The next few months were a frantic and exciting blur.  While Finn and I worked out the timing for announcing our engagement in two months’ time, Mom and Daisy kept the Third Place running efficiently while Dad worked with community leaders to lay the groundwork for Sky Reach’s investment for vertical farming.

This is where Dad was at his best, beginning the entire process by hosting an event at the restaurant for political, economic and civil society leaders. He introduced Aakriti and the team to the group who set about to explain the plan and how it would all serve as a pilot project for what later would become a North American initiative that would likely develop into a global industry.

Due to the reputation of the Third Place, all the important players attended. Sky Reach had already located a suitable seven-story structure near the river where it was hoped renovations could begin immediately.  Because it was zoned residential but had been abandoned for years, city council required little time to change the bylaw to allow for construction to begin.  Representatives from local farmers associations were invited and had to be assured that there was a place for them amidst all the infrastructure that would be required.  One of them suggested that the farms in the region concentrate on the larger consumer demand products like corn, as well as specializing in dairy, poultry, pork and beef activities.  It was a brilliant suggestion, permitting those farmers who wish to continue working their land could do so and still remain part of the vital food system.

The newspaper publisher, well known to Dad, had also been invited and he offered to help lead the public education campaign that would be essential for citizens to not only know of what was happening, but so that they would also be encouraged to purchase the products generated by the new kind of agriculture.

Two local credit unions and three financial lending institutions were there to assist with loans and sustainable credit for those who would have to remodify their existing operations to take advantage of the opportunities.

Eventually, a month later, Dad spoke at the hockey arena downtown, along with other officials, in perhaps the largest public input gathering that city had known. There were the usual cast of naysayers, but the majority of the crowd understood the implications of the announcement, even if they hadn’t yet fully grasped the details.

Aakriti brought in even more members of her California team and was frequently in and out of our city.  Finn recognized immediately that they knew their files and grew to respect their abilities.  Research had already been undertaken by the team, with help from our local university economists, that was later released to the public showing that water and electricity required by the new operation would save energy by significant measures. At one point, Finn became so excited that he turned in an instant and kissed me with energy.

“These folks are amazing.  This is going to work, Annie.  I know it.” He held a natural affinity for them because of their advanced levels of education and their dedication to working out the machinery behind all the activity.

I often thought that the arrival of such highly talented women and men from Sky Reach fit a deep and abiding need in Finn that couldn’t be satisfied with the daily operations of the Third Place, or even with the companionship of our family – me included.  There was something deeply intelligent about him; we all knew it but felt we couldn’t really comprehend it.  Yet it was never a driving force in his life.  He appeared content with his place in the ecosystem of the restaurant and his relationships with the family that emotionally satisfied him.

Yet with the arrival of the Sky Reach team into our lives, Finn flourished.  “He’s finding the missing ingredient that doesn’t operate at our present level of the Third Place,” Dad noted, and he was correct, as usual.

The delightful result of it all was that Finn became even more energized with the possibilities, seeing within this new dynamic for the restaurant a way in which life could be bettered for other communities.  Though he frequently referred to the possible effect on communities in Canada or America, even Mexico, it was the potential for the developing world that drew out his imagination.  He would talk about how abundant crops could even be grown in the Sahara, or even in the ocean or mountain top – all of it with less energy than was presently depleting the world’s resources.

A wonderful by-product of it all was the infusion of new energies into our relationship. When filled with ideas, Finn was magnetic, inspiring, even compulsive.  And those new energies found their way into our daily life together. Physically more passionate, he always wanted to walk together, to discuss future dreams, and to talk about his place in our family and its future.  He was a man on fire, mostly because of this new infusion of intelligence and clarity that simply added to the sense of fulfillment he enjoyed with us instead of taking away from it.

We announced our engagement on a special evening with family, co-workers, key customers, along with Aakriti and most of her team.  I loved all of it, but the most meaningful moment was watching the tears in my parent’s eyes when the news was broken.  They were seated at the counter, holding hands, when Mom quietly and gently put her head on Dad’s shoulder.  He lifted it at that moment and placed a gentle kiss on her lips and perhaps then, for the first time really, I came to realize that I had come into the world because of that kind of deep, affectionate and respectful romance. I committed to myself, and silently to Finn, that I would strive for that kind of enduring intimacy.

Soon enough I had graduated, diploma in hand, and moved almost immediately into taking on more of a management role in the restaurant itself.  Daisy would graduate in the next year, and though she had no commitments to tie her down, remained convinced that she would take her place beside me in running the Third Place.  Mom was always there to help, but it was understood that it wouldn’t be too long before she and Dad turned the operation over to us.

Finn began the structural architecture for drawing together the forces of the Third Place and Sky High.  Though occasionally in the restaurant for certain duties, most of his time was now taken out in the community, ensuring the proper networking between ourselves and our community partners.  It took just a couple of weeks to see that he was in his element.

And Dad? Aakriti used him wisely as a kind of goodwill ambassador for the new initiative.  He was a known element, trusted at all levels, and possessed that innate skill for talking about how economic renewal should happen with the framework of a broader democratic renewal.  He was just so good at talking about it and Aakriti understood that it was Everton Overly who had established the brand upon which they would build the new initiative.   She and Sky Reach officials knew well enough that they were unknowns and that their very success globally meant that they would immediately fall into the distrust local citizens had for such enterprises.  They had seen enough large companies move away, or shut down altogether, to trust Sky Reach at face value.

But the Third Place they relied upon implicitly, Dad especially.  Even with Aakriti’s signed documentation that Sky Reach would stay in our city for the long haul, people remained dubious concerning these outsiders.  Everton Overly’s belief in our community, proved over and over again by his decision to remain instead of making fast money by franchising the business, was sufficient enough to slowly draw his fellow citizens to support the effort.

Over the months, Dad worked with the media, the local Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League to expand the concept of the public space in our community – kind of like the Third Place on steroids.  There were literally thousands of other locations that could infuse democracy with new life but none of them had factored that concept into the very operation of their facilities the way the Third Place had.  For those seeking to follow that model there would have to be discipline in moving their patrons towards larger discussions dealing with community matters.  It wasn’t the success that mattered because most wouldn’t achieve it.  But it would introduce a new awareness into our city, a new consciousness, that reminded average citizens that their participation in the democratic process mattered, perhaps more than they knew, if we were to recover lost ground.  And should a certain success be achieved, politicians themselves would be put on notice that they were being watched, appraised, and depended upon to do their duty.

The reality that we all – Dad, Mom, Finn, Daisy, me – weren’t together as much was something we hardly noticed.  We were building something new and dynamic and yet it had the feeling of history and returning to lessons learned.  We were a team, spread out across our city to tell the story of the Third Place and what it meant to us, to the community, to citizenship itself.  Dad and Mom had pulled it off.  A fairy tale of an idea had come to fruition over those loving and challenging years and what we got was a viable, workable model of democracy in action.  Only Dad could have thought of it, but it took all of us to keep the operation flourishing until Aakriti and Sky Reach arrived and took it all to the stars.


Next and last chapter – Epilogue