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Earth Day: One Woman’s Journey from Corporate to Farming

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This month’s article features Brooke Osiel, a good friend of mine, and an Alpha Woman whom I admire very much. Over the last two years, Brooke has experienced a very different lifestyle than what we’re used to, for those of us living in urban areas. Whether Brooke was learning how to drive a team of sled-dogs, pulling all kinds of weeds endlessly from gardens, using new tools for woodworking, or learning to understand and care for hundreds of dogs, cats, chickens, cows, horses and goats, there was never a dull moment. 

As best friends, Brooke and I live vicariously through each other. No matter where we are in the world, we share experiences and perspectives we pick up along the way. Over the past few years, Brooke volunteered at three different farms. The experiences she shared with me opened my eyes and motivated me to follow my passions, go outside my comfort zone,seek new opportunities to learn and grow my skills; to be fearless. 

“This Earth Day is especially significant to me because I started working at TerraCycle this year, a company on a mission to Eliminate the Idea of Waste. My job is to create partnerships with all kinds of companies to recycle their non-recyclable waste (trash that would otherwise go to landfill). I found this job after my volunteer terms on the farms because I love working with people that share a collective appreciation for everything our planet provides us with, and want to see positive sustainable initiatives become a reality.”

Brooke’s Journey

“I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and consistently worked in various sales roles. I was always attracted to nature, constantly wanting to be outside, spending my time with plants and animals. After four years of studying business at Queen’s University, the pandemic began, and I was ready to expand my skills in a completely new way. This was a perfect opportunity to not only get more in touch with nature, but also try living a totally different lifestyle, far outside my comfort zone. When you work manually, you have to learn everything by doing. Looking back now, I am proud to say that I acquired far more skills than I initially imagined I would.”

When Brooke’s travel plans fell through in 2020, she knew this was the perfect time to dive into the world of farming. She used the website World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which allows people to find all kinds of organic farms that are seeking volunteers almost anywhere in the world. 

When I heard about the type of work Brooke would do at the different farms she volunteered at, I knew these were important stepping stones towards her larger vision.

Brooke’s Top 3 Takeaways From The Farms:

  1. Seeing a new, different perspective on life than anything I’ve been exposed to before. There is no denying that many people are disconnected from nature (like I was myself) due to living their lives in an urban setting versus a rural one.
  2. When you live with and take care of animals, and really start to understand them, you start to see just how similar they are to us humans.
  3. The people I met and everything they taught me. The opportunity to volunteer on organic farms attracts people from all walks of life, and I was lucky to have the chance to meet a lot of very cool people. 

“There was one person in particular who really marked my life; she lived in her tiny-house at one of the farms I worked at in exchange for working on the farm part-time. I was already interested in the idea of tiny homes, and was so curious to learn how she lived this lifestyle. But more importantly, her philosophy and knowledge sparked a big leap forward in my self-awareness, and made me grow tremendously as a person, for which I am eternally grateful.”

The Farms: LifeSpring, Coopérative De Solidarité Jardinons, and Kinadapt

LifeSpring

Brooke’s first farming adventure was LifeSpring Farm and it was a truly transformative experience. 

The farm included 100 acres of beautiful rolling hills and fields in the Kawartha Lakes region, three large ponds to swim in, and a herd of Scottish Highland cows, cute as live teddy bears.Brooke spent her days tending to the organic gardens, planting, weeding and harvesting vegetables, fruits and herbs, while also caring for the flock of chickens, cats and dogs.

“It blew my mind to realize that the majority of people do not know much about the food we eat. Most of the population lives in large cities, where we do not get much education about our own food supply. We typically have no idea where our food comes from or what it goes through before ending up at the grocery store (somehow always looking perfect!). It was eye-opening to be the person growing the food and understanding how much time and energy it takes. Working for countless hours just to produce a few pounds of food really gives you a new appreciation for our food and our farmers.”

“Most of us do not perform physical labour all day every day, and it takes a while to get used to that.” 

“My body was not used to moving and working manually all day every day, and doing it in extreme cold or hot weather conditions made it even more challenging. I didn’t feel ready physically or mentally. “When I first arrived at LifeSpring, I was asked to start weeding the garden, but didn’t know what I was looking at – which plants were the vegetables and which were the weeds? I was required to start looking at the world through a new lens, and begin to observe details I never noticed before.”

What really resonated with me was the natural healing and use of plant medicine LifeSpring farm offers, and this is one of the reasons why Brooke chose to volunteer here: “Aside from the beauty and the teddy-bear cows, I specifically chose LifeSpring to volunteer at because of the owners’ backgrounds. One of the owners, Anastasia, is a Bowen therapist, nutritionist, practices energy psychology and coaches health – I knew I would learn so much more from her than just farming. She even gave me a homeopathic treatment for shock when I fell badly off a bicycle. Some people tell me they think homeopathy is a placebo, but hey, these subtle treatments even work on the cows!”

Coopérative De Solidarité Jardinons

After an impactful seven weeks at LifeSpring, and then working again in sales for a year, Brooke’s farming adventure continued. This time she went to a farm in Quebec, La Coopérative de Solidarité Jardinons (translating to English as the Cooperative of Gardening Solidarity), located near Joliette, a town about an hour outside of Montreal. 

One of the many reasons why I love Brooke is because when she wants something, she makes a plan to achieve it. Brooke wanted to improve her French, so rather than learning through flashcards, she decided the next farm she’d volunteer on would be with native French-speakers in Quebec. 

Now that’s how you practice your French!

It was a much different experience than the previous farm but just as fulfilling and rewarding. I remember how proud Brooke was when she told me over the phone that she can now use a scythe, drill and miter saw! She built 20 large garden beds that month with her new carpentry skills.

When this farmer wasn’t running his own farm, he was going to schools and camps to teach kids how to garden. His own farm, being a cooperative, invited families from the community to garden together weekly for the duration of the entire season. When the fall and harvest came, everyone split the fresh vegetables equally.

“After being bitten badly by a large insect, I was lucky enough to be working with a professional herbalist, who showed me that the juices of a plant I’ve seen around forever, plantain weed, reduce inflammation and promote wound healing. You really cannot appreciate plants until you understand how much every single one of them can offer. Turns out that the weeds that many of us spend tons of time and energy on removing are actually quite useful!”

I wasn’t just impressed but proud too. Proud of Brooke and her relentless positivity and attitude towards trying new things, her craving to learn and live her best life, always. 

Kinadapt

The third volunteer placement Brooke experienced was at Kinadapt, an outdoor training and education center in Rawdon, Quebec, where she worked during the fall of 2021. While working at Coopérative de Solidarité Jardinons, she often spoke about her love for dogs, and learned that the herbalist she was working with was best friends with the owners’ daughter at Kinadapt.

Because of Brooke, I learned about the extreme sport in Canada – dog-sledding, also called Mushing. At this educational center and farm they offered a Mushing course, in which the students learn theory in a classroom about the history of the sport, mechanics and safety, and then for the second half of the course you’re actually outside on the trails with the dogs!

When Brooke went dog-sledding for the first time, she described it in such a way that I could literally feel the adrenaline – the wind in my hair, bobbing up and down as I was being pulled by a dozen dogs through narrow and winding forest trails. Brooke participated in a true Canadian sport, and it was a very special experience for us both to be exposed to the community of mushers, and passion for this extreme sport.

 

What has been the greatest and most profound lesson you’ve learned through these experiences? 

“Looking back on these past two years, the biggest and most important lesson that I’ve grown to embrace (and has made me an even happier person in the long run), is to always make the best of your situation and enjoy going with the uncertain flow of life. There is no shortage of opportunities; all we need to do is expand our horizons.”

“I am fascinated by how people used to live and compare those lifestyles to today. My grandfather tells me stories of when he worked as an airplane assembler for the same organization throughout his entire career; back then it was very uncommon for people to switch companies or jobs.”

In contrast to today, we live in a time where we have infinite opportunities at our fingertips. “With so many opportunities out there, why should any of us settle and do something we don’t care about? I guarantee that if you put your energy towards something you truly love genuine passion brings results and prosperity follows.”

What advice would you give to Alpha Women?

“Never be afraid to try new things. It will never hurt you to have more learning opportunities if you embrace every life experience with a growth mindset. And then, when you start realizing that you are doing something that you are excited to do, or even don’t mind, try to turn that into your job.”

We’ve all heard the quote, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” – and it will only be true once you experience it. 

“For me, it is not the right time to work as a full-time farmer, but I have found ways to integrate the things I love back into my life in the city. By working full-time for a company that is completely focused on sustainability, and dog-sitting part-time, I have found ways to integrate my passions into my daily life in the short-term, and am continuing to work towards my long-term vision to build even further on what I am doing now. After all, things are ever-changing. And of course, always be there to support your fellow Alpha Women; they will be there to do the same for you. 

Finally, always seek out experiences that you believe you can get the most out of. Of course I wanted to learn farming skills and connect with nature, but I sought out certain farms that offered me even more on top of those things. Whether it was learning French by fully immersing myself in a life surrounded by Quebecois farmers, or entering the world of natural healing and alternative medicine, I have had rich experiences that shaped the woman I am now and will continuously grow to be.”

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