Kate Doyle — from food security to Roller Derby

kate doyle

Dunk tank

woman getting dunked in dunk tank
Kate says, “I’ve always had a lot of opinions.” Perhaps her boss at the United Way volunteered Kate while she was on holiday to be a celebrity dunkee because she hoped all those opinions would translate into a lineup of people prepared to pay money to dunk her.

At the dunk tank station for a charity fundraiser one Saturday morning in August, Kate Doyle was squatting on the sidelines with her partner, Eric Babineau, and their three-year-old daughter, Annette. They were watching spectators toss practice balls while Kate waited to be the first celebrity dunkee. Then a big guy stepped up, drilled a wild pitch high, hit a steel support causing the ball to ricochet past Kate’s little family and close to Annette. And a look somewhere between a poised rattle snake and an angry Rottweiler came over Kate’s face. The guy didn’t apologize, didn’t even look her way because, I think, he was embarrassed; but he must have felt it, that look of someone who was not offended, but guard-dog pissed that someone almost hit her little girl.

If you don’t know this reflex-to-protect side to Kate, or if you think it’s limited to staring daggers, then I don’t think you know Kate Doyle at all. But let’s rewind.

women at dunk tank event
Diana Gregory of the local Canadian Mental Health Association gives a sopping Kate Doyle a hug. Kate, in her typical thorough way, Googled all about the dunk tank before the event; in particular, How do you get out? Turns out, there are steps in the tank.

Food, Gardens, and Shine Theory

My wife, Elaine Mandrona, and I were interviewing key players in the Moncton area food movement and Kate came to us via Aaron Shantz of Our Food SENB. Kate’s employer, the United Way of GMASENB, sponsors his organization, and he and Kate work closely out of the agency’s office in the Community Peace Centre on Church St. Kate is the Community Impact Manager and, among other duties, works with people applying for funding.

Kate Doyle in Oak Lane
We interviewed Kate in Oak Lane, downtown Moncton. On a summer morning, there could not be quieter spot.

On the morning of the first interview, Kate came striding toward us out of the harsh sunshine in the Peace Centre’s parking lot and into the cool shade between the buildings that make up Oak Lane. Shaking hands, I asked, “Is it Kate or Katie?”

“Kate,” she said, definitively, “only my dad calls me Katie.” I couldn’t tell if it was just a fact or a warning.

Thirty-ish, confident, forthcoming, she proved articulate and had considered opinions on everything because, as she explained, “I am Millennial to the core,” which is to say, she constantly engages people both online and in real life, especially if they have a different viewpoint. She’s comfortable in her skin, dresses simply, keeps her hairstyle simple, pulled back with a twist that keeps it out of her eyes while attractively framing her face. She has extraordinary eyes that suggests the Asian in her background.

She’s keen to ensure conversations are two way, even if it is her is being interviewed, so it’s no surprise to hear she swears by Anne Friedman’s Shine Theory, which embraces collaboration over competition. “When you shine, I shine,” she said. “It’s related to feminism. It really resonates with how I work with people.”

Except for us, Oak Lane was deserted and quiet that morning and we chatted about food, the food movement, children and gardens — her garden, in particular.

We only learned about her Roller Derby career later, but we’ll get to that.

It always starts with a small box

Eric by the garden box he made
Kate and Eric met through music. Kate often had bands crash at her place in Fredericton and Eric had left behind the triple-extra-large t-shirt he had bought at a concert. He connected to Kate via MonctonLocals.com (pre-Facebook message board) but for the life of her she couldn’t remember anyone at her place who was anywhere near big enough to wear a 3xl t-shirt. Eric is a small, or medium at most. He went over to retrieve his shirt, they got talking and the rest is history. He’s never worn the shirt.

“We’re going to start with a small box,” Kate told Eric, announcing her foray into gardening four years ago.  Eric said, “Oh, OK. A small garden box.” A four-by-four box was made. The most recent expansion plans (four times that box)  were hastily sketched and fired off in an email to Eric from work with the question, “Can we amp this up?”  meaning the garden. Eric, ever supportive,  said, “OK” and took a couple of vacation days and made it for her.

The garden also began expanding into potted tomato plants and herbs along the deck, and now that Annette is more helpful, Kate said, “I would love to see it take up the whole yard.” After all, she pointed out, there is a  playground nearby if Annette needs to play. We think she was joking, and she may think she was joking, but you never know about gardeners.

Snap peas, tiny tomatoes and feeling full

snap pea with shadow of person behind
Snap peas are so magical they’re just sitting there waiting to be eaten by three-year-olds. Annette helped buy seeds as well as planted this year and really knows her way around the garden. Kate hopes gardening at this age helps Annette develop a natural and healthy relationship to food.

We arrived at 9:00 am on a Sunday in July to photograph this garden and to meet Annette and Eric. The mid-summer sun was shining harshly making it all the more evident that the garden was sparse and struggling. (We were warned.) But seasoned and committed gardeners know this is how gardening goes, and that in July the game is far from over. When we returned in August it was lush.

However, a snap pea and cherry tomato harvest was never going to happen with a three-year-old loose and feeling entitled because, after all, she helped plant them from seed. For small children, snap peas and cherry tomatoes are too perfectly sized and positioned to imagine they aren’t growing just for them.

This year Annette reached the age when children become aware of a garden’s magic, that it can turn playing in the dirt into real food. Kate hopes this magic will parlay itself into a life-long, healthy relationship with food. Kate said, “We’re taught to be thin and beautiful instead of being healthy and full.” What she wants is for Annette to believe: “‘I can make my own food. I can be proud of what I eat. I can eat things that are good for me and make me feel good.’”

Where do gardening bugs come from?

Kate and Annette's potted tomato plants. Annette loves tiny tomatoes and loves to count them. Of course, if you keep eating them, counting is less of chore.
Kate and Annette’s potted tomato plants. Annette loves tiny tomatoes and loves to count them. Of course, if you keep eating them, counting is less of chore.

The gardening bug, on Kate’s side, skipped at least one generation. She remembers picking strawberries with her family, but there was no agricultural tradition despite living on PEI, where farming is everything. On Eric’s side, though, there is an uninterrupted gardening tradition, including a sister who homesteads. Kate’s garden evokes Eric’s memories of raiding his mother’s garden, “pulling carrots out, wiping them on the grass, and eating them right out in the yard.” And last fall the three of them joined the Babineaus in picking a million apples — with Kate, everything is measured in millions, tons or hot minutes — processing some of them into apple butter that she slathers on pork chops.

Food for the Millennials

kate at home
Kate lives with her partner Eric and their daughter Annette in an older house in Moncton’s core. It’s one of places where there is more building than lot. Still, Kate would like to make the most of it with as much garden as possible.

Food was simple for Baby Boomers because the food system was largely hidden: buy food at the grocery store; eat it; throw the scraps away.  Millennials like Kate, though, felt the repercussions of the “invisible food system” and grew up feeling compelled to examine their habits and choices more closely.

Kate always thinks things through, usually by talking them out with friends both on- and offline and has been doing this since adolescence on PEI. “I always had a lot of opinions,” she said. “I tend to take a very hard stand on a lot of things.”

One of those stands was on eating meat. In her teens, Kate committed to being vegan as a protest, not against meat, per se, but against how industrial farms mistreated livestock and their keepers. She only gave veganism up in her late twenties when she became pregnant because she felt she couldn’t balance her and her baby’s nutritional needs with the time constraints of being a working mom. Still, eating meat brought up the same concerns about mistreatment. It was local farmers like Murray Bunnett, who raise their animals humanely, that helped her find balance, ethically and nutritionally.

And she’s comfortable with that decision — to begin eating meat again — because she has examined other assumptions about food. Concerning a brand of tofu she loves: “You think in your head tofu is healthy and is a good thing to eat and you’re being ethical because you’re not killing an animal. But I was thinking, Ok, hold on, this tofu came from China: How was it produced? Who is producing it and what conditions are they living in? Is it any more ethical to be buying this because it’s not killing an animal versus me supporting a local farmer who is treating his animals fairly with love and kindness and compassion? Where’s the balance there?” For Kate, the key to navigating the myriad issues around food is to strike that balance, a good stand for anyone who must work with people in the local food movement.

Kate and the food movement

kate looking at her garden
Kate has been gardening for four years, now. She said, “The first year I didn’t know what I was doing. I left stuff in way too long, peas and tomatoes had got rotten before I was confident enough to pick them.” The next year she changed focus. “I love squash and foods like that so we really focused on that and we were really successful.”

“It’s a lot like roots,” Kate said of the movement.  “It’s happening underground. It’s really incredible how people are collectively working through all these things.” But she, too, has become a player because she is the Community  Impact Manager for the local United Way. Kate estimated during this past summer that, with a food box program she worked on, she spent two days a week on food and garden-based projects. What’s more, she said, “A lot of the work I do may not be directly food related, but food is part of it.” She regularly meets with farmers like Murray Bunnett, community food workers like Janet Hamilton of the Mapleton Teaching Kitchen and homesteaders/activists like Aaron Shantz of Our Food SENB, so she can’t help but be steeped in all that is going on. And she is in awe.

“I think that Moncton has this really cool vibe happening right now. Things are literally growing,” she said.  There are the little things. “We walk downtown and we see planters with food in them. You may not notice, but you walk by Calactus (Café) and there’s little strawberries and grapes.  I know it’s small scale. I know it doesn’t address broader issues, but it’s really cool to live in a community that that is a thought people have: ‘I am  going to make sure there is food ripe for the picking.’” And there are big things, like how area food banks have shifted to a progressive food centre model like the Peter McKee Community Food Centre.  Kate feels that in Moncton “we’ve really embraced arts, culture and now we’re looking at food for social change which is important to me.” In fact, she claims, “I love Moncton, and I will fight anyone who says that’s it’s not the best place.” Which is tall praise from a woman who, just a few years ago, hated Moncton; hated it so much it took Roller Derby to change her mind.

Eve McQueen, because Katefrontation was taken

roller derby scene
Back in her Roller Derby days, Kate was a blocker, eventually a pivot, a special position that kind of directs strategy. She’s the one with yellow helmet. (Marc Henwood Photography)

Understanding Kate is easier if you factor in Roller Derby. I put it in upper case because when Kate talks about Roller Derby, it sounds upper case, like the Roman Catholic Church or the House of Commons. She played for the Lumbersmacks.

“I was really strong and I was unafraid. And I hit really hard,” Kate said of her Roller Derby era, the era pregnancy and then a shattered knee ended.

Finding Roller Derby was about finding her squad, her crew. “I loved this being something started by women for women with no ulterior motives around it. It was a place all women could go, all women shapes, ages, sizes,” she said. “It’s not often that women are allowed to have a space and be proud of who we are and our bodies and what we’re able to do. So it was really cool.” It was a tight community. (Roller Derby was first played in 1935 and has waxed and waned in popularity. The Twenty-First Century iteration is largely dominated by women’s teams.)

Eve McQueen was her show name. “I wanted Katefrontation but it was taken.” The name was inspired by Eric because, “If you look at Eric, I feel there is a striking resemblance to Steve McQueen.”

Roller Derby dominated her life, but that is to be expected with Kate. “I’m an all or nothing kind of person. My whole social life revolved around it. I want to go back, but I can’t.”

She can’t because she returned too soon after having Annette. “I was desperate to get back. I needed to get out of the house. I missed my friends and I missed roller skating. I really loved it.

“The second night back we’re doing a scrimmage and I should not have been playing. I was still all loosey goosey from having a kid because your muscles are all messed up and I went to go in to hit somebody.” Eve McQueen was a blocker. There are blockers and jammers. Jammers do the scoring through holes blown through the opposition by blockers. “I hadn’t been on roller skates in a year and a half and I twisted the wrong way and twisted my knee and shattered the whole thing.” And it was over. Forever. Reconstructive surgery is an option for professional athletes, but, apparently, Roller Derby at the Lumbersmack level doesn’t qualify.


Annette head shot

The shattered knee might have officially ended The Roller Derby era, but it had really ended the year before, more specifically, within five minutes of Kate finding out she was pregnant. In that five minutes, she informed her teammates that she couldn’t play. She lied to them, mind you, making some excuse because she was torn by her loyalty to them, but her baby immediately shot to the top of her list of priorities. Eric’s, too. Both had jobs involving a lot of travel or long hours, but both found jobs closer to home. Kate said, “Our entire life has revolved around our child this year.”

annette with dad by their garden
Annette, the centre of Kate and Eric’s life this year. She has become quite the gardener. “Her favourite food is tomatoes — so we planted a ton of tomatoes. We planted from seed in the late winter to show her this is the ground, this is the pot, we put the seed in it, we water it, we look after it and we put it in the sun. and she’s learning. She’s three. Being able to show that start to finish to her is really interesting.”

All the signs of great parenting are there: their obvious belief that their kid is the smartest kid, ever; “tons” of pictures on Facebook; the way they talk to her like she’s a fully functioning person, not a baby; the pride in her helping in the garden despite the episode of washing it out with the hose on the wrong setting.

annette using garden hose
Annette demonstrating her garden watering skills. Now that she’s three, she is helping with some of the chores. Watering is a favourite chore and she is quite good at it, but one of her first efforts nearly washed the garden out because the hose was set to jet rather than shower.

Annette is happy, confident, bright and independent. And she’s uni-lingually French. “We decided it was really important for her first language to be French. It’s not my first language, it’s my husband’s,” Kate said. Kate did French immersion in school, but said that despite understanding really well, she had no confidence in speaking the language. While the decision isn’t exactly unusual in Moncton, for me, as someone who has struggled for years to learn French with marginal success, it strikes me as courageous to put a language between you and your child and then expect to bridge that gap by the time the child can speak. Kate said, “It’s been a learning process for me to describe all these things in French,” but she made it. But that’s what I learned about Kate in our four meetings, that she commits to these things, unreservedly, wholeheartedly, no looking back — veganism, Air Cadets(see sidebar), Roller Derby, gardening, French for her girl.

But that Saturday morning by the dunk tank, what I knew about Kate Doyle was all gardens and Shine Theory. Watching her squatting with Annette and Eric, and Kate with that angry-Rottweiler look on her face, I was caught off guard, my camera dangling by my side, wondering what was going to happen. It was only later that day that she told us, “When I am loyal to something, I will do anything for those people.” And she hadn’t yet told us that she had been a bruising blocker for the Lumbersmacks, and that she “hit really hard”(present tense), and that despite not looking it, she was really physically aggressive.  I didn’t know the depth of her commitment to the things she loved and believed in and the lengths she’d go for them. If I had known that, I would have had the camera at the ready because with Kate Doyle anything could have happened.

kate toweling off after he dunk tank duty
Toweling off after a few good dunkings. I tried to put her under a couple of times, but had to be consoled that at least my donation money went to a good cause.

Headshot of Kate Doyle

Sidebar: Over 10 years an Air Cadet

Air Cadets was another organization where Kate Doyle thrived. That era lasted over 10 years, starting in 1996. “My parents put me in because I was rebellious. I don’t know if I was super rebellious at that point. I had a bit of a mouth on me, maybe. I always had a lot of opinions. They weren’t trying to break me or break my spirit,” she said, “just trying to add some structure in my life.” Whatever the reason, it was dead on.

“Air Cadets was amazing,” she said. “I’m very much an order and rules person. I was very much a model cadet.” She said, “It sent me all over the country. It taught me to speak, it taught me structure. I loved my time in Air Cadets.” She loved it so much, that once she aged out at 18, she joined the Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC) which is part of the military. “When I worked summers, it paid for school. It was pretty fun for somebody my age with no real employable skills to be making that much money.” When she moved to Moncton, she found it overstaffed, but felt it was time to move on anyway.