January 2011 Review

Happy 2011! As hard as it is to believe, we’ve rounded the corner into a new year and have already closed the books on the month of January. And as I’m sitting here reflecting and thinking back on the past 31 days, paradoxically it seems like a lot has happened, yet very little has changed. I don’t know the best way to describe it other than things are moving along, but there’s still a lot to do before this year is over. I’m thinking back to something one of my mentors said to me many years ago. “It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail. As long as you keep on moving forward, making progress, trying new things, and working towards your goals, you’ll be a winner”.

As I’m sitting here writing this update, I’m going to take a different approach and focus on some of the things I learned this month. The idea behind this is to continually think about how I’m changing and growing as a person rather than in the past being too self centered around the things I did. While these updates are written more for my benefit, I’ve decided to put them online for people who want to keep up with where I am and what I’m doing these days.

So without further ado, here are some of the things I learned this month:

Everyone Has a Bestselling Story to Tell:
I had a chance to spend a weekend out of town with fellow members of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council. It was a weekend of strategic planning, but also a chance to spend a bit of time and get to know the other council members as most of us don’t get too many chances to interact outside of formal meetings. One of the most valuable things I took away from the meeting is learning about the diversity of experiences, background, and personalities of the different members. Everyone has such interesting backgrounds, stories, and personalities that I’m sure a bestselling novel could be written on any of the council members. The lesson – spend some time really getting to know people – they’ll surprise you with the most interesting stories you can imagine.

I Really Enjoy Cooking New Things
This month, I experimented with a few new recipes: kimchi, slow-cooker mulled cider, and apple kolbasa tapas – all of which turned out to be quite tasty and delicious. My strategy when deciding upon which recipes to try is to spend a bit of time researching different recipes or recipes around certain key ingredients to get my initial inspiration. I then try to find a recipe a suits the audience / mood / style I’m going for and use that as either the recipe or inspiration for whatever it is I’m going to cook. I use my judgment as what I think will taste good as the final litmus test, which can take up to 10-15 minutes figuring out what I’m going to make, and which recipe to use (rather than searching for and using the first recipe that pops up). The lesson – good food is definitely worth the extra few minutes it takes to find a recipe you like – and even the extra time it takes to cook/prepare and event the potential extra cost to purchase the ingredients.

I Enjoy Going to Various Events, But Also Enjoy My “Downtime”
No surprise here, but January featured a number of fun and interesting events (Guelph organic conference, beer club, and a couple of networking events). And while I enjoy being social, meeting new people, and trying new things, I also really enjoy my “downtime” or personal time where I can sit and reflect (and write this blog) and dream and gather my thoughts.

The Competitive Spirit Inside Me Needs Some Rekindling
I think competitive spirit is the wrong phrase. The words I think that best describe this feeling is “the drive to excel” or taking things to a higher level. What really put it in perspective was an ultimate game just over a week ago. It was the end of the fall indoor league and we were in the “championship” game. I say championship because while it was technically the last playoff game, it felt very much like a regular game. Not that we took it lightly, and we played well and ended up leading for almost the entire game. The other team however, seemed like they were putting their heart and soul into the game, especially as they started making a late charge towards the end. When time ran out, we were all squared, so it came to down universe point for the championship.  I wasn’t so much disappointed that we lost on universe point, but actually more disappointed that we missed out on getting the championship discs that TUC gives for each of its league champions. Talking about it after the game, we realized we could’ve put just a bit more effort into the game, and that probably would’ve made all the difference.

Extending this idea out to other areas of my life, I realize that the “competitive spirit” inside me is still there, and just needs a little coaxing for those times in life when we need to step up our game

I Work Well When There Are Lots of Things Happening
January 1st marks the beginning of the a new month, and also the beginning of a new year. As I started to settle into a new routine for the new year, it actually took me several weeks to really get into a new groove. And ironically, as things started to get busier, I started to get more productive, and that’s when I realized that I tend to work better when there are lots of things happening and I tend to focus when there are multiple projects and tasks to juggle. I’m happy to say that I’ve settled into a new fitness routine, I’m starting to set aside a bit of time to practice for my orchestra concerts (outside of the weekly practices), there’s always time for frisbee, and of course work activities will be at the top of the list for upcoming projects for this year.

That’s all for now. More lessons coming in February I’m sure.

You learn something every day if you pay attention.

-Ray LeBlond

April and May 2010 Review

**So I had this update written for the beginning of June, but just forgot to post it. Here it is, a month late, but better late than never.**

Another month has passed and it’s time for my monthly review. Since May of last year (2009), I was on a pretty good streak of keeping up with these updates, until this past April when I was just too busy to even think about writing an update. So here goes a double header update for both April and May.

April Review
Lots of things were happening, with the majority of my time focused on my business in terms of going out on sales calls, prepping materials for our upcoming jobs, and networking within the local food community. It was a busy month

1. Elected to be a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council
First up, I got nominated to become a member of the TFPC. This is a volunteer council, though there are a couple paid staff members, which is part of the Toronto Board of Health, that advises the city on food policy and related issues. The council is primarily made up of people who have been involved in the local food movement for many years now, and have lots of experience in a whole variety of sectors. I had a chance to skim some of the bios of the other members, and they have a long list of accomplishments which I think seriously overshadow some of the things that I’ve done in the past. Despite the wealth of experience of council members, they are bringing in some more young people to voice their opinions, and it is through the relatively new Toronto YOUTH Food Policy Council (which I am also a member of), I got nominated to be one of the two youth representatives on the council.

More information on the council canbe found here (http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc_index.htm), though I’ve been told the website is many, many years old and is not regularly updated

2. Spoke with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning
Towards the end of the month, I got a call from one of the producers of Metro Morning asking if I’d be interested in going into the studio to speak about my involvement in the local urban agriculture secene. Not wanting to turn down such a great opportunity, I accepted wholeheartedly. It was a whirlwind experience where everything happened very quickly. I got a call on Monday asking to see if I’d be interested in participating, got a call back the next day to confirm the time, then on Thursday morning, I found myself sitting in the studio with Matt Galloway as well as with another urban farmer Daniel Hoffman. The interview took place early on Thursday morning (around 6:45am), I arrived at the studio around 6:30, the interview lasted less than 10 minutes, and then I was out the door and on my way for the rest of the day right afterwards. It was a cool experience and I’m happy to say that we got some more business for both the CSA and our private service out of this interview.


3. Grant approval for our non-profit
One of the most exciting news to share this month was that our non-profit Young Urban Farmers CSA got approved for a grant from the Big Carrot. Lots of time and effort went into preparing the application, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help from many of our great volunteers. I know I definitely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we have some funding to help sustain our operations for this year. As with most non-profits, funding is always an issue and it’s nice to see that all of our costs will be covered through our shareholders and this grant for this year.

4. The Drake Hotel
Another piece of exciting news was that we landed a pretty high profile commercial account. While the garden that we set up for them is tucked away in a back alley behind the hotel and not very visible, it is still a great opportunity for us to expand to more commercial customers in the future.

5. Online store sales orders

Back in March, we launched an e-commerce store as a way to help get our brand out there and service more people than just in our current geographic reach of the GTA. Not really expecting too much, I was pleasantly surprised as many people somehow were able to find our website and placed a couple orders with us. No SEO or web optimization or anything was done (which is on my to-do list once things start to settle down) to draw people to our site, and some of these customers mentioned that they found us through a simple web search. Maybe this is just one successful example of the phrase “build it and they will come”.

6. Easter
Easter was a bit of a low-key time of year for me. My parents were out of town, but I had the chance to be there for my friend Derek’s baptism. It was also great to see a bunch of old Queen’s people I hadn’t seen in a while too.

That about sums it up for the month of April. I’m sure more things happened that I’ve forgotten about, but that’s all for now.

May review
May has been a hot and dry month. I was able to get my farmer’s tan on, setting up a ton of gardens this year (I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve put in so far). I’m glad things are starting to slow down a bit more as I can’t keep up the same pace of work for so long.

1. Three Feature Articles in The Globe and Mail
Over the past year, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of high profile media outlets speak and profile us in their publications (Toronto Life, Toronto Star, CBC Radio). This month, several opportunities came up where YUF was profiled in the small business section, I was profiled in the May 24 gardening special, and our CSA was also talked about in the same paper on the same day as well. I know it’s been huge in terms of generating awareness and will only help business in the future.

2. Selling Seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market
Also in May, we had the chance to sell lots of seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market. Not knowing what to expect, I would say we did quite well selling lots of plants each time we were there. We definitely learned a lot being at the market as well. And it was more of the little things that we learned like arriving early to setup, having a banner and some sort of tent cover to help protect us from the elements, knowing which plants to bring, and more.

3. Avoided 2 parking tickets
There was one day during the middle of the month where I almost got 2 parking tickets. In both places, I knew I was parked in a spot where I shouldn’t have been, and both times I was getting back to my car just as the parking officer was showing up to write a ticket. One of the parking officers was really nice about it, and the other was a real jerk about it. I know they are just doing their jobs, but unfortunately they’re in probably one of the professions where most people don’t like it when they do their job well.

4. Start of the Ultimate Season
May also marked the start of our frisbee season. I’m playing on two teams again this year (Tofuriuos and Slam Dunks) on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I forgot how much I missed playing frisbee until I stepped on the pitch for the first time this season. There’s been a bit of turnover on both of my teams, but there are still lots of fun people on both teams that I know it’s going to be a great season!

5. Felix and Boris back in town
Coincidentally, two of my high school friends were back in town in May at the same time and I had a chance to catch up with both of them. It was nice getting together and going for a delicious Chinese vegetarian dinner

6. TFPC retreat and strategic planning session
After being elected to become a member of the TFPC (Toronto Food Policy Council), I had a chance to attend my first meeting with the group and it was a strategic planning session. Surprisingly, this was the first time in the council’s almost 20 year history. I had the privilege of meeting many of the esteemed members of the council (people who have definitely been around the food world and done lots of great things) and contribute to the future vision of the council.

Also, for the first public meeting of the council in June (on Wednesday), I’ll have an opportunity to be a part of a panel discussion about the future of the Food Connections Report recently passed by Toronto Public Health and which should be moving on to the main city council for a vote in the future.

7. Interesting Plants
This year, I’m trying out a number of new and interesting plants. As with all plants, it’s about experimenting and seeing what works for you and what works in our Toronto climate. Here are some of the interesting ones that I’m growing this year:

  • Purple snow peas
  • French lavender
  • Ginger mint
  • Globe basil
  • Thai basil
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatillo
  • Climbing nasturtiums
  • “Curry” herb (smells just like Indian curry!)

Looking forward, I’m sure June will bring more interesting events (I’m never one to just sit idly around) and more things to write about. I want to take some time to reconsider the direction of the blog as there hasn’t been any plan or direction so far. All of our gardens should be wrapped up very soon, and it’ll be time to start reaping the rewards of the harvest.

March 2010 Review

This is only going to be a short update as I’ve been swamped with a ton of stuff to do recently, so here goes my shotgun approach to this month’s review


1. Seedy Saturday Scarborough
-It was a great event, though not nearly the same turnout as the main Toronto event.
2. Homemade wine
-I’m in the process of making my own wine (though not with grape). It’s sitting in my basement doing a bit of aging and should be ready in about a year
3. Volunteered at Canada Blooms
-The City of Toronto had one of the best displays and I was inspired by their beautiful inter-planting of veggies and flowers in ornamental and tasty ways
4. Fitness swim time trial
-Not knowing what I was capable of doing, I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up swimming 100m in 1min28sec.
5. Soup, soup, and more soup
-I went on a soup making binge this month making 3 large pots: lentil soup, a butternut squash soup, and also a mixed veg curry soup. Let’s say that each pot was enough to feed at least 10 people with leftovers
6. Grant writing.
-I was involved in submitting our first grant for our non-profit organization-submitted my frist grant. Let’s hope this is just the first of many we apply for, and receive funding for.
7. TYFPC Food Systems Fair
-We participated at the inaugural Food Systems Fair at UT campus. Great turnout, cool speakers, good food courtesy of the Hot Yam, and more.
8. First garden setup of 2010
-I helped setup the first garden for the 2010 growing season
9. More public speaking
-I gave a school presentation to an elementary school (some grade 7’s and some grade 3’s) on food security. Unfortunately, I think I ended up boring the kids for pretty much the entire time I was up.

A lot of things happened in March, much of which isn’t ready to be shared just yet (or in such a public forum). There were triumphs, defeats, lessons learned, character-building moments, opportunities seized, and more. With time, I’m sure many of these (positive) things we’ve been working on recently will come to fruiting and the other (negative) things will come to pass.

Parting Quotation
Our achievements of today
are but the sum total of our thoughts of yesterday.
You are today where the thoughts of yesterday have brought you
and you will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.
-Blaise Pascal

February 2010 Review

Despite being the shortest month in the year, February has been a full 28 days of exciting events. We’ve entered into the year of  the tiger (according to the Chinese lunar calendar), the Olympics came to Vancouver, and a whole bunch of stuff happened both personally  and professionally (see below for a recap and review). If I could summarize February in one word, it would be “excitement”.

February Recap

1. Seedy Saturday (on a Sunday)
One of the most memorable events happened on February 21st, which was Seedy Saturday (on a Sunday) hosted by the Toronto Community Gardening Network at the Wychwood barns. This was an opportunity to meet hundreds of people interested and involved in the local gardening scene and a fantastic opportunity to help spread the word of Young Urban Farmers and tell people about who we are and what we do. I’ll know for next time to bring more flyers, handouts, and other marketing materials as I was just so overwhelmed by the response that we ran out of things to give out about halfway through the show. One thing that worked out quite well was a promotional raffle draw for a free 20″ shiitake mushroom log. This was a great way to draw people into our display, sign up for the chance to win a free prize, and start talking to people about our urban gardening initiatives. Overall, the day was exhausting, with people arriving much earlier than the advertised start time, and the flow of people not letting up until right towards the end of the day.

What I learned from this event was that it’s better to bring more marketing materials than you think you’ll need, to continue to use promotional raffle prizes or other fun things to draw people into your event, and to get a good night’s rest before the event. We’ve got another similar event coming up next week (Seedy Saturday Scarborough) though this event is supposed to be much smaller than the main Toronto one.

2. More media coverage for Young Urban Farmers
This month, I had the chance to talk to a couple different journalists who represent local, community-oriented newspapers. We got featured in the Riverdale Town Crier (http://www.mytowncrier.ca/urban-farmers-look-to-grow-in-the-city.html), and may be featured in some more upcoming local articles in the future.

What I learned from this experience is that when talking to the media, I really need to know what my talking points are and stick to them. Speak in simple terms and if I do get sidetracked on another topic, to make sure that the reported understands how it relates to our overall mission and bring it back to the key talking points. I think I need some more training and practice in dealing with the media.

3. Chinese New Year
I spent most of Chinese New Year with my family and it was great to relax and take in some of the Olympic events on TV. As a side note, we also reconnected with some relatives we’ve been out of touch with for years and years. Up until a couple months ago, I had no idea I had more cousins and relatives living here in Toronto.

While my family isn’t very traditional in terms of following the customs and events to celebrate the new year, I like how this is a time to connect/reconnect with family and relatives, and hope to continue this in the future.

4. YUF manager training
At the beginning of the month, we had a traning session for our new managers. Overall it went quite well and one of the things that I think worked the best was the interactive “voice training exercise” we did. It turned out to be a fun event and good break from the lecture-style presentations we had for the majority of the training.

This was the first official training session that we held and I’m sure that as we continue to plan and hold more sessions in the future, I’ll become a more effective facilitator and communicator. After all, practice makes perfect.

5. Sales and marketing has started for our 2010 season
Our sales and marketing efforts have started for the 2010 growing season. It’s time to hit the streets and start
booking jobs for us to have a busy, fun, and productive summer.

If you know anyone who is looking to have an edible garden setup this summer, please let me know!

6. TYFPC events
At the beginning of the month, I attended my first meeting for the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council. It was a great chance to meet other people passionate about local food in the city of Toronto and start to contribute my ideas on where local food can continue to grow/change/improve. There’s a great group of people here with a variety of backgrounds I’m happy to have joined the council get involved with a new and fun group of people.

We had a fun social event at the end of the month for a bring-your-own-toppings pizza party complete with homemade dough and sauce. It was awesome pizza and it seemed like there was just pizza after pizza coming out of the oven – there was so much food! One of the secrtes I learned about making good pizza sauce – slightly caramelize your onions, add in a touch of sugar, then start to mellow out the flavours with your wine, tomatoes, and herbs.

7. More reading
This month, I finally took some time to update my Goodreads account (http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/830164 if you want to be my friend) and also my Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=app_2373072738&gid=60294210107) with some of the exciting and interesting books I’ve read and/or skimmed through recently. My favourite book so far this year is definitey “Drive”, by Daniel Pink. It talks about how our current carrot and stick system of motivating people just doesn’t cut it anymore and how we need to create a new model (validated by science and real world examples) of motivation.

Reading is one of my favourite past-times and something I wish I spend more time doing. You can learn so much through the writings of other people, I really think it’s a great investment in terms of time spend vs. concepts learned.

8. Mastermind meeting
Towards the end of the month, I got together with JP and a couple other people for one of our “mastermind” meetings. These are informal meetings that we’ve held sporadically in the past as a way to get Toronto entrepreneurs together to discuss challenges, opportunities and other things related to the field of entrepreneurship. It’s still a very loose coalition of people, but maybe with a bit of time, we’ll be able to turn it into a more regular event and have more people involved in our meetings.

9. Hot Yoga
Also at the end of this month, I had a chance to attend a hot moksha yoga session. While I thought I’d gone through some hot climates and done my fair share of sweating, it didn’t really compare to what it was like inside that room. I’d like to think that I was able to hold my own (there were some really fit and intense people in my class!) and get through that 90 minute session.

I think I’d definitely like to try it again though for now, I’m happy to continue with swimming, biking, and playing frisbee.


One of the things that has struck me more than usual this month is a feeling of gratitude. I feel so blessed and
privileged to have so many opportunities to do what I do and have such a supportive and encouraging group of friends and family. Really, I wouldn’t be able to do this without all of your encouragement and support. Too often, I think we go through life on auto-pilot that and don’t stop to really think about how fortunate we are and how many opportunities are available to us. Even simple things like freedom of speech, living in a  democratic and multicultural society, and having access to clean water are things that we barely give a second thought to. I’ve found that as I’ve taken more time to reflect and be grateful, many of the things we work ourselves up over pale in comparison to the many opportunities we do have. So thank you to everyone who has helped to shape my life into what it is today. I could write for a little while on this, but I’ll leave it here for now.

Looking Forward:

For March, I’m looking forward to doing more outdoor physical activities, continue learning, trying new things, and participating/attending in a whole variety of events (Canada Blooms, National Home/Garden Show, Seedy Saturday Scarborough, and more). I think March will be the month of networking, though we’ll see how the next 31 days actually shape up.

January 2010 Review

January has been off to a fast start so far. The year is already 1/12 done, and I think I’ve made some good process in achieving some of my goals for this year. I’ve gone through a number of stimulating books, got involved with a new organization, and also had a bit of time to relax and have fun.

January Highlights:

1. Return from Lake Placid
At the beginning of the year, I got back from a short getaway to Lake Placid. I went with some friends from my frisbee team to enjoy some snowshoeing, cross county skiing, and have a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. For anyone looking for some outdoor activities in a beautiful mountain environment, I would highly recommend checking it out.

2. Toronto Youth Food Policy Council
Also this month, I submitted an application and received an offer to join the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council (no webiste yet). My term doesn’t start until September and I’m not quite sure exactly what my role and responsibilities will be, but it will involve dealing with local food issues and providing a youth perspective to the Toronto Food Policy Council. As a quick primer, here’s the mission statement of the TYFPC:

“We, as youth, are dedicated to building a food system that is sustainable, equitable, regionally focused and accessible. As a group that represents the diversity of Toronto, we will seek to build community partnerships, produce youth-centered policy documents and encourage the development of sustainable food system infrastructure connected to Toronto.”

3. Photo/Video Shoot
On the 24th, we held a photo/video shoot to get some footage for the Young Urban Farmerswebsite. I have to extend a huge thanks to our social media intern Fran who planned, coordinated, and executed the entire event. From finding the studio space, to coordinating with the photographer, to finding volunteers to be involved, planning the wardrobe, to making sure things went according to schedule – it was fantastic. I can’t wait to see some of the shots from the day and they will definitely be going up on our website in the near future.

4. The 29th Annual Guelph Organic Conference
At the end of the month, I had an opportunity to volunteer at the Guelph Organic Conference. This was a great opportunity to meet and speak with some of the people involved in the organic initiative from across Canada, attend a variety of interesting seminars, and visit the tradeshow with over 100 exhibitors. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be the ones setting up a booth at the tradeshow. For now though, I was happy attending it as a participant and volunteer. Look for a more detailed writeup on my experiences at the conference soon.

5. New Products
This month, we confirmed that we will be retailers for a couple new and exciting products this year. The first product is a grow-it-yourself shiitake mushroom log that sits outdoors and will provide fresh mushrooms for at least 4 years. The second confirmed product is the Worm Factory 360for customers to make their own compost from their daily vegetable scraps. Both of these are premium products, and will allow us to diversify the edible solutions we offer to our customers. We’ve also got a few more exciting new products in the works, and the details will be announced shortly once they get finalized.

January Reflections:

At times like this, it’s hard to believe where the past 31 days of January have gone. On one hand, I can think back in detail and go through a laundry list some of my daily activities and of things that got done and projects I’ve made progress on. On the other hand, it feels January 1st was just a couple days ago and the year is still just getting started. While we can’t slow or speed up the passing of time, I’m satisfied with how this month has turned out so far.

As I sit and reflect the past month, I realized that January was primarily a month focused on business. While this isn’t a bad thing, as business and related stuff keeps me more than motivated and excited about the future, I don’t want to forget about my personal life, hobbies, and having fun as well (though I did get a chance to play lasertag, participate in some group fitness swims, spend an afternoon playing board games, and go clubbing this month). Moving forward, I will make a concerted effort to have more balance in my life, though at this point I don’t mind too much that business and related stuff takes up a good majority of my time and

One of the key lessons I learned this month was in regards to delegating. One mistake that I’ve made in the past was assigning too much responsibility up front, instead of gradually easing someone into greater and greater degrees of responsibilities. In the future, I’ll start off by delegating smaller projects, until the person proves themselves to be capable of to handle increased responsibilities or projects with more skill and complexity. This way, the person will be more prepared and setup for success, and I’ll be able to gradually ease myself off my tendency to micromanage. It’s a win-win situation.

Another lesson I was reminded of this month was to continually face challenges and opportunities with a mindset of abundance, rather than one of scarcity. In essence, this means to view life with a positive outlook, with the belief that there is an abundance of resources, ideas, and things to share.

Looking forward, February is going to be another fun and exciting month. Our sales and marketing is going to get started again for the 2010 growing season, I’m planning a field trip up to my aunt’s farm (let me know if you’re interested in coming with me), and our cash flow should turn positive again this month.

To conclude, I want to share with you this quotation by Woodrow Wilson I found while putting together the sales presentation for Young Urban Farmers CSA, and found it to be very inspiring and something that I’m trying to live up to every day.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
– Woodrow Wilson