What More Would Linnaea Offer?

April 16 update to the article that follows: the SRD first denied a motion to defer their decision for six months and then denied Linnaea’s application.

On April 15th the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) Board denied Linnaea Farm’s application for provincial gas tax funding to purchase a new heat pump. While this charity does not fit the description of a typical recipient of this grant, there are numerous reasons why it should be an exception. No one questions the fact this educational resource centre offers a great deal to Cortes Island. At a recent SRD committee meeting, Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch asked what more would Linnaea offer if it received a new heat pump? 

What More Would Linnaea Offer 

“I didn’t think that meeting would be happening, everyone is so busy thinking about COVID, said Linnaea’s Executive Director, Tamara McPhail.

In the course of our interview, she said the building’s  principle source of heat is space heaters that are moved from room to room as they are needed. McPhail described the process as cumbersome, “Our heating bill is ridiculous.”

“I have a feeling that if we could properly heat the building it would get used a hundredfold more often. The rooms are sometimes so cold when they come and it takes us three days to warm up a space that’s usable. There are so many projects that are looking for a place to land and the ones that have come here are really beneficial to the community.”

“We’ve talked about having an art collective space. That is something that would definitely take hold. We would be offering a lot more small events: piano lessons, dance classes. I think Folk University would have more events. We would probably do more farm events as well. We have a certified kitchen and the ability to prepare meals,” said McPhail.

The Cortes Branch of the Vancouver Island Public Library, the Cortes Museum’s “Wild Cortes—Woods, Wetlands & Waters” exhibit and a long list of programs currently use the education centre.

What more would Linnaea offer
Courtesy Linnaea Farm

Linnaea’s Twin Heritage

Linnaea has a twin heritage. The farm came into being after Michael Manson preempted a parcel on Gunflint lake during 1887. The educational centre was an alternative school for 23 years, before closing its doors in 2010. 

“Linnaea farm is a 314 acre parcel of land. It has about 30 acres of agricultural land reserve … We have public trails all through our property. Right now it’s weird to see someone, but typically there are people walking through here all the time. We have this beautiful education centre that we open up to just about whoever seeks us out,” said McPhail. 

She added, “We’re a collective group of people. We don’t own this land, we protect it and are stewards of it.”

We’re Not Making A Lot Of Income

“We’re not making a lot of income from the winter projects [in the educational centre]. There are so many events that cannot afford to pay a lot of money. We are offering them the use of the building at cost.”

At the last Electoral Areas Service’s Committee meeting, Regional Director Brenda Leigh disagreed. Linnaea Farm’s revenues were almost $170,000 in 2017. The library, one of the few places in the building that is always heated, pays a monthly rent of $1,500. Leigh said Linnaea has enough money to purchase its own heat pump.

I read financials differently. 

I doubt you can find many educational centres of Linnaea’s stature operating on such a tight budget.

They want to install a heat pump into the building that functions as one of Cortes Island’s principle community halls in everything but name.

The wages taken out by Linnaea’s staff are pathetic. The financials list 10 positions, corresponding to the properties 10 Resident Stewards, under “wages.” A little more than $46,000 was divided between them. The highest paid individuals were the Executive Director ($12,000) and the Production Garden Manager ($10,800). There are also cleaners, an apprentice and a maintenance worker.

Another +$20,000 is divided between four contractors. There was a “Front Stands Starts Manager”, a “Food Catering Manager”, a “Flower Garden Manager” and an aggregate total for “Pasture Poultry workers.”

“We try not to calculate our hourly wage because it is way too depressing,” said McPhail.

After the 2017 “total expenses” were subtracted from the” total revenues,” Linnaea entered 2018 with a balance of less than $3,000.

Where Linnaea Can Make Income

“Where we can make income is teaching people how to farm, through the agrarian arts and with the camps we host.  We had a whole bunch of amazing workshops lined up for this year which are probably not going to happen because we can’t bring people here,” said McPhail. 

In a typical year, Linnaea is “the University of Victoria’s Permaculture Field School. Students come for around ten days to work on the farm and look over Cortes Island. This could still take place in 2020, if the COVID 19 crises is over by August.

Tamara McPhail has taught at Pacific Rim College, in Victoria, and their field school was supposed to be at Linnaea this year – but this project has been put on hold.

“We also host an annual permaculture design course, which brings up to 15 people from on and off island, and this year we brought someone to the farm to set up a variety of workshops – which we are just in the process of cancelling.” 

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