Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn? Paddle (or make!) a canoe, forage for what’s in our own forests, make soap? Play an instrument, preserve what you grow from your garden? We live in a pretty great place to do all these things, and that’s what struck Murray Wood, as he listened to his friends Shuan and Francis talk about a Folk School in a small Minnesota town on the shores of Lake Superior. The dinner conversation had turned to what could be done to attract more people to Peachland over the winter months, and Murray’s friend, a Dragon Boat enthusiast, had mentioned how the North House Folk School had taught different paddling courses.
“I was just fascinated by the concept,” said Murray, who made time for me earlier this week for an interview. We each chose a chair in his basement living room, overlooking the lake.
“I mean, teaching and learning cool stuff in your own village that’s on a lake? It’s just like us. We also have all this amazing country around us – wine country, golfing, hiking, the beauty of the lake. People can come and do a course and combine all those things and enjoy the whole Peachland experience.”
As you know, we have a lot of Bed and Breakfasts / Air BnB-type places here – and Murray (who stayed up all night after that dinner party watching Folk School videos on YouTube) says aside from the Folk School philosophy – which is about building community through shared, hands-on experiences – that small Minnesota town experienced an economic boost, thanks to their North House Folk school.
“They started teaching northern crafts and it seemed really appealing in itself, but what happened to the town was like a slow transfusion, it started to get a glow and restaurants would be open all year round, and employ people all year round and gas stations were selling gas, the B & Bs were full and it started to be an economic force in the community.”
That, says Murray, is what Peachland could really use this time of year. He would know – he and his wife Valerie have operated the Peachland Eagles Nest B&B for several years now. They moved here in 2015.
“As I learned more about the Folk Schools, I just kept thinking about the joy of learning, and one of the things I really noticed was how they built community within the community, but also for the individuals taking the courses…It’s about sharing knowledge, experience, laughter and skills, and I felt like what a joy that is, what a thing to create.”
So, he did. And as it is when you’re introducing something new (to this I can relate), it helps when you can gather like-minded people to get on board. Over the course of a few months, he gathered a board of directors for the Okanagan Folk School – Patrick Van Minsel, Keith Thom, Darlene Hartford, Rod Irwin, Matthew Abrey…and me. It’s something I’m pretty excited about and agree with the others – this will be a good thing for Peachland. Because, who doesn’t want to learn new things?
“I see this as something that belongs to Peachland,” says Murray.
“I see Peachland becoming the craft and arts education centre of Western Canada.”
I asked him to remind me again about the courses we’re thinking of offering (at this point!):
“What we’ve got so far is wet felt art, canoeing, hiking and skiing, working on gardening and food preservation, campfire songs and ukulele,” he says.
We’re open to feedback, of course – and it’s cool how some potential courses have uncovered themselves:
“For example, I joined a Foragers of Canada Facebook group,” says Murray.
“And I saw a post of someone saying they want to start teaching foraging. So I said ‘well we have an Okanagan Folk School and we’re looking for teachers.’ He then had like 15 responses from people saying, ‘oh, I’d like to learn that!’”
“So, I think it’s a bit of throwing it out there and seeing what happens. North House started with eight courses and now they have over 400.”
At this point, we’re thinking of a few ideas for class locations – from the great outdoors, of course, to the kitchen at Hainle Winery, local community buildings – it all depends on the course being offered.
The next few months are going to be really busy and exciting as we put all this together – and we’d like to hear from you. Send an email, we’re happy to hear your thoughts! Would you like to teach a skill, take a course and be kept informed of our progress?
For Murray – who has spent most of his career building businesses, he’s happy with the level of support from the community so far.
“I’m not building a school of business here,” he says.
“We’re building a community that likes to learn stuff. And teach each other, too.”
For an idea of what a Folk School is all about, check out the North House Folk School website
There’s also the Heartwood Folk School on Pender Island, BC. Here’s their website
You can also check out this video on YouTube
The Okanagan Folk School website is coming soon!