Learning Grounds

What nature has to teach us, in the workplace and beyond.

TEXT BESIDE

In partnership with

Green offices decrease anxiety. Meetings on the mountain put some movement in our days and allow ideas to emerge.

It’s crucial that nature be an intrinsic element of the world of work—for environmental reasons, yes, but also because of its increasingly documented positive effects on our physical and mental health. Nature also has a lot to teach us on a human level, and thus about our way of being at work: nature encourages collaboration, promotes creative problem-solving, strengthens humility, and helps develop empathy.

The entrepreneurs, chefs, farmers, and architects who spoke at the BESIDE Festival last June all maintain strong daily ties with nature. Here, in five lessons, are the ways in which nature inspires them every day, and how it can inspire us in turn.

 

 

– 1 –

Focus on slow time

Slow down, talk to each other, stretch it out: three actions inspired by nature that can be applied to architecture, and other areas too.

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@Atelier Pierre Thibault – Architecte
The anecdote

A client of architect Pierre Thibault, who happens to be the vice-president of his company, was set on his new house being built for his wife’s birthday, only a few weeks later. It didn’t work out that way, of course. The following year, when the house was finished, he thanked the architect for having given him the chance, finally, to take his time and not rush, like the demands of his work always call for. In nature, Thibault explains, time expands…

@Atelier Pierre Thibault – Architecte
@Atelier Pierre Thibault – Architecte
The statistic

….and our well-being increases: according to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, just living near a dozen trees makes us feel seven years younger!

The story

While completing his master’s degree in automotive design in Germany, Louis-Philippe Pratte began to define the core values that would eventually inform his company, À Hauteur d’homme [On a Human Scale]. “I needed to do something that would last, something that made sense,” he says. “I knew right away that wood was the material I had to use.” Many people in Germany had spoken to him about Canadian nature. “I thought to myself: ‘It’s true, why has no company highlighted it before, or used it responsibly?’ That was the starting point.” The starting point for a thought process that would evolve toward considering furniture building with ecological materials, and the life cycles of objects; there is a reason why Hh offers a lifetime guarantee on their products. “We can’t start over every 15 to 20 years. Durability is a major part of quality.”

@À HAUTEUR D'HOMME
Louis-Philippe Pratte @À HAUTEUR D'HOMME
The key

Take the time to talk to one another, to transmit and receive knowledge, and to invite people of all walks of life to the table.

Kim Pariseau, founder of APPAREIL Architecture, remembers her meeting with a forestry engineer when she was working on a cottage project. “I would never have thought he would inspire us so much. On site, he pointed out the trees we had wanted to keep because we found them so beautiful, saying, ‘No, but that one is going to die within two years!’ As architects,” she says, “we don’t have the solution for everything.”

– 2 –

Do away with garbage

To see value in that which is too often rejected: this is the mission of LOOP, an organization that transforms food waste into delicious juice, beer, and dog treats. More and more chefs are adopting this course of action—and we, too, can follow in these footsteps by starting to take an inventory of our own fridge.

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David Côté @Jus Loop
The quote

 

“The industrial era made us forget that our waste had value.”

— David Côté (co-founder, LOOP Mission)

The statistic

58 per cent of food products in Canada are tossed or wasted, according to the organization Second Harvest.

The act that counts

Chef John Winter Russell also fights against waste and puts the spotlight on local foods. He buys residual salt crystals from Newfoundland producers Peter and Robin for his restaurant—crystals that don’t pass the fleur-de-sel test, because they are too fine, for example.

The reference

When it comes to social gastronomy, Russell cites Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who produces feasts from discarded foodstuffs. Those feasts are intended not only to reduce waste, but also to feed people in need, helping them win back their dignity.

To watch: Theater of Life, a documentary about the fabulous “people’s soup” created by Bottura—in collaboration with other internationally renowned chefs—from food waste from the 2015 World Expo in Milan. This restaurant concept, called Refettorio, inspired other smaller ones, for example in Rio de Janeiro, where meals were created from the food waste of the Olympic Games, as well as in Paris.

Festival BESIDE @BESIDE

– 3 –

Redefine thinking big

Architects, chefs, and farmers agree: creating a lot out of a little has nothing to do with limiting our ambitions. Nor our convictions.

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The key

Realizing that a sense of wonder is within our reach.

Newness surrounds us, even if we’re not always aware of it, says John Winter Russell. “Remember the first time you tasted watermelon? You thought to yourself, ‘What is this glorious and juicy marvel?’ right?” Part of his work consists of reawakening this sense of wonder, both in himself and in his customers. Most of the food discoveries we make as we get older come from other countries and cultures, but there are plenty of things right here that we can discover and savour.

Restaurant Candide @Édouard Plante-Fréchette
John Winter Russel - Restaurant Candide @Benedicte Brocard

 

Increasing simplicity, in three different professions

1) “We don’t need a fryer and six grills. We can make great food with less equipment,” says the chef of Candide. The simplicity of ingredients is important to him as well. “There’s no reason why we can’t take something like carrots, and make a delicious dish.”

2) This philosophy is shared by architect Pierre Thibault, who sees too many “grocery lists” in his practice. His inspiration? Japan, where places that seem modest at first glance can appear much larger. “It’s as though we could ‘create space,’ through clever strategies like the use of sliding panels, for example. The question to ask is this: do we really need to live in a larger space?”

3) At La Fermette, where biointensive market gardening is practised (on a small surface), they also try to maximize space—a “constraint that is also an opportunity,” according to growers Justine Chouinard and Annie-Claude Lauzon. The idea is to “give ourselves profitability by the square metre,” or to do a lot with a little, such as optimally designing the farm, using very little machinery, and choosing what to grow carefully.

– 4 –

Make tons of friends

Whether you’re trying to cultivate vegetables or a sense of confidence, relationships with others make all the difference.

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The anecdote

La Fermette’s business model is based on collaboration and exchange. First, there are the original partnerships with two restaurants, Café Parvis and Buvette Chez Simone. Not only do these two restaurants serve vegetables that grow in their Hemmingford garden, they also participate in the planning for the farm. “It’s their farm too. We dreamed it up together,” say the farmers.

Then there are direct sales, in particular at farmers’ markets, where they can present their clients with a variety of products in person. In addition to the pleasure of meeting and serving their customers up close, “it allows us to get beyond the grocery-store model, where you need a large volume and vegetables that won’t go bad. This defines what we’re doing.”

Annie & Justine - La Fermette @Alex Chabot
The key

Reclaiming pleasure, together.

“Falling down is funny. It has to be. And it’s funny to start over and experiment at every stage,” says Pascale Vézina Rioux, director of Les Chèvres de Montagne. The organization puts together open-air events that give women a chance to play sports in an independent and safe way. No matter what the weather is. “So what if it’s raining? We still go outside. We’re the only 15 people on the mountain, and we are really proud at the end. The idea is to find pleasure in each of our activities,” and to enjoy them in the company of other women.

Dismantling the myth

It’s not good enough that open-air activities have become popularized of late, or that we see as many women as men doing them, says Vézina Rioux. “Our goal is to integrate everyone. To give the impression that it’s accessible to everyone. And it is. But if you don’t have the social network around you, it can all seem completely absurd and unknown.”

The philosophy

“My work is to talk to my friends,” concludes chef John Winter Russell after introducing four of the farmers with whom he “does business.” Why the quotation marks? Because he prefers to speak of it as a collaboration. Together, “we have developed products, ideas, and ways of thinking that make all of our lives easier. And better.” Candide is literally based on these friendships. So it’s no surprise that Russell compares his restaurant to a home.

– 5 –

Contribute to the future of the globe

Because this planet is home to us all.

____

 

Social responsibility, in three quotations

“Never before have we had so much access to information. We’ve never been so connected, so easily inspired by people from all over the world. We have so many chances to understand how our voices, our votes, and our dollars have an impact on the world. We can draw upon [that] knowledge in order to act.”

—Charles Post (ecologist and filmmaker)

“I try to make architecture an added value, and not a disruptive element. We should always ask ourselves if what we are leaving behind will be a plus for everyone.”

—Pierre Thibault (architect)

“All the profits [from the co-op] are put back into development, into social projects. I’m proud of this fact. I’ll find another way to save up an RRSP! […] The goal is not to get to professional burnout because we have too many big ideas. But it’s super important to put our shoulders to the wheel.”

—Étienne Beaumont (assistant director, Vallée Bras-du-Nord Co-op)

The key

Tell stories to create meaning.

“How can we get people to be concerned about [different ecosystems] if they don’t even know they exist?” asks Charles Post. “I think storytelling is part of the answer. You can evoke empathy and interest if you tell stories in a compelling way.” He does this through Instagram, for example, where he has 105,000 followers.

The initiative

Established by the Coopérative de la Vallée Bras-du-Nord, En Marche is an initiative that aims to facilitate the social and professional reintegration of marginalized youth. How? “We use nature and adventure as tools for interventions,” explains Étienne Beaumont. “For six months, young people build and maintain hiking trails, and at the same time they reclaim the territory, getting to see it from another angle, and acquire new skills in the process.” It’s a project that’s part of the social aspect of the co-op, according to the assistant director: “Yes, developing a given area, such that it becomes a tool for sustainable development for a region or a city. But also so that it allows us to develop healthy lifestyle habits.”

Festival BESIDE @BESIDE

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Inspired by talks presented
at the Festival BESIDE,
in collaboration with Desjardins.

 

Businesses of the future

Émilia Tamko (presenter), David Côté (co-founder, LOOP Mission), Étienne Beaumont (assistant director, Vallée Bras-du-Nord Co-op), Pascale Vézina Rioux (director, Les Chèvres de Montagne)

Cooking up social gastronomy

John Winter Russell (chef, Candide restaurant)

The influence of nature on architecture

Marc-André Carignan (presenter), Pierre Thibault (architect), Kim Pariseau (architect and founder, APPAREIL Architecture), Louis-Philippe Pratte (designer and founder, À Hauteur d’homme)

New agricultural practices

Justine Chouinard and Annie-Claude Lauzon (farmers and founders, La Fermette)

Conservation through images

Charles Post (ecologist and filmmaker)

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