The Living Sustainably and Independently, Ready for Rough Times, Hands-on, Solar-Powered, All You Can Grow Workshop Wrap Up

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

A couple of Saturdays ago we had 12 people come to Sunflower Farm
for “The Living Sustainably and Independently, Ready for Rough Times,
Hands-on, Solar-Powered, All You Can Grow Workshop.” It was a blast.

It was a really great group of people and I think everyone had a
great day. I know I did. One of the advantages of this workshop, over
the ones that I have done at community colleges, is that there was more
time for sharing. Whether it was during our coffee breaks, or lunch,
or while we were outside touring, the participants seemed to enjoy
getting to know each other and discovering similar interests. There
seemed to be a real synergy with everyone. I noticed during the outside
stuff that sometimes people would wander off doing their own thing. If
my explanation of putting up a wind turbine up didn’t interest
someone, they could wander off to chat with one of the other
participants and I was fine with that. We asked everyone to fill out an
evaluation form and a couple of people commented that they really
liked having the opportunity to talk to the other participants. I will
have to take this into consideration for future workshops. I’m used to
yakking for 6 hours during my college PowerPoint workshops. It’s not
that I think that I know everything, but I want to make sure that
people get their money’s worth. I’ve learned that is important to make
sure that people who want to share information have the opportunity to
do so.

I also liked that fact that during my brief PowerPoints in the
living room, the bookshelf next to the TV is full of the books that
I’ve read that have helped me to formulate this workshop. Michelle has
lots of “fiction” bookshelves, but mine are all those boring
non-fiction ones that I’ve read over the years to help me form my
opinions. “The World According to Cam” is very much a compendium of
ideas from lots of sources.

It was great to have Michelle here for the workshop. People are
smart and they know my bias, so it gave them a chance to get Michelle’s
take on the whole homesteading, off grid, peak oil thing.

I learned a lot too. First off, many people do not like compact
fluorescent lights. I understand. It took me some time to get used to
them, but I’ve had good luck with them. I have had to replace very few
bulbs in the 13 years we’ve lived off grid. I also learned that LED
light bulbs are suddenly available. Many stores, including Wal-Mart
(which is a store that I’ve never shopped in) are stocking a fairly
wide variety of them. They are still expensive, and from a payback
point of view, you’re still much better to go with CFLs, but if you
don’t like them, or want to be ultra energy efficient, LEDs bulbs are
finally going mainstream.

I also learned that many people share my lack of confidence in fiat
currencies. These are the paper dollars we use today. So there was good
discussion about where to buy precious metals. Apparently I’m not the
only one thinking this way.

And I learned that people who attend workshops that one could
perceive as having a bit of a dark theme (i.e. “Ready for Rough Times”
in the title) often have a great sense of humour. There was a lot of
laughter, much at my expense, which is great, and appropriate. My
favorite line was on the garden tour. I’m building a new rock crib to
put rain barrels on next year as I expand the garden for the CSA. As we
walked by it someone said “So who’s buried under there?” This is good
stuff! I can’t look at it now without laughing.


the afternoon as we were touring the berry patch I noticed someone
that I didn’t recognize. I’m not always good with names, but I was
pretty sure that this person hadn’t been part of the workshop in the
morning. It turns out that I had left my sandwich-board sign out at the
road to help people find our place, since we really are in the middle
of nowhere. So I guess someone just driving by had seen it and decided
to check my place out. He seemed to look around at the solar panels and
the wind turbine and then he was gone.

I liked the fact that I wasn’t as exhausted after this workshop as I
am after the ones I do at community colleges. While it was longer than
my city ones, I didn’t have to drive to Toronto or Ottawa to put it
on, which was pretty great.

We asked everyone to fill out an evaluation form so we can work to
improve the workshop. Everyone seemed to like just about everything,
including the food. I asked participants to write a quote that I can
use in promotional materials for the next one. The comments were
awesome! Here are a few of them…

“Returning to a simpler way of life has looked as attractive, or doable.”

“I was really impressed that the whole day lived up to the title!
Cam has woven together a giant tapestry of knowledge and how-to;
hearing and seeing his work in action was really inspiring.”

“Your home is lovely & cozy and you us feel very welcome. Coming
today was a dream come true – I’ve only every read about ‘this stuff.’
It was encouraging & enlightening. Thanks so much. Love, love,
love it!”

We also received a thank you note from one of the participants and she wrote; “When we grow up we want to live just like you.” 

Reading such nice things makes me feel like my head is about to explode!

Actually, I feel pretty guilty about charging for the day since I enjoyed it so much. I should have paid them to come!

The workshop was another example of adversity inspiring creativity.
For some reason my college workshop attendance has fallen lately, so
this home-based workshop was just a shot in the dark, give it a try,
throw the cards in the air and see where they land, see what happens
sort of experiment.

It sold out quickly and we have enough people on a waiting list to
fill a spring workshop. I think we may run it a few times in the
spring. We actually have another group from Toronto coming for their
own personal tour this weekend.

If you would be interested in bringing a group to visit Sunflower Farm, send an email to  “michelle at aztext dot com.”

In the meantime, I’m heading out to build some more burial cairns. I can’t help but laugh every time I walk past one now!

Photo by Cam Mather. For more information about Cam or his books please visit or