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The Challenges of Being an Outsider and Finding Community in Canada

 
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Hi all,

What a wonderful forum I stumbled upon last month. This will be a bit of a longer one but I think its important to get it out there and I'd love to deeply connect with individuals who might feel the same. I'm a 27 year old woman and I have lived in Manitoba most of my life. I grew up in a fairly regular family. My mom worked in a good career and supported us. Unfortunately, my dad had no career due to mental illness but he did a great job caring for us at home. My brother and I both did very well in University, he went on to have a very successful career for awhile. The way I was raised by my family did not prepare me for life outside of a career and schooling. My mother's greatest support was in my educational successes, but there was rarely any encouragement or confidence instilled in me to develop skills outside of academics. We took very few camping trips and did not grow up with access to our own cabin or a farm. I have always felt two very distinct feelings that have never left me:
1. I feel, think, and see things very differently from my family and most people I meet in daily life. I feel like an outsider always. I like to think about and discuss big concepts like consciousness, life purpose, nature, the universe, etc. often. I don't bother with sports, celebrities, and trends for the most part.
2. I have always felt I needed to do something important with my time and my life force. I feel deeply called to help others, to do meaningful work, and to enjoy my time on this earth bringing happiness and joy to others. Its been extremely difficult to understand how to do this and have confidence in myself to do meaningful work when it isn't supported or encouraged by the current economic and ideological underpinnings of this modern society. This then leads to a further feeling of outsiderness.

These feelings have of course led me to explore a permaculture oriented life. I am slowly but surely gaining knowledge and experience on organic gardening, foraging, herbalism, crafting, natural building, alternative energy and waste management systems, and so much more. I've done work experiences on farms, visited eco-communities, and have started to meet very wonderful people through doing activities that align with my values. I'm very lucky that I have a partner that relates to me so well on many of these areas and feels called to live a homestead life with me. We are very similar in our views.

We are actually at the point where we probably have enough funds to buy a small property and bare essentials home and start a homestead oriented lifestyle that is less dependent on paid labour. There is just one major problem we keep running into and its finding community that we really feel comfortable with. I have noticed a number of things in trying to seek out others to go on this life adventure with. A lot of the established eco-communities or permaculture farms are wonderful, well-developed, and contain very interesting and lovely people. The thing that makes me feel kind of disappointed these days is that most people I have met in person who are established or ready to actually do a more off-grid life are older, often from a different generation with quite different experiences. One lovely couple I met were in their 60s and 70s and had a beautiful property but they had worked high-paying careers and inherited the land. Another couple I met with an awesome organic farm were in their 40s and 50s but they too were in the right place in time in that he was a carpenter who end up building their own house and then they sold it and were able to afford a beautiful 10 acre farm homestead in a great spot in BC. We met another couple in their 30s in BC but again they were busy raising a family, working a standard career as a nurse, and I just felt a lot of our values didn't align in terms of the way we consumed food even though they had a great off-grid property.

The point I'm trying to get at is it feels like most people doing this are people who got into the game 20 or 30 years ago when real estate was more in line with wages and the lifestyle and attitudes of people were totally different. There was no social media, no online trends, people had different attitudes towards work, lifestyle, and travel. I honestly feel that in some ways people had much much more freedom between the 70s and 90s. This isn't to say I don't think there wasn't major challenges in those times. I think in some ways life could be harder then. Nevertheless, growing up as adult in the 2000s, I feel like my partner and I have a unique set of challenges that differ from the older generations in all realms of financial, spiritual, and emotional health. We really want a hybrid homestead life where we grow food, be as self-sufficient as possible, but we also wouldn't mind travelling, working in other places, adventuring, having festivals or dance parties, meditation circles, having psychedelic ceremonies etc. Being in our 20s we really feel like we want to have get togethers, parties, explore our world, and do exciting things and also be more connected to nature, growing food, and conscious living. It seems very difficult for us to meet people in the later years of life who are as excited to get out into the world and meet new people and have large interesting gatherings. They often already have established friendships, families with children, engaging careers, or whatever it might be. How can we as young people connect with a generation that shares our values but has no understanding of our needs as younger people?

Then on the other hand, trying to meet young people our age who are actually serious about living this lifestyle is frustrating and disappointing. I have many, many friends who say they would love to live off the land in a homestead and garden but they never put forth any serious plan or effort. I'm sure money these days is a huge issue but I am aware of the fact that if we pooled our monetary resources I am confident that we could make something happen in Manitoba or even other parts of Canada. I feel I have so many younger friends that share my values, who don't want to eat animals, who want to learn to heal themselves, who want to work with their hands, but they just don't actually seriously try to come up with a plan of how to do it with others. What is it with people in my generation? Are they too downtrodden by money woes? Are they unmotivated and distracted by the internet and fancy clothes, makeup, and hair? Do they truly believe it is not possible? Where is the lust for life in my generation as those back-to-the-landers had in the 60s and 70s? I would love to just meet other young people who are open to creating a community that is both functioning and festive.

It is the hardest thing to feel like I am an outsider even among societies biggest outsiders. I don't know what the next step forward is. My partner and I have talked of just starting on our own homestead and attracting similar people from there but it is way harder to do things with only two hands. We could also join an eco-community in Canada but for a lot of the reasons listed above, and in addition we are vegans, we don't drink, we like pot and the occasional psychedelics, and we don't want to have kids, it seems like even then we will be quite different from a lot of established eco-community members so we really don't want to end up in a scenario where we don't feel we can 100% be ourselves and live freely. Maybe we are just too picky with who we want to spend our time with and we are too immature to realize that living in community with others means living with very different people from yourselves and still being comfortable. I want it to be this simple but I have honestly had moments where I have felt stifled or felt clashing values in my living experiences in off-grid or permaculture sites. Maybe we just haven't had enough time in life to meet the right people? Maybe we just always going to be different from almost everyone and we are set up for a life of solitude?

These questions haunt me at night and I feel a lot of sorrow that I don't feel that I will be able to achieve my dreams and still fit in with other people. I love community and I love being around others, even if they are different from me. But I also value having freedom and space to do what I need to in life and live in a way that is vibrant, exciting, and meaningful.

To any young permies feeling this way I would love to chat with you. And to you older permies, words of wisdom and life experience would be greatly appreciated on this matter. Thanks for listening.
 
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I'm in my mid 60-s, but I think I can relate to what you are saying.  All I can say is what my folks told me.  PATIENCE.  it sucks and it's hard, but there sometimes is no shortcut for time spent.

I've had many of my kids comment to me how much better the older classic rock music from the 60's, 70s and 80s is than what they hear on the radio now.  My response is that there was an awful lot of bad music then, but it's all gone away.  All you see now from that time is the cream of the crop.  It's kind of the same with what you are dealing with.  I remember when I was growing up thinking how much better my folks had it than I did (of course, I kind of overlooked the fact that they grew up during the great depression and lost relatives during WWII).  

In some ways you are right, things were better then, in some ways things are so much better now.  

It comes down to this, play the hand you are dealt.  That is your only choice.  Some folks will fall into a tub of butter (like, be born rich, beautiful and talented, or  inherit land, or just be in the right spot at the right time, or have great skills that you don't), some won't.  Generally the lucky ones will do better, life ain't fair.  It is what it is.  Don't waste time comparing your lot to someone elses.  If you are like me you will dwell on how good they have it and overlook how bad they have it.  You have a companion you get along with.  MAJOR WIN!!!  Move forward.

Over the last 40 years or so I've raised 9 kids, loved 1 woman, and gone to work at various jobs I wasn't thrilled 5 days a week to make sure those I loved had what they needed.  I haven't been miserable, because my family was where my joy was, I didn't look to my 'career' to find fulfillment.  I figure I'm pretty average in that way.  Most of the guys I've worked with over the years were similar to me in that home was what it was all about.  I'm about ready to retire and have bought a place up in Idaho.

In hindsight, looking at my own experiences, I would say that you need to buckle down and love very poor for a couple of years (eat rice and beans/ beans and rice) to get the grub stake you don't have and buy you're property.  It won't be exactly what you want, because you probably won't be able to afford what you want, but get something that over time you will be able to make what you want.  (You will never be able to get EVERYTHING you want, unless you are close kin to the sultan of Dubai, but decide between what you really want and what you can let go).  If you can find a situation set up for you, fine, go for it.  You probably won't though.  You will probably have to create it.

I've lived in major cities, suburbs and very rural.  While the percentages vary some (as well as customs and mores), you have pretty much the same folks everywhere.  Pick the spot you want.  Over a few years, if you mingle in society, you will collect a group of 'your people'.  

 
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Hi Jenna, I feel the same in a lot of ways. but finding permaculture communities is not as hard as you think. There is one in particular that I know in Caledon Ontario that lets people buy and sell their share in the community as they please, but that share does not go up in value, essentially you buy the share and when you want to sell it you get back what you paid for it. Here is the link below. also, there is a lot of cheap lands in Manitoulin island in Ontario as well as Northern Ontario.

https://www.wholevillage.org/

The thing about land being cheaper in the '70s is that minimum wage was also $3 an hour so it really isn't that much more expensive for us now. I'm sure young people in the '2050s are going to feel the same way about us.

I have also been trying to start a discord community designed for people to speak to each other as a means of becoming more nature connected and share knowledge from the top of the permaculture pyramid to the bottom. This has been challenging and I feel like relying on internet forum boards is still very isolating, and not a good research tool for extroverts like us.

https://discord.gg/3hWbxxYm

 
Jenna Ferchoff
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Thank you Mick! I agree with a lot of what you are sharing with me. Grass is always greener, hey? Life is really a game of patience and persistence. I think I do expect a lot out of life immediately and I become impatient but more and more I am willing to sacrifice comforts for a more real and connected lifestyle. We already eat lots of dried good like grains and beans and always cook at home.

I am so very glad you found meaning in family life. That's another part we are struggling with as a couple who does not want to raise children right now or in the foreseeable future. We both had pretty toxic families growing up and we don't have a nice idea of what family can mean and we certainly don't want to pass our trauma's onto our children. So we don't really see a future where we are passing anything on to or raising another generation. I think where we will find meaning is just going to be so different from most people on this planet. I don't want to pretend that I'm ok with just fitting myself into a cookie cutter life when I am not. But there is still much for me to learn about myself and I what I want and need out of life and I may change my opinion on raising a family in many years to come. I am open to multi-generational living or even adopting children once I am mature enough for the task.

Thanks for the link Steve. Its always great to learn about eco villages in Canada. Sounds like a good model. Northern Ontario seems like a great place to go off-grid but we just don't know anyone up there so we are hesitant to make the jump. Our whole life and identity and remaining friend groups are based in Winnipeg so we worry about loneliness being up in a place in the north. Manitoulin Island sure sounds interesting. I've been curious about visiting there.
 
Steve Harvey
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Jenna Ferchoff wrote:Thank you Mick! I agree with a lot of what you are sharing with me. Grass is always greener, hey? Life is really a game of patience and persistence. I think I do expect a lot out of life immediately and I become impatient but more and more I am willing to sacrifice comforts for a more real and connected lifestyle. We already eat lots of dried good like grains and beans and always cook at home.

I am so very glad you found meaning in family life. That's another part we are struggling with as a couple who does not want to raise children right now or in the foreseeable future. We both had pretty toxic families growing up and we don't have a nice idea of what family can mean and we certainly don't want to pass our trauma's onto our children. So we don't really see a future where we are passing anything on to or raising another generation. I think where we will find meaning is just going to be so different from most people on this planet. I don't want to pretend that I'm ok with just fitting myself into a cookie cutter life when I am not. But there is still much for me to learn about myself and I what I want and need out of life and I may change my opinion on raising a family in many years to come. I am open to multi-generational living or even adopting children once I am mature enough for the task.

Thanks for the link Steve. Its always great to learn about eco villages in Canada. Sounds like a good model. Northern Ontario seems like a great place to go off-grid but we just don't know anyone up there so we are hesitant to make the jump. Our whole life and identity and remaining friend groups are based in Winnipeg so we worry about loneliness being up in a place in the north. Manitoulin Island sure sounds interesting. I've been curious about visiting there.



I am not sure about Manitoba but there are a lot of online forums about permaculture that connects people in Northern Ontario, There is a Facebook group designed for this with thousands of members. A lot of people use these forums to meet people they would want to buy land near so that they have a sense of community. Land in Northern Ontario is super cheap but you are fairly isolated. Manitoulin is really close to southern Ontario and is only a 5-hour drive to Toronto. The funny thing is Northern Ontario is huge!!! and to drive through it can take days. Southern Ontario is really where someone would want to be if they wanted to live off-grid but not be isolated, but you would be subjected to building codes and restricted with the number of dwellings allowed on a property. Several municipalities in Southern Ontario are now allowing multiple dwellings on a small lot in the city, which can be used for housing in other words a granny flat. London Ontario and Oakville are two I know of.
 
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Jenna Ferchoff wrote:
...
1. I feel, think, and see things very differently from my family and most people I meet in daily life. I feel like an outsider always. I like to think about and discuss big concepts like consciousness, life purpose, nature, the universe, etc. often. I don't bother with sports, celebrities, and trends for the most part.
2. I have always felt I needed to do something important with my time and my life force. I feel deeply called to help others, to do meaningful work, and to enjoy my time on this earth bringing happiness and joy to others. Its been extremely difficult to understand how to do this and have confidence in myself to do meaningful work when it isn't supported or encouraged by the current economic and ideological underpinnings of this modern society. This then leads to a further feeling of outsiderness.
...




Same. Same. My solution was to move to a different culture.

I actually feel like less of an outsider living in Japan, than I did living in my home country (the US). I think it's something to do with my outsiderness being attributed to being foreign and therefore accepted and accommodated and even met with curiosity. Somehow I am less different when there is an obvious reason, like having grown up in a different culture and with a different language. Whereas, in the US, I am expected to act like a "normal American" so it really stands out when I don't. Also Japanese cultural norms seem to fit my personality better. My husband is Japanese. We have a three year old, and I'm 35.

Reading your post, Jenna, it sounds like you are feeling pressure to start a homestead as soon as you can, but at the same time aren't quite ready to "settle down". It sounds like social gatherings and events are important for your wellbeing, but you feel you would have to give those up to settle down and homestead? Sorry if I'm misinterpreting...Instead of focusing on the people, it might make more sense to focus on the cultural activities offered. If you could find a place, a town, that seems to consistently offer the kinds of fun events you are looking for, I would think the kind of people you would get along with would also be attracted to that area.

It also sounds like you would be most comfortable with a homestead that you have complete control over. So focusing on the culture of an area and finding your own land nearby might be a better fit than joining a community. I need complete control, so communities were not an option for me. We settled on this town because there were a few other people in the town already doing permaculture type stuff and it offers the events and activities I was hoping for like ceramics, fleamarkets, a farmers market, a sports park, and lots of community clubs and workshops.

And still, most of the people close to our age that we know are too busy setting up their homestead and getting their finances sustainable to hang out....and so are we really.

I think the younger people who are serious about getting back to the land are busy doing that. The people who think it's a nice idea, but too big of a step can be frustrating. They might need baby steps to ease into a more permacultural life, which is fine, everyone at their own pace... But for people who think that permaculture is the obvious and only choice moving forward, it can be very alienating. You might relate to the concept of the permaculture "click".

the podcast: https://permies.com/wiki/153277/Podcast-Click-Part
a thread talking about it: https://permies.com/t/152851/live-life-experiencing-permaculture-click

Other threads about younger permies you might like to check out:
https://permies.com/t/153935/Gen-Permies
https://permies.com/t/101996/Millennial-Permies

and Welcome to Permies!
 
pollinator
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Much of what you say sounds awfully familiar. We too, are feeling adrift alone on a sea of normalcy. We've tried putting out the intention to draw like-minded people to our sphere and had reality respond with its trademark sense of humour. We've considered leaving our acreage in favour of some established community somewhere but realized that there is always something imperfect and risky about any of our options. We've put 6 years of labour and money into our land and our efforts are just starting to literally bear fruit. Walking away becomes less desirable with each passing day and the required upside to lure us away becomes more substantial and unlikely. So we hunker down and continue sending out our hopes, intentions and most inviting vibes.
We too have encountered countless people that say they want to do what we do. Without fail, every one of them has their "if it weren't for" excuse that prevents them from pursuing something that, realistically, they are just too afraid to do. Sometimes it's as simple as "But how would I run my hairdryer?", or as truly sad and unfortunate as "I'm too old now, and I regret not doing this earlier". A grown man weeping as he realizes he's waited too long has got to be the saddest thing I've encountered.
Your interest in consciousness is the only thing on par with my interest in self-reliance, permaculture and nature. I find reality, whatever it is, to be an endless source of intrigue. It's like a winding road and I'm certain that the answer is always just around the next curve.
 
Jenna Ferchoff
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Thanks for a great reply Amy. I'm so happy you got to experience Japan in such a way. I really resonate with this idea of moving to Japan someday. I actually took a two month solo trip around Japan a couple summers ago and was in love with the place. I have always felt a little bit at home with Japanese culture. I grew up watching Miyazaki and Ghibli movies and picked up bits and pieces of the language. When I visited Japan, I definitely fell in love with the country side. Something about Japan feels so magical and incredible to me. My partner and I have talked about doing a working holiday or teaching English through JET to get a better sense of the culture. While I loved to travel to Japan I do have a few long term concerns about fitting into the culture there. Mainly, I do hear that they can take a long time, if ever, to warm up to foreigners. I've always felt the Japanese are extremely kind and friendly despite that. The work culture there is just insane to me. I wouldn't fit in at all with it. I already hate that everyone in Canada thinks working 40-50 hours is normal. Also, I found when I visited there that people were kind of stifled in the sense that they are so polite and proper, that there isn't a lot of room to be different or eccentric there. They seem to support a homogenous society there. These are just my initial feelings about the place. I would love to hear in more detail about your experience in having a permaculture homestead there and how you have managed to integrate (or not) there. Also, would you ever be open to hosting people come stay and work on your land? That is something my partner and I talked about doing some workstays like that in Japan to get a feel for the permaculture community. I feel like if anything it is a great climate to grow food in!

In regards to this need of community that you mentioned, after I had posted this I had gone on thinking for a few days about why I was feeling so upset about other people not wanting to settle down and then I realized its because I was projecting my own feelings of frustrations about giving up certain freedoms. I too am hesitating to settle down because community and friendship is something I feel I would become isolated from. I realized that I would be spending most of my time caring for a homestead and that I wouldn't have much time to connect with new people like you say. Because of this realization, I'm not going to rush into this lifestyle this summer. I think its important for me to travel, explore, go to other communities, and hopefully meet a bunch of young people with similar mindsets over the next couple years, so that I can feel confident and secure that I explored my options when I finally do make the jump to homestead life. I think I feel a real sense of fear and urgency to go more off-grid because of all the covid restrictions. Frankly, although many would disagree, I find the recent government policies to be incredibly similar to those of Fascist regimes and I feel that they are not going to let a good crises go to waste. I feel that economic collapse is imminent. However, I thought more about it though and realized making a huge life decision based out of fear is probably not good for me. Running towards something and not away is usually what leads to greater happiness.

Thanks for the reply Michael. I wonder what it is for people like us? Do we have trouble compromising our values too much to share life with others? Are we just incredibly unique and are just one permutation away from fitting in to most cultures? I could definitely see why one would not want to leave the land once you started. One thing I might suggest if you want to try meeting others with similar mindsets is workaway.org. My partner and I did this and helped people out on their farms and homesteads and we have met some very good people and made friends, even though most of our hosts are older than us. If you have the space to host this can be a very interesting and unique way to meet new folks and exchange ideas. That is really sad to hear how trapped people are in living in that dominant mode. I don't want to feel like its too late for me. I hope that no matter how trapped I am in this system, I can still follow my values and strive to spend time with healthy and happy people. I do hope you find your people someday. May I ask where you have set up your homestead and what the community is like around there?
 
gardener
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Jenna - have you considered moving elsewhere in Canada?

I have lived and worked in many places in Canada and find each one has its own flavour and culture. Some I slip into easily, others I rail against.

I personally have found the culture of rural BC and a few places in Alberta suit me well, most parts of Ontario do not. I do well in Newfoundland. I do well in university towns and government towns but do not do well in major financial centres. I do well in places with a transient, diverse population and a lot of retirees or former hippies :) Places that prioritize quality of life over material wealth. I hated the small town I lived in as a teenager but would consider moving to a different town, with a very different culture only 45 min away!
 
Steve Harvey
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The other thing I would strongly recommend is spending a few months of the summer living in Canada's national/provincial parks. It is cheaper than rent and you would get a feel of the off-grid lifestyle. You can also meet many like-minded people doing this. All you would need is a camper or tent and you could learn more survival and life skills doing this than you would living on a co-op homestead.
 
Jenna Ferchoff
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Hi Catie! Yes I have thought about it a lot. I was thinking of living in BC but the cost of living there really turned me off. I suppose if you go rural its not so bad. I travelled around there for two months but could never seem to say ok this is going to work here. Then my partner and I stayed in the East Coast for two months and we couldn't get settled in their either. It seemed a lot more family oriented there and also found it was getting expensive. We were hoping to buy a place there but it seems like there was a huge real estate boom there so all the property got bought up. After travelling coast to coast for four months it made us realize all the things we love about home in Manitoba. There really is something special and unique about the people here. I find them more down to earth here. You have to stay pretty grounded given our extreme weather!

Hey Steve, yes I would love to do that. I think thats sort of the working plan this summer once my job ends for the year to travel around and camp a lot in various parks. We did do a four month stint of van life this year from Sept-Jan so we already learned how to find free wilderness camping and how to live out the back of a tiny mini van. We also were thinking about joining a local bushcraft group. Our summer season is just so short. Its a pity we can't enjoy the nature here more often without freezing to death. We have camped in about -5 at the most and still don't have the hang of doing colder temperatures yet.
 
Michael Helmersson
pollinator
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Jenna Ferchoff wrote:

Thanks for the reply Michael. I wonder what it is for people like us? Do we have trouble compromising our values too much to share life with others? Are we just incredibly unique and are just one permutation away from fitting in to most cultures? I could definitely see why one would not want to leave the land once you started. One thing I might suggest if you want to try meeting others with similar mindsets is workaway.org. My partner and I did this and helped people out on their farms and homesteads and we have met some very good people and made friends, even though most of our hosts are older than us. If you have the space to host this can be a very interesting and unique way to meet new folks and exchange ideas. That is really sad to hear how trapped people are in living in that dominant mode. I don't want to feel like its too late for me. I hope that no matter how trapped I am in this system, I can still follow my values and strive to spend time with healthy and happy people. I do hope you find your people someday. May I ask where you have set up your homestead and what the community is like around there?



Yes, I think you're close to an answer with "trouble compromising our values". I remember a time when having and making friends was easy and carefree but I can't seem to do it now. I realized a while back that a lot of my friends were really just work acquaintances and that there was little substance behind the friendship. I long for deeper philosophical conversations that don't focus on the weather but maybe "What is weather?".
We're not really looking for any wwoof-type visitors. We don't have any clearly defined, planned out projects that we can have people just step in and help with. I've always been the type to create things in my mind first, going through all the details and working around any obstacles mentally until I'm familiar enough with every aspect of a project that I feel I can manifest it without drawings or explanations. This is why I'd rather accomplish my goals on my own rather than try to explain what is inside my head. Some of the things inside my head don't make any sense.
Instead of wwoofers coming here to assist us, what we are really trying to attract into our orbit are neighbours. Our elderly neighbour has recently moved into a seniors apartment in town and put her home up for sale, so we're using all our mental power to try to convince reality that a permie individual, couple or family would be the ideal choice to place there and possibly that would make everything right in the world.
So, rather than having people come here to help us and socialize with us, we are wanting to assist our new imaginary neighbours and start creating a community.
We are in Geraldton, Ontario. Small town, decent people, clean air, no McDonald's, no big box stores, etc.
 
Amy Arnett
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Jenna Ferchoff wrote:Also, would you ever be open to hosting people come stay and work on your land? That is something my partner and I talked about doing some workstays like that in Japan to get a feel for the permaculture community. I feel like if anything it is a great climate to grow food in!



While I'm working on answering your other questions, I'll just answer this one real quick. Yes! This is a workstay we posted a year or so ago.
https://permies.com/t/130399/experiences/Casual-work-stay-stay-cation
We are actually moving into the building that is pictured soon, but the post still gives some idea of the what the town is like. I'm planning to post a new workstays offering showing other accommodations and updated gardens once moving has calmed down and travel restrictions loosen. Winter is pretty mild here in zone 8. Lots of green and sun with a couple months of freezing at night. Winter crops do well. 
 
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Jenna Ferchoff wrote: While I loved to travel to Japan I do have a few long term concerns about fitting into the culture there. Mainly, I do hear that they can take a long time, if ever, to warm up to foreigners. I've always felt the Japanese are extremely kind and friendly despite that. The work culture there is just insane to me. I wouldn't fit in at all with it. I already hate that everyone in Canada thinks working 40-50 hours is normal. 
Also, I found when I visited there that people were kind of stifled in the sense that they are so polite and proper, that there isn't a lot of room to be different or eccentric there. They seem to support a homogenous society there. 



This can be true, but I would also say that that is the "customer facing" side of Japan. I would say that is more true in more populated areas, and out here in the countryside there is plenty of room to be eccentric. Another parent who moved to this town from the city said that it's easier to be different in the country because there are so few people that every person is different in some way anyway. But in the city there are enough people around that an average way of being becomes more apparent, if that makes sense...

So yeah, day to day, business type, more superficial interactions are very polite and the etiquette is all decided. In general, foreigners are not expected to know etiquette or follow it perfectly. People aren't offended if you make a mistake. There is a certain amount that I compromise and perform the polite social norms, but it's not the majority of my day or even my week so it doesn't bother me too much. It's actually comforting to me to have a pretty good idea of how a social interaction is going to go. Maybe there is less of a stark difference between Canada and Japan than there is for the US and Japan, but when going out in Japan I can be mostly sure that everyone will be nice and polite and no one will get mad at me or yell or say anything negative to me really. That doesn't mean they may not feel negatively toward me, but I likely won't have to know about it or deal with it. There is kind of a cultural promise to uphold harmony no matter what. I think this gives a huge benefit of allowing the practical parts of life to continue without interruption, most of the time. 

The flip side of that system is that, yes, it can be hard to cultivate deep, honest relationships. It can be hard to tell if they are just being polite or if they really want to spend time with you. I think this is less of a worry with younger people and people who have lived abroad though. The polite mask is called "tatemae" and the true feelings are called "honne" if anyone wants to learn more, there are lots of books and info on this concept.

But again, in my situation now, it's not really an issue for me. It was more of a frustration when I was a university student and when I was still working part time. It really depends on where you are and in what context. When I was going to the moms group before my daughter started preschool, everyone spoke regular, informal Japanese and talked about all kinds of stuff. I think "taking a long time to warm up" is an example of tatemae combined with language barriers. I think most hesitation around or avoidance of foreigners is fear of speaking English or anticipating communication difficulties. 

Personally, I struggle to maintain more than just a few close friends, so the more casualness of Japanese friendship is nice for me. We still have pretty interesting conversations about big stuff when we do see each other. 

There are some people in the village who still cling to the old ways of ageism and political hierarchy and keep-doing-what-we've-always-done. But they are in the minority, in this village anyway, and are not above the law, so we kind of just work around them smiling and nodding. Most people, in this village anyway, are pretty open and happy to see new people moving in and taking over a house and some land. Some villages are very close-minded and prefer to rot in place and die out, so it really depends on where you are. Many villages in the mountains were actually connected by road and tunnel relatively recently, 50-60 years ago, so they have kept their own village culture longer. 

The traditional "salary man" or "office lady" work culture is ridiculous, yes. I would caution that JET tends to be this kind of work environment. With younger people rejecting this kind of working style and the population decreasing to the point that workers are in demand, depending on the field, I think it's getting easier to find more reasonable employment. In the countryside there tends to be less fulltime jobs, so it's more normalized to make a living from a few different things and be self employed. I will admit though that I have the luxury of a Japanese spouse, so I don't have to justify my presence in Japan or prove that I can support myself to immigration. I don't know if this is still a thing, but I knew someone who came to Japan for one year on a "cultural studies" visa and their cultural study was on a fruit farm. The Japanese embassy serving your area will have the most up to date information about visas. 

Permaculture is still relatively new in Japan, but the concept of "satoyama", which I think is pretty close, has been around forever. A lot of older people that we talk to about our permaculture plans will say things like, "oh yeah, we used to do that when I was your age" or "oh yeah, that's how we did it before town water came in". A lot of the older tools and systems are still intact, sitting in abandoned houses waiting to be used.

Does that answer your questions? I tried not to ramble too much; I could go on forever. Please feel free to ask more!
 
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