Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability, Supporting small farmers

Sometimes, you can’t see the pumpkins for the trees


I’m still looking. But, as with any wicked problem, you need to refine and rephrase the problem as you go. I’m now working with the City of Richmond and Richmond Food Security Society, funded by VanCity Envirofund to look at the feasibility of a food hub in Richmond. But it presents some interesting problems.

Food hubs in Western Canada haven’t often worked well, at least the few that have been tried. There are a number of hoops to go through and failure is the best teacher. With the help of experienced food distribution expert, Darren Stott, I’m talking to farmers again. But the questions are different. We’re avoiding saying “food hub”. The question isn’t, “can we make a food hub work”. The question is, “how can we make distribution and sales easier for smaller mixed-crop farmers so that they can make a decent living”. I’ve talked to some keen folks, and I’ve talked to some who are dog-tired from trying to push the same rock up the same slippery slope.

What we hope to get is the answer from the farmers themselves. And whatever answer it is, the farmers need to embrace it and own it and make it work. We’re aiming for next steps come November.

If you see my pumpkin, can you let me know where it is?


Meaning is What Matters


I challenge people for a living. I find ways to ask questions that actually matter and pursue them until I have exhausted the possibilities. Because unless I’ve pushed my clients way outside where they imagine themselves, they won’t actually be able to see their organizations in a way that is meaningful to the human beings that matter to them. And meaning is what matters in business today.

Meaning is the secret sauce that businesses need to thrive. It is the key differentiator. It’s not fluff, it is the core value. If you don’t get it right, it’s only window dressing. It’s not just for outside your company. Meaning is for every single person your company touches, employees, suppliers, competitors, government, partners….People, in general, are becoming much, much more discerning and they’re looking for authenticity in everything. Nathan Shedroff, Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts in San Francisco taught me that “Design is the process of evoking experiences. Meaning is strategic.” Every aspect of design today is focussed on looking for and finding meaning. Meaning creates value. Meaning creates loyalty. Meaning is enduring.

You can’t make meaning up. It “is”, whether you have a handle on it or not. Anyone who knows about your organization, in any way, is out there making meaning about you right now. The most successful companies know what they mean to people and they live it — authentically.

When I recently helped a medical research organization create their brand, we started with science. That’s where they were coming from. It was about beating disease through cutting edge therapies and new methods of detection. Their function was to do three things: raise, and continue to raise funding; attract the brightest minds in their field to help them; and find the most innovative ways to outsmart the disease. The surgeons, clinicians and oncologists I met with needed to step back from science and revisit what the disease meant to the patients and their families. They needed to see what meaning their organization created for potential employees, experts, partners and funders. At a human level, what did the fight with this disease mean to these people? The process was pragmatic and thorough, but it produced a brand that was steeped in meaning that they had found. I simply helped them to do that.

Your organization could be doing, making, selling the next best thing ever, but without understanding its meaning, you’re missing your upside. Because meaning is what matters.

*Also published in The Nitty Gritty

Seeing where you live

The early fall walk

The bold one owns the trail

I am walking along a trail in Richmond this morning with two small dogs — one timid, one bold. The trail cuts a path between a railway line and blueberry farms. Wild blueberries and blackberries cushion the borders. Little thrushes and nuthatches chack at us and crisscross the trail in front as we walk. I know the coyotes are napping in the underbrush, waiting for the cool of late afternoon to see what they can scare up for a meal.

It is one of those stolen fall days, outrageously hot yet it started out two-quilt cold. The air has a slight mist that softens all the colours. The trees are tinging toward gold now. As I walk along the trail, silvery threads suspend from the trees, little worms rapelling to I don’t know where — closer to, if not on, the ground. A young mother speaking softly in Mandarin, holds a bucket in one hand while she picks blackberries with the other. Her toddler holds fast to her loose pants and eyes us with an amusing mix of suspicion and fascination. 

A South Asian man, probably about 30 years old, intersects our path with a friendly Cane Corso while he chats softly on his cell phone. We nod at each other in friendly recognition. A half a kilometer ahead, we encounter an outgoing couple with one of those German Shepherds that’s “toned down”. His back doesn’t slope so he walks upright instead of slinking. He has a robust but muscular shape. He gambols around my bold one as they test each other’s mettle (my bold one doesn’t realize he weighs a mere 20 pounds). The timid one tucks his tail and turns his back to the puppy-like shepherd. I scoop him under me to make him feel safe. As the bold one and the shepherd cajole each other up the trail, they encounter a young, blonde shepherd cross who relishes the new gang he has found and bounces around the group.

As the group disperses, we circle back heading towards the car. The bold one decides he’ll catch up with us later, following his shepherd friend in a new direction. I whistle twice, and keep walking. As I start to worry, I hear his tags jingling and he rounds the bend in full run, bearing down on the timid one and I as we head to the car. The timid one pants outrageously, clearly new to this much aerobic activity in one go. They leap into the car, and we head home. To water.


Getting off the Food Truck to Talk about Transit

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 9.34.54 PM

We need to have a chat, folks.

The political rhetoric around the Skytrain shutdown yesterday is predictable. Every hack with an axe to grind is scrapping for his or her second on the soapbox. But while we’re all churning bile, let me just point out a flaw. When people start saying we need to turn $175,000 spent on art for an entire transit system in a major metropolis back into the system to make it better, you know what I think? I think you’re a person who probably should not be further contributing to the gene pool. So put it back in your pants. If we don’t have art, music, writing and dance in our society, we will dry up and blow away, negating the need for any kind of transit, rapid or otherwise. Art and culture is what separates us from animals. Not that I don’t love animals, but left to run the planet? How is it that these things are “frills”? They are not, any more than our clothing is a frill. Art and culture make us cultured people that: live with laws, live with and tolerate each other and the things we work at and create, respect each other, respect life and generally make life tolerable day to day. You want to get from A to B in a grey, concrete tube accessed by grey concrete stairs with nothing around?

Be my guest.

Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Image from RKS

This is a very interesting article by RKS Design CEO Ravi Sawhney. The influence of greater awareness around what we eat is certainly having an effect on the way fast food chains model their menus, but it is surface at best. The business model simply would not sustain itself if food needed to be sourced locally —or even more difficult, using non-GMO or organic produce. Read my comments on the article as well. And thank you to Ravi for these fresh ideas!

FastCoDesign: 4 Ways to Fix the Fast Food Industry


What This World Needs is a Family Meeting


We are alone. This planet is a tiny, solitary spaceship sailing through a vast black wilderness.

How we  conduct ourselves on this pebble in the abyss is a massive problem. This video, Overview, puts our place on our planet in perspective. We are interdependent and capable of solving great problems when working together. But we can and do create unimaginable chaos when we pursue our own interests and see things only from our own narrow perspective.

If you picture our planet as a small island, perhaps a mile in circumference, you may be able to imagine that someone living on the other side abusing the resources there will almost instantly impact those of us on the other side. We only have so many trees and plants, so many animals to hunt. And with one stream serving the whole island, poisoning the water up island poisons the water for all of us. The feuding over borders, resources and ideology is madness when you consider that we are using what we have faster than the planet can keep up.

Until a giant asteroid vaporizes Earth, the planet itself will survive. As a species, however, we are racing headlong for the end in short order. There is only so much to go around. In the western world, we scramble for newer and better toys that require oil, metals and chemicals to produce. We make the toys where labour is cheap — and then we use more oil and metal and chemicals to get them into the hands of consumers who want the newest and the fastest.

The collective ocean touches every shore of every land mass. We are all breathing the same air. Earth is enveloped by a thin, fragile layer that protects our species from annihilation. That layer is being damaged and there is likely no going back. We are all passengers on the same little boat. We cannot befoul one part without impacting the rest of it. Battling to conquer others over ideology, wealth or resources will leave the “winner” the last person on the Titanic.

It’s time to have a serious family meeting of our species. We don’t have time to “wait a while.” We need to start thinking like a family, instead of  like a pack of rogue gangs. It may not be possible. Human history has consistently demonstrated a pattern for one-upmanship that distracts us from minding our basic human needs. In the past, the resources were usually there to feed and clothe us once we put down our weapons or sheathed our claws. But the time is fast approaching where this won’t be the case. The planet is warming. Storms are becoming superstorms. As we now grow massive swaths of genetically and chemically assisted monocultures to feed ourselves, we run the risk of catastrophic crop failures with climate change. We have created weaknesses in our spaceship, and then continue on as though nothing is wrong.

We need to talk. Together. And soon.