A Tale of Truth, Fiction and Crime

WINTER FORESTThe white, furry beast trudged through the forest, ahead of myself, who from time to time stopped to take in the icy scenery. The cold was bitter, to be sure, but it had not fully frozen the streams and ravines, so that their crystalline water sparkled as it flowed beneath imperceptible layers of ice, roaring gently, like a small sleeping animal. The rest of the forest, which in summer-time engulfed these sparkling waters with thick and lustrous flora, seemed to have a surreal, almost fairy-tale-like look to it in the winter, with icicles stretching from the tip of naked tree branches covered only by a white blanket of snow that sparkled as radiantly as the water; the slightly mountainous terrain gave the entire trip the air of a quest, as we trudged and climbed and even crawled at times; in the sun-light, which peered intermittently through the opened branches of the tallest eucalyptus trees, the entire thing felt enchanted behind an azure hue, though at night and against the bitter cold, the darkness behind the trees felt macabre, and you could almost hear whispers emanating from within the nothingness that seemed to lurk in there. But at this time we were safe, and practically felt serenaded by a concert only orchestrated for our quest – a mixture of nature sounds that seemed to still break through the bitter and lonesome winter cold in the humming of the waters, the guttural hollowing of the air and the rest of the subtle background full of hidden chitters and snapping twigs. But there was not much time to stay still, for my furry companion was still young and impatient, and he demanded that we carry on. Plus, remaining for too long in the same spot was an easy reminder to the bones of how cold it was outside, despite the breath-taking scenery.

However, despite moving quite quickly, by the time we arrived at the peak of the forest, where the little furry beast knew we’d set up camp, the sun was already slowly disappearing behind the trees at the western end, illuminating the sky above them a fiery purple and orange colour, which made it feel as if we were being set on fire. My wolf-like companion, full of energy and completely equipped to not only stand the winter cold but, indeed, to thrive in it, ran around frantically, barking and howling in a seemingly uncontrolled but elated fit. When I finished setting up camp, we played together, fighting as most brothers do – without a care in the world and full of confidence in the other. But as the night began to approach faster and faster, with darkness beginning to engulf everything like a gigantic devouring maw, we settled into our nest near the fire, and braced ourselves for the wonders and terrors that come with the night, especially under the open, vast and unforgiving winter sky. The cold was surprisingly tamed, so it was easier to stare into the nothingness without feeling assaulted at the joints. After a while, I realized I must have dozed off, or perhaps just lost myself in the night, because I suddenly became aware that the little furry beast had run off. I got up and began calling for him immediately but heard no response, so I started walking towards the thick blackness in front of me, where I was sure only trees and night critters lurked.

Nevertheless, as I approached the darkness, away from my camp-fire, I began hearing twigs snapping and a low growling that I recognized as that of my own furry friend. When I finally got near enough to make out a slight silhouette in front of me, with the aid of the beast’s white fur, I realized he was tugging at something that he held in his mouth, but which was attached firmly at the other end to something which I could not make out. I called out to the beast but he refused to come; he simply continued tugging and growling. When I got a little closer, and aiding myself with the scant moon-light that was sheepishly peering through, I realized it was only a tree branch. Relieved that it wasn’t anything or anyone else, I let out a deep sigh and rested my back against the nearest tree, still able to witness the scene. And that was it…The only thing that happened after that was that I watched the beast tug at the branch and pull it backwards until it snapped, making such a loud “THWACK” sound that it resonated through the hollow forest like a gunshot. I felt there was something sinister about that entire scene; that I was enjoying seeing the beast tear at that poor branch for no reason at all, and that I felt somewhat disturbed at that fact. NIGHT TREE

When it was all finished, a green scab covered what was now the stub of the branch, and the beast simply ran off with the rest of it in his mouth, happily prancing back to our camp-site. I was speechless, for I felt as if I had witnessed a crime, almost enjoyed it, and had done absolutely nothing to stop the perpetrator or even help the poor victim who, I immediately began to realize, had been utterly defenceless. I approached the mangled tree slowly, almost embarrassed to be in its presence and finally placed my hand on its wounded and severed limb. I began to feel infused with something; to feel something inside of me…Emotion…Yes, that’s what it was…I began to feel emotion for this victim, and I whispered, “I’m sorry…” I don’t know why. But I felt as if I were starring into the watery eyes of a bullied victim after the fact; as if I were responsible for not having stopped the tyrant when I saw what he was doing and had the chance to do so…

******

I realized then that all those fears of the night which I had held onto not long before, and the images of something horrendous lurking in there, waiting to snatch my soul or my mind away, were indeed unfounded. And not because they are impossible things, for the mind is powerful and can find any horror where it faithfully seeks to find one; but because what really lurks in the night in the deepest and thickest forests and jungles and parks and backyards are only Trees: Guardians of our most precious need – oxygen – and authors of our most coveted dreams – pure and awing beauty.

As we walked back the following night, now against a slightly harsher cold, the trek suddenly felt more alive…more holistic…more serious…more solemn. And the engulfing night no longer seemed tenebrous but rather tender, like a cozy and quiet womb inviting you to rest. However, what really felt different was the way these benevolent giant creatures, who’d never dare cause harm and who never speak a word, seemed to be watching over us, painting a picture of enchantment and reality far beyond the confines of our understanding.

THE CARBON FARMER (Arbitrage Magazine article)

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.arbitragemagazine.com/topics/carbon-farmer012/2/

How many times has your future stared at you outside an elevator door? Well, it happened to Brad and Rebecca Rabiey, who met outside an elevator at the University of Alberta some 10 years ago as they went to check their grades for a criminology class. She was arriving; he was just about to leave.

“It was one of the best examples of serendipity,” says Rebecca. “We just kind of small-talked and it just went on from there.”

It’s a cute story, that’s for sure; but this isn’t a love story … at least not all of it. Today, Brad and Rebecca are so much more than just another couple with a cute story—they are the founders and leading forces behind The Carbon Farmer, one of the newest businesses to have entered and slayed their way through the CBC’s theDragons’ Den earlier this year.

“It was the right time to really grow the business,” said Brad of the whole Dragon experience, who is only 29 years old, same as Rebecca. “And it was a great way to do that both from a publicity standpoint, as well as from an investment and strategic perspective.”

Like many other Canadians, this whimsical couple from Northern Alberta became big fans of the show, but they took it a step further, seeing the opportunity there was for eco-friendly businesses to really take off. They grew their business till the right point—taking in “as much experience and expertise as you can have in [the] industry,” said Rebecca, before finally attending the show earlier in 2012, after mock-rounds staged within their community. The couple went in front of the five Dragons intent on slaying the beasts. And indeed they did.

Bruce Croxon and Arlene Dickinson both were immediately engaged by the product, and they even got down and nasty in a tree-planting demonstration. At the end of battle, the couple ended up receiving $40,000 for 40 percent of their business.

TREES AND CARBON CREDITS

The Carbon Farmer benefits its clients, which includes virtually anyone and any company, in two different ways.

“One is through our Create Your Forest Website,” says Brad, “which enables people to have a tree planted and cared for in their behalf to restore habitat in the Boreal region or other areas of Canada.” Their pilot project back in 2007 resulted in 3,000 species planted personally by Rebecca and Brad in a matter of two days.

“We were total newbies at it,” says Rebecca, unable to contain her laughter. “We did so much research including watching Youtube foresting clips of how you actually plant a tree and talked to nurseries and things like that.” By the end of this summer, they gained some major clients who are requesting 120,000 trees planted for the fall. “But there’s no way Brad and I could do that on our own. So we have acquired crews that help us do that and now we have sort of become project managers.”

This aspect of their business focuses on the importance of bringing back a beautifully unique but vital habitat in the Canadian landscape, which has been affected by conventional farming practices and industrial development over the years.

Braid explained that their efforts were aimed at “restoring the places for wildlife to live and to grow healthy, and do things like filter the water,” praising the “purifying effects which forests are so good at doing in a natural way.” People have the option of buying a personalized tree for $1.99 each, and they can visit that tree in the virtual forest through The Carbon Farmer website. They are also continuing to grow food-crops on the best of their family’s land-base (an effort dubbed the Grain Perspective), which is born out of the realization that not all land should only be filled with trees. “We realize that we need food production,” he said. So the “rest of the land in our family farm is being transitioned to organic grain production.”

The second benefit offered by The Carbon Farmer is found in the carbon that those trees offset.

“We work with individual businesses and special events to ensure that they can offset their carbon footprint from things like driving or flying or heating their homes and offices,” Brad said. “Some businesses are regulated by the government to reduce their footprint or offset the remainder. And then there are people that just do it for corporate social responsibility.”

“It’s actually been really reaffirming,” said Rebecca, speaking about the surging pattern among Canadians (individuals and companies) eager to contribute to their vision. “There are a lot of people out there that are ecologically minded. And there’s also the small business uptake that we’ve had since being on the Den.”

Brad agreed, happily pointing out that many companies are also doing it voluntarily. “Our client-base at this point is made up of people who aren’t being told by the government to do it, but just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s definitely been a sign of how progressive Canadians are.”

This part of the business works by taking advantage of the carbon credits created by the trees planted. “We plant trees, which create habitat,” says Brad. “And in comparison to the life cycle of tilling the land, we are creating carbon storage as well, which we can sell as carbon credits.”

THE FAMILY AND THE FARM

The first land the couple began to work on was the third generation family farm Brad had tilled. “I think I probably dragged Rebecca in a little bit, being as how it was mainly a family farm,” Brad chuckled. “We also had land that probably should have never been cleared right along the river and wetlands, and maybe some poorer quality land as well. So we kind of looked at solutions to problems that we were facing on the farm so as to ensure that it stays in the family for future generations.”

Since then, their project has gotten bigger, featuring such major clients like Edmonton’s Wheaton Honda (formerly Millwoods Honda) who at one point came out to plant trees themselves. The couple has moved on to working with “landowners, conservation groups, land trusts, and municipalities that hold land that they acquire to protect but don’t necessarily have the resources to restore in terms of their former grandeur or ecosystem.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the business is its very own profit model. “We came at this from the triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Profit,” Rebecca explained. “Brad with his sciencebackground and me with my social background, has allowed the business to be very holistic because we are not just considering the dollars and cents but the wild-life behind it; the environmental impact behind it; as well as the community and people that are impacted.” Rebecca is a social worker by profession, and says that “these things … are of value in our business.”

And indeed they are. In the past, Brad told me, they’ve done “various things in terms of educational outreach events.” Right now they are donating $2551 out of their Community Fund, which receives a dollar of every carbon credit (tonne) they sell, to anyone that has a community project that will reduce their carbon footprint.

The Carbon Farmer certainly seems like it’s on its way to success. But the road hasn’t been all smooth, particularly because they’ve rattled the cages of conventional farming and introduced a revolutionary shift.

Rebecca explained one of the hurdles. “[Brad’s] dad had spent his early days helping his dad clear the land. So to have us begging him to plant it all back in the very field that he cleared has been, as you can imagine, a huge paradigm shift for all of us. It’s now at a point where we have much more understanding and work together. But at the beginning, it was really hard to get the full support and understanding from Brad’s dad that this is indeed a business and a concept that can go somewhere.”

“I think with my dad, at the end of the day, it was the belief in what we’re doing,” Brad added. “And we saw that from the Dragons and from most of the people that we’ve talked to—that they see a genuine care for the land and the environment and a genuine belief in what we’re doing. And I think that definitely engages.” Not farming conventionally also means that there won’t be any use of pesticides or herbicides, allowing them to be certified organic.

Currently, The Carbon Farmer is selling internationally, with clients in the US, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. By 2013, they hope to have projects in four different provinces in Canada, ultimately aiming, down the road, to have boots on the ground in Africa and Australia.

If everything goes right, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t, this couple will grow together, waking up side by side in the glory of a third generation family farm, doing what they love. “As long as that spark remains,” said Brad, “I hope we keep planting till we’re old and gray for sure.”

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