End of Summer Newsy Update

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As usual, there’s lots going on in our lives and around the Eco-Sense homestead.  Gord has been VERY busy designing potable rain water harvesting systems and compost toilets for people – legally and with permits.  He’s also been doing rainwater consulting for policy creation with various organizations including local, regional and provincial governments.  Ann has been mostly in the garden and in the kitchen…it is harvest season after all.  We’ve both still been busy with council work and some other volunteer activities.  Here’s a quick update:

Cover Image emailedOur book:

“Essential Composting Toilets” is due out at the end of October.  We will have copies available to sell this fall at the plant nursery and at the workshops with Gord.  The book will also be available through our Essential Composting Toilet website, bookstores, New Society Publishing, and online at Amazon.  If you would like to book Gord for a speaking engagement in the region, on Vancouver Island and around BC, please send us and email.  Note that we do not fly (trying to keep our carbon footprint down).  gord@eco-sense.ca and ann@eco-sense.ca


Seems that people are waking up to the climate disruption caused by burning fossil fuels.  With this comes the urgent desire for information essential for transitioning to low carbon resilient communities.  There is no new normal…things are going to just get worse.  But there is SO much opportunity here to build better local systems in our homes and in our communities.  It’s not all bad.  Water and food systems are top of our mind.  Gord is doing a number of workshops this fall.

  • Responsible Water Alternatives on Gabriola Island.  Large group.  Saturday October 27th at 10am.  Almost fully booked already.  See details on the poster below.  $30
  • Compost Toilets at the Eco-Sense Homestead:   Small group with short walk around the homestead (weather permitting).  All day…just toilets.    Saturday November 3rd 10am-3pm.  Details to come.   Registration will be coming soon via eventbrite
  • Responsible Water Alternatives at the Eco-Sense Homestead:   Small group with short walk around the homestead (weather permitting).  Saturday November 17th 10am-3pm.  Details to come.  Registration will be coming soon via eventbrite
  • Also planning events specifically for policy makers and building officials.  Location and details to be determined.


Fall Plant Sales starting up on Sunday Sept 16th:

The nursery is looking amazing this year as the plants have been well looked after this summer.  The nursery will be open on SUNDAYS this fall from 10am-2pm.  Plant list here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j-GtX_ufCTWu8muXbCjqAYfc-cIP7WKl/view

Photos of perennial food plants on our land taken a few days ago:

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After 12 years on this land building soils and planting trees our food systems have become not only beautiful but abundant.  Not a day goes by where we are not falling more deeply in love with this incredible place.  We would also say that nature agrees with us as this place is also abundant with nature, birds, bugs, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc.  So much life…fills our heart and helps to balance the grief we feel watching our human ravaged earth fighting for the life of all her creatures.  The whales, the forests, the oceans, humanity, everything…nature is screaming out for us to live gently and clean up our mess.


Ann has been reading the book by Guy Dauncey called “Journey to the Future” and we highly recommend reading it to those feeling climate and environmental grief.  There’s a good chance we won’t make it, but it’s guaranteed we wont make if we don’t collectively create a better world…NOW.  Even if you believe that we are already toast, by dramatically reducing your own impact AND working to build local resilience you will help preserve your own sanity and know that you tried.  REALITY CHECK:  We have 20 years (+/-) to reduce our GHG emissions to ZERO while simultaneously sequestering a LOT of carbon (pulling it out of the atmosphere) to have a 67% chance of avoiding a 2 deg C rise in global average temperature.  Some scientists are saying we wont make it…but the mainstream science says we have a very VERY small chance of making it.  This is our collective LAST kick at the can…it’s damn near game over.  nature_graph_emissions_29.6.17.jpg

  1. Guy’s book – Journey to the Future:
  2. Mud and Antler Bone: Myth and inspiration with Martin Shaw
  3. Gratitude and Reciprocity:  Short, inspiring talk/story. Robin Wall Kimmerer

Municipal Elections:

Gord and I have two weeks to decide if we are going to run for council election again.  It’s a hard decision.  We have sure enjoyed our past 4 years on council…what an amazing experience.  We have not agreed on many topics, but have never ever had emotional baggage around this – we are individuals and respect each others opinions just as we do everyone elses input at the table.  It’s been an amazing group of mature people to work with, for the common good of Highlands.

Highlands Council 2014-2018

Solar Dryer for Sale:

Gord built two awesome solar dryers, one for a customer and one to sell.  It’s our best design yet!  Features: easy to rotate, 8 large stainless steel trays, gets very hot inside, small fan with solar panel keeps air flowing perfectly, food dries quickly.

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There is also room in the bottom to put in a small ceramic heater to extend the drying season.  $1,500.  Delivery and installation can be arranged and cost determined by installation details (ie in dirt, on bedrock, or on deck).

We are so impressed that we may build a few more over the winter for sale next spring.

Friendly, attractive, young rooster for sale:

$20. Hatched here early this spring.  Dad is Sophia, a Brabanter Cream, and mom is a Cuckoo Maran.   Awesome rooster to diversify your flock genetics.   Gord wants to keep him as he is a friendly rooster with great manners.  Ann has enough testosterone in her life let alone whatever on earth is happening in her body with all the hot flashes.  Normally we’d eat him, but he is too good to eat.

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Our neighbours house is for sale…just saying.  Anyone want to be our neighbours?  Here’s the listing:   Must like Roosters, crazy neighbours, and lotsa food.

Sealed and Contained Composter Bins:  

Who knew that designing a sealed composter for the book would lead to actually building and selling them.  Gord did a workshop a couple weeks back where six of his sealed composters were built by participants.  A few other clients are also using these composers.  Originally designed to compost human resources from a “compost toilet”, these will also function exceptionally well for regular composts where people need to contain the materials and keep rats, mice and racoons out of the pile.  A great urban system.  Contact Gord for a quote:  gord@eco-sense.ca

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And if that creativity is not enough, perhaps you are interested in a 1000 Litre Emergency Potable Water system.  Gord is just in the process of designing a stand-alone system that is complete with filter, sterilizer and storage.   No pictures yet.


Gord has also taken on the role of managing the purchasing and sales for the non-profit BC Fruit Tester’s Association.  It is that time of year when those folks who plan their bulk orders need to connect with Gord to arrange orders and payments.    If you are wanting to purchase rootstocks in quantities of 50, 100, 150, 200, 500, etc (multiples of 50), please connect now, and if you are not a member, the BCFTA would need to collect a membership fee before I placed your order.

DSC03799.JPGOur heads are spinning from our busy happy life planting seeds and sequestering carbon, and from wondering just how does one buy an old pipeline that legally can’t be built (thanks to the courts), meet insufficient climate targets, pretend to consult First Nations, create fighting between provinces (Alberta…REALLY???), all while negotiating trade deals with insane neighbours?     Welcome to Canada.  Looking forward to the spin placed on all of this by those who are playing games with life on planet earth.

Ann and Gord

Composting Toilet Workshops (and rainwater too)

It has been a wild and wooly ride this past year as we have completed the book.  The result of which is a host of requests to put on workshops and presentations of all things dry (at least in regards to toilets) and a few things wet.

I (Gord) have been pretty much invisible over the last year. But there are huge good changes underway.  Obviously the Composting Toilets and Greywater Manual was huge.  The Essential Composting Toilets book is also huge, and will be out in early October.

To compost securely here is an IBC Tote system created for the various clustered housing projects presently under design.


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CSA Rainwater Harvesting Standards CoverThe other huge thing which has consumed most of my time is designing potable water rain harvesting systems.  In May the Standards Council of Canada released the first CSA/ICC standards for Rainwater Harvesting.   I will be writing a review of this on our Rainwater BC website soon.

So in good fashion (which means likely to be edited in part or wholly by Ann), here are a couple information highlights:

3 day Compost Toilet Workshop – August 17th-19 (Yup I get to talk shit for three days) – Links are here.

Please note, this is a multi day event spanning across the weekend:
August 17th 7:00pm – 9:00pm
August 18th 10:00am – 5:00pm
August 19th 10:00am – 4:00pm
(food and accommodation upgrades available)

If you want to get a taste of what to expect… Javan Bernakevitch recorded me shooting the shit with him. The link is here.

Other workshops include a 5 hour presentation on Gabriola Island in October (Time and location TBA.  The full day workshops on Galiano, Salt Spring and Pender have had a huge turnout… even bigger than Trumps inauguration.   Yup more than 20 people at each event.

Rainwater Harvesting Workshop in September.  See link Here fore details.

More to write, but Ann is calling me. Not sure what I did wrong, but Ann will write about it very soon I am sure.



My body’s first experience with CANCER

Today I got the good news. We (Gord and I) sat in the doctors office waiting for the results of my breast biopsy. One month earlier I had a mammogram. After all it had only been 30 years since that excruciating torture machine had last squished my young dense breasts into a pancake. The doctor at that time had said, I have never seen such dense breasts…a mammogram will not be able to show anything. Well duh I thought. Anyways, my current doctor, after examining my 51 year old sagging breasts suggested it was time to have another mammogram. I of course broke out into a sweat at the crystal clear memory of almost punching the mammography technician. I think I actually would have at the time, except for the vice attached to my breast essentially immobilizing my right hook.

Cooking meals from scratch on the fire…many items grown at home

I had this recent mammogram two days before leaving on our kayaking trip. Upon return, there were 3 phone messages, an email, and even some paper mail stating that they needed to have a closer look at something they saw. Yikes. Two days after I returned the call, I was at the pancake machine again…but this time, crepes were on the menu. Thank god for older sagging breasts that were in the mood for crepes.

Well, the magnified mammogram showed something, and the same day I was at the ultrasound machine. I should note that I cannot feel a lump or anything during a breast self examination…all is normal in there as far I can tell.
So another week passes and I am back at the crepe machine, and then another crepe machine where me and the machine can get cozy spooning for what seemed like eternity…with a drill inserted deep into my breast. This lengthy procedure took over 40 minutes and god knows how many x-rays. My breast was frozen with a little needle in preparation for insertion of the large needle into just the right spot for four tissue samples to be removed. Quickest biopsy ever they commented…mostly due to me not breathing for 40 minutes.
They sent me home with an ice pack taped on my still bleeding boob…tape was required as I didn’t have a bra to stuff the icepack into (don’t own a bra). And just for fun, the tape extended across the sensitive skin on my breast and into my armpit…my unshaved armpit, thus providing one of those moments where I wished I had shaved (don’t own a razor). (Note: this may be too much information, but I am sharing this personal information for a reason that will become clear later)
Next on the menu was a week long wait to get the results of my biopsy. It was an interesting week and I didn’t really think about this too much…not much I could do with so little information so I’ll just deal with whatever comes my way when I know more. However, saying this I still had my own silent rants about toxic chemicals, the cancer industry, and thinking maybe just not having treatment and let nature take it’s course…not that I have a death wish or anything I just loath the whole system where cancer contributes to growing our economy. I don’t seem to have a big fear of death…or maybe I do, and just don’t know it yet. ??? Anyways, I spent my week growing food, preparing wonderful meals from the garden, looking after the homestead, reading, going to council meetings, thinking about my community, participating in potlucks, watching hummingbirds, feeling gratitude for my life and my privilege, having afternoon naps in the heat wave, paying just enough attention to world events to be highly disturbed but not surprised, etc. Life is very good.

I love our gardens

So back to today. Doctor walks into the room saying “I have good news” and goes on to explain what they found. She said I could cry, but I had no desire to do so…neither did Gord. We were not worked up waiting for the biopsy results. It was going to be what it was going to be. Dr looked at me strangely when I didn’t cry.
The details: I have a rare form of LCIS (lobular carcinoma In Situ)…sort of a cancer. Apparently I have a 1% per year rising rate of increased cancer rate due to this…but still most women don’t develop cancer from this diagnosis. Basically, I have learned that cancer cells formed, but my body contained them and they are not spreading…at this time. The current debate is whether or not to even call this diagnosis cancer. I will be seeing a surgeon to discuss removing the “in situ” packages or doing nothing and just watching. Historically, women with this condition often underwent full mastectomies, but this is no longer the case.

My new bathtub in the garden…I love it!


The Dr. then went on to say that I should go out a buy a lottery ticket, because this diagnosis is the best one I could have possibly had for my lump. LUCKY ME.

But wait a moment…LUCK? REALY? My body did what 100,000 years of human evolution programmed it to do when faced with replication oopses. How much is luck, and how much of this is my lifestyle? In the process of DNA and cell replication, mistakes are made all the time, but our bodies know how to fix these. When our bodies don’t work right and miss something, sometimes cancers can result. It’s your genetics, it your gene expression, it’s your biome, it’s your history, AND it’s your lifestyle. All of these play a role. In my case I have good genes…not a lot of family history. I’ve also been chemically sensitive my whole life and avoid toxic chemicals…especially those found in personal care products and building materials. I also choose to live very differently than most people in our culture…and not just with not having a bra or a razor. I would go even further to suggest that I live much closer to a “natural” human in many ways including the following:


  • I grow and forage most of my own food and eat an omnivorous seasonal diet. I used the word forage as this seems appropriate for how I gather my food. Our gardens are quite natural in their randomness and seemingly overgrown way. Many things go to seed thus there are food surprises everywhere. I disturb the soil very little. No till gardening. Looks kind of messy, but there is literally food everywhere.
  • My gut micro biome is biologically diverse. I eat lots of raw fruit and veggies, eat home fermented foods, drink raw goats milk and make my own raw milk cheese, don’t eat meat from industrial agriculture but do eat meat about 3 times per week in summer and 5 times per week in winter (rabbits, chicken (rooster), deer, local pork), I eat nutrient dense food, I don’t eat in restaurants, I eat very little processed food, what I don’t grow is mostly organic, I eat a bit more fats and very little refined carbohydrates or sugar, etc. I don’t eat glyphosate. My body was engineered over hundreds of thousands of years to be an omniviour…I’m not going to argue with that.
  • My skin micro biome is also biologically diverse. I don’t use soap on my body, I don’t wear deodorant, I don’t smear chemicals or sunscreen on my body. I rarely get skin infections or get sick. I spend the day with my hands and body in contact with healthy soils. I bath with warm water in the shower. (I do use shampoo)
  • I spend about 3/4 of my day “unplugged” with half being outside in nature and the rest inside doing domestic activities. I get lots of exercise.
  • I get lots of sleep and quiet time to think. My life wasn’t always like this, but I have worked really hard to make this happen and I have had some luck along the way.

Drying tomatoes

So this is the story I live and that I tell myself. I do have some control and can make choices to support my body to give me the best chance of being healthy. Perhaps this note would have been very different if I had a different diagnosis, but I will stick with this story of looking after my body as being at least part of the reason why I was able to isolate those cancer cells. If I believe it, then it must be true. We all know that story is much more powerful than facts. If facts mattered we would act on climate change and our bodies wouldn’t be contaminated with toxic chemicals.

My challenge to you:
  1. Eat healthy. Avoid/limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eat fermented foods. Eat whole foods. Eat a seasonal diet. Eat organic if you can. Avoid processed food (prepared foods that have more than 1 ingredient on a label). Limit restaurant food unless it is of the highest quality. Grow a garden/ have a garden plot/ or go to farmers markets.
  2. Go to your bathroom and laundry room and look at all your products; cleaning products, body products, hair products, laundry products, etc. How many do you have? Do you need all of these or have you been influenced by marketing to think you “need” them? Read the ingredients. Do any of them have fragrance or perfume in them? Preservatives? Many of these are linked to breast cancer and are endocrine disrupters. Do not put these on your body or breath their fumes. Seriously, these are toxic. Check out the David Suzuki Foundation dirty dozen for a quick reference on how to read the ingredient lists. Dare to be different. Dare to be informed by facts. Dare to change the culture.
  3. Reduce the plastic in your life.
  4. Get lots of sleep
  5. Exercise in nature. Fall in love with mother Earth.

Do the best you can, have fun, laugh, and hope for a bit of luck.

Gord photo bombing the shot of the solar roof top gardens


Saying no.

Nursery:  Before we say “no” to the Nursery season, we are saying “yes” to the last day for spring plant sales. Saturday May 26th from 10am–2pm.  We have a FREE table too…and some small $5 goji berries.
This is by far the very best time of the year to take a peek around the homestead and enjoy the maturing food-scape that inspired our perennial edible plants nursery.


It is so hard to say “no” to all those things you really know that we as a culture need to say “yes” to.  Why is it so hard?

Like that question Gord poses, “Hey Ann, I love your brain and the red hair that covers it… want to go and discuss global world issues?”   Ann’s answer “No.  I have to get the carrots planted!”  –––  Ann chiming in here…I usually jump at the opportunity to talk about global and local issues and how everything is connected.  I’ve just been way behind in the garden this year.  Just last night I read an article on systems thinking by Richard Heinberg that was quite good.  He also talked about people that focus on systems thinking are also the most pessimistic about our global predicament.  Another favourite source of entertainment is listening the local CBC radio program called the political panel (7:40 am Friday mornings).  We have both been quite entertained lately by BC and Alberta politics over pipelines, tankers and fossil fuels.  Bottom line though, is we only have 2 decades to get to ZERO carbon emissions.  We are not particularly hopeful given the local and global politics playing out combined with our collective inability to change our consumption.

Or the other question Gord poses, “Ann, I think I have a tick in a spot I can’t see.  Want to take a peek?”   Ann’s answer “No.  I can’t see anything until I go get my glasses on…even then maybe not”.

After ticks are found and removed, another favourite pastime is reading articles together…like a recent one on tourism.  Apparently tourism accounts for about 8% of total emissions.  We have learned however, that many of our acquaintances, and even friends and family, do not like us to talk about aviation.  Apparently there are THREE taboo subjects…religion, politics, and aviation.  Well maybe a fourth…the subject of fecal transplants are also not well received, despite some hard science on the topic–if we had a soap box to stand on, perhaps we could tout the science… then again we could perhaps use a stool.

This past two months we have been over the top busy and Gord has had to learn to say “no” but of course never to Ann.  Saying no to community groups on toilet design, saying no to more community groups on emergency preparedness meetings, almost even saying no to some of the editing requests on the book, and rescheduling the much desired time to hang with the kids.  For Gord the water design work of Eco-sense has become so busy that it is now a going concern.  Four new home potable rain harvesting systems, a design of a small water system for an 8 home strata, potential of 3 more designs, and then the composting toilet projects.  In our culture we look at this with the utmost respect, that you are too busy for the important things for life.  Here’s a neat little video on slowing down and appreciating the work of making textiles.

[INSERT picture of Pump curves and filter schematics here]. (This is where Gord is too busy to do his final edit and insert his photo…currently, he’s in the lower garden installing a filter, for the pond water so that we can hook up irrigation that wont plug up.).

Gord did say yes to do a 5 hour workshop on Salt Spring Island around compost toilets, greywater, rainwater and the responsible water alternatives that we apply around here on the homestead.  The course was well attended, with participants comings for hugs afterwards.  Gord was glad for saying yes.

We’ve been busier than we like to be…with deadlines of everything fast approaching.  However, this is temporary, and we are looking forward to slowing down.  We are going camping again this summer for a local backpacking trip…either in Strathcona park, or Nootka Island.  We are very lucky to have some friends looking after the homestead while we are away.  Nina, chickens, chicks, ducks, and all the food gardens will be in good hands.  One of our ducks is also sitting on a dozen eggs.  If all goes well there will be a bunch of ducklings emerging on June 17th +/-.

DSC03506We are loving and enjoying spring more every year.  The beauty of this place is growing exponentially…this is one exponential curve we like.

Here’s a quick list of some interesting articles and videos on technology…which has been another topic of conversation around here this spring.  The first is an article describing how technology can not bail us out of this predicament.  Better Technology Isn’t the solution to ecological collapse.  Then a Video with Jeremy Rifkin discussing how technology could help us transition to a zero carbon world.  Both are well thought out…I guess time will tell.  Feel free to post other technology links in the comments.

Gord and Ann



Observations and Climbing Vines


Eco-Hut in the morning sun

A short entry this week, as it has been busy with the instant and welcomed sight of the sun and the cozy warm temperatures.   Observations from the hill are an addictive pass time as Ann and I share our new and entertaining stories of the landscape and observations with each other.  Gord likes to think that he  notices many of the same subtle things as Ann, but really Ann usually kicks his butt at noticing things.  This year though he is feeling pretty proud of his observation skills.  (rants at the end of our post)

DSC03070Our recent workshop held in the Eco-Sense MUDRoom on Resilient Food Systems  was fully booked.   This 3 hr course lasted for 4.5 enthusiastic hours as the questions kept coming.  We will allow more time next time we offer this course.

This year, the non native European Paper Wasps (Polistes dominula) are so numerous that it is mind boggling… and somewhat frightening.  We have not yet observed a single native yellowjacket or native paper wasp.  These normally docile garden carnivores are a huge gift for the garden as they are responsible for the control of aphids, cabbage worms, and pretty much every other small life form.  Normally they only get goofy (aggressive) near the end of summer.  This year is not the case, as they cover everything… they are fighting amongst themselves, and a little testy with us.  (This is where Ann edited out Gord’s testicle joke).   Last year Ann received two stings between her fingers and consequently suffered with a swollen itchy mitt almost up to her elbow.  When Gord gets stung, it hurts, but then we can never see where… Ann thinks he’s just making some ploy to get attention. (Guys these days eh?)

One of last years nests…painted around it. Not aggressive at all.

Unfortunately, we will need to knock the populations back a bit pretty quickly but we are attempting to hold off until after the main fruit tree blossoms are completed.   How carnivorous are they?  Gord watched one almost cut a caterpillar in half, three times the size of the wasp… then try to carry it away.  We like them around, but this is just too many.  We will remove small selected nests in the evening with a small bagless shop vacuum.  The selected nest are under our chairs, by the front door, next to the cob oven, at the outside garden sink, and about half of the nests in the greenhouse.  Walking into the greenhouse is like entering a swarming hive.  Anyone else have this issue this year?


spraying everything in the nursery with compost tea

Plant Sales:  Every Saturday from 10am-2pm we will continue with the farm sales of perennial edible plants until the end of May.

Climbing Vines form an important part of our food systems.

  • Just this week, we planted more thornless blackberries… one of our very favourite berries.  These are easy to control, ready before Himalayan blackberries, even better flavour (hard to imagine, but true), larger fruit, less seedy, and very abundant and did I mention that these do NOT make you bleed?  Trellis the vines, or simply cut canes at about 6-8 feet tall.  Could also tie to a sunny fence.
  • Logan berries.  We love these too and plant them on the same trellis as the thornless blackberries.  Ready about 2 weeks before the thornless blackberries.
  • Hops.  We have large CASCADE hop plants for $25.  These plants will produce this year.  Good for beer and for bedtime teas.
  • Kiwi’s.  We have Fuzzy, Hardy, and Arctic.  Hardy’s are our favourite as they are productive, easy to grow, partly shade tolerant (half sun), and have no fuzz.  VERY yummy.  Arctic kiwi’s grow in the shade and are very beautiful, also fuzz-less, and tasty.  Most are male and female except for the hardy Assai.
  • NEW this year:  Apios Americana (common names include ground nut, potatoes bean, Indian potato).  Nitrogen fixing vine that produces small potatoes like tubers with a very choice nutty flavour. These are perennials that grow like tall runner beans.  I’m going to try growing mine in a large container as the rabbits like the vines, and voles like the tubers.  Small plants take 2 years to produce a crop.  only $6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apios_americana
  • Chinese Yam  or Cinnamon-vine.  Very nutritious and potato like.  Perennial beautiful vines with glossing heart shaped leaves.  Grow in large containers as the large and ugly tubers will go down very deep.  These can be invasive in some soils. $16.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_yam 


We now have a free table with lots of great plants that need a home.  Why Free you ask?  Well, some of them are unnamed varieties, (tag went missing), some we have too many of, and some just need a bit of love.

And an Update on the Essential Composting Toilet book.   The copy editor has read and reviewed it, and sent her initial comments.  All Gord’s diagrams will need to be edited and have all the Canadian English replaced with the US spellings.  What does this mean?  Four more solid days sitting, and 3 days to re-upload all the images again.  Does this not seem arrogant and crazy.   Can our American neighbours not comprehend the word colour over color?   Yeesh!

And one more tiny little rant regarding Used Victoria.  We have used this service over the past few years to help advertise our plants… we even pay for some ads, but most are free.  Anyways, we may not be able to do this anymore as they are calling Eco-Sense a commercial seller.  Are we?

  • We are a very small farm open only 4 hours per week about 4 months per year.
  • We are not even a corporation… we operate as an un-incorporated partnership.

The Used Victoria ads (free and paid) have been a primary marketing tool for us… Now what?

No wonder small farms give up…

Ann and Gord