Pubdate: Mon, 01 Sep 2003
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Douglas Todd
Note: Fourth in a series


LONE BUTTE -- We sweated. We grunted. Under a blue sky, we threw bales of 
hay onto a dilapidated pickup truck.

There was Shawn Millar, a 40-year-old crack cocaine addict from Vancouver's 
Downtown Eastside, who came here to try to kick his habit. Sharp as a 
cowboy's whip, he chucked bales like a fiend.

There was Ernie Bob, a wiry 60-year-old, still prone to street bouts of 
alcoholic mania. His nickname is "Sterno" because he used to drink it. Bob 
spent his youth at the notorious Oblate-run St. Joseph's residential 
school, where abuse abounded. Hard-working man of few words.

There was tiny Chiharu Yasuda, 23, a Japanese member of the international 
network known as WWOOFERS (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), who have over 
the years become integral cogs in this radical agricultural commune in the 
Cariboo. Yasuda's been here a year.

Then there was community co-leader Rob Diether, wearing a Cuban T-shirt 
reading "Hasta La Victoria Sempre," or "Until the Victory." Diether remains 
inspired by Latin American rebel Che Guevera and laments how hard it is to 
find an authentic Mao hat these days. He's also quick with a joke.

Finally, there was me -- middle-aged, middle-class, mainstream urban 
journalist, whose normal idea of a workout is a 30-minute jog in the park 
followed by a coffee and bagel at Cuppa Joe's on West Fourth.

You could not have found a more motley crew.

It was the most fun I'd had in a while.

Working for this egalitarian, back-to-the-land commune east of 100 Mile 
House, we were able to collect and store 350 bales of hay from the rolling 
farm field, which had been decimated by the provincewide summer drought.

I felt I was doing something of value: Making sure the dozens of beef 
cattle owned by CEEDS (Community Enhancement and Economic Development 
Society) would have something to eat when the snow inevitably falls.

Millar and Bob, like the dozens of street people and international 
volunteers who come to the Cariboo every year to CEEDS, were toiling for 
room and board and the chance to be part of this rag-tag family.

As we stacked hay, the cool waters of Horse Lake beckoned. Two sandhill 
cranes flew overhead, looking downright prehistoric with their two-metre 
wing spreads. When we were finished, the sun was low and the beer came out. 
Grimy camaraderie abounded.

It was all in a day's work for CEEDS, a band of hippie revolutionaries, 
most originating in North Vancouver in the 1970s, who were once notorious 
in the Cariboo for their in-your-face radicalism. Now they're a largely 
respected part of the Interior culture.

Most intentional communities are religious. But these hardy dozen core 
members, plus their scores of supporters throughout the Cariboo, Vancouver 
and the world, are inspired by the materialistic philosophy of Karl Marx 
and Mao Tse-tung, who backed agrarian communes.

They've been struggling for 30 years to create something the Soviet Union 
and China failed to accomplish: a just, non-hierarchical, sustainable, 
small-c communist society, which helps members forge a deep relationship 
with the Earth and its creatures.

How long can CEEDS keep running against the prevailing wind?

They act like they're in it for the long run. They remain committed to 
their ideals, including that no one should own private land. Everything 
they earn is shared among the group according to need.

Over the decades, CEEDS has also provided a home to hundreds of street 
people and native Indians, supplying them with food, shelter, work and 
connection with the land. While many communes have gardens, CEEDS is 
probably the only one in the country that survives exclusively on agriculture.

They're also not what you'd call prudish about soft drugs. They've been 
busted dozens of times for marijuana offences and running moonshine stills. 
They once provided cheap vanilla extract to chronic drunks.

They squatted and farmed land for years. With their own resources, they set 
up an unofficial hostel for homeless northern Shuswap Indians. They created 
a huge garden on the Sugarcane Reserve and took on a morally suspect native 
band council.

They once had a gun battle with a brutish rancher. They also once practised 
free love, but it's been tempered in the name of cohesiveness.

They were growing organic before most people even knew what the word meant. 
But they're wary of the "tofu agenda" and are proud meat eaters. They 
lovingly raise free-range cows, sheep, pigs and chickens; then take 
philosophical pride in slaughtering them for food, which they excel at 
cooking and generously sharing.

The Williams Lake Tribune newspaper once called them and their 
communist-anarchist beliefs more dangerous than knapweed, the farmers' scourge.

As long-time CEEDs director Karen Greenwood likes to say: "We're part of 
what makes the West wild."

- - - -

Marijuana (organically grown) and beer (home-made and green) is merrily 
going the rounds as a dozen of us sit down for dinner at the oversized 
kitchen table in one of CEEDS' well-worn farmhouses.

It's 10 p.m. - meal time: The pigs, sheep, ducks and chickens have been fed 
and market vegetables and flowers picked. There's a hint of northern lights 
in the starry sky. A coyote occasionally howls.

Most of the CEEDS clan has gathered, except for the driving force behind 
its creation: Jerry Le Bourdais, 78. Much discussed, Le Bourdais is 
battling severe Parkinson's disease in a nearby seniors home.

I try to get these all-for-one farmers to explain their philosophy. Oddly 
enough, there is little of the shrillness often associated with political 

"We aren't religious, but some might see us as spiritual," says affable 

"We agree with Mao on materialism. The only world we have is the material, 
natural environment. The real world doesn't come in the sky after you die. 
This is the real world and you've got to look after it."

Head CEEDS rancher Greg Robinson, 52, who sports an abdominal six-pack that 
would be the envy of any urban fitness guru, has turned Marxism into cowboy 
aphorisms. "It's chip in and share the wealth. It's take what you need and 
do what you can. It's turned out good."

Why oppose private property?

Soft-spoken, brainy Rod Hennecker, who acts, among other things, as the 
commune's bookkeeper, answers:

"Like the Indians say, 'You can use the land but you can't own it.' The 
land is the land. It should be shared by everyone, I suppose."

In addition to opposing private property, Hennecker is like a lot of B.C. 
ranchers and farmers who think the government should offer some of the vast 
expanses of marginal forest land it owns (92 per cent of the entire 
province) to people committed to clearing and farming the soil.

"The B.C. government should be giving out land leases, or trusts, to people 
and saying, 'This land can only be used for agriculture for the next 300 
years.' They could cut some people off welfare and say, 'Here's 160 acres: 
Go for it.'"

Interesting. But why do you embrace alcohol and especially marijuana?

It started out as a way for CEEDS to show solidarity with the Cariboo's 
addicted Indians --- most of them survivors of St. Joseph's residential 
school, led by disgraced bishop Hubert O'Connor -- who were being 
mistreated while trying to survive on the streets of Williams Lake.

"We drank vanilla extract with the people who drank vanilla extract. It was 
good. We also sold cheap vanilla extract, through Fed-Up Co-op," says 
Greenwood, 44, who moved to the Cariboo just after graduating from Argyle 
high school.

"It was for shock value. But it was also because everyone was getting 
ripped off by grocery store owners. And it was better than people drinking 
Lysol, Aqua Velva and sterno."

Although Greenwood takes pride in CEEDS' "rowdy" days of scandalizing the 
establishment, she seems anything but harsh today as members have tried to 
forge relationships with the Cariboo's folks. At the same time she dreams 
of socialist, back-to-the-land revolutions, she speaks in a folksy Canadian 
drawl and says things like, "Gee willickers."

Serving heaping piles of spaghetti with organic beef, taking another pull 
on the joint making the rounds, Greenwood bears no resemblance to a 
totalitarian Madame Mao, but seems more like the tender-but-resourceful 
female cop played by Frances McDormand in the movie Fargo.

Over the years, Greenwood has acted like a den mother to scores of street 
people, as well as to more than a hundred young Asian, Latin American and 
European WOOFERS who've jetted across the planet to help CEEDS work its 
more than 600 acres of rented farmland, organic gardens and hundreds of 
livestock. Volunteers stay for decades, months or just a week. Any amount 
of time is fine.

Even though CEEDS members openly celebrate marijuana for its relaxing 
benefits, they refuse to be part of the province's $2-billion illegal 
marijuana growing-operation business. "We'd be living a lot easier if we 
could," says Hennecker. Instead, they pick up most of their belongings at 
flea markets.

"There's not much money in farming. You've got to love it," he says.

Third political question: Why meat?

CEEDS members have revelled in jolting vegetarians by giving how-to 
workshops on slaughtering chickens at countercultural gatherings.

It's not because they don't love their animals.

CEEDS is adamantly opposed to factory farming, which confines animals to 
cramped cages. Their mammals and birds roam, play and mate naturally.

Every day CEEDS' workers enjoy feeding greens, outdated milk products and 
organic slop to their eager pigs. They gather in their chickens' soft-hued 
brown, green and blue eggs. They give their cows names.

"We believe raising farm animals is part of the back-to-the-land movement," 
says Lorraine Le Bourdais, daughter of hospital-bound Jerry, who was once a 
famed union organizer at Greater Vancouver's Shellburn Oil refinery.

"We believe raising farm animals is a non-exploitative way to provide food. 
You learn a lot about nature by having animals. And, if you're living off 
the land in the Cariboo, with its marginal soil and short growing season, 
you have to eat meat to survive."

Le Bourdais says she tells her two children, who sometimes fret about 
bonding with farm animals they end up killing, they wouldn't have a 
relationship with any pigs, chickens and sheep if they weren't raising them 
for food.

However, there is one downside to being pro-meat. Le Bourdais admits one of 
the reasons CEEDS members are having trouble drawing more young recruits 
these days is they aren't vegetarian.

Le Bourdais, who displays some of the zeal of her dad, also make clear 
survivalism was part of CEEDS' initial agrarian vision.

With global warming being cited as a possible cause of B.C.'s threatening 
summer fires (which at one point had CEEDS' members packing their 
belongings into their vans), with international tension surrounding the 
continuing Iraq conflict, Le Bourdais believes North American cities could 
soon be in for a cataclysm.

"We were brought to the Cariboo for that. If there is a crisis in the rest 
of the world, CEEDS is going to be needed to help people set up and survive."

Before everyone turns in for the night, we watch a CBC news report on the 
ramifications of eastern Canada's massive power blackout.

No one bothers to say, 'Told you so.'

- - - -

When it comes to their own survival, CEEDS shows signs of adapting to the 
times, without giving in to the status quo of capitalism and liberal 

The dozen core members who remain from a peak of 25 have become known and 
admired in the Cariboo for winning farming competitions and coming up with 
agricultural innovations.

Working four rented farm fields, CEEDS' workers have frequently won fall 
fair competitions for their shimmering organic cabbages, tomatoes, peas, 
radishes and bedding plants and flowers.

They've been applauded for reviving strains of vegetables and livestock 
that were once decertified by governments, like Green Mountain potatoes, 
wild turkeys and Leghorn chickens.

They began the first farmers' market in Williams Lake, which is now a key 
part of the city's life. They continue to use low-cost, low-impact horses 
to plow their fields.

And they home-deliver vegetables, flowers and organic meat throughout the 
Cariboo and Greater Vancouver (see:

Hennecker, who walks with a limp from adult-onset muscular sclerosis, now 
sits on the boards of many agricultural organizations, including those 
dedicated to cattle raising and sheep herding. He also received a grant to 
teach native Indians how to start market gardens on reserves.

CEEDS, in addition, maintains an official relationship with the Downtown 
Eastside's city-run Carnegie Community Centre, which helped bring the 
addicted Millar to the open skies of the Cariboo. "It saved my life," 
Millar says. The communitarians are also accelerating their reliance on 
often-skilled WWOOFERS.

CEEDS, in addition, has received high praise from local ranchers and B.C. 
government officials for pioneering, more than a decade ago, a movement in 
which sheep are used to graze clearcut forests - to keep down weeds without 
using pesticides, making it easier for seedlings to thrive.

But here's the kicker: CEEDS got out of clearcut sheep-grazing when 
entrepreneurs they perceive as money-hungry began taking B.C. government 
money to do it.

It's the same attitude CEEDS takes to the rising trendiness of organic 
fruit, vegetables and meat. Hennecker says CEEDS won't follow the lead of 
many opportunistic organic producers and jack up their prices.

"When poor people can't afford organic," he says, "they'll just go back to 
Kraft Dinner."

There is an unmistakable streak of identify-with-the-people purity that 
still runs through CEEDS, which will always make it hard for them to accept 
middle-class comforts.

As Greenwood tends to say about her many decades with CEEDS: "It's been 
good. Not easy."

- - - -

As I'm about to leave after several days of enjoying the land and animals 
with CEEDS' just-folks radicals, I'm still wondering about the commune's 
uncertain prospects for the future.

Hennecker takes me in to visit founder Jerry Le Bourdais at the old folks' 
home in 100 Mile House. A nurse has dressed Le Bourdais in one of his 
T-shirts, which reads, "Legalize Pot."

But the once-fiery Communist/hippie/back-to-the-land activist is not in 
good shape.

He's lying in bed and Parkinson's disease has turned his face into a mask. 
He can't summon whatever it takes to answer my questions.

However, when I get up to leave, suddenly Le Bourdais seems aware. I try to 
tell him he's accomplished something impressive by founding such a 
long-lasting utopian community.

He fights to utter four words:

"We're not finished yet."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom