Updated: Feb 26
It was a lot of fun to create this past week’s 8th Creemore Art Challenge for Purple Hills Arts & Heritage Society: A Creative Non-Fiction Writing Challenge: A Profile. You can see all the community art challenges on the PHAHS website and in the Creemore Echo.
The challenge was to create a profile of someone interesting in your life or your community. If you'd like try writing a profile of your own, please do, and tag #creemoreartchallenge and #purplehillsarts And send me a message if you have a question or would like me to look at it. I'd love to see your profiles.
Here is the profile I wrote as my example for the challenge. It features Neal Connolly, store manager of Creemore 100 Mile.
“I am not, nor have I ever been a farmer. At most, I've been a good farm-hand. Plaid shirts and a worn baseball cap (my usual outfit) - do not a farmer make. I respect farmers, who bank their livelihood on working the land well.”
Meet Neal. You may know him as ‘Neal from the 100 Mile’, a shop he’s managed for the past 3 years, or as a member of your book club, or as that friendly guy who says hi to you on the street. Always smiling, lending a hand, or offering up great food advice, this former science teacher is a friend to many and a true community citizen.
Did you grow up on a farm?
In the ‘70's my parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement and had a mixed farm in Eastern Ontario between Smith's Falls and Brockville. I spent just enough of my formative years on the farm to form some romantic notions that have taken years to dis-abuse. The land I'm on now in Mulmur has a farm name on the mailbox, a kitchen garden, several horses and house pets. The way I figure, gardening for household use and farming to sell a crop are different, but no less valid ways of growing.
How did you go from teaching high school science and biology in Windsor, ON to managing a local food store in Creemore?
Burn-out, then years of therapeutic farm work as a recovering academic while looking after my mother who had leukemia. Then meeting someone and wanting to start a family. Knowing farm work wasn't going to be a financially rewarding, life-long profession - as much as I liked the work itself - I kept an eye out for something else.
Why is food so important to you?
The easiest way for me to improve things is through food - immediate and tangible things like my own health, the health of my family, and my community. Whether sharing recipes, talking about vegetable gardens, preserving, or discussing "big picture" food politics. Also, I just really enjoy cooking and eating delicious, well prepared foods. Simple pleasures are the best.
What do you love the most about your job?
The customers are the best part. Every day there are good conversations about food or local happenings. The other day a customer and I found out we shared the same simple experience of taking the time to go outside to watch the sunrise that morning with our daughters. It was a nice moment.
What does community mean to you?
People sharing a common goal or interest - like a love of good food. Though I live in Mulmur, I've really enjoyed being a small part of the Creemore community. It's a warm and welcoming place.
This interview has been condensed and edited.