Profile with Rosanna Nicol

Rosanna Nicol (Maritimes and Wolfson 2010) runs Gatineau Greens, a greens and edible flowers business in the Gatineau Hills, outside Ottawa. Rosanna holds an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA (Honours) in History and Economics from the University of King’s College, Nova Scotia.

Rhodes Project: Who is your favourite author?

Rosanna Nicol: When I was young, I liked Madeleine L’Engle and C.S Lewis. I’m really enjoying Hilary Mantel’s writing - I just finished reading Bring Up The Bodies. George Orwell was a big influence through high school but at the moment I wouldn’t say I have a favourite author of all time.  I’m in the process of starting a sci-fi book club, which I’m really excited about!

Rhodes Project: Who are some of your mentors?

Rosanna Nicol: I have many people I look up to. My parents and my grandparents on both sides and a number of professors that I have had.

Rhodes Project: Was there something about Oxford that surprised you?

Rosanna Nicol: I was surprised by how physically active everybody was! I keep telling people back home that it is one of the most active towns I have ever been in. Everybody is always up and about, running around, either out rowing during the day or playing a game of hockey in the middle of the night. I came in with very few and sort of vague expectations. I hadn’t realized how international the graduate programme was going to be. I continue to be surprised by the bittersweet element of having friends from all over the world; they’re so far away and while on the one hand it’s amazing to know so many people from all over, it does tug at the heartstrings a little when I think of whether I will see them again.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about your experience in setting up a greens and edible flower business last year- Gatineau Greens?

Rosanna Nicol: The idea took shape last summer, 2012, when I was working in the bush in Northern Canada. It was a perfect transition out of grad school – I had very clear direction and concrete tasks to achieve, it was physically demanding and outdoors, and I had a lot of mental space to reflect and let the hours pass. Farming has been a long standing passion of mine. My mom is from a farm in Germany and I’ve done some training, but I got the feeling now was a good time to try something on my own. Actually, it was an article I read at Oxford that made me think concretely about dreams and passions. A palliative care nurse wrote about the five biggest regrets of the dying. One of them I remember was regret for not trying to pursue a dream. The emphasis was on “trying” - just giving it an honest shot. There I was sitting in the tundra thinking- Hey! I have access to land, minimal commitments, no dependents.  I should try my own farm project, just for a year, to test some things out. The property I’m working on was bought by my grandparents and five other families in the 1960s as cottage [lake home] property and it’s 800 acres of lake, forest and field. Now there are nine shareholders and nine cottages and my parents and my business partner Emma’s parents have cabins here.

Rhodes Project: What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned through this initiative?

Rosanna Nicol: A big learning that continuously developed through the project is feeling grateful for all the help we’ve received, feeling humbled by that. We have been so supported by our family and friends in this. In terms of setting up an initiative like this that is centred around family, a lot of learning has gone into clear communication between business and family and also increased comfort with those fluid boundaries, more readiness to ask for help and involvement. There are ways that people can give that also benefit them; so trying not to feel infantilized by the help received but rather grateful and enabled by it.

There has been lots of learning around what ‘doing’ can teach you about something. You can and must read a lot of books and ask experts, but then you have to go experiment on your own.  I have been learning to appreciate the amount of time it takes to learn anything, especially with living things whose life-cycles take time.  I have been learning too that I get attached to things.  Even if this project doesn’t continue in this form beyond one year, I feel connected to that land in a new way, and that will continue.

There are a lot of questions right now about the future of the project. It’s possible that Gatineau Greens will only be the pilot project that it set out to be.  But that’s OK.  We never expected it to continue beyond one year, and it has been amazing to experience the impulse to expand it and to explore those options.  It is a real treat working with someone and having long, exploratory conversations about the project and our impulses around it.

Rhodes Project: How do you suggest community awareness be built about sustainable and environmentally friendly farming techniques?

Rosanna Nicol: In Ottawa there’s a huge local food movement that has taken hold, but this is limited to only one demographic. For the rural population around me, certainly, there could be some community initiatives surrounding locally grown sustainable food. I think as the number of people farming and growing some of their own food increases so will enthusiasm and interest surrounding it.

Rhodes Project: Is there an interesting flower/ plant that you’ve always wanted to grow in your garden?

Rosanna Nicol: I love peonies but I’ve never grown them. I love growing kale, it’s so easy to cook and so nutritious. I’d like to get around to growing garlic, but you have to plan ahead for that and it requires some investment.

Rhodes Project: Can you describe a meal that stands out in your memory?

Rosanna Nicol: We threw a big barn fest here in August and I was hosting, running around pumped up with adrenaline. It was memorable because everyone had gathered, we had 84 come and they were all celebrating for no particular reason; we just created an occasion for celebration! The spread included two roast pigs from our neighbour, corn on the cob, kale salad, potatoes with dill and about fifteen different kinds of pie and dessert including home-made ice-cream.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?

Rosanna Nicol: I’d love to be able to fly! It would be like dancing. If I could fly fast, that would be great, so I could save on the air tickets and it would be an exhilarating exercise and a joyful experience getting to visit people and places.

Rhodes Project: What makes you excited when you wake up each day?

Rosanna Nicol: A to-do list gets me going; I love having a day with things to do in it.

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