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.

Reflections:

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.


Moving Outside My Comfort Zone

One of my goals this year is to do things that are outside of my comfort zone. I find it rewarding to challenge myself to try something that makes me feel uncomfortable or to do something I wouldn’t normally do. While that there are many benefits of moving beyond your limits such as enhancing your enjoyment and experience of life, stimulating your brain, increasing your self confidence, making you more resilient, etc., I still get that nervous feeling before doing something that pushes the limits of what I’m comfortable with. Ultimately, as I think to myself what the worst thing that could happen is, it doesn’t seem that bad after all, which led me in part to an “AHA” I had recently.

My “AHA” Moment

This “AHA” moment was that these feelings of fear, excitement, and challenge are totally normal and in fact expected as I was deciding to step outside my comfort zone. On one hand, part of me wants to stay the same, as I like the comfort of doing things that I know are safe and secure. This conservative side of me is looking out for my best interests by not letting me get into potentially dangerous situations. One the other hand the risk taking side of me wants me to grow, change and improve. I had to take risks to get to where I am today, so why should I stop taking risks in the future? This adventurous side of me ALSO is looking out for my best interests by pushing me to grow and improve. And while these two parts of me may seem to be pulling me in opposite directions, in fact they work together to make up who I am and they both have the same goals and desires for myself. Therefore, it is better to embrace them rather than fight against them while recognizing that they have an almost polar approach to doing things.

Baby Steps
So with that being said, I asked myself how I can challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone. After thinking about this for a while, not knowing for sure if I’m ready for drastic action, I’ve decided to take the following baby steps on the these items:

1. Becoming a more active participant in the online community.
I love being connected to the web and reading interesting blogs and websites. One way to get more involved in this community and move from being a passive user to a more engaged used is to contribute more by mentaly expanding my comfort zone of what I do online. So this will involve commenting in forums, interacting with people, leaving comments on blogs, showing appreciation for people’s work, and just treating it more than just a passive form of activity.

2. Read a book with an opposing view
I’ve noticed that many of the books I read have similar themes and views to them. I think that reading a book with a completely different perspective will really challenge some of the assumptions and beliefs that I hold and broaden my perspective on whatever issue I choose to read about.

3. Emailing and calling local people who I wouldn’t normally get in touch with
Similar to #1 in engaging in a community, but this time with local contacts who I can connect with in a local setting. I’m still figuring out all the details such as what exactlly I want to get out of this activity and why I going to do this, but I think part of it stems from the fact that in large group settings, there are times when I feel uncomfortable meeting people for the first time.

4. Doing “unconventional” things
I don’t know how far I’d be willing to go, but one thing that woud feel really weird is a challenge Tim Ferriss describes in his book “The Four Hour Work Week”. It goes as follows: …simply lie down in the middle of a crowded public place. Lunchtime is ideal. It can be a well-trafficked sidewalk, the middle of a popular Starbucks, or a popular bar. There is no real technique involved. Just lie down and remain silent on the ground for about ten seconds, and then get up and continue on with whatever you were doing before. While I don’t know if I would want to do something like the challenge described above, I think doing unconventional things can be a great way to build character and overcome the fear I sometimes get of feeling self conscious in certain public situations.

Conclusion
In the end, I believe it’s the journey that matters most, not the final destination. So I’ll try to embrace and enjoy the ride as I embark on these activities in moving beyond my comfort zone. Finally, I’ve written down 2 questions that didn’t quite fit into this post as some additional food for thought.

Where in life am I being insane (doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result)? AND Where have I gotten too comfortable in life?


One of the Keys to Life?


As many of you know, I love to read. It’s one of my hobbies that I find I can really lose myself in and something that I wish I could spend more time doing. And to that end, I hope I can share with you why I love to read, some of the inspirations as to why I read, and hopefully encourage you to read more as well.

Why I Love to Read:

  • mental stimulation / intellectual challenge (you can find books on pretty much every topic imaginable)
  • learn new ideas and concepts (why reinvent the wheel if someone’s done it for you already?)
  • learn from other people’s mistakes (so hopefully I won’t do the same thing)
  • build your vocabulary (they say there’s a positive correlation between salary and vocabulary – though nothing yet for me so far)
  • explore what life is like in another world, through the eyes of an interesting character (as I fantasize about my next travel adventures, this will have to suffice for the interim until I can get out there myself)

Some Inspirations

  • Will Smith – check out this video and you’ll understand the title of this post. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEMEBBwO6J8
  • I’m remember hearing somewhere this potentially apocryphal statement that the average American reads less than 1 book a year and if you were to read just 1 book a month, you’ll find yourself in the top 10% of the population in terms of reading. Do you want to be in the top 10%?

Want to Start Reading, but Don’t Know Where?

  • www.goodreads.com – social networking for book lovers
  • www.whatshouldireadnext.com – interesting book recommendation engine, different than Amazon
  • www.personalmba.com – a great resource for business books
  • your local pubic library – your librarian will have lots of recommendations

Some Personal Recommendations by Yours Truly:

  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
  • The 3 Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
    • as a side note, I just realized that these first 3 books are quite lengthy, but definitely worth the read
  •  Influlence: The Psychology of Persuation, by Robert Cialdini
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie
    • shorter and much more manageable books, but still great reads
  • Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson
  • The Dip, by Seth Godin
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl
    • even shorter books that you can read in less than an hour

Now get out there and start reading, what are you waiting for?


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September Reflections

September has been a month of transition – a month of new beginnings, a month of recharging, and a month of possibilities. A number of interesting things went on in the month I’d like to take a bit of time to share some of the things that went on for me in September.

1. More Publicity
First off, my business got some really great publicity from The Toronto Star, one of Toronto’s most widely read newspaper and one with a fairly large national following (I think) as well. We had been in contact with a journalist there who was interested in doing an article about us, one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were featured on the front page of the Living section. If you’re interested in reading the article, you can find it here

2. Experimenting with Herbs
Also this month, I had the chance to get a hold of a couple of really good books on growing and utilizing herbs. As I learn and start incorporating some of this stuff in the business, I had the opportunity to try some of the things first hand. These included drying a variety of herbs, creating a mint sugar, a rosemary salt, and some candied mint and candied basil leaves. I’ll create a post about it soon!

3. Weekly Sunday Review
Also this month, I had the chance to start implementing a new weekly review. I’m using a template that I found here, and so far I’m finding it quite valuable as it’s forcing me to focus and plan my life on a more detailed level on a weekly basis. Combined with my monthly reviews, I’m finding that I’ve been better able to track and stay on top of my goals and priorities over the last little while.

4. Pear Pick
At the beginning of the month, I had a opportunity to volunteer my time to go on a fruit pick with an organization called Not Far From the Tree. They connect homeowners (who have fruit trees they are unable to pick) with volunteers to pick the fruit and donate part of the harvest to local food banks and charities. I think it’s a great initiative and was happy to volunteer a couple hours on a warm September afternoon.

5. Scally’s Cup
As the summer ultimate season wound to a close, I was asked to represent the Thursday competitive division in playing in the Scally’s Cup, hosted by the Toronto Ultimate Club. It was great playing again at a more competitive level, and for the first time in a while I got the chance to cut on the field instead being in a handling role. It was a humbling experience to see that my fitness definitely needed some work if I were to be a full time cutter, but also reassuring that I was able to be a strong influence on the field scoring a number of points for my team.

6. Recruiting
September means the beginning of recruiting season. And while we were a little slow in getting our act together, we are well underway, having posted our jobs opportunities at a number of schools. If you’re interested in a potential opportunity, let me know!

7. Day Trip to Niagara
One of the most memorable events this month has been a day trip to Niagara on the Lake. I had a chance to visit a number of interesting food places along the way and in the area including Upper Canada Cheese Company (featuring local cheese from local Guernsey cows), Olson Foods (featuring local food from the Niagara region by chefs Anna and Michael Olson), Inniskillin winery (which has delicious and outstanding ice wines – try the sparkling ice wine), Sunnybrook Farms Winery (which specializes in producing only fruit wines), and the quaint little shops right in the heart of Niagara on the Lake.

9. Books:
If you haven’t guessed already, I love to read, and really enjoy the time that I set aside with a good book. And though most of my reading has been directly related to business in the past couple months, I really enjoy these kinds of books. Ideally, I’d like to broaden the scope of my reading, but there’s only so much time in each day to devote to stuff like this, it’ll have to wait until the lighter (I think) winter months. Some books that I’ve read or are reading currently include An Incomplete Education, Duct Tape Marketing, A Whole New Mind, Groundswell, and The E-Myth Enterprise.

Reflections
The end of September means it’s another year older for me, and hopefully another year wiser. I’ve been doing some recent introspection, and I think that I’ve really grown and changed over the last little while. The new weekly Sunday reviews that I started doing are really focusing my daily and weekly efforts and I realize that one thing I want to focus more on and define in more detail is my long term plan and long term goals.

In tandem with this, the weekly reviews (and these monthly reviews) have really shown me that what you think about and focus your energies on really shape and determine your reality. I firmly blieve that if you have a clear idea of exactly what your goals are, and what you’re working towards, you are much more likely to achieve them instead of having a vague and nebulous ideas what you want in life. The clearer and more difined they are, using as much detail as possible will help you to focus your efforts in working towards making your vision a reality.

Looking forward, October is going to be another busy month, but it should be a fun and rewarding one. I’m hoping to be able to announce another big venture that I’m working on, and there should be more exciting things to share as well.

Life is good, and I’d like to leave you with this parting quotation:

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”
– George Bernard Shaw