Change Makers

Fuel for the Fire - Is monoculture farming the answer?


Before I started this journey to learn more about my food and its impact on both the environment's and my own health I was completely unaware what monoculture farming was. Monoculture farming is, unfortunately, what you think of when you picture a modern day farm, large fields spreading as far as the eye can see, all filled with the same crop. The majority of the food you buy from the supermarket is produced this way. It never occurred to me that nature doesn't organise things this way. I saw fresh food growing and assumed it was a good thing. But when you look at forests, prairies, or any areas where nature is the lead designer, there is always diversity, never monoculture. So how do we manage to convince nature to decorate against her wishes?

This short video from Permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton explains some of the ways we have manipulated nature to fit this monoculture system of "farming" and the issues caused.


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Vancouver Mountain Film Festival Partnership


I am really excited to announce a partnership with this years Vancouver Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF). On February 15th I have been given the opportunity to help create a new night for the festival called "THE CHANGE I WANT TO SEE".

Tickets available here

The Vancouver Mountain Film Festival has always been a highlight for me each year. I love watching and hearing inspiring stories from passionate people in the outdoor world who are pushing the boundaries of what we believe to be possible. You can't help but leave the place inspired to push your own boundaries.

This evening will take a slightly different angle to the usual VIMFF shows. The night will showcase inspiring people in the outdoor community who are creating positive change with their actions. There will still be plenty of adventure on show but the message and action that the films and talks will inspire will be a little different. We are hoping that this program might just be the encouragement you need to take action in your own way.

We have some inspiring speakers and films lined up for the evening too including one North American and one World Premiere! It doesn't get much more showbiz than that!

February 15th 2016 @ 7:30pm (doors at 7:00pm)

The Cinematheque Theatre, Vancouver

Tickets available here


Tim Cormode 

Tim Cormode Power to be

Challenge is relative, but the benefits of exploring your limits in nature are undeniable. Rapids or calm waters, mountain ascents or a flat wooded hike, the adventures to be found in nature should be open to everyone and making that possible has defined Tim Cormode’s life.

A social entrepreneur, he is the founder of Power To Be, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating outdoor adventures for youth and families living with physical, mental and social support needs. He will share stories of how the organization came to be, the inspiring difference it is making and the journey that lies ahead for greater social change.

Lessons in philanthropy, opportunities for growth through accessible nature-based adventures and the value of community combine to tell a powerful story of change.

Farhan Umedaly

Farhan is a filmmaker with a background in neurobiology, renewable energy and as a multi-instrumentalist music producer with over 17 years of experience in digital audio and video production. Farhan started VoVo Productions in 2009, with the original premise of producing videos and digital media to help explain complex subjects through turnkey video productions using his diverse background. Behind VoVo Productions’ work is Farhan’s vision to help create positive change in the world.



Rabbit Island 6 mins

One man's quest to protect an island he loves leads him to ponder great questions: Is there an opposite to development? An antonym to subdivision?

This film is a brief study of an island set on the majestic Lake Superior, and the artists who gather there for inspiration.




A Last Stand for Lelu 24 mins - World Premiere

The Last Stand For Lelu Film

Produced & Directed by Farhan Umedaly (VoVo Productions) & Tamo Campos (Beyond Boarding)

A great injustice is being done on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, B.C., the sacred and traditional territory of the Lax Kw'alaams people for over 10,000 years. The B.C. provincial government is trying to green light the construction of a massive LNG terminal on the island – Pacific Northwest LNG, backed by Malaysian energy giant Petronas, without consent.

The Lax Kw'alaams are the keepers of Lelu Island and its connected Flora Bank, a massive sand bar that is part of the Skeena River estuary and known by fisheries biologists as some of the most important salmon habitat in Canada. The project would devastate the Skeena River, the natural wildlife and countless communities in the path of the LNG pipeline that will feed the terminal with fracked gas from Northeastern B.C.

The Lax Kw'alaams have voted unanimously against the project and became legendary when they rejected a $1.15 billion dollar deal from Petronas in an attempt by the company to gain consent.

Ignoring the voice of the Lax Kw’alaams, Petronas, with full backing of the Provincial Government have illegally begun drilling into Flora Bank where they now face off against warriors of the Lax Kw'alaams who have occupied the island since August 2015.

Join the resistance of the Lax Kw’alaams on both land and sea in ‘A Last Stand for Lelu’.

Gold of Bengal 52 mins - North American Premiere

In Bangladesh, a young engineer called Corentin de Chatel decides to be the first to test the sailing boat that he’s created – with help from his team ‘Gold of Bengal’ – made from jute fibre and resin.  He has one ambition: to become self sufficient at sea. He sets off on his journey with two egg-laying hens, a small greenhouse to grow potatoes, and various other handmade contraptions for 6 months’ sailing around the deserted islands of the Gulf of Bengal.

This astonishing seafaring adventure is also a perfect opportunity to reflect, both alone and as a team, on the potential of so-called ‘low technologies’, simple tools, built with whatever materials are available, that help people to meet their basic needs in difficult circumstances.

February 15th 2016 @ 7:30pm (doors at 7:00pm)

The Cinematheque Theatre, Vancouver

Tickets available here



Change Makers Vancouver- Our Community Bikes


As part of a new project called Change Makers I am interviewing people and organisations who are doing things a little differently and are creating positive change in the world. The aim of this is to share some inspiring projects and show that there are alternatives to using unethical corporations, connect people looking to be the change to companies that can help them achieve that goal and maybe even encourage you to start something of your own. Change Makers - Our Community Bikes

Our Community Bikes is based in Vancouver and from the outside looks like a regular bike shop. However things are done a little differently inside. In this bike shop you don't simply pay for someone to fix your bike, you fix your own bike with the guidance of trained bike mechanics. It doesn't stop there either, they offer skills training, employment therapy and bikes for people who could't afford one otherwise.

It is about education, self reliance, getting your hands dirty and as I learned after chatting with Jesse Cooper, who has been with the organisation since 2003, a whole lot more.

Tell me what Our Community Bikes is all about? 

Our Community Bikes is about education, empowerment, empathy, and accessibility. We look to give new life to the hopeless, bringing back the lost, the forgotten, and allow each person and bike to tell their stories through refurbishment, recycling, and reuse.

The new space of Our Community Bikes

How do you differ from a regular bike store?

We allow the interaction of maintenance with the customer. We are encouraging them to hang out and pick up a tool, and learn some technical skills, empower themselves. We also offer a large range of used parts that comes from donations and salvage. This offers a bit more choice in the financial realm. We also specialize in the restoration of obsolete technologies, as we have the skill and parts to refurbish bikes that no longer have after market parts available, or very few. As well, we run different types of social programming, like volunteer training, peer skills, life skills, occupation therapy and job instruction for staff, volunteers and other folks.

What was the inspiration behind starting Our Community Bikes? 

Mostly it was about accessibility. Impoverished or low income families that relied on bikes to move around the city needed a source of inexpensive service and parts. Also, the idea was to create a community hub were many folks of all walks could come together and learn from each other's life stories. Environmental, we were able to create a recycling outlet for all the bikes moving to the landfill, as well as generate revenues from the salvage!

The work stations where you can learn to fix your own bike.

What did those involved with the start up do before this? Were they very experienced in this industry?

The people who helped start up were cyclists themselves, but from different backgrounds and experiences. Only one or two had firm mechanical experience. Many of them though were active in pushing cycling as a transportation alternative. Activists if you will.

Were there any difficulties that the team faced in starting such a unique enterprise?

In the first five years, funding ran dry and the directors were almost sure that we would have to close our doors. But it turned around and through a little luck and some hard work it came back.

At the beginning the lack of experience from a financial, management, and mechanical perspective posed many challenges as well. It took some time to get some experience.

Lot of refurbished and second hand supplies to reduce financial barriers to owning your own bike

Why do you think it is important to have a space where people work on their own bikes rather than pay for someone to fix it for them?

The biggest thing we face today is a separation from out tools and our technologies. We aren't allowed the opportunity to be interactive with our material possession in such a way that we can understand it's basics. The trend of just being an operator isn't conducive to healthy learning. Offering the public a space to understand their tools and their equipment is empowerment. It foster the growth of confidence and curiosity. We needn't be a specialist to understand but only curious, which leads to many more levels of healthy learning and broadening understanding. It's a path to accepting community!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business or non-profit that contributes to positive change?

Hold fast!!   It's really challenging as any business owner knows to start this sort of thing, but reach out to your community for help! Get many hands on board! Look for volunteers that can bring managerial experience and a dedicated team. Don't let lack of funds be the barrier, because some creative media, and thinking and fundraising can bring that in.

Our Community Bikes open for business

What are the next steps for Our Community Bikes?

We are to settle in to our new space, pay off our loan and pay back into our line credit, start some living wage policy for staff, and start a new round of strategic planning. We want to get that financial buffer back, and acknowledge the staff skill so we are able to retain the skill we help develop, and start spinning up more programming oriented towards people with barriers and other various groups in need.

We also have a fundraiser in our space (a party) on Friday the 30th of October, and that we are also looking for one time and monthly donors through our donate button from our website. It goes through Canada Helps, which automatically issues tax receipts.

What is the change you want to see in the world?

It would be great see social equity take the stage, bringing about empathy and understand, community, which would in turn trump personal gain and greed.

Thanks to Jesse and the team at Our Community Bikes

Give a little thought to the next time your bike needs some love and see if you could perhaps support a great organisation while learning a new set of skills in the process.

A tale of two cafes


We live in the best of times, we live in the worst of times. Everyday a new creative, sustainable, community led initiative seems to be popping up, and everyday a new hectare of rainforest is destroyed, more food is sprayed with pesticides and another animal makes the endangered list. Sometimes its hard to work out if, as a society, we are taking a step forwards or a step backwards. The solutions are there if only we would vote with our money. Just down the road from where I live in Vancouver there are two cafes. They would be right next door to each other except for a small sushi store in-between. Two small cafe's on the same side of the road, both sell coffee, tea and the odd treat.....and that is where the similarities end.

Vote with your money and buy local

Cafe on the left

Starbucks vote with your money

The cafe on the left is a Starbucks. It is the largest coffeehouse company in the world and is based in Seattle, USA. There exists in the world an additional 21,365 Starbucks stores to this one. Not only is the money made from this cafe not kept in the local economy but Starbucks has repeatedly received negative press about its unfair labour policies, bullying fair-trade tactics with farmers in developing countries, tax avoidance, GMO lobbying and many other questionable practises. It serves very little organic coffee, uses non organic milk, a large number of the drinks have very high calorie and sugar levels and for a company that sells over 4 billion disposable cups a year it has a very poor recycling record.

Cafe on the right

The Heartwood Community Cafe is an excellent example of why we need to vote with our money

The cafe on the right is the Heartwood Community Cafe. As the name suggests there is more than just coffee brewing going on inside. Their values for a start include phrases such as building solidarity, holding space for marginalised voices to be heard, using arts as a vehicle for change, and creating a queer inclusive space (although to be fair to Starbucks this is one thing they seem quite supportive of). On top of this they serve organic, local, vegan and ethically sourced produce. The money is kept in the local economy and they run lots of events in the evenings for the local community. Just when you think it can't get better, everyday they offer their 'Soup for the People' program which allows people to pay what they can for delicious and healthy soup, with an emphasis on no donation being too small!

Why am I telling you this? Because everyday I walk past these two cafes and everyday I am so saddened to see that the Starbucks is always busier. I do not understand why we continue to support large corporations that abuse their power over small local businesses that genuinely care about the local community they live in. I really struggle to comprehend it. I thought perhaps it was the price, but no, while the prices vary depending on what you drink a 12oz latte in Starbucks will costs you $4.15 while the same at Heartwood will cost you $3.75 (plus it's organic!). So it must come down to comfort in knowing what you are getting and fear of the unknown. I do understand this to an extent but it comes back to what I have written about before, Convenience v Conservation. If we are to see any changes in this world we have to stop choosing the convenient option all the time. Live a little, take a chance, sure you might get a crap coffee from time to time (the Heartwood coffee is actually considerably better than the black water two doors down) but what you are supporting is much bigger than always getting a good coffee.

The Heartwood Community Cafe might not be in your area, but I bet there will be something very similar and I bet there will also be a Starbucks. The thing is this doesn't just relate to coffee shops it relates to all types of businesses from bars and restaurants to mechanics, gyms and clothes stores.  We need to vote with our money and think about what we want to see more of. Do we want to see more local, independent organisations that could be run by you or I or do we want our communities to be clones of each other, selling imported products, run by faceless multinational organisations that leave little money in our local economies? If we all choose to vote with our money we can make a real difference to the world we live in.

Disclaimer: I currently have no affiliation with Heartwood Community Cafe other than occasionally buying my lunch or a coffee there. They had no influence over this blog post other than inspiring me to write about them because of the good work they are doing.