A Rocha: Raising a barn
by Marion Van Driel
A Rocha International exists to engage people in stewardship of the earth. Preserving and restoring habitats and species at risk, growing healthy food to feed people of low income and educating and training children, youth and adults in caring for the earth is noble work at a time when global news regarding our environment is anything but encouraging
It takes a community to raise a barn
The heritage barn gracing the Surrey property is a linchpin for their future sustainability and growth. David Anderson is director of the Brooksdale, Surrey site. “The barn raiser is metaphorical and literal. Historically, put out the word and the community comes together in a particular place and offers its resources to get something off the ground. Our gala is just that – to get the word out to not only the community of faith, but the whole community; those with shared values. Literally, we’re trying to rebuild a barn that won’t just produce for the farm, but will serve communities and churches for years and years to come,” he reflects.
This year the Barn Raiser gala, hosted by former Regent President Rod Wilson, takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre on May 25. Special guest Geoff Cowper, a leading Canadian trial lawyer and philanthropist is passionate about conservation, and serves on the International A Rocha board. Guests will be inspired by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore whose lifelong biodiversity project, The Photo Ark, constitutes photographing every species currently held in captivity. Sartore has much to say, both visually and verbally, about extinction of species and how it affects us.
Brooksdale, a former summer retreat for lumber baron
Anyone with a rural background will feel immediately at home at A Rocha’s Brooksdale site. A driveway onto the sprawling 17.5-acre grounds lines up with the heritage hip roof barn built in the 1930s by lumber baron Sam Brooks, for whom the area is named. All the buildings were part of the businessman’s summer vacation property .
The heritage home – today A Rocha’s five-bedroom guesthouse – is currently used to foster community, education, worship, music evenings, short-term rental and retreats. The common room, complete with spinning wheel and a period grand piano, has a lecture-style capacity of up to 50, the only educational space on the property, used for interns, staff, school groups, and adult learners. With increasing requests to accommodate groups in the hundreds, limitations are obvious. But…God has given the board, directors and staff a vision encompassing what could be.
All things great and small
As we tour the property, Anderson points out a Great Horned Owl’s nest not far from the barn. As if on cue, one of three chicks curiously pokes its head over the edge to check us out – a delightful welcome to this inspiring place. Little Campbell River, host to spawning Chinook, Coho and Chum, runs through the lovely river valley behind the guesthouse. A Rocha works to protect and restore degraded areas of this waterway and the watershed surrounding it. Five years ago, one of their interns discovered an indigenous fish species thought to be all but extinct, not seen in 30 years. Monitoring it every year since, the local population is now estimated at 200.
Anderson and Christie Goode (Vice President for Advancement), explain that A Rocha builds relationships with partner groups along the Little Campbell River (Vancouver area parks, Semiahmoo First Nations, churches and private land owners), helping them understand the richness of their terrain, drafting environmental management plans, often coming alongside to identify good stewardship practices.
Education and research
A Rocha interacts with 2500 children annually. The kids learn where their food comes from; they take a walk in the forest to discover local plant and animal species, bringing their science textbooks to life. Goode adds, “The point is to evoke wonder. The primary spiritual movement – if you’ve got wonder, you’ll be going in the right direction.”
Similarly, high school, college and university benefit from A Rocha’s science and research programs and internships. Anderson explains research is needed in order to make strategic restoration plans, especially in relation to species under pressure and at risk. The scientific branch of A Rocha includes an internship program for University students to spend a semester translating their classroom knowledge into best stewardship practices in a real life setting. In the environmental sector where reports are most often bad news, students’ knowledge is often “abstract, overwhelming and global. They need mentorship … in a particular place, with a particular community to steward, care and actually rebuild something,” says Anderson. This is where hope is built.
Anderson and Goode lay out the vision of an expanding infrastructure over the next three years to enable growth of the internship program, public engagement, and retreat capacity. A Rocha’s multi-million dollar capital project in its first stage will see the barn raised – literally, it needs a new foundation for seismic upgrade requirements.
A host of staff, volunteers, students in residence, kids, church groups, community supporters and guests often spend meal times together. The new Hospitality Centre (commercial kitchen and dining hall) to sit alongside the barn will expand volunteer and educational capacity. “The way we’ll be able to do this through the long term is by creating community together. And that always happens best when we’re working together, sitting down together and getting to know each other’s lives,” says Goode.
Tickets to A Rocha’s Barn Raiser are available at arocha.ca/barn-raiser