From being a champion of the arts to bringing the world to Prince Rupert to helping people find their green thumbs

From being a champion of the arts to bringing the world to Prince Rupert to helping people find their green thumbs

Heart of our City: Agricuture, arts and exchange for Ken Shaw

Ken Shaw developed a love of agriculture at a young age, a love that would eventually lead him to the shores of Prince Rupert.

Ken Shaw developed a love of agriculture at a young age, a love that would eventually lead him to the shores of Prince Rupert.

“I grew up in Nanaimo on a small farm. Growing up we had all sorts of animals, we had a garden and I actually sold stuff throughout high school to make money. I even did a fundraiser for the high school I was at where we sold bedding plants and taught people how to grow them to pay for a trip we were going on,” said Ken, who noted chickens were his specialty.

Ken decided to pursue his passion into the world of post-secondary education at UBC en route to receiving a Master of Science and a Professional Agrologist designation. After school, Ken spent many years in the Lower Mainland and worked his way up to a position in a high level agricultural sales and marketing organization in the Fraser Valley. But in the mid-1990s he decided it was time for a change.

The result was a position at Northwest Community College in Prince Rupert that brought Ken to the North Coast in August, 1994.

“I was trying to make a career switch from selling in agriculture to one of teaching agriculture and somehow I started out my teaching career in math,” said the developer of the college’s renowned Applied Coastal Ecology class.

“I went from a job where I had a phone growing out of my ear into one where I hardly ever use a phone.”

At first Ken wasn’t sure Prince Rupert was for him, but he says the sense of community drew him in and led to purchasing a home shortly thereafter. Almost immediately, Ken knew it was the right decision to stay in the city.

“In Vancouver you’re driving all over the place and spending three hours per day in the car and your friends are scattered. You don’t have the opportunity to build community,” Ken said.

“When I moved here, six months later we bought a house, moved in and had a housewarming party. About 50 people showed up and I had only been here for six months. I didn’t even know 50 people in Vancouver.”

That fall, Ken attended a Northcoast Performer’s Society concert at a local coffee house. The decision helpeded draw him even deeper into the fabric of Prince Rupert.

“I had never been at a concert before where you sat just a few feet away from the performer.  I thought this was such a cool concept that I made a vague offer to help out.  John Glencross invited me to the AGM and since I was the fifth person in the room I found myself becoming a director,” said Ken, who many will have seen on the stage of the Lester Centre himself through various Celtic Night events and Irish dance performances.

“Over the next 20 years we organized probably upwards of 150 concerts featuring touring artists with at least half of them featuring local performers … we also organized the first Rolling on the River Music Festival out at the North Pacific Cannery back in 2004.  We thought it would be a small affair, maybe 150 people, but three days before it happened, cannery manager Herb Pond said ‘I think it is going to be bigger and we better figure out what to do’.  That Saturday over 1,000 people turned out in the first heat wave of the summer.”

After a successful first festival, Ken turned his attention overseas for a trip to Germany that was to include a bicycle trip along the Rhine river from Holland to Switzerland. During the trip Ken got to experience what it was like to be a foreigner living among the people and attending a language school –  an experience he wanted to offer young people from around the globe back in his hometown.

“I ended up bringing the Shecana Exchange student program to Prince Rupert and for the past 10 years there has been a wide range of international students attending Charles Hays,” he recalls, adding he turned over administration of the program just last year after a decade working with the students.

Ken, who helped establish the first community garden in Prince Rupert in 2009, is still pursuing his love of agriculture in hopes of helping others find their green thumb as the president of the Transition Prince Rupert Society.

“My original goal in life was to teach agriculture and when I came to Prince Rupert, I thought I had left that all behind.  But sharing my success in local food production has allowed me to realize that goal.  My wife Christiane is a key part of my success as she is also very passionate about healthy organic local food,” he said, adding he will be hosting a lecture on April 16 at the college about opportunities for urban agriculture.

“My research shows that there is a minimum $250 million industry in the Northwest, $50 million along for Prince Rupert, just in feeding ourselves.  If we could just produce 10 or 20 per cent of that locally we would have a phenomenal industry with lots of small business.”

From agriculture to arts to the international experience, Ken Shaw has brought a lot to Prince Rupert, a place he is very proud to call home.

“The sense of community is the biggest thing about Prince Rupert and the reason I am a Rupert Booster,” he said.