabulous failure. I learned a lot about myself, leadership and community collaboration. I’m still embarrassed that we couldn’t make it work but looking back we didn’t know any better, none of us having served on a operational board. We made some classic mistakes that people who’ve never been on a board do. We may have been using the wrong model to address the issue.

Community building is hard work. The types of folks who agitate for change tend to be quirky, at least I certainly am, passionate and strongly motivated to make change happen. It’s hard to coordinate complex tasks among a completely volunteer team where common available time is scarce on the ground. That’s why in many community collaboration endeavours there is funding for a backbone, a staff person, a space to keep the process moving forward.

My fabulous failure taught me that I need to be realistic about the time commitment I can make to a specific project. I need to be mindful of managing conflicts that arise in groups. I try to be genuine so I have little patience for drama and subterfuge, wherever they creep up, but I need to also be open for people to change. My thoughts on giving and receiving feedback. I need to remember to extend the benefit of the doubt to others, to address conflicts discreetly and quickly and to stay focus on the reason that brought me to volunteer.

Staying focused on the mission/objective/desired outcome anchors group work in a very special way. I love this video about collective effort and community impact:

Since my failed attempt to change the world I went on to serve a 6 year term on a not for profit board that is now coming to a close. I know now what it takes to make change happen and I’m excited about some possibilities in my life to share with others what I’ve learned along the way to nicer.