News & Updates
Seven Ravens and a Life of Planting Trees: From Nanaimo Lakes to Kenya
By Michael Nickels
In the Spring of 1980 I was one of ten passengers on a Wardair flight from Toronto to Vancouver. As the flight was virtually empty, I decided to walk around the plane. At the back of the plane I met a lovely young couple. They asked me where I was headed and what I was going to be doing. I said that I was off to the Coast to find myself a job as a chokerman, to which Pierre exclaimed: "Oh man you need to be planting trees, not cutting them down." Somehow what he said immediately struck a chord in me and set me on my life's path.
Through further investigation, I found the name of Dirk Brinkman who I then called to see if I could get a job. He agreed to meet me and my friend Pat who I was travelling with. Arriving at 6151 Thorne Ave, I met Dirk at the door with a baby crawling out from underneath his rather large beard. Instantly I liked the man and I remember feeling terribly guilty about fibbing that I had experience as a planter in Ontario. Dirk saw right through the mask and said, "So what else have you done?" I said that I had shorn sheep and been a roustabout in Australia which certainly was true! "You're hired!" he said.
Four days later we met Dirk at a camp just outside of Cassidy near Nanaimo Lakes. The following morning he took Pat and I to the clearcut block and said, "So I know you've never planted before, so here is how it is done. Follow me, pay attention and keep up!" We followed as Dirk went into Ninja-mode slicing his way like the Tasmanian Devil through bush and slash, wildly flailing his mattock. Then he said, '"Got it?" Then he was gone! Within five minutes we had our second reality check: Crazy Man Kevin frothing at the mouth screaming every obscenity in the English language, condemning the “bloody greeners” for crossing into his land, creaming him out of all his gravy, which was because we had followed Dirk’s random Ninja ghost line. On Day three I had my first 1000 tree day.
After that first season I continued working with Brinkman in Ontario, Alberta and BC as a planter, tree deliverer, foreman and supervisor for about 20 years. I had my own company in Southern Ontario for several years as well, which was particularly interesting as we were planting up to 100 different species of trees.
33 years later I am still at it, planting trees! These days my efforts are mostly focused at Seven Ravens Farm on Salt Spring Island and in East Africa.
I first went out to Kenya 25 years ago and since then our efforts have totalled over 8 million trees with over 300 different multi-purpose species to provide fruits, nuts, medicines, fodder trees, nitrogen fixers and fuel wood for firewood and charcoal, as well as beautification and erosion control. This work is now married with permaculture design to create bountiful landscapes and improve food security and economic opportunities.
Over the next five years, Seven Ravens Permaculture and Eco-forestry Academy along with our students will be opening up five practical permaculture schools in five countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Malawi). The schools will have a focus on training elementary school teachers, who will take their new found skills back to their respective schools to implement permaculture teachings into the curriculum, thus spreading permaculture knowledge to over 3,000 teachers and 2.1 million students over the next five years.
I recently returned from Kenya, where we have just opened up our first Practical Permaculture Institute. The first students are about to complete their PDC in the next few days.
Here at Seven Ravens we are experimenting with planting every type of permaculture tree that is adaptable to our climate, as well as many high valued hardwoods and a large array of root rot resistant conifers. Our 40 acre farm has hosted over 500 students from all over the world, and currently we teach three PDC courses per year. Spring and Summer courses are six weeks long, with the Fall course being four weeks on Salt Spring Island, and four weeks in East Africa.
This incredible life adventure that I am on is the most rewarding work that I can think of for myself and for the future of my children, and for this I want to say THANKS DIRK!!!
The motto of this story is: "Be open and talk to people that you meet for you never know which doors may open."
For more information about us please visit our website seven-ravens.com or call us at 250 653 9565