December 16, 2015
Deep within Vancouver Island is Mount Washington, home to a trifecta of the truly remarkable for skiers and snowboarders: massive mountains, ancient forests and endless…
By Destination British Columbia June 15, 2015 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
People of the Wild is a blog series profiling residents of British Columbia who have one thing in common: their love for exploring the BC wild. This week we’re featuring Brian Smith, the Executive Director of Community Futures, and the majority owner of Persephone Brewing Company, a microbrewery on the Sunshine Coast that is committed to responsible land use and community engagement. Brian was born and raised in Vancouver but moved to the Sunshine Coast with his wife to raise their young family and stay connected to nature.
Why do you call BC home?
I was actually born here in Vancouver and grew up in BC the majority of my life. I met my wife in Japan about 14-15 years ago and then moved back here after doing some extra travelling. When Melissa got pregnant with our first son, we moved to the Sunshine Coast about nine years ago. I consider myself a thorough BC fan and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
We came over here more of out of necessity, or desire to own our own property with Vancouver just being cost prohibitive. So we came over here on a lark, on a bike ride one day, and landed here and are totally stuck and in love with this region and community.
Why are you proud to call BC home?
There are so many answers and it really depends on where you are in BC and if you want to talk about geography or climate or other dynamics in that way. The truth is that the big things for me, needless to say, the natural context we live in are the weather, the geography, and the ability to be outdoors and in our natural setting is amazing and extraordinary and undeniable. So for sure there’s that aspect.
And yet also given the sort of work that I do, I’m particularly enamoured by how good our leaders are. And I don’t mean that in a political sense at all, but in terms of social movements we have extraordinary people, I would argue, globally speaking. People like Al Etmanski and others have changed the world and gone out, and other parts of the world have adopted their practices. So our social movement leaders and social enterprises and things like that are really as far ahead as any other part of the world. That’s kind of amazing and I think it’s part of what is indicative of what having an amazing setting matched with amazing people who really have progressive values about making the world a good place and a place we really want to live in. I’m so very proud to say those are my peers and our colleagues and our people in BC. BC really benefits from it, our communities benefit from it, and we’re also having a really positive impact on the rest of the world.
And then there are a bunch of industries and sectors in BC that are emerging as really impressive, including the craft beer movement, including the local food movement, and including the social finance sector. There are a bunch of those that are indicative of BC being a leader globally both economically and socially. That for me is why I’m particularly proud of the work that’s getting done here and the setting that we live in. It’s very front and centre for me. It’s just so obvious that we’re so fortunate.
How does BC’s nature and wilderness inspire you?
There are a couple of different levels to this. We’re fortunate my family gets to live on the small acre we have on the Sunshine Coast that very much feels like a park setting. The Sunshine Coast is far enough away from the city that it feels kind of rural. It feels removed from both urban sprawling land use and also removed from the pace of the city. People aren’t as stressed out or focused on the next deal they’re trying to close or whatever it might be. They are focused on building a healthy lifestyle, so we have a lot of folks over here who really self identify as lifestyle entrepreneurs. I feel very fortunate that my family gets to grow up on this little acre that feels like a park but also has lots of wild spaces.
We have plants in the front yard that soften the low traffic noise and keep my kids in the yard, kind of like a natural fence. It’s a place where birds will nest and there are these two woodpeckers that come to the same stump. My middle son Mercer actually pointed out to me the other day, “Hey the woodpeckers are back” and he was just standing there watching them. That for me is kind of the brilliant, amazing, extremes we get to have on the Sunshine Coast and right near my home. It’s kind of extraordinary. And the fact that my kids now grow up experiencing that adds so much more to my life and to what I think our future generations of BC will get to benefit from. So our yard is amazing and we do literally have hummingbirds and all that sort of stuff. We were lucky enough to find that our 11 acre farm that Persephone Brewery is on is quite literally five minutes around the corner from our house. I just ride my bike over there to work.
The other layer for me around nature and being inspired by it is getting to be a part of the agricultural sector. The setting for the farm [onsite at the brewery] is extraordinary. We will have as much as five acres of hops growing, so there is that watching and getting to be a part of that growing aspect and connecting to soil. We really have to think hard about what are agrologist is telling us in terms of the chemical makeup of our soil.
The other experience we had about two years ago was the southern five acres of that farm was formerly forested and this is agriculture land reserve land so it’s dedicated to agriculture. We really had to wrestle with our emotions as well as our intellect around the question of should we clear that five acres to increase agricultural production in spite of the loss of habitat and carbon sink and all the other really positive aspects of having natural forested spaces. We did clear it. Many of us, my general manager Dion White who is the former manager of sustainability at the regional district, and I’m sure he and I and my wife Melissa literally had tears in our eyes at one point when we saw the trees coming down and the bear get displaced and the deer leaving. It was really emotionally challenging for us. So what we’re now doing and what we’re trying to be fervent about is adding value to that land as agricultural land. In that sense not reclaiming it as forest but reclaiming the value of good progressive, sustainable land use in our homage to what used to be really valuable land already. So we really wrestled with that and we’re trying to be a good and positive farm for our community and the natural environment. Connecting to farming and growing and that other layer of the natural landscape and even the wilderness, that has been really important for me emotionally. It’s important for me that my kids get to grow up on a farm and see where their food comes from and see the aspect of localized agriculture. I feel that’s really critical to our future generations and our land use.
The other thing that’s great about 11 acres is it’s big enough that we have some wild spaces within it. We have a whole field that we call “the meadow” that is unprogrammed. And that is where now we have an area of five bee boxes and probably 150,000 bees on our farm using the meadow as their forage. Not to mention the outlines of the blackberry bushes. We’re really trying to steer away from a really corporate notion of agriculture, which is single crops and big use of pesticides and all of that. We’re really trying to figure out what is a diverse notion, a vintage notion of what a farm can be. There are a few chickens in the corners whose eggs are used in the food trucks to literally make food at the woodfire oven. The greenhouses are growing more leafy vegetables that are also used in the food truck so we’re trying to go for that hyper-local culinary experience as well. For me, that is as much about paying due respect to our environment and our land, as it is offering a cultural experience for people who happen to be coming to the farm.
For me, there’s also that moment – frankly I do get up really early, usually by 5 o’clock, and I’m over to the farm by six, and it’s my favourite time of day because it’s quiet. You can hear birds and bees and that opening of the day. That moment of inspiration or that moment of grounding makes me feel like, “okay, we’re doing something really good here”. It’s a bit of a happy place.
How would you describe your perfect day in BC?
I’m not a person of repetition, so the truth is all my days are very different and a little unpredictable. I love riding my bike. I love being on the farm. I love having beers with my friends in the backyard. I love spending time with my family. I love cooking around outdoor heat, campfires and such. And then I like deep sleeps at the end of the day. If I can sort of cobble together those elements in some form of another, it’s a pretty good day.
What is the one place or experience that you would recommend a new visitor to BC not miss this summer?
I think people should take a ride on a ferry. It’s just such a unique kind of experience. My wife is from New Mexico and there’s no ferry! There are no extremes where sea breeze is making it hard to keep your breath. The vistas and the moment of not being able to get off the boat until it lands and all that travel experience of leaving something behind and going to something new. I think the experience is extraordinary. People should go stand up on the deck whether it’s pouring rain or a beautiful sunny day. It makes you take a moment.
What’s more, the underlying comment there is to get outside of the typical travel places like Vancouver or just flying into the Okanagan. Go see the islands because I think our coastline and the islands and the peninsulas are all pretty extraordinary, even globally speaking. I think people should ride a ferry to go see those as well as the experience of riding a ferry.
What is BC’s best-kept secret?
I phrase it as BC’s best forth-coming secret because I think Gibsons Public Market is really going to be something extraordinary for our province and something that people will actually go a long way out of their way to get to it eventually.
The community bought a piece of real estate in Lower Gibsons in the marina. It was a former yacht club. It’s now being redeveloped as a public market that will also have a marine education centre/mini aquarium inside the public market. It’s an amazing opportunity for people to connect to the natural capital of our marine resources and marine setting.
It’s already a good place with lots of community events. Every Friday between May and October there’s a farmers market in the parking lot and there’s music and all kinds of great value add community opportunities, not to mention a viable economic and business model. And so it should be finished by the summer of 2016. It will be a redeveloped space, that’s why I say forthcoming. And by that time it will be a sought after destination for visitors and locals who don’t live on the Sunshine Coast. It’s exciting to see that come to fruition.
Any last words of advice to a visitor thinking of coming to BC?
It’s not always easy or the first inclination to come to the Sunshine Coast, but I think if people give it a chance and make that 35-minute ferry ride it’ll be well worth the trip. There’s people and food and all kinds of great settings. Whether you’re a marine recreationist, a biker, a hiker, or you come in the wintertime for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, whatever your pleasure may be, it’s probably over here. And the fact is probably six or seven people out of 10 people that you meet on the Sunshine Coast first came here as a visitor and then fell in love and moved and stayed here. I have no doubt that lots more visitors will fall into the trap of how awesome the coast is.
Follow along with Brian’s updates at Persephone here.
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