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Life Off-the-Grid

Presenting My Gardening Workshop to the Queen

By Cam Mather

I’ve got to tell you that I’m pretty pumped! I’m doing my “All You Can Eat Gardening Workshop” for the Queen this weekend. Well at least I’m doing it at “The Royal Botanical Gardens” in Hamilton/Burlington. And since it’s “her” botanical gardens, I figure the odds are pretty good she’ll be there. She’s notorious for her spontaneity, just dropping in here and there without warning. She likes that whole low profile “oh I’m really not that special,” no notification, security or entourage kind of appearance.

I sure hope she’s there! It’ll be a huge let down if she’s not. Michelle tells me that I shouldn’t hype these things up and set myself up for disappointment. It’s like when I go to conferences – I’m always hyped about the danishes. You know, the cherry ones with the icing. And the coffee! Even though most of the conferences that I attend don’t have danishes, I continue to look forward to them and set myself up for a let down.

I’m hyped about my gardening workshop because of my breakfast today. I had fruit and granola. And here it goes – I had strawberries. Fresh strawberries. And yes, I’m writing this in April in Ontario and there are no local strawberries at this time of year. I have not had fresh strawberries since last summer. But this week I was shopping and saw some strawberries that looked really good. Usually the strawberries that are shipped here from Florida or California look great but they are lacking in taste. Well these ones weren’t too bad. In fact, they were pretty good. Not as good as local ones in season, but still pretty good. I think it was because they had been sitting in the store for a while long enough to ripen a bit. They looked pretty ripe when I bought them, and in fact, I felt sorry for them and so I bought them. I was afraid that they were going to be tossed in the garbage and wasted. That’s my rationalization. People who try to eat “green” are experts at rationalization. “Well I need those organic shade grown coffee grounds for my blueberry plants, I might as well drink the coffee first and enjoy them.”

So as I was cutting up the strawberries I was really in awe of the miracle that allows me to eat a Florida strawberry in April. The fact that even on my income I can afford this. And the fact that we have the means (refrigerated diesel trucks) to get them to Ontario in time for me to eat them before they go bad boggles my mind. And the fact that farmers have figured out how to grow them to get them here in such good shape is beyond me. Oh, I’m sure they have lots of heavy duty “…cides” on them for them to look so great, and I probably shouldn’t be eating them based on that. But the last time I checked “fruits and vegetables” were a pretty big part of the food chart of stuff you’re supposed to eat. So as much as I try and eat organic, if I had to stay away from all conventionally-grown produce I’d be left with just Mars Bars and Oreo cookies to eat, and I don’t think they have their own food group or are organic.

As I was cutting that strawberry up I have to say I had a little moment when I felt a connection with the farmer that grew it. They put an enormous amount of effort into growing this beautiful piece of fruit. Time, and money, and sweat, and incredible wisdom and knowledge went into producing this treat for me. I was very grateful to that farmer. And very grateful to the person who picked and packed it.

As I was thinking about the work that had gone into producing the strawberries, I was thinking, you know, I have more of a connection to this farmer than most people. I grow food too. And I pull wagons full of beautiful produce out of my garden every summer. At the end of each of my gardening workshops I show photos of some of the things that I’ve grown – broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. I tell my audience “ I can’t paint, and I can’t draw, and I can’t sculpt, but I think that everything that comes out of my garden is art. Everything I grow is a work of art. It’s a little miracle.”

The fact that I can take a tiny little seed, and plant it, and nurture it, and the sun helps it to photosynthesize and make energy, and the rain waters it, and I pump water from my well to enrich it, and it takes minerals from the soil, and turns into an incredible health-giving, life-affirming food just boggles my mind, every year that I grow my garden.

And this year is going to be better than ever since we’re going to set up a stall and sell it in Tamworth on Saturday mornings. I am so totally hyped about that!

We have our grow light shelf up and running. Right now we are using it to get our sweet potatoes to sprout but we’ll be starting a lot more seeds this week. I built our grow light shelf out of scrap lumber from Don & Debbie Garrett’s mill down the road. It cost a grand total of $4 in screws. Michelle pointed out a similar model in a seed catalog that is priced at almost $600! Woo hoo! I just saved myself $594!

Three or four years ago we sold our organically grown corn to Desert Lake Gardens, which is a local fresh produce provider. Once I week I pulled wagons full of corn out of the garden to package up for them. And every time it reminded me of the first time I ever pulled a wagon full of produce out of the garden. Of all my accomplishments in life and all the great days that I’ve had, that was without question, one of the best.

That fall Michelle and I hosted an open house at our place and as usual had crowds out to learn about solar and wind. I was with a group out by the solar panels and somehow someone brought up Desert Lake Gardens. I asked if they were members, and they were. I asked if they bought corn this summer. He said, “You know, we did and it was the best corn I’ve ever eaten in my life!”

So how do you describe that feeling? “Over the moon” … “Elated” … “Bustin’” … Greatest feeling ever! Taking pride in something you’ve done or made, or grown, is what life is all about. Doing something well. And then to have someone recognize it, and acknowledge it – that just makes all those miserable days in 100-degree heat watering the garden worthwhile.

So, I’m actually thinking there’s probably a pretty good chance the Queen won’t in fact be at the Royal Botanical Gardens this weekend for my workshop. But 28 other people will and I’ve got three hours to show them everything they need to know about growing food so that they too can enjoy that feeling of reverence for their meal as they sit down to enjoy their bounty. Eating those amazing strawberries has turned up my enthusiasm level to “11”.

FYI: The workshop at RBG takes place on Saturday April 9th at 1:00 p.m. Go to this website; and scroll down to April 9th at 1:00 p.m. to see the listing and click on it for more details. Cam is also presenting his “Solar & Wind Workshop” at RBG that morning.


Editors Note: If you aren’t able to attend Cam’s workshop in person, his “All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” is in stores now, and you can order his vegetable growing DVD and spend a couple of hours with him as he takes you on a tour of his garden throughout the growing season. You’ll also get to see him fruitlessly and uncoordinatedly try to eliminate cabbage moths from his garden using a badminton racquet.


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