Raising a village, one cup at a time

by John M. Darch

For more than three decades, I have been involved with numerous natural resource projects in North America, Africa and Asia, meeting many interesting (and sometimes unsavoury) people. None, however, compare with the intriguing and friendly Thais. Like most Western entrepreneurs in Thailand, I was mostly involved with the established business society. It was not until 2006 when my Thai friend Ponprapa Bunmusik introduced me to the Akha hill tribe people of Doi Chaang near Chiang Rai and I spent time with them that I began to understand their struggle for dignity and their desire to be more than a tourist attraction.

Their story seemed incredulous: a hill tribe living in Doi Chaang Village (primarily of Akha heritage) had, through sheer determination and dedication, created a viable business cultivating an outstanding quality coffee. I was surprised that coffee was even grown in Thailand, never mind that it was being achieved with no government assistance or donations.

I learned that the villagers wanted to expand their business internationally and my friend wondered if I would be interested in another Thai business venture. I agreed to meet them out of politeness and was introduced to Khun Wicha Promyong, the man responsible for leading the Akha tribe in their quest to be self-sufficient. Wicha, a former world-travelled entrepreneur, comes from southern Thailand and having enjoyed the privileges of education, healthcare and wealth, he gave all of it up more than 30 years ago to live and travel with Thailand’s hill tribes. His home is now with “his people,” the Akha hill tribe in Doi Chaang village and his “mission” is to help them have dignity and to become self-sustaining.

L to R: Brother Wicha, Doi Chaang village leader Piko Saedoo, John M. Darch

When we met in Bangkok, Wicha explained how the many hill tribes originally migrated from southwestern China, eventually settling in scattered, isolated communities in the mountainous regions of Laos, Vietnam and Northern Thailand. Apparently, at one time, the hill tribes of Northern Thailand sustained themselves through slash and burn horticulture, but the increased population of the last century depleted the land and many of the hill tribes resorted to cultivating opium for survival.

Rich in culture and tradition, shrouded in myth and legend, the Akha people have no official written language, but maintain a detailed, oral history and live life according to the “Akha Way,” a spiritual, moral and social philosophy that governs behaviour and emphasizes strong ties to land and family. Yet, of all the hill tribes, few were as downtrodden, shunned or as impoverished as the Akha people.

Traditional handcrafted Akha Silver Headdress for ceremonial occasions such as marriage and harvest.

Arriving at Doi Chaang village (literal translation: Elephant Mountain), I was expecting the familiar destitute village that had become the symbol of the typical hill tribe community. However, here was an energetic farming community, complete with rudimentary electricity, running water, a school and a medical clinic. Some 20 years ago, in the hope of steering hill tribes away from cultivating opium, His Majesty the King of Thailand directed the farmers be given coffee plants. Sadly, because the farmers were acting independently and were inexperienced in business practice, their lives barely improved. To sell his beans, each farmer had to transport them some 70 kilometres to Chiang Rai, the nearest city, where the international coffee dealers kept the farmers divided and paid them minimal prices. In frustration, the Akha villagers turned to Wicha, who lived in Chiang Rai, for help. As a first step, Wicha encouraged all the Doi Chaang farmers to become a co-operative, thereby making it impossible for the coffee dealers to play one family against another. His next focus was educating the farmers in the importance of quality and productivity. In just over six years, this once small, isolated, poor village was transformed.

In my meeting with Wicha, he pointed out where clear-cut sections from past farming practice are now being reforested with a variety of trees, bushes and plants. The reforestation supports the production of various crops, which not only provide food, but are also sold to help support and diversify the village’s economy. This cultivation method maintains soil quality, as the canopy protects against the sun and the rain and eliminates the need for continuous weeding and the use of harmful chemicals. The result is rich, fertile soil that sustains diverse crop production for present and future generations.

I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty. My own business ventures have been in natural resource development where the resources are eventually depleted, projects with a finite life that has inevitable consequences for employees and their families. I was now presented with a business that could expand without depleting resources or exploiting workers and their families. So what did the people want with me? Wicha didn’t ask me for money and I didn’t offer. Instead, he wanted a business relationship for his people. As I learned, Doi Chaang’s success was such that production had exceeded demand in Thailand, and Wicha, forever the visionary, wanted me to introduce their coffee to the North American market. There were two conditions: to ensure the villagers’ self-esteem, their coffee had to be sold under the name Doi Chaang (Elephant Mountain) and the label had to bear the words “single-origin.”

It is important to understand that these people do not want charity, but a fair price for their coffee. The Akha farmers told me they want people to buy their coffee for the “quality,” not out of sympathy, as beyond improving their lifestyle; the most important thing to these people is respect and recognition of their achievements.

Wicha told me that international investors and coffee buyers constantly approach these people, looking to invest and control their coffee production. Their intent is to blend the beans with other coffees and market them under a different name because “Doi Chaang” sounds too ethnic. The potential buyers argue that they must have control and that it would be too expensive and difficult to market internationally a single-origin, Arabica coffee from Thailand, essentially unknown outside Asia.

I was captivated and immediately contacted Wayne Fallis, a colleague in Canada with extensive experience in food exporting and importing. I convinced him that I had found a project that would offer more than a financial return. We then sought the opinion of Calgary-based, Shawn MacDonald, well known for his extensive knowledge of coffee. MacDonald not only confirmed that Doi Chaang Coffee was a “world class” coffee, but he agreed to join our venture as Roast Master and vice-president of operations. And so we began what is probably a unique business arrangement in the coffee world. The farmers maintain total ownership and control of their own Thai company and domestic sales. In addition, they would also have a “carried” 50 percent interest in the Vancouver and Calgary based Canadian company, Doi Chaang Coffee Company, created to roast and distribute Doi Chaang coffee in North America. My colleague and I agreed to personally provide 100 percent of the finance required for all aspects of the Canadian operation leaving the hill tribe to focus on production, quality control and expansion.

This structure provides the hill tribe people with a no-lose business arrangement. We buy the green beans from the farmers, for cash, at a price in excess of the recommended price, which gives them an immediate profit and the ability to continue their coffee production. And because of the ownership in Doi Chaang Coffee Company, they also receive 50 percent of the Canadian company’s profits without any cost to them.

I am proud of how the Akha farmers use their coffee revenues to improve the standard of living for their community and the quality of their coffee. Having been isolated and impoverished for so long, they are now recognized and praised for their achievements, held up by Thailand officials as a “role model” for other hill tribe communities. In 2007, the farmers demonstrated their commitment to their community by building the Doi Chaang Coffee Academy, at their own expense. All hill tribe farmers may attend at no cost to learn about co-operative business practices, diverse crop production, quality control and sustainable agriculture. The farmers are also taught personal money management skills and the importance of education and healthcare. The ultimate goal is for the hill tribes to be accepted and welcomed as productive, contributing members of Thai society.

I am determined to make Doi Chaang Coffee a success in North America because I strongly believe that this is an alternative and viable way of doing business with the coffee farmers. I believe in the Akha hill tribe’s courage to persevere and I believe in their determination to better themselves and take control of their own future. I believe in their children, their community, their potential and their ability to sustain and grow their own business without any negative impact on their culture, community or environment.

John Darch is the chairman of Doi Chaang Coffee in Canada.www.doichaangcoffee.com



Life as I know it will never be the same. My heart has been broken open and filled up with new love. I’m the elated father of a sweet baby girl. I’ve lost track of time and the outside world, and I’m happier for it. This whole experience continues to confirm that magic is real and exists in our lives.

I think being a parent is making me become more patient and compassionate. I’ve starting seeing each person as someone’s precious little one. I find myself staring at strangers, wondering what their life has been like, who their parents were, and what their relationship was/is like. I was having a coffee with my friend last week and he said, “You know that feeling that you’re having? Can you imagine if everyone had a baby at the same time? There wouldn’t be anybody left to fight a war, they’d all be loving their new babies and excited for the other people going through the same thing.”

My wife told me an interesting anecdote that my mom had told her. It was something along the lines that people who are parents are far less likely to become the perpetrator of a violent crime. I can’t throw any fancy stats to verify that comment, but those who share the feelings that are coming to me these days probably agree that once you make a life it would be a lot harder to take one.

Making a baby isn’t an option for everybody but there are plenty of children to adopt or connect with. In my love drunkenness I’m still lucid enough to concede that maybe parenting for peace might not work. However the extremely strong connection that a new parent feels could be something to draw on. We lack connection in modern cultures; we’re really plugged-in but rarely meaningfully joined to anything life affirming. Make a choice to bond and grow with your baby whatever that looks like for you.

I remember, at some point in the process, the rush I got when I committed to making a life-long choice, the very first truly all-in moment in my thirty years. The old cliché that every parent tells people, that having their child was the best thing they ever did, is true. I know that whatever may come in life I am a success and I’ve found a purpose greater than myself.

The Fall
Style Wars
Fela: Music is the Weapon

Ishi graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001, with a BFA. He makes films, collects cacti, and ponders many things. Currently he is doing what he can for himself, his family and the planet. contact: ishi@yahoo.ca

Raw revolution

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

The raw foods movement is making headlines. Why? Reasons include awareness about the environmental impacts of our food choices, interest in going organic and the desire to eat lower on the food chain. And across North America, people are viewing their expanding waistlines with horror. Centring one’s diet on raw plant foods offers a mighty appealing solution.

Why is this a solution? One reason is that some of us consumers have trouble being moderate. For example, if there’s a bottle of wine or a case of beer handy, we’ll chug-a-lug or sip our way through the whole thing. To save ourselves, we join AA, where there’s a clear line. No alcohol at all. Period. Similarly, if we have cigarettes around, we can’t resist smoking. Our only way out is to quit, with no cigarettes in the house.

When it comes to food, we can’t stop ourselves from eating the whole loaf of fresh bread, chocolate cake, bucket of chicken or bag of chips. Yet, if we want to quit, how do we manage? We can’t enrol our higher power in helping us to abstain entirely from food. We must eat something!

Raw food to the rescue. It allows us to draw a clear line. Bread, butter, cake, fried chicken and chips all are on the other side of the line, where we don’t go. Yet we have plenty to eat.

At first glance, this looks far too radical. But doesn’t giving up alcohol seem radical to a boozer? It seems that the person’s entire social life will vanish and there will be no way to relax. But after taking the leap, new horizons open: one discovers non-drinking friends and finds excellent ways to reduce stress.

With raw foods, what are our choices? We head for the market’s colourful produce section. We load our cart with every type of fruit and explore all the veggies that can be eaten uncooked. Then we veer over to the nuts and seeds department.

If a raw, or mainly raw, approach interests you, several opportunities for information are available this month: a Raw Food Revolution event takes place in Vancouver on November 20 with my delightful co-author Cherie Soria. This is one fit, slim, vibrant woman and does she know how to tantalize our senses with amazing food! On Saturday November 22, Cherie offers a FUNdamentals of Raw Nutrition Intensive course. (Location: Langley, 40 minutes east of Vancouver’s city hall, plus you’ll see the WindSong Cohousing Community, an architectural achievement.)

I had the pleasure of taking courses at Cherie’s school in Fort Bragg, California, midway between San Francisco and the California-Oregon border (check out www.rawfoodchef.com). These courses changed my relationship with food. Novices and experts from Washington DC, Tokyo and from across America and Europe flock to this school. Some train as raw chefs. Others learn new ways of eating for disease prevention or weight loss. We are fortunate to have this master chef here.

Also in Vancouver, on the evening of Wednesday November 12, two colleagues from Cherie’s school, Karin and Rick Dina, present an Introduction to Raw Food Nutrition. On the following weekend (November 15-16), they present the Science of Raw Food Nutrition – it has had rave reviews – in Langley.

Raw doesn’t have to mean chilly. Here are a few tips that help raw enthusiasts through colder months. We can start our day with muesli or a crunchy buckwheat granola or cinnamon oatmeal, adding fruit and warm almond milk. We might choose sprouted grain bread (See recipes in our newRaw Food Revolution Diet, also titled Raw Revolution Diet.) In smoothies and blended soups, we can use warm or hot water. We can wash or soak our produce in warm or hot water for a few minutes. We begin our meal with a cup of warm miso soup or ginger tea. We snack on almond butter with apples or bananas. And for some, it works best to combine a mainly raw diet with baked or steamed root vegetables or hearty bean and lentil soups.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) For further details about these and other raw events, visit www.rawbc.org or call 778-737-8852.

Weed wisdom

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

A weed is a wild herb springing 

where it is not wanted. 
– Concise Oxford Dictionary

Weed seeds arrive with birds, on the wind, on our shoes and clothing and on a pet’s fur. They are persistent, lying dormant until conditions are just right for germination. Digging the soil brings weed seeds up to the surface, which helps them germinate. Perennial weeds can spread quickly by division when each little piece roots into a new plant. These are two good reasons to practise no-dig gardening and regular mulching.

Tip: Hoe weeds before they set seed and multiply your problem.

A garden will always have weeds, but there’s a great deal to be learned from observing them. There’s always a good reason why weeds spring up in the first place. An infestation points to an imbalance in the soil, such as poor drainage, lack of aeration, low fertility or a mineral deficiency. Weeds often thrive in poor soils, which indicates that the soil is deficient in the essentials for healthy plant growth.

Many perennial weeds are deep rooted, penetrating into the sub-soil where they access trace elements and minerals. When they decompose, their leaves and stems enrich the soil with these valuable elements, which may not otherwise be available to shallow-rooted plants. It’s important to return weeds to the soil for this reason, either by composting them or turning them under to decay in the garden. Deep roots also penetrate to aerate soil, helping with drainage. Dandelions, which thrive on heavy clay soils, are great at this.

Weeds can be used as indicators of general problems and they can even correct imbalances and deficiencies Weeds disappear when these conditions are corrected and soil conditions favour the growth of other plants – hopefully, not other weeds. The solution to a weed infestation, therefore, is to improve soil fertility, not to zap the area with soil-destroying herbicides. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, a weed is a “…plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

What weeds can tell us:

• Daisies, rich in calcium, thrive on lawns lacking in lime. When daisies decompose, they add calcium to correct this deficiency.

• Equisetum (horsetail) indicates an acid, clay soil in need of drainage. If the soil is drained and fertility increases, horsetail will disappear.

• Docks, sorrel and thistles indicate heavy, badly drained and acid soils.

• Dandelions indicate that the soil lacks essential minerals and elements.

• Clovers, medicks, vetches and wild peas (legumes) indicate a nitrogen deficiency and can correct this condition in the soil.

• Creeping buttercup thrives in heavy, poorly drained soils.

• Bindweed generally thrives in sandy soils.

• Stinging nettles prefer light, sandy soils. High in nitrogen, nettles stimulate the growth of plants nearby.

• Chickweed, groundsel, chicory and lambsquarters are shallow-rooted weeds that grow in fertile conditions. They indicate an improvement in fertility.

Comfrey and stinging nettles make high quality liquid fertilizers. By extracting minerals from the sub-soil and storing them in their leaves, nettles and comfrey become rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium. Nettles are also high in iron. When nettle leaves are steeped in rainwater, the resulting concentrate can be used as a feed, releasing nutrients to plants.

Nature never leaves the ground uncovered. In winter, weeds give protection from rains and their roots penetrate to aid with drainage. They also provide a store of food for soil bacteria, which can then remain active to provide food for plants in spring. Where groundcovers remain and flourish in winter, the result is increased soil fertility.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

Positive change

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If you find your life situation unsatisfactory or even intolerable, it is only by surrendering €rst that you can break the unconscious resistance pattern that perpetuates that situation. Surrender is perfectly compatible with taking action, initiating change or achieving goals. But, in the surrendered state, a totally different energy, a different quality, ows into your doing. Surrender reconnects you with the source-energy of Being, and if your doing is infused with Being, it becomes a joyful celebration of life energy that takes you more deeply into the Now.

Through non-resistance, the quality of your consciousness and, therefore, the quality of whatever you are doing or creating is enhanced immeasurably. The results will then look after themselves and reect that quality. We could call this surrendered action. It is not work as we have known it for thousands of years. As more humans awaken, the word work is going to disappear from our vocabulary and perhaps a new word will be created to replace it.

The quality of your consciousness at this moment is the main determinant of what kind of future you will experience, so to surrender is the most important thing you can do to bring about positive change. Any action you take is secondary. No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.

I can see that if I am in a situation that is unpleasant or unsatisfactory and I completely accept the moment as it is, there will be no suffering or unhappiness. I will have risen above it. But I still can’t quite see where the energy or motivation for taking action and bringing about change would come from if there isn’t a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

In the state of surrender, you see very clearly what needs to be done and you take action, doing and focusing on one thing at a time. Learn from nature. See how everything gets accomplished and how the miracle of life unfolds without dissatisfaction or unhappiness. That’s why Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…”

If your overall situation is unsatisfactory or unpleasant, separate out this instant and surrender to what is. That’s the ashlight cutting through the fog. Your state of consciousness then ceases to be controlled by external conditions. You are no longer coming from reaction and resistance.

Ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to change the situation, improve it or remove myself from it?” If so, take appropriate action. Focus not on the one hundred things that you will, or may, have to do at some future time, but on the one thing that you can do now. This doesn’t mean you should not do any planning. It may well be that planning is the one thing you can do now. But make sure you don’t start to run “mental movies,” project yourself into the future and so lose the Now. Any action you take may not bear fruit immediately. Until it does, do not resist what is.

If there is no action you can take and you cannot remove yourself from the situation, use the situation to make yourself go more deeply into surrender, more deeply into the Now, more deeply into Being. When you enter this timeless dimension of the present, change often comes about in strange ways without the need for a great deal of doing on your part. Life becomes helpful and cooperative. If inner factors such as fear, guilt, or inertia prevented you from taking action, they will dissolve in the light of your conscious presence.

Start by acknowledging that there is resistance. Look at the thought process involved. Feel the energy of the emotion. By witnessing the resistance, you will see that it serves no purpose. By focusing all your attention on the Now, the unconscious resistance is made conscious and that is the end of it. You cannot be conscious and unhappy, conscious and in negativity. Negativity, unhappiness or suffering in whatever form means that there is resistance, and resistance is always unconscious.



Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit www.eckharttolle.com.

Dare to be you

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

This above all: to thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Many of the clients I work with experience frustration as a result of being people pleasers most of their lives. Generally, this process begins in childhood because it serves a purpose for ego. However, for many people, dissatisfaction and even resentment set in at some point in adulthood.

Very early in life, a child learns that behaving in ways that make others happy brings rewards. He also learns that behaviour that annoys or upsets others brings the opposite. For young children, regardless of how much parents express their love, an angry or upset parent is associated with a loss, or, at the very least, a disruption in the flow of love to the child.

Children are very adept at reading parental emotions, body language and facial expressions. If parents react with anger and judgment to a child’s misbehaviour, rather than accepting the child but correcting the behaviour, the child will feel rejected. Not liking this feeling, the child learns what to do to gain acceptance, which is associated with being loved and lovable. Without acceptance, the child feels both unloved and unlovable.

For some, this association between disappointing others and being unlovable persists throughout life. This is especially true for those who are quite sensitive or who have low self-esteem. The gauge for their value exists outside of themselves. It is like looking at the thermometer outside the kitchen window and assuming the reading applies to the temperature inside.

This is the perception ego develops and it is reinforced repeatedly. In school, the answer the teacher is looking for is more important to the child than his own creative response. Dressing like others takes precedence over putting together unique ensembles. In later years, it is more important to agree with others than to speak one’s truth and risk offending anyone. Doing what others want becomes a greater priority than honouring oneself.

After years of performing for the external audience, it can be hard to know who the real self truly is. Many would not even know what they would do in their lives, or what they would be passionate about, if they were no longer dependent on the good opinion of others. Yet they begin to feel a growing frustration and resentment and the sense they are not fulfilling themselves. This nudging could well be the work of soul, which knows that a very important aspect of our time on Earth is the full realization of our own uniqueness.

Our essence, or essential self, is like a seed that wants to grow. Unfortunately, for so many of us, the people in our lives did not nurture that seed. Instead, they tended to the garden in their own mind about who we were or how we should be. Under these conditions, the seed of our true self could not even begin to germinate.

Time, however, moves on, and soul realizes that a good portion of our time here has elapsed; it is time to get on with knowing and expressing our authentic self. Slowly but surely we become restless. We begin to notice that what we are thinking and feeling inside does not match what we are doing or expressing on the outside.

We begin to feel conflicted, and perhaps, for the first time, realize we are responding to external signals rather than to our own inner signals. There may follow a confusing and tumultuous time as we grapple with which signals to follow. The inner signals reveal what we want to do; the outer, what we think we should do. As we begin to validate our inner voice – our own truth and knowing – we begin the journey back to self.

It is not always easy and others may balk at our changes, but it is the road we came to travel, and it is waiting.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For articles and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca

Break out and break ins


Scene from The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

There was not a preview of the teenage rites-of-passage comedy Growing Op before we went to press, but the film should garner more interest than the average Canadian production which is typically in and out of the cinema before you can say “hydroponic lighting system.” Writer-director Michael Melski, who hails from Sydney, Nova Scotia, drew inspiration from news stories of Vancouver grow-op raids. However, while the action takes place in a suburban grow-op, the film is not about drugs. It’s about a teenage boy Quinn – home-schooled and uncertain – trying to find his way in life. Says Melski: “It’s a story about Nature—about a young man growing through change, about the inexorable pull of first love, and the power of family. The long arc of the film is Quinn discovering his true nature.” Growing Op stars Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction), Rachel Blanchard (Flight of the Conchords), Wallace Langham (Little Miss Sunshine), and a newcomer Steven Yaffee (MVP). The soundtrack features many up-and-coming Canadian bands such as punk rebels Teenage Head, Matt Mays and El Torpedo, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Classfied, Jill Barber, Amelia Curran, and Nathan Wiley.

Still with Canadian films, Deepha Mehta’s latest Heaven On Earth is out this month, and has had mixed reviews. The film tackles the subject of arranged marriages through the story of Chand, a young woman who gives up her comfortable Indian community to move in with her socially sanctioned but abusive husband, Rocky. Deeply unhappy, Chand retreats into an inner life based on myth and fairy tales, creating a movie that some critics have called a “muddled” mixture of reality and fantasy.

Fresh from winning last month’s audience award for best film at the Vancouver International Film Festival comes I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime). A family drama of guilt and grief, it follows Juliette, a woman coming to terms with her past and present after being released from a 15 year stint in prison. The slow-burn story follows Juliette’s (Kristin Scott Thomas showing excellent command of the French language) gradual rapprochement with her family after her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) invites Juliette into her family’s home.

A different kind of captivity is examined in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas(opening on 14th), a powerful holocaust drama based on John Boyne’s bestselling young adult novel. At its centre is Bruno, the eight-year-old son of a high ranking nazi officer at Auschwitz who goes on boyish explorations of a nearby “farm” where all the workers wear “striped pajamas.” In his travels, Bruno befriends a bald-headed boy his age on the other side of the barbed wire fence called Shmuel. Their friendship brings about a sequence of events that leads to a moving and, not unexpectedly, tragic conclusion.

If you are looking for something lighter, Happy Go Lucky is an unusually optimistic, feel-good movie from British director Mike Leigh, who also gave us the excellent but bleak Secrets & Lies and Vera DrakeHappy Go Lucky was developed using improvisational techniques of Leigh’s previous work, with its emphasis on deep characters. The film revolves around Poppy (Sally Hawkins) a chirpy, elementary school teacher in London, England who takes up driving lessons after someone steals her bicycle. When Sally finds herself stuck behind the wheel with a socially awkward instructor, the polar opposite of herself, it is an opportunity for her to shine. The film does depend on you being won over by Polly, but for most people that won’t be a problem. Oscar nominations are already being talked about for Hawkins.

Robert Alstead maintains a blog at www.2020Vancouver.com

Vote for vision

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Once more unto the vote, dear friends! On November 15, we get to vote for a new municipal council – the mayor and councillors who will represent us for the next three years, carrying the hopes and dreams of our communities.

But why do so few people vote? Is it because municipal elections can get pretty dull when candidates are full of vague generalities? “Vote for me! I promise to improve the quality of life and retain a balanced budget…” Blah, blah, blah.

Does blah stand for “Boring Long-winded Abstractions,” sucking the life out of what should be a stunningly exciting period when we debate the future and choose new leaders? Maybe they should be called “blandidates,” but beware, their blandness is often code for “I will ensure that business continues as usual and do nothing to rock the boat.”

If you scratch your average blandidate, you’ll find a conservative politician who keeps a close relationship with older voters more concerned about keeping their golf games up to par than about any dramatic vision of change or social justice.

But we do need change, and urgently. So what should we look for from the candidates for municipal office? Look for specific commitments that can be measured by results. Look for personal passion and a deep commitment to change, such as:

100 percent zero waste by 2030: San Francisco is showing it can be done. The city has already reached 69 percent waste reduction and is aiming at 75 percent by 2010 and zero waste by 2020, without resorting to incineration, which turns waste into toxic air pollution. See www.zwia.org

End homelessness by 2020: Calgary has set a goal to end homelessness within 10 years, which, as well as ending human suffering there, will also save the city $3.6 billion. Vancouver and Victoria must do the same. See www.endinghomelessness.ca

Increase cycling to 10 percent of all trips by 2015: In Davis, California, 17 percent of all trips made are by bike. In Copenhagen, Denmark, it’s 36 percent and the goal is to reach 50 percent by 2015. This means planning for safe, long-distance bike routes throughout the city where bikes do not have to compete with cars. It’s totally achievable if we put our minds to it. See www.copenhagenize.com

Contribute to the province’s goal of 100,000 solar roofs by 2020: That’s only a five percent rate of roof coverage. For a city the size of Vancouver (pop. 612,000), that’s 15,000 roofs generating solar electricity or hot water, or both. See www.solarbc.ca

50 percent of all cars and light trucks to be electric or plug-in hybrid electric by 2020: Israel and Denmark are planning for the widespread take-up of electric vehicles through the project known as “Better Place.” Paris, Berlin and Stuttgart are planning to get there under their own steam, through the leadership of their city councils. We need to begin planning right now for a future without oil, before we are left stranded, unable to heat our homes or travel by car. See www.betterplace.com

A community garden in every neighbourhood: We know that locally grown, organic food is better for us, the climate and the planet, so we must create space to make it happen. Seattle shows what’s possible with its P-Patch Gardens, and in Oakland, California, the Food Policy Council’s goal is that 30 percent of the city’s food be produced in or near the city. See www.cityfarmer.org

Engage everyone in the community in reducing their carbon footprints: If we are to make any progress, every household, business, school and organization must start going green. In Britain, the villagers of Ashton Hayes reduced their collective carbon footprint by 20 percent in just one year. If they can do it, so can we. Seewww.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk.

And that’s just the start. In Vancouver, Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver team of candidates (council, school and parks boards) has, by far, the best chance of achieving a similar agenda, but only if we vote them all in. Elsewhere, you’ll have to choose them individually, candidate by blandidate. See www.votevision.ca


Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

The kids are all right

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

The 21st century is an exciting time for young people. Technology like email and social networking websites makes connecting with people easier than before and Google puts a virtual library on everyone’s desk. This current generation of youth has unprecedented exposure to knowledge, and the old adage that knowledge is power still holds true.

I’ve been approached by different groups to talk to young people at universities. I’m speaking at campuses across Canada, either in person or by video, on a tour with the Canadian Federation of Students, about global warming and its solutions. My daughter Severn and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson are also speaking at some stops. I’ll also speak to young people in Ontario as part of a campaign called Flick Off, which is encouraging people to consider renewable energy as a solution to some of the serious environmental and economic problems our dependence on fossil fuels has created.

Whenever I talk to students, I’m reminded of the joy I experienced as a college student, surrounded by curious classmates who were forming their opinions about the world. Public interest in the environment is at an all-time high today and that’s bound to affect the values that students form and the choices they make. Attending college is an exciting phase of life and students should be encouraged to question the way things are.

But I don’t envy today’s students, even though they have great, new gadgets such as iPods and digital cameras to play with. They are seeing the effects of global warming first-hand. They can see the mess that previous generations have created by ignoring the natural world and living beyond its limits. Today’s university students will have to deal with increased smog alert days, clear-cut forests, nuclear waste, overfished marine ecosystem and other environmental problems that older folks have created.

In my college days, I was active in the civil rights movement. The opportunity to right historic wrongs was a powerful incentive. The people I marched with took action and eventually helped change society and repeal discriminatory laws. Is there still racism and bigotry today? Absolutely. But things have certainly improved since the 1950s.

Back then, many things seemed divided. There were the activist organizations full of young, energetic people demanding change. There were older, established groups that constantly seemed to say, “We agree with you, in principle, but…” Thankfully, things evolved.

I see parallels with the battle against global warming. I hope we are entering a new era in which the old excuses for inaction are no longer given any credence and students become active in solving some of the serious problems in the world. There’s evidence that this is already occurring. Renewable energy is a very realistic part of the solution, not only for environmental problems, but also for economic difficulties as well, and I think young people can play a major role in pushing for a switch from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewables.

It’s heartening to see the number of people saying “yes” instead of “no” to topics such as energy conservation and renewable power. And it’s a diverse group. If there is one positive thing to come out of global warming’s threat to humanity, it’s that it’s bringing together different factions to work together for change.

In the not too distant past, environmentalists were treated as a “special interest group” and relegated to the fringes of public discourse. But now we’re starting to see organizations as diverse as student groups, major corporations, technology companies, Crown corporations, and financial institutions talking to each other to find solutions to issues such as climate change. The environment may continue to be a “special interest,” but it’s one that concerns us all.

Today’s young people know this. And it’s interesting to see them use the tools at their disposal, such as email, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites, to become online activists. Combined with individual action, this is a powerful way to call for change at all levels of society.

When I see the energy of today’s youth, I’m inspired. Although they haven’t learned all the answers to climate change yet, they haven’t learned all the excuses, either.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org



Never voted for Bush

Greetings from Punxsutawney Pennsylvania and the Inner Circle of the Punxsutanwey Groundhog Club. Believe it or not, we track what people are saying about our friend Phil so I read your commentary. In no way is Phil commenting on your remarks. He is really much more concerned about weather. I on the other hand say:  I never voted for Bush and want our friends in other countries to know that I am a proud American, but I believe that his decisions are not consistent with what many people feel. So the world may hate us but I hope they know that with a less than 50% approval rating…many of us are waiting for the next president to re establish our reputation in the world. Hang in there with us.

Ben Hughes,
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania


Ruined reputation

Now can we leave IraqNam and Afghanistan? We pissed away billions to support US oil fascism, and ruined our nation’s reputation in so-doing. Meanwhile, record numbers of homeless people and families, undernourished children, and failling young people grow, even as we pump up the BS for BC’s version of the Olympic Follies. What’s next?

All the best,
Joseph E Fasciani
now 65, who cannot “retire”


Dear Alan Cassels

It’s about time someone wrote what I have been suspecting! I’ve never been so furiously inspired in all my 24 years… yet I feel helpless to do anything about the current situation. I picked up an April 2008 copy of Common Ground at the Health Food Store in Penticton and have been blown away by the quality of the articles, yours being the icing on the proverbial cake. My step-grandfather, who has been more of a grandpappy than my real ones, has just gone through an ‘assessment’ in a care facility and luckily passed easily. Leading up to this joke, he was heavily medicated by his common law wife (my real grandmother who is not much of anything to me, unfortunately) and could barely function normally. I remember eating dinner with him one evening and he could barely find his fork, let alone his mouth. It turns out he was being force fed a deadly mixture of sleeping pills that completely rendered him useless. I had no idea of this at the time and attributed it to his brain tumor. I just remember feeling horrible for him as he laid his hands in his beloved chinese food after struggling to open a packet of sweet and sour sauce.

I agree with your article 100% and have no doubt in my mind that everything going on right now is profit driven. I hope to continue discovering more articles as informative and open minded as yours in the near future! Thank you,



A new way of thinking

Last week the evil organization Al Qaeda encouraged it’s member to attack the USA so that McCain might win the USA election. Well today the most powerful branch of international terrorism, Bush and his cohorts, attacked a village in Syria to oblige Al Qaeda’s wishes in a terrorist act that left eight people dead. It matters not if any of those killed by Bush’s New World Order were guilty of crimes of warring (that will possibly be known soon), what is clear is that Bush is guilty of killing these eight human beings. What is clear is that Bush is guilty of yet another act of State Based Terrorism likely designed to give McCain a boost in the election. If true that’s an even more scathing and cynical of Bush who already has the blood of at least many hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.

We need to find a new way of thinking to stop these wars. My way is to point out the war crimes, the killing crimes, of State Based Actors such as Bush and his agents of destruction. My way it to promote the notion that Governments right to War be revoked by the citizens of each Government in the world.

Act now. Revoke the Canadian Government’s right to War. Revoke your Queen’s right to War. Take that right away from her. Make no mistake about it Canada is still based upon the primitive notion of a Monarchy where the Sovereign Power to wage War sits. It’s time to shed that power from your government. Let your MP know, let your PM know that you revoke his power to wage War, that you revoke Parliament’s power to wage War.

Act now in America if you are a citizen there. Let’s your congressmen know. Let your presidential candidate know.

If enough Canadians or Americans do this – a clear majority of 60% – then it will be binding upon the war mongers in Canada! A citizens referendum.

Peace, prosperity and long life,
Peter William, a Concerned Human Being Living on Earth the one home we have in the Known Universe!


Best of Cuba

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike were devastating. Now islanders are working hard to make repairs. They want everything in shape as the 50th Anniversary of the Revolution approaches.

And, they want you to be part of this historic event during New Years!

Many people ask us how to help Cuba. Cubans say: Come and visit us! In doing so, you extend both economic AND moral support.

Together, we’ve launched two special tours for the holidays for you to experience the warmth, beauty, mystery and friendship that characterizes the safest, most festive destination in the Americas:

• Cuba Discovery and Adventure Tour from Dec 28, 2008 to Jan 4, 2009. Geared to families and friends who deserve a break far from “civilization” in a tropical paradise. Eight days of action packed culture and nature on this best of Cuba tour. A mountaintop excursion in Soviet Army trucks, visit to a self-sustaining rural eco-community, four days in an all-inclusive beach resort, hot Latin music and dance, and fine dining — all in five-star comfort. Details at BestOfCuba.ca

• 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Tour from Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 3, 2009. With change in the winds, what better time to visit Cuba and celebrate with the Cuban people on this most historic occasion? Participants will witness the rich fabric of island culture and have fun. An ideal tour for those who believe, as the Cubans do, that a better world is possible. Itinerary and costs at CubaSolidarity.ca

Here are two education programs:

• The ESL Cuba Volunteer departs to Cuba on November 8, 2008 for three weeks. It’s a small delegation of retired educators, ESL teachers and altruists who help Cuban youth at the university and primary level learn English. It’s a life-changing experience. See CubaVolunteer.com

• Teachers Introduction Tour to Cuba from Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 3, 2009. Participants will explore the island’s renowned culture of social progress, free education, universal health care, and peace. They’ll learn about Cuban efforts to construct a more equal society directly from its people. And, they’ll stay at the luxurious five star Hotel Habana Libre surrounded by the best Latin Jazz venues, just several blocks from the sea. See the details at HelloCuba.ca

Our main website at CubaFriends.ca hosts a wealth of fascinating reading on Cuban culture and history ranging from Jazz, Cigars, Libraries and Art to Law, Health Care, Education, Nature, Gays, IWD and May Day. Check it out and share it with your friends.

Contact us with any questions – we’re here to help make Cuba possible for you.

All the best,
Marcel Hatch, Education Director
708 – 207 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7 Canada