Category Archives: Food Security

Have your voice heard on raw milk debate in Canada

Durham dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was found guilty of selling and distributing raw milk on Wednesday, a decision that overturned his 2010 acquittal.

While it is not against the law to drink unpasteurized milk in Canada, it is illegal to sell it despite the niche demand in Ontario and other provinces.

Health officials maintain that milk must be pasteurized before it is sold, as it can contain pathogens like salmonella, listeria and E. coli – all harmful or deadly if consumed.

But Schmidt, a vocal advocate of food freedom, insists that Canadians shouldn’t be told what they can or cannot drink. He said he won’t give up the fight to endorse and sell raw milk despite the latest court decision.

Like-minded supporters say the pasteurization process kills beneficial micro organisms that aid in digestion and metabolization, among other arguments in favour of the milk.

Do you think people who want to drink raw milk should be able to buy it, if they understand the risks? Should farmers face jail time if they disobey the law? Have you or would you drink unpasteurized milk?

http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2011/09/should-raw-milk-be-sold-in-canada.html#pd_a_5543872

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Heritage foods, Milk preservation techniques, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Uncategorized

A grizzly end to self-sufficiency

Well, the inevitable has happened. It was a dry summer, so not  many berries around for our ursine co-inhabitants here in this remote rainforest valley. In addition, the fish runs were down. Then last weekend we had our fifty-year flash flood, which swept away both fish and berries, and blurred the notional “boundary lines” which the officials fondly imagine keep humans from bears/cougars and keep the peace. For the last month there have been intimations that those boundaries were about as effective as Chamberlain’s piece of paper in 1939: neighbours reported seeing a grizzly bear routinely ambling around my property; my husband (who is tending the farm while we decide what to do with it and our lives) eventually saw him/her sitting thirty meters from my house, across the grass and orchard, behind the two boundary fences, calmly surveying the pickings. The next night he made his move and broke the main branches on my two pear trees and apple trees. David reported the attack to the RAPP centre in Kamloops and also crosses the road to the Ministry of Earth and Water, where a generous parks official lent me an electric fence, which friends and he set up encircling the orchard; meanwhile we picked almost all the remaining fruit. He thought about ringing our year old $22 000 chicken barn instead, but felt it was as solid as a building could be.

Two weeks later he heard that at least two neighbours down the highway had their chicken houses ransacked and lost their entire flocks. Then the floods hit, and everyone was preoccupied with surviving, then with trying to save their possessions, cars, houses, fences, bridges, stock, food. That same night one of my egg customers phoned to warn about these attacks and offered the use of her gun; frankly, she said, she wanted to protect her food supply.

David decided to move the electric fence, but was suffering a back injury and decided to postpone it until the weekend and some more healing had first taken place. Meanwhile he increased the lights and radios around the chicken house, and stowed away and secured the bags of feed even more securely behind at least two four inch thick doors.

The following night around 11  pm he heard the scream of a hen. There was a new moon so it was black outside, but from my house he could see an illuminated side of the chicken shed about two metres  away and he could see no commotion. He could only guess that the bear had entered from the side, the weakest side of course. Without a dog or gun, surrounded by neighbours, with the flooded slough still saturating the ground all around, he could do little besides yell “shoo bear!” and bang some pots and pans. Later that night he heard more shrieks, but at dawn my restless fears were allayed when he heard the familiar cock crow. Unlike Peter, he felt relieved of his guilt–until he dressed and went down to let them out to free range, and discovered the side door ripped open, and a line of carcasses stretching through the broken page wire fence and under the trees towards the neighbour’s lawn. Inside, the remainder of my flock were traumatised, the biggest rooster hobbling about with one wing extended, a claw puncture mark on his back. There was even one dead chicken, otherwise untouched, inside the hen house.

He reported the attack to Kamloops (a mere 743 kms drive away) and was contacted at work later that day by our Conservation Officer who by good fortune had just made it back into the valley that day. They rendezvoused at 6 pm and David showed him the wooden barricade  had erected overt the broken door. The CO laughed and said a grizzly would toss that side with his little ginger, literally.

“That’s what I feared,” Davie confessed, “but I have no other defence save the electric fence. And that seems so puny.”

“Actually that’s the best defence,” he said. They tracked the bear scat and chicken bodies across my neighbour’s property and back into the bush which stretches a hundred meters to the highway. He didn’t want to go any further.

“So,” David quite rightly asked, “since you’re staying nearby, when I see the bear tonight I’ll phone you and you can come and shoot it?”

“I wish I could, but no,” he sighed again. “If the fence is broken, then I can.”

“So twenty carcasses, a ravaged chicken house and a loss of livelihood aren’t enough.”

“You got it. Ministry policy. I must obey. If he attacks your goats, on the other hand, then I can shoot.”

“Who makes these rules?”

Apparently, he shrugged with–what I hope was–embarrassment and turned away.

David spent the next three hours and into the darkness moving the electric fence to surround my chicken house. My remaining flock reluctantly returned to the scene of the crime except for one canny rooster which, for a time, tried to roost in a nearby tree. David left them to the tender mercies of the night, the barricaded door and turned on the electric current, and hoped for the best.

That was last night. At dawn they were all still safe, but the biggest rooster was barely dragging himself around. David did, however, find bear scat outside my living room window on the grass and in front of the goat gate ten meters across from my house. He noticed the wooden superstructure above the five foot log railing fence (which I had erected to dissuade the goats from jumping out) had been broken down. I have seven pygmy goats now, and five get moved every night out of their pen and into their locked quarters in the nearby barn; the two grown boys like to take their chances in their run. They were safe, but I wonder for how long. Part of me dreads going out tomorrow morning and finding two goat carcasses by the fence; the other part looks forward to it so that then I will have reason to get the CO to shoot the grizzly.

Or maybe I should work with the current capitalist regime, move back to the farm, and put a sign at my gate saying: “BEAR VIEWING STATION: see the grizzly at close quarters as it kills chickens, smashes fruit trees and rips apart pygmy goats–LIVE! P.S.: Since my livelihood is being destroyed in front of your eyes, donations gratefully accepted.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Chickens, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Goats, Politicking with predators

Needless Suffering Comes Home to Roost

Last year, I recorded the devastation that my neighbours suffered through at the hands of a grizzly bear (see Needless Suffering for the story). This year, it has hit my own yard. Two nights ago a grizzly bear broke into my chicken shed damaging the door, the locks, and the hinges before killing half my chicken flock. This is not some flimsy, clap board, slap together $1000 chicken shed that would be sufficient to meet most chickens’ needs. No. This is a full on, two x six construction, cement floor, pony walls, with heavy duty plywood exterior, replete with wire on the windows, barn that cost me over $22,000 to build (and people wonder why the economics are no longer there for farmers). How many years will it take me to pay that back at $5 per dozen eggs minus expenses? It is so far into the future that is hardly worth calculating.  Now let’s factor in the loss of, and replacement cost of my stock…

Last night, he was back though we were armed with an electric fence around the chicken house. Though the bear did not enter the chicken house last night he instead worked his way into the goat pen. I now not only fear for the life of the rest of my captive chickens but I am now worried about my goats. The conservation officer won’t do anything about this because, according to him, “it is just chickens.” According to the Ministry of Environment, chickens lives are not valuable. Not valuable to those who have a nice, well paid, government job replete with benefits and holiday pay and affords him the luxury of going to the store to buy their eggs (which come from a factory farm, mostly likely in Chiliwack, on land that has already been taken away from the grizzly bears). Somehow, history doesn’t feature for many people. In their minds it is OK to farm in Chilliwack  where we have killed and/or otherwise displaced all the bears, but not in Bella Coola.

How are we to develop a local food system if we are supposed to let the grizzly bears eat what we are raising for our own needs?

I’ll write more later. Right now I’m just too upset (and believe me, that is putting it in terms fit for the public).

Kristeva

If you are new to the blog and want to follow the bear issues, see the following:

Bears and fruit trees:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

Consumers Rights On Raw Milk Debate Go Unchallenged!

Home pasteurized milk

Home pasteurization is easily done on a stove top. Why then is it illegal to buy?

Ontario made pasteurization of milk mandatory in 1938, but Health Canada did not make it mandatory until 1991. Canada bans the sale of raw milk but not its consumption. Although it is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, consumers can own a share in the ‘source’ cow, which is what dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s customers do. On Thursday, January 21st, 2010, Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky acquitted Michael Schmidt on 19 charges relating to the distribution of his raw milk. Because Schmidt had made diligent efforts to keep his cow-share program operating “within the confines and the spirit of the legislation”, JP Kowarsky concluded that the alleged offence fell into the category of ‘strict liability’; that is, criminal intent (‘mens rea’) could not be proved.

Schmidt had been prepared to do battle on a human rights level, and challenge the statutes on the ground that they violated his basic human right to ‘life, liberty and security of person’. In November of 2009, the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF)—an independent, non-partisan, registered charity—announced its support for Schmidt on the grounds that consumers have the rights to choose what they put in their bodies, freedom of contract, and freedom from government regulation that is ‘arbitrary, unreasonable, unnecessary and unfair’. Even the existing cow-share system is an unnecessarily complex response to overly restrictive legislation. However, with Schmidt’s full acquittal, these complex legal issues may go unchallenged.

The Ontario government may choose to let the ruling stand, and live with the reality of cow-share arrangements. However, this is not satisfying the general public, because many people who would like to be able to access raw milk are unable to access a cow-share program; consequently, they have approached the CCF to see if they could pressure the government to change the law. According to Karen Selick (litigation director the CCF), if the government of Ontario wants to take the matter further, it has three options:

1. The government could appeal this decision. This would be a risky move because there is nothing to ensure it would be successful; moreover, it could backfire and escalate the confrontation of citizens and legislators. Schmidt and his long struggle have gained wide public support: the more people learn about his plight and educate themselves on the scientific and potential health benefits of consuming raw milk, the more people will want free access to it.

2. The government could create new legislation that specifically outlaws cow-sharing and/or the consumption of raw milk. However, there is strong opinion that, should the government choose this option, it would be met by public outrage, particularly from the burgeoning ‘food freedom’ movement. Furthermore, this would seem to constitute a breach of human rights at a most basic level, so the government would likely find themselves facing the CCF in court. In addition, policing the personal consumption of raw milk would be costly, if not impossible. Is someone going to be assigned to spy on farmers to ensure they are not sneaking a contraband tipple in the privacy of their own milking parlours?

3. The government could develop a regulatory procedure that would facilitate the sale of certified, safe, raw milk for interested consumers without requiring a cow-sharing arrangement. Schmidt and others—like Ontario raw milk advocate James McLaren—have offered to work with government officials to help develop the certification process. As Selick said in her article ‘Got Milk Justice’ (National Post, January 26, 2010), “Michigan is doing it right now. Why shouldn’t Ontario?”

Option 3 would be not only the most satisfactory solution for consumers, but also the most democratic.

Link to The Bovine: is a blog about rights around access to raw milk ,and chronicles the saga of Michael Schmidt, of Glencolton Farms, and his cow share holders with the authorities over the issue of access to raw milk.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Milk preservation techniques, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food

Bears and fruit trees, part 4

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent, pervasive false beliefs about the human-bear relationship. Some of these beliefs are even enacted into public policies and laws, and contradictory policies at that. For example, there is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet, re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and so on. There has even been some B.C. Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. However, the Conservation Service (Ministry of Environment) seems to be at odds with this food security agenda by advising people to cut down their fruit trees whenever there is a bear-human conflict. This issue is the fuel that sparked this series of posts—when I found myself in conversation with some folks from the B.C. Food System Network who were alarmed by their Conservation Officer threatening them with fines if they did NOT cut down their fruit trees.

It’s a question of food security

While it may sound as if I would have all bears and wildlife destroyed, it is not the case. My position with respect to the human-wildlife conflict is rooted in terms of food security and community/rural survival: we cannot have food security when there are oppositional philosophies being enforced by different Ministries.

What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The other post of this series are:

1.How to make bears and fruit trees get along

2. Bears and fruit trees, part two

3. Bears and fruit trees, part three

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #4: After all, you are in ‘their territory’

Some readers’ responses to one of my posts about the human-wildlife conflict provide a departure point for discussion of this false belief: “Any thoughts about the fact that you are placing tasty food morsels in the bear’s territory? Why are you keeping fruit trees in bear territory?” … “If you have animals and fruit trees then you are just asking for predators to come”… “Well, you are in their territory so you just have to accept this” (my personal favourite). The very concept of ‘territory’ is the essential problem. It is a neat fiction which presumes a boundary between the bears’ ‘territory’ and ‘ours’, and a contractual agreement as to where that boundary-line is. If so, where is it? At the edge of cities? around all rural areas? or should we all move out of the countryside and back into cities… again, where is the edge of the city? At this field, or that fence-line? As with so many issues, this debate is over boundaries, borders, and margins, and yet there is no demarcated boundary to any natural creature’s territory—only constantly changing niches or ill-defined ranges, constantly fought for with tooth and claw. The idea of identifiable borders is a human invention (viz. Hadrian’s, China’s, Berlin’s, Peach Arch Park and the 49th parallel) and we have difficulty maintaining even those (look at Gaza, or the Mexico/US border, or China and Tibet, or the Northwest Territory now Nunavut, to name a fraction of the infractions). Animals like bears do understand territory and mark theirs distinctively, but that territory is a living, changing thing, depending on each bear’s niche, condition, and the state of the food supply. That food supply is intimately linked to the general bear population; if the food supply or population changes, the bear’s fight for territory becomes more competitive; the delineation and extent of that territory shift and morph under these pressures. With respect to our current bear problem, a poor summer with few fish or berries coupled with an increase in bear population means their food source is too scarce in their own food shed, so the fight for territory between bears has become more vicious. Consequently, the weaker and younger bears that are denied access to prime habitat are pushed out of what we think of as ‘their territory’ and into ‘ours.’ Easy pickings are chicken houses, fruit trees, gardens and garbage; combined with a policy of ‘non-attractants’ it’s not long before bears consider ‘our territory’ theirs. When we add the fact that people are no longer ‘fighting’ back as we once did against these carnivores, their assumption is understandable. Unlike the bears along the river fishing for salmon, who drive us and each other away in order to protect their food source, we humans didn’t even put up a fight when they came and ate all our chickens, turkeys and ducks; nor did we complain when they harvested all our carrots, parsley, plums and pears.

So how do I establish and maintain my border? A border, however loosely defined, only has existence if both sides acknowledge and maintain it. In contrast to predators’ shifting borders, humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and raised domesticated animals in this valley. While the bears’ boundary is shifting, our human boundary has always been clearly delineated (mown lawns, driveways, and often a fence, etc.), and we have throughout history educated the animals by trapping and shooting. Everywhere in the world, people have marked their ‘territory’ by shooting and trapping offenders in this way, and thus they have trained predators not to intrude across the humans’ clearly delineated, and relatively unshifting borders. Like dogs, bears and cougars can be trained, and that is why we have a residual idea that those animals have a natural fear of humans. But there is nothing innate about it; it is a learned behaviour and a direct result of an ancient human-wildlife conflict in which we have always been engaged.

I have come to understand that the remaining predators need constantly to be ‘trained’ not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities in broad daylight, and generally to where humans are, is that we are no longer shooting at them. Consequently, they no longer see us as an equal predator, or even as a threat. Contrary to the misconception that these animals are innately nocturnal, they have figured out that they can even get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of their daytime marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. The assertion of my blog respondent, that I am in their territory, creates the misconstrued dichotomy of ‘their territory’ versus ‘our territory’, as if humans only ‘belong’ in cities, and that those cities have always existed. However, all North America’s great cities (the same goes for Europe, India, China and so on, though with different predators) were once the bears’ ‘territory’ before ‘we’ decided to stop being hunter gatherers and develop human settlements, based on cultivating crops.

The ‘our territory/their territory’ theory arises from a flawed preservationist philosophy, which mistakenly presumes that bears have a ‘territory’ which we humans have encroached upon, and now drives policy and legislative decisions in British Columbia (and North American in general, as shown in their responses to my blog). Am I really ‘in the bears’ territory’ when I am in the confines of my property’? If so, isn’t all of the North American population? And most of the European (or Chinese, or Indian, or African, etc.) population too, for that matter? The reason we have the few agricultural areas we do, is that we’ve shot almost everything that once moved there (hence the European eradication of wolves and bears and the dearth of them in large parts of the USA that they formally occupied), and continue to let the survivors know they don’t belong there any more. Our food security depends on our making more enlightened land use policies based on historical and biological realities, not these neat, fantastical conspiracies of cartographers.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Bears and fruit trees, part three

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The first two post of this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along’ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part two.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife

This belief is held by people who are insulated from the essential biological condition of all animals, including the human one. The commonalities are: people refuse to hear facts from local people who know, preferring instead to will their own believed reality into existence; people get their information from television, where reality is at one remove and often distorted by Disney-fied commentary; despite the close encounters and reports of deaths, people insist that those incidents are the exception, that the responsibility for such attacks is the humans, who were too close, too unkind, to…, or that Nature has somehow let them down, backsliding from Her normal benign ‘co-existence’ model.

In his new book The War in the Country (Vancouver: Greystone, 2009), Thomas F. Pawlick recounts an incident in Algonquin Park, Ontario, when he advised a European couple not to have their photograph taken close to some nearby black bears with its cubs. “Oh no,” said the woman, “we’ve seen bears on television lots of times, and people pet them and everything else.” Pawlick explained that not only were these wild bears, but also that one of them had cubs, which meant the mother would kill the couple on the spot. Ignoring his advice, the couple approached the bears until the mother stood up and growled, which prompted them to retreat, the woman complaining indignantly, “Well, that didn’t sound friendly.” (Pages 266-7) I have had the same experience here where I ranch.

The second commonality is deeply entrenched in our western urban psyche. From Disney to National Geographic, well-intentioned nature films, with their telescopic lenses and generally uplifting environmental commentaries, give the comfortable couch-sitter the impression that all nature, including the big animals, is there as a backdrop to uplifting or cute human encounters. Even ‘educational’ films about bear safety often feature individuals in close proximity to bears, safe only (I presume) in the knowledge that there is an array of sharpshooters just out of camera range. Whatever the unseen ‘big picture’ of these movies may be, they are irresponsible in not telling us the whole truth of their construction. Even the experts in these movies can be ill-informed, as the  sad example of Tim Treadwell (the “Grizzly Man” of the movie) and Amie Huguenard demonstrates. In the opinion of another bear expert, Kevin Sanders:

Anyone that spends as much time in the field as Tim and I have, will no doubt have had similar experiences. I remember once out at my bear viewing area sitting alone one day, and feeling a bit sleepy in the warm sun I decided to lay back and close my eyes for a moment, when I remember feeling that something was watching me. I slowly raised up and looked around, only to discover that a family of six coyotes had moved in behind me, the adult alpha’s sitting within feet of me while the pups played nearby. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and walk across the meadow, only to have the whole family follow along beside me. The only difference between Tim and I is, Tim felt that the fox were kindred spirits, whereas I knew that the coyotes were looking at me as they would any other large carnivore in the wild, and that hopefully I would lead them to food much as a bear or wolf would do. Or maybe, I was the food! …

Tim’s foolish disregard for his own safety, and over confidence dealing with bears in the past, luck really, not to mention his mistake of placing anthropomorphic values on bears, and disregarding established federal guidelines when photographing and camping with brown bears contributed to both Tim and Amie’s death. Grizzly bears are wild animals and should always be treated as such, wild and unpredictable. Not a pet, or lovable cuddly bear…. (Kevin Sanders, 2008)

The third commonality is related to the other two, in that it, too, places humans at the centre. I have often seen people going into bear areas without any defense system (knife, gun, bow), or carrying their pepper spray and clicking their rocks, every so often shouting “Yo Bear!” and secure in their belief that by intruding into bear territory openly yet adhering to the ’10 commandments’ of ‘being bear aware’ (making noise, clicking rocks, sticking to the trail, and so on) they will not really be intruding into their territory and thus will not have any deleterious encounters. “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us,” they are told, and so they believe. Jim West, who survived a bear attack in 70 Mile House British Columbia in 2008, by killing the bear and requiring sixty stitches on his head and body, was harassed for his actions. Gary Shelton documents several similar cases where bear attack victims were vilified by the (largely urban) public. He argues that so deeply held are people’s beliefs in our ability to intrude safely into the wild, that contrary evidence can cause psychic trauma:

Most modern young people who have careers that require working in the field have university degrees. In many universities, like the ones in British Columbia, these people often obtain a view pint about mankind and nature that is incorporated into their beliefs about life. One principle in that viewpoint is that animals attack only when people have wrongly intruded on their space, and if you obey the rules of retreat, animals will back off as they don’t really intend you any harm. In some types of bear attacks on a person with such beliefs, where the bear exhibits behavior contrary to that belief system and the person is severely injured, their psychology of belief is also injured. This may sound minor in significance, but considering that this type of person is often someone who has embraced nature pantheism, the resulting trauma can be deep, lingering, and hard to diagnose. (Bear Attacks II: Myth & Reality, Hagensborg: Pallister, 2001,  p.147)

To sum up, all three commonalities which lead to what I call ‘False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife’ exhibit the human ability to deny reality in favour of a deeply held, prior belief. As Francis Bacon so wisely stated, “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

Bears and fruit trees, part two

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. Other posts in this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along‘ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part three.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #2: We are not in competition with bears

Many people don’t understand that, despite trappings of modern civilization that buffer us from this reality, we are in direct competition with wildlife for our existence. Not only have we lost sight of this fact, but we have also begun to believe that there is a way to ‘live in harmony’ with nature and we work hard to convince ourselves this is achievable.

If you are one of these people, then you are wrong to think this way and here’s why.

Everything out there is trying to make a living just as we are, from the bears, to the fish, to the squirrels, to insects, and bacteria. Since humans have walked on this earth we have been in direct competition with nature for resources and thus have fought to protect these resources. If we weren’t successful, we starved.

Historically, humans hunted for our food and thus we understood our direct relationship with the natural world. We understood that if the wolf population was too high the deer numbers would be low and this would threaten our chance of survival. Consequently, humans understood we needed to kill some wolves in order to protect the deer numbers and, in this way, indirectly protect our own species‘ survival. We understood we were, and must be, part of that equation.

Today, every time we spray our lawns with insecticide, every time we build a new home, each time we pave a road, each time we build a shopping mall or a university, each time we fell trees to make lumber, every time we fill our gas tank, every time we buy some product that has been shipped half way around the world, every time we buy packaged food from the grocery store, and so on, we displace and destroy (or already have replaced and destroyed) the native plants, insects, birds and animals — and the resources they depend upon for their survival — that previously existed in the are area in question for our benefit.

Today however, few people would recognize the environmental cost to changing a track of forest into agricultural land and the inputs necessary to raise a cow, or a pig, or even an acre of soybeans to grow food for humans. Few would understand that it is environmentally more sound to keep the forest in tact and harvest a moose who is perfectly suited to that forest and requires no artificial inputs, let alone be willing or able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage that resource.

Only those who can afford food can ‘afford’ to entertain this false belief system.

Few people in North America today rely on hunting or raising food on their own land for their direct economic survival. Instead, we have accepted that large swaths of nature should be severely altered (if not completely destroyed) in order that we can live in city suburbs, and that agricultural (and other) products can be made cheaply and can be transported long distances to us. So it is not that we are no longer directly in competition with nature, rather that the competition is out of sight and out of mind. We are no longer aware of it because we don’t see direct evidence of it on a daily basis.

California’s bears and other flora and fauna have been displaced and/or all but been destroyed, its landscape severely altered to make way for suburbs, highways, orchards and market gardening, and its waterways re-routed for irrigation, as have the Okanagan and Frazer Valleys in British Columbia, great swaths of the prairie provinces across Canada and the USA, and the Niagara region of Southern Ontario. These areas are some of the major agricultural production areas on which we North Americans depend most for our food production and, therefore, survival. That these areas were once wild, and remain domesticated only by force and vigilance, is an idea forgotten or ignored only by those who can afford to buy food instead of growing it themselves (provisioning). It is only those whose economic livelihood is not threatened, those who live an indirect economic lifestyle by selling their time for a wage so they can buy food, clothing, housing, etc., for their (indirect) survival, who can afford to uphold the misconception that we are not in direct competition with wildlife for our existence.

We all are in competition with nature, even urban dwellers. Ironically, it is urban dwellers who are, not only the most food insecure because they are more dependent upon an agricultural production and distribution system that is completely out of their control, but also often the most unaware of how much competition they are in with nature for their survival. How many urbanites consider the tons of pesticides that are sprayed annually on wheat alone to keep the average crop from succumbing to weevils? While weevils are not bears, they too compete directly with us for our wheat!

Which brings me to two other important points about direct competition.

The privilege of living close to nature

We have developed strategies for competing with all aspects of nature, from traps (mice and rodents), to fungicides, herbicides, insecticides (molds, weeds, bugs), to windbreaks and rip-raps (erosion by wind and water). We have become so conditioned to these agricultural weapons that we no longer see them as such. We certainly don’t see weevils on par with squirrels, or squirrels on par with grizzly bears.  Many bear enthusiasts would not object to a farmer spraying crops to prevent weevils from destroying it but would be horrified if the same farmer shot a bear to protect his apples. However, if you were dependent upon the apple crop for your livelihood, or to keep you from starving, you wouldn’t. The privilege of a full stomach affords us the luxury of seeing these two actions as vastly different.  Today, most North Americans would tell me to go buy the apples from the store and save the bear because they are no longer engaged in direct economics and can afford to be blindly unaware of the cold hard realities of what it takes to put food on their tables.

If you have a stomach full of food bought from the grocery store, then you can afford to see squirrels, deer, hawks, and bears as part of the wonders of nature and feel ‘privileged’ that they are traipsing through your yard and let them eat your berries, apples, and carrots. But even then, there is a big difference between tolerating squirrels, deer, and hawks, and tolerating bears and other large predators. Squirrels can’t kill you but large predators can. In order to keep our yards and communities safe, we cannot tolerate large predators in our human settlements, period.

However, if you are dependent upon the food you raise for your economic survival (directly or indirectly) you cannot even afford to let the squirrels eat your strawberries or the deer eat your apples. Imagine that every time a deer came in to your yard you lost 1/3 of your annual wage. How long would it take before the joy of seeing a deer to wear off? How long could you ‘afford’ to feel privileged at losing 1/3 (or more) of your annual salary? In order to have food security, you must have the right to defend the food.

In Defense of Food

In short, humans have a right to livelihood. By that I mean the right to grow food instead of selling our time, collecting a wage, and then spending it at ‘the store’ (where cheap food magically appears). We therefore have the right to defend our food sources just as we did in the past. Salaried employees don’t lose wages when a bear comes through their yards, why should a provisioner or farmer? Some will argue that that should be part of the cost of ‘doing business’ as a farmer. Many will argue that I (and other farmers) should buy electric fencing, install bear proof feed bins, build bigger, stronger, bear proof chicken houses and so on in order to prevent the bear conflict. I am against this line of thinking for three reasons: this argument is based on false belief #1 (that humans can control bear behaviour by removing all attractants); there is little enough (if any) profit to be made in farming these days and the additional cost would make their products out of reach for many consumers; and finally, fencing out large predators and leaving them to roam the neighbourhoods around fence lines does not promote human safety.

If we want sustainable farming to be something that younger people choose as a career, if we want food security for our communities, if we want to have agricultural animals raised ethically and humanely, if we want good clean safe food, if we want the right to livelihood, then we have to support those who are willing to do the work and make it worth their while. Otherwise, we will have to accept that those farmers who could get well paying, secure jobs elsewhere, should get them; that we will have food insecurity; that we will give up our right to livelihood; and that we will have to rely upon the corporate agricultural production and distribution system.

Finally, because we all need to eat and that act displaces large tracks of wilderness in order to ensure our survival, then the cost of maintaining wilderness with its full compliment of flora and fauna, in parallel with local food security, should be borne by all society, not just those who choose to live close to the wild and raise our food.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Making bears and fruit trees get along

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with the BC Food Systems Network about the relationship between bears and food security. In terms of food security, this issue is an extremely important one for anyone living where large predators exist. I plan to write about it over several posts in order to dispel some common misconceptions about the human-predator relationship in terms of food security, and to propose some practical solutions.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I welcome the input, as it gives us all a chance to talk about this important issue. Your comments also provide me with food for thought, and the chance to develop my ideas.

How to make bears and fruit trees get along

A member of the BC Food Systems Network recently wrote about their community’s experience with the Conservation Service. According to this source, the COs in their area, instead of dealing effectively with any nuisance bears, are threatening people with fines if they don’t cut down their fruit and nut trees. While outraged with this Ministry’s attitude, I’m not surprised by it. Here in the Bella Coola Valley, too, people are being advised to cut down their fruit trees by the Conservation Service, instead of being offered support, protection (part of their motto!), and–oh, yes–conservation.

False belief #1: The ‘remove the attractant’ theory

In terms of food security, the idea that we must ‘remove all attractants’ to prevent bears from entering our communities is a dangerous line of thinking (particularly in light of our economic times). The logic may sound reasonable when you are living in the city and dealing with a bear in your garbage can. However, it is not consistent with the goals of food security, because in rural BC there is no limit to the list of attractants. Therefore, we cannot have food security in our communities and be consistent with these Ministry guidelines.

Most specifically, and to put it simply:  if we ascribe to the notion that humans can control bear behaviour by ‘removing the attractants’, then we cannot raise food. Fruit trees, berry bushes, carrots, and parsley all attract grizzly bears. Chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits, all attract grizzly bears. The duck feed, the goat feed, and the chickens’ corn all attract grizzly bears. Fields of corn and oats attract bears. Beehives attract bears. (Many of the above also attract a host of other predators that threaten our food security, such as eagles, foxes, wolves, cougars, mice, owls, hawks, martin, weevils, and so on.)

If we are to be consistent with the ‘remove the attractant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass public policy laws that forbid people from raising their own food. In order to ‘remove all the attractants’ we will have to cut down all the fruit trees, plant no vegetable or herb gardens, and get rid of all the feed and grain for our agricultural animals–chickens (see Needless Suffering), ducks, geese, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, and so on–lest we be seen to be ‘baiting’ the bears. Instead, maybe we could free range our agricultural animals? No.  To be consistent with the ‘non-attractant theory’ we must leave it to the corporate agricultural producers who can afford (both ethically and financially) to keep animals indoors, behind Fort Knox type fenced areas, or on feedlots.

New Jersey Example

The idea of removing the attractants simply doesn’t work. This line of thinking got the state of New Jersey into its conundrum with their bears. They have gone a long way down this path, having made city wide efforts of removing the ‘attractants’ from their city streets and neighbourhoods. They have made huge efforts to limit the times in which garbage could be out on the street for collection, and even made centralized collection stations. Nevertheless, despite the fact they have removed all the so called ‘attractants’, bears have NOT stopped coming into people’s yards. Now accustomed to viewing human settlements as good food sources, bears are now entering houses. We should learn from their experience instead of continuing down the same path.

If we are going to have, and support, real food security in our province, we have to change the way we look at this problem. If not, then we will eventually lose the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food. The evidence of this is revealed in the current attitude of British Columbia’s Conservation Service Officers.

Living under siege

The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in places where large predators roamed. Since humans have been on earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood) and, by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements. Until very recently, we have known and understood our relationship with the natural world; part of our role was teaching wildlife what is appropriate behaviour. We have lost that understanding now that most of us buy food from the grocery store, agricultural production is out of sight and out of mind, and the closest we get to a grizzly bear is by watching the Discovery Channel,

It is time to re-educate ourselves to re-educate the bears. Even the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that humans  can ‘teach bears bad habits’, so why not teach them some good ones?

To view the series of posts on this topic, see:

Part two

Part three

Part four

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Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Goat butchering day: a graphic photo documentary

Warning: This post contains graphic photos of the butchering process. Do not read any further unless you are genuinely interested in learning how to butcher animals.

Leading Sundown to her meeting with her maker.

Leading Sundown to her meeting with her maker.

Well, I had thought I would have to wait until hunting season was over in order to muster the courage to do in one of my goats; but after butchering the rest of my ‘Jenny Craig’ Cornish Crosses (25) and all of my turkeys (32) this week, I found I was in the mood to keep going. My friend Clarence called last night to see if I wanted to go for breakfast this morning, “A pick up and delivery,” he said, letting me know he would do the driving.  He took me for pancakes at the local diner, and over breakfast we talked about various things, the upcoming moose hunt being one. “You know, I saw a big bull moose on Wednesday on my way home from Williams Lake. He crossed the road in front of me right there at Louis Creek,” hands moving out in front of himself from left to right, “and he had your initials on his ear, my dear.”

While on the subject of meat, I asked him if he’d help me butcher one of my goats,”Why sure. Any time. When do you want to do it?” “Today, after breakfast.” He said he had a few things to attend to first but that he’d be back later in the afternoon. When he dropped me off he called out, “I’ll be back at 2pm to help you out, OK!”

When I asked him if he would mind helping, I imagined that he would do the actual killing part; after all, that was the part that I thought I would have the trouble with. However, when he arrived there was no discussion about whether or not I’d be doing the shooting. “OK my dear, place the bullet right here,” he gestured with his left finger-tip-less hand to her forehead. “You only need one cartridge to do it right and she’ll go down, just-like-that.”

I was surprised by my own matter-of-factness. After all, I’d named and tended to Sundown for nearly five years. But my only concern was that I shoot her well so she wouldn’t suffer–I certainly didn’t want to have to shoot her twice or, god forbid, a few times. She was pretty calm  as I led her to the ‘gallows tree’ but every now and then kicked against the rope that held her. I was a bit concerned that she would kick up a fuss just as I was about to shoot so I got in close, took aim quickly and fired. She went down instantly, “That’s it. It’s all over.” Before I really registered that I’d done it, Clarence was already slitting her throat and she was bleeding out.

We went to work on skinning her front side before hanging her from the tree so we could spill the entrails. He talked me through most of the work–I like that about Clarence: he doesn’t take over and do the job for you. Rather, as a good teacher and mentor he’s happy to watch over his apprentice and even endure a few mistakes. “Oh my, she is fat… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much fat on an animal I’ve butchered before!” he said, cutting through the beautiful white lard that was between her body and her skin. Indeed she was fat–too fat. I’d been feeding the nursing goats a lot more in order to keep their weight on, and the other goats were clearly taking advantage of the extra grains, hay and forage.

Once we had the goat butchered out, I sawed her in half and split her into two sides until she looked like two minuscule sides of beef. Clarence helped me rinse her off and bag her up, before he left. I then put her in the truck and drove her to the local butcher for hanging. On the way in to the store, I barely got a second look. On the way out, however, I stopped to talk to a friend then as I went to leave a stranger nodded politely at me. “After you,” he said gently motioning to the doorway, looking me up and down, “A bag of blood in your hand, and blood spatter on your pants… I’d hate to think what happened to the guy that cut you off!”

Step one: shoot the goat in the forehead. If you do not know how to do this, or do not have a good understanding of the animal’s anatomy, then get someone experienced to help you. This should be a clean kill so the animal does not suffer needlessly. Although this was my first time, I had Clarence watching over me as I did this. Also, I now have a lot of animal butchering experience and know exactly where to place the bullet.

Get close to the goat with the gun so you don't miss in the event she moves.

Get close to the goat with the gun so you don't miss in the event she moves.

Step two: slit throat being sure to cut through both jugular veins so it bleeds well and completely.

Be sure to slice through both jugular veins on either side of the windpipe to get a good bleed.

Be sure to slice through both jugular veins on either side of the windpipe to get a good bleed.

Step three: slit skin from ankle to anus on either back leg and then slit the skin up the belly to the neck. Begin to skin the goat separating the skin from the meat.

Make a cut through the skin from the ankle to the anus on both hind legs.

Make a cut through the skin from the ankle to the anus on both hind legs.

Carefully separate the skin from the animal leaving the meat with the carcass.

Carefully separate the skin from the animal leaving the meat with the carcass.

Step four: When the skin is off the front of the body, make two cuts in the ankle between the tendon and the bone with your knife. These holes are for slipping a rope through in order to hang the goat. Hang the goat high enough to continue working comfortably.

Cut hole between the tendon and bone of each hind leg then slip a rope through for hanging.

Cut hole between the tendon and bone of each hind leg then slip a rope through for hanging.

Rope threaded through legs for hanging.

Rope threaded through legs for hanging.

Step five: Finish skinning the goat completely and cut the head off the goat.

Once the skin is completely off the animal, you can sever the head away from the carcass.

Once the skin is completely off the animal, you can sever the head away from the carcass.

With a knife or meat saw, remove the head once you get the animal completely skinned.

With a knife or meat saw, remove the head once you get the animal completely skinned.

Step six: Cut the belly open carefully making sure not to cut the intestines. You want to just cut through the skin. When you get to the breast bone you will need a meat saw to finish cutting to the neck.

Carefully cut open the belly of the goat being diligent about not cutting any of the innards.

Carefully cut open the belly of the goat being diligent about not cutting any of the innards.

Step six: Begin to let some of the contents fall out of your way. Take the meat saw and cut through the pelvis. Grab a hold of the rectum with one hand and cut the anus away from the inside of the goat. Do not cut the intestine or rectum! Let the contents spill out of the cavity.

Open the belly up completely being careful not to let the innards begin to fall as the rectum will rip and spill fecal contents throughout the belly cavity.

Open the belly up completely being careful not to let the innards begin to fall as the rectum will rip and spill fecal contents throughout the belly cavity.

With a meat saw (or in my case my knife) cut through the breast bone right up to the neck.

With a meat saw (or in my case my knife) cut through the breast bone right up to the neck.

Cut through the pubic bone and around the anus so it can come free as you pull out the rectum along with the innards.

Cut through the pubic bone and around the anus so it can come free as you pull out the rectum along with the innards.

Step seven: Save the heart and liver. Cut the heart open and bleed it. Wash the liver and heart well and put in cold water until you can refrigerate them.

Cut open the heart and rinse the blood out of it.

Cut open the heart and rinse the blood out of it.

Step eight: Cut the esophagus and trachea away from the neck and throat area.

Esophagus and trachea removal.

Esophagus and trachea removal.

Goat carcass cut into two sides. We are not cutting off the extra fat before taking the meat to the butcher for hanging.

Goat carcass cut into two sides. We are not cutting off the extra fat before taking the meat to the butcher for hanging.

Step nine: With the meat saw, cut the carcass in half from tail to tip. You now have two sides of goat ready for hanging in a meat cooler. Wash them with clean water and hang for several days to cure.

As for how I’ll cook it? I’ll likely follow one of these tasty suggestions from Phelan of a Homesteading Neophyte!

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Filed under Butchering, Educational, Food Security, How to..., personal food sovereignty

Bringing it home

There is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet,  re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty and so on.  There has even been some Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. Meanwhile there is a host of legislators busy prohibiting farmers from producing, and consumers from accessing, this same food. Finally, there is another host of economists employed by the relevant Ministries who pay lip service to rural economic development but never consider in that equation small scale, traditional agriculture and its supports–let alone promote its viability. Instead they look to big industry to solve the economic crisis and brag about how many jobs this or that industry will bring to a community. Amid all this economic posturing, it would be refreshing if someone asked why 50 years ago a farmer of 20 or 30 cows (or many of the livestock options) could make a nice living and support a family (generally larger than today’s average size), but not today? Now the average farm size is huge, monocultural, less diverse and productive, and we have reverted to a feudal social system.

I had someone over the other day who wondered why I was struggling to make a living off the farm, let alone make it pay for itself. I was dumbfounded because I thought the answer would have been obvious: there is a limited population base where I live, few jobs are left, ethically raised food is more expensive than factory raised food, and–to paraphrase Joel Salatin–the government legislation coupled with the marketing boards have made nearly everything I want to do illegal. So this was my response: Do I think I could make a living off this land? Absolutely. Do I think I can make a legal living off this land? Probably not. I sent him off with this food for his mind, and handed him some ‘contraband’ eggs to nourish his body (my customers and I are happy with recycling egg cartons, which is a ‘no-no’ as far as the ‘higher-ups’ are concerned), and ‘soon-to-be-contraband’ salad greens–yes, the brilliant stroke of our previous Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Pat Bell, announced during his time in office, that all fruit, vegetables, honey and wine for sale will be required to be government inspected, by September 2009! Community food systems are healthy for local people and healthy for local economies. If the regulators really wanted to address the economic/environmental/rural community health and viability issues, they would think in terms of re-localization of our food systems, about de-centralisation of the production and distribution system, and about how to make local food systems robust, more efficient and economically viable for the communities they could support.

If we seriously began to support our small mixed farmers, a demographic shift would unfold from the over-crowded cities to rural BC. Along with this would come an increased need for adjunct skilled people, such as butchers, bakers, cheese-makers, and dairy-men and women. In addition to those would be the front end suppliers such as feed growers for the animals, and mechanics to fix broken tractors and the like. Imagine the changes that could take place if we began to promote a food inspection system that supports small scale, sustainable producers and processors (and one that puts ‘environmental impact’ back into the equation of food production), instead of throwing them out of business with regulations that prohibit their growth and development or require major financial inputs that only mega-corporations can afford. For example, when I look at the price of organic milk in the store, I’m relatively certain my goats could help make this farm a going concern–if only their milk was legal to sell, and/or I didn’t need to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital equipment to meet the new regulations standards before I sell one litre of milk. If there were some exemptions to the rule for small producers, we could grow our businesses at a scale that makes sense to our conditions.

I’m glad I have as much control of my food as I do; I think everyone should feel this secure. But how can everyone, when the access to local produce is becoming more and more difficult. I think about the milk I was lucky enough to have had access to this past year. It was contraband and technically illegal. Why? When farmers (and shareholders) can drink raw milk safely, why can’t we, the general public? Why am I not free to choose where I get my milk from? If you don’t want to drink it raw, home pasteurization is easy; all you need is a pot, a thermometer, and a heat source. Not long ago that most people in this country knew this. Non-native North American traditions are based in being hunters and homesteaders; we are descendants of pioneers who colonized this land by being self-sufficient, and knowledgeable in the ways of food provisioning and preserving techniques.

What could be more integral to community than its self-provisioning of food? The famous anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, said that food was as important to culture as language. If this is true, then we are rapidly losing our culture to mega-corporations backed by our own government legislators. Why are we being forced to abandon our culture and traditions? Moreover, why are we accepting it? It is time to revivify our cultural traditions, and bring food back home and into the hands of our families and communities.

REFERENCE NOTE: Several people have asked for the reference to where the previous Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Pat Bell, said that the regulations for fruit, vegetables, wine, and honey will be changing. It was in a letter to The Vernon Daily Courier October 2, 2007, where a local resident wrote about the impact that the meat regulations are having on meat producers and warned that by 2009 the same will be true of fruit, vegetables and honey:

The Honourable Pat Bell, Minister of Agriculture  and Lands informed a meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities that they should get used to the new regulations because fruit, vegetables, wine and honey will face similar regulations by September  2009.

You can also search the Ministry’s web pages: http://www.gov.bc.ca/al/

The letter also warned that: These regulations would spell the end of the Farmer’s Markets. Also, we would no longer be able to go to a local orchard to buy our fruit as we have done in this Valley for 150 years.

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Filed under Developing Community, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Uncategorized