A Worthy Crusade

Valley-based Cascadian Crusaders take their environmental education show on the road

“The message we want to leave with the children is that we have to work together to stop plastic from entering our waterways and ending up in the ocean, <a href=

” says Cascadian Crusader Jarrett Krentzel. Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/crusader-jarrett-602×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> “The message we want to leave with the children is that we have to work together to stop plastic from entering our waterways and ending up in the ocean,” says Cascadian Crusader Jarrett Krentzel. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

All kids love books and, when the characters in those books come to ‘life’, a kind of magic happens. Learning becomes even more fun when the story is acted out by people who are not afraid to be a little (or a lot) goofy, all in the name of education.

This is exactly what three Comox Valley-based environmental educators are doing when they visit schools dressed up as a girl named Cassy, Sunny the Albatross and Bobby the cowboy surfer. The ‘Cascadian Crusaders’ are Michelle Peters (Cassy), Jarrett Krentzel (Sunny) and Haemish Beaton (Bobby). The non-profit organization’s co-founders have spent the better part of three years working collaboratively to co-write and self publish a 32-page, full-color book called The Great Plastic Round-up, in which Cassy, Sunny and Bobby are the main characters.

With the support of some Angel Investors, they have also designed costumes, developed a curriculum-focused educational message, launched a website and have a hand-painted and eye-catching promotional van to take their show on the road. The trio is on a mission to teach kids about the environmental impact of plastic in our oceans and waterways. They are delivering their messages both here in the Comox Valley and beyond.

In keeping with their environmentally conscientious philosophies, the book itself reflects a ‘support local’ point-of-view. Based on creative concepts developed by Peters, the book was illustrated by Comox Valley artist Alex Whitcombe. A local graphic designer did the book layout and it was published in Victoria by Island Blue.

What, exactly, the Cascadian Crusaders are all about is best described in the foreword of their book, and reprinted here as a testament to their heart-felt commitment to their cause.

“For us, choosing to address the subject of plastic pollution in the ocean opened the way to a ‘crusade’. We worked together to explore the problems, find the answers and present them to children in a way that was colorful and positive. Creativity continues to be the main key to this exploration both for us and for all the other ‘crusaders’ who innovate new visions, designs, art, social systems and technologies that help us help our environment.

“This book is a starting point in our crusade to foster an active community of creative and concerned individuals who would like to support this approach to environmental education. Our collective future needs involved individuals and groups who actively value service for the sake of the environment. We can all afford to become more aware, to act carefully and thoughtfully and to allow ourselves some creative fun.”

They came up with the name ‘Cascadian’ rather than ‘Canadian’ or ‘Pacific’ because ‘Cascadian’ describes an undefined borderless geographical region that stretches from California and Oregon up the Sunshine Coast. The problems with plastic, the book explains as Sunny and Cassy travel to California to meet with Bobby, go far beyond our local waters. Considering it is a global awareness initiative, ‘Cascadian’ just fit the bill.

Just as the characters in the book are very different and they meet in unusual ways, Krentzel, Beaton and Peters all come from very different backgrounds.

“Coming from a pretty affluent community in Long Island, New York, I was raised with the idea that I would become a doctor and by 1999 I had qualified to go to med school,” explains Krentzel. “But I wanted to take a year off so I signed up with an organization called AmeriCorps, which is kind of like the Peace Corps but with a focus on public service. I taught environmental education in middle schools in Portland, Oregon. It was the most personally gratifying work I had ever done. So, much to the surprise of my family, when that commitment was done I signed up for a second year! This time, I was posted to a non-profit organization in California. This experience, however, was not the best. There were political problems and corruption in the association and I came away from that experience quite disenfranchised.

“To digest what I had just experienced, in 2002, I took six months off to hike the Appalachian Trail—a 4,000-kilometre walk through the mountains from the state of Georgia to Maine,” adds Krentzel. “Fellow hikers nicknamed me ‘Pacence’ (pronounced ‘Patience’) because they observed me going about my day with patience and it was important for me to pace myself along the trail. I made a diary of my experience and how I learned that you can eventually find your path as soon as you stop searching for it. In the fall of 2007, I self published a book about my philosophical journey entitled Walking with Pacence.

After hiking the Appalachian Trail and before writing his book, Krentzel traveled to Baja, Mexico, where he met a young woman named Nichole Prichard who was teaching at a turtle restoration program there. They soon discovered that they shared common interests, although they were from completely different backgrounds. Nichole was from a small town called Topley, not far from Smithers, BC. They eventually married and moved to the Comox Valley because Krentzel felt that Smithers was too cold in the winter. The couple now have two young children.

In 2010, another serendipitous meeting would once again change the direction of Krentzel’s life. While doing some carpentry work on a house in Cumberland, he met Haemish Beaton.

In more ways than one, the two men were kindred spirits. Both had been bitten by the travel bug in their 20s and both had a penchant for environmental stewardship.

“My father was a CFL football player so we lived in Edmonton and Montreal before he wound up his career with the BC Lions, which had brought our family to Vancouver,” explains Beaton. “Life took me in a new direction in 2002, when I was about 25. I read Hermann Hesse’s book on self-discovery, Siddhartha. This got my head turning a bit about renouncing the Western world, so to speak.”

So Beaton sold everything he owned and bought a plane ticket to Australia. “This began my life as a surfer and a seeker,” he says. “I travelled to Indonesia and several other South Asian countries where I began to bear witness as to what was happening in the oceans. Whether I was surfing in Australia or kayaking in the Pacific Ocean, I kept seeing plastic in the water. The day that I decided to become a ‘crusader’ I was kayaking and a migrating grey whale surfaced beside me in the water. As I took in the majesty of its presence, I wondered ‘Who is representing you?’ That’s when it really hit me. Two thirds of the world is ocean… like a blue heart that sustains life. I had to protect it.”

Beaton’s ‘passion for plastic’ was further inspired while he was ocean kayaking near Tofino. He was astounded by how many lost buoys were free floating in the water. He started grabbing them and stringing them together. It wasn’t long before he had amassed a large collection of plastic trash. Eventually, he managed to get to the beach and loaded the garbage into the back of his truck. “This was a proverbial light bulb moment for me,” says Beaton. “I felt that I had found my calling. While I would continue to job as a carpenter, my work as a ‘Cascadian Crusader’ had begun.”

In 2008, Beaton went to a barbeque at a friend’s house and met a young woman named Michelle Peters. Over the course of the evening, he discovered they shared a mutual respect for the environment. Having grown up in the foothills of Silverstar Mountain in Vernon, BC, Peters describes herself as “a free spirit who grew up with an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle.” Beaton says the entire book project was born from her creative vision.

“I am a typical BC girl who is very connected to the outdoors,” says Peters. “I grew up on a farm, in a large blended family. After high school I lived in Israel for a while and traveled through Europe and the Middle East for six months. When I returned to Canada I studied art history at university and spent my summers working across the country as a tree planter to earn money for school. The combination of school, work and travel helped me develop a strong sense of environmental responsibility and activism. I went on to become an art teacher focused on utilizing recyclable materials in a form of eco art.”

Beaton and Peters had a son together and formed a blended family with her two young daughters. In 2010, he had just completed a recreation program at Capilano College when the family moved to Cumberland to “grow veggies and live near the snow-capped mountains and the ocean.” Peters is now finishing her degree in art history and revitalizing her ideas environmentally.

“Because of our mutual interest in the environment, Haemish, Michelle and I hit it off right away,” says Krentzel. “He explained to me that he and Michelle had been developing the concept for a children’s book about an environmental superhero… the first draft of which was more than 40,000 words! They had created the characters and a compelling storyline. When he discovered that I had experience self-publishing a book, he invited me to join the project.”

As the two men hammered nails together over the next few weeks, they (along with Peters) also hammered out the details of how they would create their non-profit organization called Cascadian Crusaders and self-publish the book.

“From there, the idea began to snowball,” says Krentzel. “Before long, our idea grew from ‘just a book’ to an entire environmental education program. This would be the ticket to get us into schools, festivals and special events.”

The book launched in October, 2013 and, even though they have faith in their concept, all three authors were blown away by the positive response. They have since placed it in more than 30 retail locations across Vancouver Island and the program has been delivered (or is scheduled) in several schools in communities from Victoria to Campbell River, Tofino to Nanaimo. There is a fee to have the entourage come to present the program but the cost is negotiated depending on the school or community organization’s individual resources. The program is completely flexible, in an effort to support each school as needed. The book’s $20 cover price also helps fund their on-going efforts.

Cascadian Crusaders have also promoted the program at the Vancouver International Boat Show, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival and in April will be in Victoria to help celebrate Earth Day. They will also be at the Victoria Harbour Boat Show May 1-4, Ocean’s Day at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney on June 8, and at the Vancouver Wooden Boat Festival on Granville Island August 21–24.

At a special ‘Superhero Day’ at Huband Park Elementary in Courtenay in April, the Cascadian Crusaders will be in attendance to present their engaging theatrical presentation that picks up where the book leaves off and deliver their recycled plastic art program to students in the Environmental Club.

“The message we want to leave with the children is that we have to work together to stop plastic from entering our waterways and ending up in the ocean,” says Krentzel. “But we also want to make sure we don’t leave them feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. That’s why we present it in such a fun way. We want them to come away from this experience feeling that they can be super heroes too.”

“Seeing the published book I feel a both sense of fruition and excitement for the future,” adds Peters. “I feel that I am at the start of my writing career. Reaching the next generation with this powerful message—in a way that instills their sense of power—is really, really important. There’s a lot of work to do [to save our oceans] and I am just one person, but working as a collective is one way to facilitate change. We want to inspire children to see the vision not the obstacles. That’s our crusade.”

Purchase ‘The Great Canadian Plastic Round-up featuring: The Cascadian Crusaders’ in the Comox Valley at Laughing Oyster Books, Blue Heron Books, Blue Toque, Whale Tales Toys, Podlings, Alberni Outpost, Village Muse Books and the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre.
For more information call 250-897-8367 or visit  www.cascadianncrusaders.com