Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Production Room - New Location & New Contacts

(Note: The following was originally posted on The Production Room blog,  

Greetings from Prince Edward Island, Canada!  The new home of John Quimby and The Production Room.

In 1998, my wife, Susan visited the island.  We returned together (she'd already told me we were moving) in 1999. We bought a farm in the spring of 2000 and we've been spending part of the year (you know, the WARM part) ever since.

In that time I learned to make the studio portable and continued to work for clients (Toshiba, Chevron, Channel Islands National Park, etc.) even as we were spending our summers in the country.

This year we're moving up to stay year 'round and that has meant a few changes at The Production Room. For example, we no longer offer ISDN or studio services in Santa Barbara. But those whom I've worked for in the past will find it just as easy as it ever was to have scripts voiced and audio delivered for production. And I hope to make new friends and clients in media production here in Atlantic Canada.  

So here's the rundown of services and contacts:

I'm now available to you for recording and delivering voiceovers - narrations, web media etc. 
You can send me scripts for fast turnaround and you can even direct the session by phone if you wish.
All studio gear is professional industry standard and audio quality is excellent. 

Voiceover rates are competitive. I have experience on network TV, Radio, Film, Video and Internet.
I'm an award winning copy writer and producer with thousands of commercial productions to my credit.
I have been and will be continuing to write and produce a podcast series and I am familiar with using podcast media in marketing.

Please contact me for schedules, rates and production information:
(902) 962-3755

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fear is a Learned Behaviour and other Lessons From Earth

It is Spring at the farm.

This is my second Spring of 2010. The first was in California, where rain stops falling in March or April and the sky is clear almost every day. That means outdoor living is well under way and the under dressed (or undressed) can streak out of the house, cross the breezeway and dash into the garage for that pair of pants (or underpants) that never quite made it from the laundry into the house.        

Here, in PEI, in Mid May, spring meant settling into bed last night, and then realizing that I hadn't put on the space heater in the greenhouse and the forecast was calling for a low of 2 (about  34F).  I seriously considered nodding off to sleep anyway...then realized this was not an option. I have invested in planting the hundreds of seeds in flats that are just now sprouting with this year's harvest.  They are particularly sensitive to cold now - and I was afraid that letting nature take it's course would be crippling to our plans and our investment in time, money and labor. What to do?

I got up, went downstairs and put on a sweatshirt, a hat and a pair of rubber boots and sprinted out the door.
If you had been driving by Dunn Creek Farm at about midnight last night, you would have seen this farmer sprinting up the yard in his tighty whities to flip the switch on the heater and then dash back to the house.
Mission accomplished and this years crops saved!

Yesterday I hitched up my ugly old 3 sod trailing plow and tilled new ground between the peach trees in our little orchard.  I have a history with that plow that includes a spooky horse trying to flip it over onto me and some pretty ugly plowing when I didn't know what I was doing.  Call it a general lack of operator ability. I was pretty frustrated and afraid I'd never measure up. That awkward experience comes up each time I hitch up the plow.    

Yesterday I lined up my plow, set the points and laid out some lovely rows of nice turned earth which will
be planted with dried baking beans and potatoes for this fall and winter.  The plow was flawless and this plowman knew how to hitch the plow at the proper angles and set the points for turning the sods together
into the center of the row.  Thanks to my neighbor, Glen, who patiently gave me my first instructions a few years ago and by paying attention at the Dundas Plowing Match for the last few Summers, I knew what I was after. And I congratulated myself for this basic graduation.

I'll never forget my first try at plowing with Glen. After looking at my field and then at my plow he said, "That's a tough contract".  A few days later he said, "I talked to a few of the lads in the neighborhood and they said you did not too bad a job for your first time plowing".  Glen is now about 80 years old now and a lifelong bachelor farmer.  I'm so lucky to have had elders like Glen in this community offer their help and a lifetime of experience.

Warren Brush at Quail Springs said, "A community is a place where each person is needed." I like that.
But I'm still trying to figure out how I can be needed in our community.  I know I need my neighbors, like Glen. And Nancy, who took my seed orders and planted early starts for me in her greenhouse and my neighbors who continue to offer me their welcome home and suppers at their houses.  Like my friends who come to weed asparagus and visit while we work.   

A Change is going to come even as the world outside argues and frets.

Many people say,
"We can't change what's wrong". 
"We can't choose what is best for us".
"Government is cporrupted"
"Business can't be trusted"

Fear is a learned behaviour and it has become a crippling force. We are afraid to be wrong, afraid to make change, afraid of failure, afraid to be cold, afraid to be ridiculed, afraid to be alone and afraid of being hungry.

But I've learned that our friends will come forward and teach me.  They will cheer our success.  I will choose to be cold to save our seedlings and our neighbors will put a hot, home cooked meal in front of me. Being wrong teaches me more than being right. When you're right you don't need anybody.  When you're wrong you need your friends.

In the past 10 years I've learned to fear less and do more. And I realize now that I have less to fear  from the people around me than I do from the big anonymous world that wants everything I have - in exchange for my life.             
And I'm so much more impatient now with those who say, "No we can't".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Few Reasons Why Compost Could Save Us.

Yes, the news on the environment is really bad this week.  We have an estimated  200,000 thousand gallons of crude floating to the surface in the Gulf of Mexico every day for over a week adding to an environmental wipe out that could reach unprecedented proportions and stretch from Louisiana all the way up the east coast..

But even if you are convinced that burning fossil fuel will destroy the planet, you're probably no more prepared to live without it than I am.  Lets face it we all need to find some answers and we may not like the answers we find. But obviously the time has come to get serious about alternatives. So how DO we get control of the mess we're in and keep everything from spiraling out of control?

Let's start with compost.

Now, I'll disclaim this post here and now with an admission that I am not loaded with research grants or University degrees but there is such a thing as experiential learning.  And I've been working on this for a while, so I hope you'll follow along and add your comments.  Even if I put a foot out of step here, I hope you'll see that what I'm saying makes sense on some fundamental levels. So let's check out the basics.

Plants take in Co2 and breathe out oxygen.  The carbon taken up by plants create the structure of the plant itself. Stems of grasses, wood, leaves, etc are all rich in carbon.

A lot of this carbon comes from the air - the Co2 in the atmosphere.  And we humans put a lot of carbon out there when we burn fuel. There's more there now than there was before we stopped taking a yak to work and drove an Audi instead.

If we park the Audi and take the carbon that plants have soaked up and put it back into the earth, we are sequestering this carbon by taking it out of the air and putting it back where it came from and we're doing something else too.  We're creating plant based fertilizer for new pants to use and eliminating the fossil fuel we were using to create synthetic fertilizer like ammonia nitrates.  Nitrates make plants grow, but they are produced by burning large amounts of natural gas which enters the atmosphere (more Co2) and the leftover nitrates tend to drift into our drinking water which isn't good for people.

With me so far?

OK, so in our organic system at Dunn Creek Farm we really can't rely on chemical based fertilizers.  But without them, we quickly exhaust the fertility of the soil which means that crop yields drop.  And they drop fast.  Enter compost.

First, we harvest all that collected carbon. Dead plants, horse manure, old hay, cleared brush, wood chips, and we mix it in with other stuff like green waste from the kitchen, green plants that have finished producing, vegetables that aren't good for market, grass clippings and seaweed.  Yes, I've been seen on the beach after a big storm scooping up tons of seaweed for compost.       

This material gets layered up in big windrows in a field. Each windrow is about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long.  In short order it gets all hot and steamy, as an army of bacteria feed on the air, moisture and nutrient dense materials in the pile.  The plumes of steam from a working pile look really magnificent on a fall morning.

I cover it up with a tarp to keep weeds from growing on the top and let it work.  By the next fall it looks like dark brown earth.  It's full of worms and bugs and fungus and bacteria...just the stuff to inoculate the field and feed the plants we'll grow next year.  Now some people are saying that hot compost destroys biological benefits like microorganisms and fungus and that a low temp or cold process is actually more beneficial. Hot compost is a means to kill pathogens and weed seeds, so material that is hot composted is thought to be cleaner. The rules for application require a hot composting process in order for the material to be called compost.  Otherwise it is regulated as "manure".  This kind of thinking can give you a headache.  But in order to get the most benefit from the input we make and to comply with regulations that are intended for food safety, we apply our compost/manure in the fall and that way it is never in direct contact with edible food crops.

Now, the fact is that we cannot produce enough compost to meet our fertility needs.  So we also rotate our plantings and we plant about a quarter of our production area in "green manure" to increase fertility in place. We are always farming soil by producing biomass to put back in the ground each year. The plants do their job of taking in carbon from the air and fixing nitrogen in the soil and we chop that material up and put it back in the earth. 

What we spend on seed and time and labor is spent instead of buying more fertilizer.  Our fields test low in organic matter which promotes the biological benefits I mentioned and helps to regulate moisture in the soil. So putting more organic matter and trace minerals from things like seaweed back into the soil improves the health of our plants, the yields we get to market and, we might expect, the nutritional value of the food we grow.

We're doing all this to create a solid system that will continue to produce good yields of healthy food for years to come.  But there are other benefits to consider.

You may be someone who doubts the value of organics.  But it's hard not to like a system of agriculture that isn't entirely dependent on fossil fuels, doesn't use airborne toxic sprays and eliminates the environmental hazards caused by the runoff of chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the ground water we eat and drink.

You may be someone who believes that climate change is a hoax.  But it's hard not to agree that our current  choices have made us dependent on buying fossil fuels from people who may not have our interests in mind.  And the supplies are limited - which limits our potential to grow our own food, the economy...anything.

If you do think that humans have tilted the balance of our environment into a wobbly and unpredictable scenario, then you might agree that supporting a system that can actually help reduce the carbon footprint of all the humans on the planet is a good thing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Coming Home - Moving to PEI

"Welcome Home."

I've heard that from many friends and neighbors since arriving in Eastern PEI.  Nice words to hear from islanders and other folks like me who have come home from away. It's a simple and sincere act. One that my dog Annie understands how to perform to a fault. Other than that, coming home has not generally been a celebratory event in my life.

As the move to PEI goes on, Susan and the boys are heading for the home stretch, finishing work and school and packing up the house in Santa Barbara.  I'm not sorry to be missing that.  My last few weeks there were spent wading through too many things collected over the years and realizing that I can't afford to carry so much stuff around with me. Much too much baggage, you know?  So I parted with things and reduced the time capsule of memories preserved in cardboard boxes. They'll have to open my, "Boyhood Home Museum and Gift Shop" without them.

Hours of old radio airchecks and car commercials and assorted nonsense went into the trash.  My old orthodontic retainer. (Really.  I think because I had to swear I'd never lose it.) The Santa Barbara Mission carved out of a big bar of Ivory Soap (a 5th grade social studies project). Boy Scout stuff, newspaper headlines and high school rally buttons. And I came face to face with all of my old notebooks and writing projects. Hmmm.  Seems I've been a writer most of my life. And I wrote a lot of seriously bad stuff too which, thankfully, no one will ever have to read.

Some of the ideas I sketched in words were fun to see again.  Vast quantities went to the recycling center.  There was a series of "newspapers" I wrote for friends at school, starting in 6th grade and running into high school.  Yikes!  After stealing shamelessly from Mad Magazine and old TV comedy writers it's a wonder I wasn't arrested for theft...and for being deeply nerdy. 

I picked up the thread of a time line begun in my old High School class notes, "Where Are We And How Did We Get There?" which was actually a question on the final exam in my senior religion class at Bishop Diego High School where I spent 4 years as a virtual heathen in a Catholic school. Pleading ignorance on the final got me an "A" and a lesson about confession.

So I've touched all these things one last time.  The baseball cards, the pictures of Civil War battlefields, the notes from old girlfriends. And I reviewed a few of  those hours spent writing when I really didn't have much to write about. Those hours were awkward. I had to imagine an awful lot about life when I was 16. And much of it reads more like bad science fiction than autobiography. It's really just chewed gum under the table. The past may be prologue but you can't live in it.

Thirty years later I'm at a kitchen table covered with packages of seed. There's a red wing blackbird singing in a poplar near the creek.  A partridge is foraging in a brush pile in the yard. Earlier today a nesting pair of Canada geese were checking out the ponds like young marrieds looking for a starter home. And a moment ago a neighbor's son drove up and invited me to come over on Sunday for a chicken dinner. Just another way of saying, "welcome home".

Islanders have a natural outlook that comes from their seafaring culture. Those who seek to build communities would do well to consider the simplicity of their point of view.  When you're here, you are home.  When you're not, you are away.  And so it's the most natural thing for islanders to welcome you home when they see you.  It's a simple yet powerful thing to be greeted warmly and welcomed back into the community. 

Try it yourself and you'll see what I mean. The next time a loved one comes through the door, stop what you're doing.  Hug them close and say, "welcome home".