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Changing gears: In the land of re-invention

Changing gears: In the land of re-invention

Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called … Salt Spring Island?

[photo of Larry and Julie]
Photo by Elizabeth Woods, Artsci'13

Larry Woods, MA'84, and Julie Kimmel, Artsci'85, explore the joy and science of cheesemaking on Salt Spring Island.

In 1999, Julie Kimmel, Artsci’85, followed her partner to Salt Spring Island – the largest of BC’s Gulf Islands - as he returned to a teaching post. Seeking a job of her own, Julie soon found herself enquiring about opportunities at the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company (SSICC), then a very small family business recently established by refugee foodies from Toronto. Today, Julie is part of a “cheese farm” team totaling some 35 eclectic and energetic Salt Springers, a team which, in 2014, celebrated the company’s recognition by the SS Chamber of Commerce as the island’s top small business.

[signage for cheese shop]
Photo by Elizabeth Woods, Artsci'13

Having tried her hand at almost every aspect of the operation along the “whey,” Julie is today the firm’s head cheese maker and ripener. Cheeses are only sold when she says they are ready for market. Observing that her various roles fit surprisingly well with her academic background and skillset, Julie is gratified that her new vocation allows her to explore the joy and science of cheesemaking.

Salt Spring has become the land of re-invention for me as well.; Upon returning from the United Arab Emirates in 2007 at the end of my second decade as a professor of political science and international studies, [Larry did his PhD from the Australian National University] I concluded that commuting off-island was no longer for me.  My family was on Salt Spring and I needed to be on the island, too. So while having reached the rank of full professor, maintained an enviable publication record and prided myself on my teaching, it was time for a change. I was in the midst of exploring the idea of recreating my academic persona online when, for the fourth or fifth time, I was invited to join the SSIC team. Intrigued, I finally relented and gave it a try.

[photo of Larry]
Photo by Elizabeth Woods, Artsci'13

Eight years later, I am still “in the cheese,” content in my new trade as a cheesemaker. As if an echo from a previous life, I was even promoted to the rank of supervisor last year. So you can teach an old PhD about pH! Sure, my remuneration is not what it used to be, but even more valuable payoffs have come in the form of the opportunities to contribute to my community. In addition to enjoying less stress and getting remarried, in recent years I have hosted a classical radio show on the local radio station, run for public office, acted in three plays, taken voice lessons, sung with four choirs, presented a solo concert featuring my countertenor voice, and joined the local hospice group. I have also been given the chance to help build one of the most successful businesses on our island and relished the satisfaction that comes with seeing customers smile when they taste our product.

So I still teach, research and - like Julie - draw inspiration from those around me. Call this life-long learning if you like. We do.

By the “whey,” our goat’s milk cheeses are distributed across Canada and down the west coast of the U.S., so keep an eye out for them. And when you get the chance to come to Salt Spring Island, do visit the cheesery. Our self-guided tour and our tasting room await, not to mention our goats, sheep and chickens. Like many before you, re-invention may be something you’d like to explore here as well.


Photos by Elizabeth Woods, Artsci'13. Elizabeth has since earned an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of London and is now working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in Amman, Jordan.

[cover - Queen's Alumni Review Digital Special Edition Fall 2015]