For my friend, an interviewee, and someone I admire endlessly. Laurie Featherstone owns and operates Featherstone Two Wheels Green Delivery. And today, she needs to upgrade her equipment. Vote for Laurie in the Livegreen Toronto Awards. Send out good vibes and they’ll come back a hundredfold.
It’s August 2011 and so hot that I’ve been subsisting on goat’s milk ice cream.
On a similarly warm Sunday morning thirty-five years ago, a young girl had just mastered riding her hand-me-down bike without training wheels. Her mom had called her in to get ready for church and then relented, sensing Laurie’s delight. Laurie rode euphoric, up and down the quiet streets of Tapleytown. She exulted in the dull knocking sound of pedals against shoes and at how the gravel crunched beneath her tires. The gentle breeze in her hair at the top of the mountain. Effortless, graceful, independent. Laurie Featherstone was free.
A couple of years later, her mom packed a picnic lunch for the three sisters—aged fourteen, twelve and eight—on bicycles. The girls rode from Stoney Creek to visit their grandparents in Dunnville, fifty kilometres away. Following the same roads their family had driven every weekend, the girls rode (“a dawdle, really”) the entire day. Their arrival was greeted as commonplace, natural.
A family maxim reverberates: “You can do anything you want, as long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
Laurie has a table at the Wychwood Barns Farmer’s Market, advertising Featherstone Two Wheels Green Delivery.
“There are a few of us starting in this sort of business,” she says, willing to make deliveries with a bike and a trailer.
“The serendipity of such a job appeals to me,” I agree, “but maybe that’s the North American in me. If this were Europe, we wouldn’t think twice about doing it.”
Her blonde, freckled face becomes slightly animated. “Why should it be such a big deal?” she declares. “Bike delivery service is just another option.”
Laurie started out delivering vegetables in a time-worn van that kept breaking down. One day she discovered a job delivering sprouts in the city.
Laurie says, eyes gleaming, “The posting read, ‘If you have a bike trailer, you can do this!’” She contacted a bike nerd friend who worked at Mountain Equipment Co-op, and he lent her a bike trailer. If this experiment worked out, she’d get her own trailer.
Last spring, her friend Nani Reddy custom-built a bike trailer for Laurie. I look over at her equipment. The trailer looks recent, but the bike is ancient.
She assures me laughing that Nani would never buy a new bike. “If it still works, it’s perfect for you!” is his recycling motto. She has a love/hate relationship with the bike, because it needs higher calibre equipment to keep up with the job demands. The only original parts left are the early ’90s steel frame, the front wheel and the seat post. It’s seen over a hundred thousand kilometres, pretty remarkable for an old bike.
The trailer is the piece that gets regular compliments. It works beautifully for her.
“No one in Canada sells side-hitch trailers that can handle four hundred pounds,” she explains earnestly. “Most can only handle half that, and they’re kid-related, not cargo-related.” For her business, the axle and the hitch must be able to take the weight.
Laurie really admires Nani’s talent and fortitude. One night, she needed an emergency welding job done, and Nani worked until 10 p.m. to get it done in time.
“I’m both his customer and his friend,” she says adamantly, repeating the relationship many cyclists form with their mechanics.
“What is it you deliver that would weigh four hundred pounds?” I ask, curious.
Laurie does mostly food deliveries. She has weekly deliveries of wild foods like honey, syrop, wild leeks and mushrooms to downtown restaurants. She delivers catered foods to three day-care centres, and to the U of T Sports Camp on behalf of Real Foods for Real Kids. Laurie likes this contract because she gets a big sign for the trailer that reads, Real Food for Real Kids: feeding five thousand kids a day.
Laughing as she repeats this slogan, she says, “It makes me realize the importance of signage.”
The one exceptional delivery is rain barrels for Riversides. They’re light when they’re empty.
Laurie gets up and rearranges the bins in the trailer. They’re empty because she’s dropping them off for a pick-up tomorrow. She delivers for Provenance Regional Cuisine, at Dundas and Palmerston, which offers convenience meals for busy families. It’s all local produce, local fish, meats, sauces and soups. Laurie delivers a meal package to downtown offices. Each package includes instructions and suggestions for preparation. The delivered package saves time shopping for ingredients and looking up recipes.
Laurie has an environmental degree in Geography, which dovetails into this project. Despite all the problems with making a small business profitable, she still prefers the freedom to develop at her own pace.
“And by profitable, I mean ‘not scraping by,’” she explains. “I consider myself a frugal minimalist, but I don’t want to live like I’m in my twenties.”
A couple of weeks after we talked, Laurie started a wild flower home delivery service, through the farmer’s market. She’s called it the Random Act of Kindness Delivery Program. You buy a bouquet of flowers at the Honey Pie Farms booth, and Laurie delivers them for you, free of charge.
If there’s a better job out there than delivering kindness on a bike, I don’t know it.