An inspiring couple!

by Susan Fisch (August 2019)

Frances Ravensbergen immigrated from Holland with her family in 1958. Glenn Hodgins moved to Montreal from Northern Ontario (Kirkland Lake, via Toronto) in 1968. In the mid 70’s, Glenn first bought a 3-story building in pretty bad shape. He renovated and transformed it, making an opening in the center of the two upper stories and adding a greenhouse on the roof. Urban agriculture was already a reality for him!

Frances and Glenn met in 1978, just before he went to work in Mozambique for two years. During that period, they wrote to each other and when he came back, they moved in together.

They wanted to raise children in the country and have the freedom to design a house that incorporated solar energy. They bought a farm with buildings dating from 1856 in Hemmingford Township in 1980. At that point, they had no idea how important this community would become to their family.

They raised their four children (Freya, Che, Lea and Aiden) on the farm, with Frances working in the city (teaching at Concordia University and working as a consultant in organizational change, in the non-profit sector with the Centre for Community Organizations).

Glenn continued his sound recording for documentary films, travelling to many parts of the world. On the home front, he farmed (beef cattle and now maple syrup and hay).

They first built a unique and very inspiring earth sheltered solar house of 325 m2 on three levels, which is still inhabited. Over the years they have transformed their farm house to incorporate solar panels (in the mid-80’s and 52 new panels in 2016) and to be geo-thermally heated. Eight months per year, their Hydro bill is negative and they pay in the winter months. All over, they are nearly auto-sufficient in energy, which is very good considering that they have extra needs with their maple-syrup production. Most recently Glenn built a geo-thermally heated greenhouse.

The projects, along with using environmentally-sound farming techniques, were part of their vision of experimenting and incorporating new technologies as a living example of how to become more environmentally responsible. Glenn has been known to give free advice to many people exploring solar and geo-thermal use! And, as he said: ‘If I could turn a 1856 house in a zero net energy building with a budget of less than 30,000$, it should be possible for most buildings.”

While they are still challenged with the amount of plastic that comes into the house, the impact of needing a car to get to the city to work (no electric car yet) and the desire to travel by plane occasionally, they also recognize the importance of policy changes at the government level to bring about real changes that would have an impact on the environment. Frances has been a member of the Hemmingford Environment Committee since it was founded in 1990. She has been active with the political party Quebec Solidaire as well as working for environmental justice.

Life in Hemmingford has been rich with involvement in youth organizations, École St-Romain (which all 4 children attended) and, most recently, support to asylum seekers crossing at Roxham Road (through the work of Bridges not Borders). Frances is also a member of the Porchlight Project, working to re-unite a Syrian refugee family that still has members living in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Hemmingford has been a welcoming, caring and wonderful community that they landed in almost accidentally, close to 40 years ago – lucky them…and lucky us!

Frances and Glenn, thanks for your inspiration!