Garnet Borch has a background in renewable energy, food rescue and non-profit work. He enjoys asking, “How do we create spaces that empower us to be the change?” At Newo, he’s exploring that question in the realm of energy audits.

life story so far

Garnet and his three brothers, (one a bit older, one a bit younger, and one a decade younger) grew up roaming through the woods on their parents’ successive acreages outside Edmonton, making forts and learning together through a mode of homeschooling called “unschooling.”

“Rather than sitting in a classroom, the math was helping mom cook and doing the fractions to double the recipe, and the biology was going for a walk in the woods, maybe with mom who has a zoology degree. Social studies was travelling to Guatemala, staying there for a couple of months and learning about their history and culture. Language was taking Spanish lessons as we were travelling. Just learning through living and doing the things that we were excited to do.”

By the time he was 14, however, the chance to spend more time with friends prompted his entry to the school system. Despite never having taken a test before, other than for his learner’s licence, he quickly got up to speed and began to excel.

“I think one of the biggest things unschooling gave me was a love for learning.” Homework “wasn’t a chore. It was something I had chosen to do myself.”

turning points

From about 15, Garnet was on a path to work in renewable energy. His mom, a dedicated community builder, and dad, a chemical engineer working in the oil industry, had instilled in him a passion for nature, and math came easily, so he studied mechanical engineering at Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta.

“The theory I was going on at that time was that the world has all these technologies that have been developed — solar and wind have been around for a long time — and what the world needs is to have engineers who are interested in implementing those technologies.”

This theory carried him through most of university, until a course on environmental philosophy shifted his worldview.

“That was kind of a game changer for me,” he says. “It brought me to this perspective of, ‘Oh, wait a minute. The technology’s there, and it’s not being implemented.’

“I began to see that the challenges we face are more than technical — way, way more than technical — and actually our society way overvalues the technical solutions.”
Garnet was on a path, however, chasing a worthwhile dream that appeared to be within reach.

“I found myself working as a renewable energy engineer and not being part of the change that I thought I would be,” he says. But, for a while, “I actually didn’t recognise that mentally. My body told me that first.”

His wrists tensed up with tendinitis and his feet developed plantar fasciitis, and after several months he had to take time off work.

“After a long while, I learned about the mind-body connection and I was able to tune in more to what my body was trying to tell me; the career path I had landed in was not fulfilling for me.”

He pivoted to work in the non-profit sector for three years, flexing his community-building muscles on the leadership of the Edmonton Permaculture Guild, the Leftovers Foundation and other initiatives, until another turning point came along.

“Landing in Newo and being in this environment has actually allowed me to re-open the engineering training and skills that I developed in a way that is more healthy.”

core values

Garnet’s lifelong care for the natural world and desire to contribute to sustainability has morphed into a more holistic care for Earth and its inhabitants over time.

“My current theory of change is more people-centred. We need to change the way we are as beings: our values, our culture, our relationships. From that change, the adoption of technology will become much faster and much more appropriate to the needs,” he says.

Musically gifted, Garnet and two of his brothers play shows and record as The Borch Brothers.

“We have a hoot,” he says. “Most of my days and most of my passions are spent behind a computer organizing things, and The Borch Brothers is a creative and a performance outlet.”

rooted in people or place

Travelling extensively during his university years, Garnet came to realize the Edmonton area (and specifically Mill Creek Ravine) is home for him.

“Coming back into the open prairies, my heart and being kind of expanded,” he says, noting that geographical stability allows him to invest in the relationships that keep him rooted.
Garnet tries to negotiate a complex dynamic while exploring his ancestry.

“What does it mean to be a place-based person as a settler on this land?” he asks. “I’m from here and not from here at the same time.”
In his research, he found that his ancestors were not only spread out over a large geographical area (Northern Ireland all the way through to the Ukraine), but their various journeys to Canada span the past three centuries.

“They’ve been on Turtle Island for a very long time, and that means that my ancestry is disconnected in different ways from the various places in Europe,” he says. He has an idea percolating to take The Borch Brothers (whose music contains echoes of the Old World) on a tour that visits places his ancestors lived, or from which they left.

“On some almost spiritual level, that would be like bringing them home, because I’m sure it was really difficult to leave,” he says. “Although some of those things are quite old in me, in terms of how long my ancestry has been disconnected from that land, I still think that there could be healing of sorts that happens in visiting those places.”

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