Category Archives: Food Sovereignty

Raw milk pasteurizing

Once a week I pay $6 (the equivalent of 18 eggs or an equal amount in a variety of my fresh produce) as my ‘share’ for access to a cow from whom I get 1 gallon of milk. When I get the milk back to the kitchen, I skim the raw cream off, refrigerate it and put the milk in a pasteurizer. I keep the fresh cream for our coffee (and if you have never had fresh, raw cream in your coffee you are missing out!) and pasteurize the fresh milk so I can make it into yogurt or fresh ricotta cheese.

Here is fresh milk I am about to pasteurized by hand on the stove.
Here is fresh milk I am about to pasteurize by hand on the stove.

To pasteurize, you can either buy a home pasteurizing machine, which I have now done, or do it on the stove. To do this safely on the stove, bring the milk to 145 F degrees and hold it there at temperature for 30 minutes, then cool it quickly.  Before I bought my pasteurizer, I did it this way.

Once this process is complete, remove the pot from the stove and immediately transfer it to a sink full of cold water with ice cubes, and stir the milk until the temperature comes down significantly (when it stops dropping). Once cooled, put it in a clean container and store in the fridge as you would any milk you buy from the store.

Pasteurizer filled with milk and ready for processing.
Pasteurizer filled with milk and ready for processing.

If you use a home pasteurizer, follow the directions for use. With mine, I first pour the milk into the container that fits inside the pasteurizer, then place the container inside the pasteurizer and fill the machine with water. I then place the lid on top, plug it in, and walk away until it is done. That easy. My machine has a buzzer to let me know when it is done. NOTE: the first few times of use, you should check the temperature of the milk once the cycle is complete, just to check that the machine is calibrated correctly.

Once it has finished the pasteurization through temperature process, you then sluice the container with cold, running water until the milk is cool, much the same as the above process. Then transfer it to a clean container and store in fridge until you want to use it.

NOTE: other sources say you can bring the milk to 165 F degrees for just a few seconds and then cool it immediately for safe pasteurizing.

See the following links for further information about pasteurizing milk safely:

University of Guelf Dairy Science

Health & Beyond (see table 2)

See the following Blog to read the issues around access to raw milk in Canada:

The Bovine

Go to Hoegger Goat Supply for home pasteurizing machines:

Hoegger Goat Supply

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Preserving the harvest

A doe a deer

Back from the hunt empty handed. Altogether we spotted 19 does but not a single buck. Didn’t even put a round in the chamber all weekend as there was nothing legal that presented itself. We also saw three grouse but none of them in a legal hunting spot (they were all on the side of the road that has a 1/4 mile restriction). So they went on their merry way, having been admired from 4 pairs of eyes.

Despite the lack of game, it was nice to get out and walk through the forest. The scenery was amazing and the smell of the fall air simply delightful. The weather was great, warm enough to be comfortable once you were moving. We did see a sow grizzly with two cubs grazing on some grass. They were the most tame grizzly bears we’ve ever seen which was nice in that we didn’t ever feel threatened, but alarming in others: they are getting far too accustomed to seeing humans and this is not what you want in a bear.

Today, I’ve got to do a bunch of brush clearing and burning, change the bedding in the turkey barn, put more bedding in the chicken barn, lift the dahlias, harvest the last of the beets, can yet more sauerkraut and make cabbage rolls with the whole cabbage that was sunk in this batch of kraut. Gotta go!

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Hunting, Politics of Food

Gone hunting

Will be out stalking fresh, wild, all natural, born free, hormone free, oil industry free, antibiotic free, Mule deer …wish me luck!

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Yellow Legs

Yellow Legs.

Just one example of yellow legs.

While in New Zealand, I acquired a flock of chickens that were made up from an assortment of ‘hand me down’ and otherwise general cast-offs that were all very good at living on our farm. In other words, they were good at free ranging for their own food and generally looking after themselves. All I provided them with was safe housing and water.

We were building a house on three acres and one of the contractors, Ian (who built our driveway), not only kept chickens but also ‘showed’ them. I had never heard of such a thing but was curious enough to ask about the ins and outs of showing chickens. Not only did he give us the grand tour of his chicken facility, but also he gave us a ‘chicken starter kit’, vis-à-vis some of his less than show-perfect stock. He was getting out of a certain breed, and was happy to let them go to a good home.

He had been showing chickens for years by then, but related to us a charming, self-deprecating story of his first attempts at showing. A newcomer to the exciting world of chicken showing, he began his career with Leghorns. It was the only breed he knew. He bought a breeding pair, built them suitable housing and a run, and proceeded to take great care in feeding them, talking to them and paying an inordinate amount of loving attention to them (I think his wife on occasion had been jealous of the chickens).

He began to breed some of his own. When it came time to go to his first show, Ian hand-selected two of what he thought were his most beautiful chickens; a cock and a hen, lovingly incubated and hand-raised. Both were plump, well plumed and had gorgeous, yellow legs. He took them to the show and stood there proudly displaying his stock. When the judges came by to appraise them, he was shocked when some of them snickered and generally looked down their noses at his birds; he was completely dismayed when his chickens came in dead last. He was the laughing stock of the chicken show. What he’d failed to do was check to see what the ‘show’ quality guidelines were for the Leghorn chicken: legs were to be white; what Ian thought a charming attribute was in fact a show-stopping conformational fault. When relaying this story to us he said sadly, ‘You know, some of them go so far as to bleach the legs to make them whiter before a show!’

Fast forward 7 years and we are now in Bella Coola, BC. I have acquired another bunch of hand-me-down, cast-off chickens. I don’t care. I’m not going to show them so I’m not worried about their pedigree or their adherence to breed specific guidelines. In fact, I am quite happy to see them interbreeding and am always fascinated to see how the chicks turn out.

Consequently, we end up with all sorts of shapes and sizes. I cull the roosters that don’t get along with our stud rooster Pavarotti, and also the smaller birds, because I am trying to develop hardy chickens that can handle the cold winters here, and that are good dual-purpose birds.

Because I’m not paying attention to breed conformation, it was inevitable that someone with yellow legs would appear eventually; and he did. ‘Yellow legs’ was a very striking bird. My husband–who had forgotten all about how Ian been the laughing stock of the New Zealand chicken breeders’ show–loved him (maybe this is a man thing); night after night, he would return to the house after putting them to bed and wax lyrical about his beauty: “He’s got these really beautiful yellow legs.” I reminded him of Ian’s story, but he was undeterred. Eventually, ‘Yellow Legs’ became a star of the farm. I would watch him walk, and with each step, I would say: “Yellow…legs…yellow…legs…yellow…legs”. As it got closer to slaughter time, my voice changed intonation and I pretended to be the rooster himself: ‘Yellow… legs… yellow… legs… David likes my… yellow… legs.’ Sometimes I would chant it to my husband as if this might save ‘me-now-Yellow-Legs’ from the fate of the dinner plate.

RCMP uniform.

RCMP's yellow legs.

We went on like this for months as the roosters grew. Eventually, friends were exposed to the drama and also Ian’s background story, and Yellow Legs became a bit of a community legend. Once, a friend and I were on a road trip to Williams Lake when an RCMP officer walked out in front of us. Without missing a beat, she suddenly blurted out, ‘Yellow Legs, yellow legs, yellow legs’ in time with his foot-falls (the RCMP uniform has yellow stripes down the black pant legs). I burst out laughing and hoped he didn’t hear. How on earth would I explain the ridiculous effect of his RCMP uniform on me?

Some time later that year, this same friend and a host of others were over for dinner. There was good food, fine wine, great dessert and lots of laughter. There was a plate full of chicken and the people were helping themselves to it al gusto.

This rooster, having heard what happened to 'The' Yellow Legs, is reluctant to show off his legs.

This rooster, having heard what happened to The Yellow Legs, shows some reluctance to show off his pair of yellow legs.

The friend who had been in Williams Lake with me picked up a drumstick and began to devour it, then suddenly burst out, ‘Oh my god!’ The conversation came to an abrupt stop; her hand, still holding the drumstick, had shot out of her mouth and was now poised at eye level over the centre of the table demanding all eyes’ fullest attention– ‘Is this Yellow Legs?!’

Taken aback, but not willing to lie, I admitted that, somewhere on the plate among the pile of drumsticks, were Yellow Legs’ legs. Of course I couldn’t confirm that the one she was holding was indeed the show stopping star. After a short pause of what could only be described as contemplative consideration, someone uttered a brief toast in honor of Yellow Legs. We all had a good laugh and continued eating: ‘Yellow legs, yellow legs, we all liked his yellow legs.’

Sadly, this conscious celebration of an animal’s life so that we could eat was not the reaction that a farming colleague faced when she presented to friends of hers a sumptuous dinner of roast pork, which she had raised and cooked herself. Upon hearing that the pork was not bought at the supermarket but instead was one of the pigs they had ‘met’ on a previous visit to the farm, these so-called ‘friends’ refused to eat and chose instead to take their meal at a local pub.

What did they order when they got there? Why, roast pork of course. The snubbed hostess, being much more polite than me, bit her tongue and didn’t reveal that she often supplied that pub with her own pork.

See: A pig in a poke for more on the issues related to this topic.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food

Canning Pears, Martha Stewart

Someone used the title of this post as a google query and managed to end up at Howling Duck Ranch. It’s an odd grouping of words, but even odder that Howling Duck Ranch results as an option. It kind of has a ring to it: canning pears Martha Stewart. Sort of like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, albeit slightly less threatening.  I picture Martha in her kitchen, crouched down low beside her compost bucket, knife in hand, slowly creeping up on her pears, ready to pounce…

That said, I spent the day yesterday making two different kinds of chutney: both involved apples not pears. One is an apricot chutney that I will use for my ‘Fast, Slow Food‘ samosas and other curries. I love cooking curries, love Indian food in general. The other is an apple chutney that I’ve never made before. It is recommended for pork and chicken. I’m not generally a fruit and meat kind of gal, so we’ll see.

I made these two chutneys partly because I wanted to try them, but mostly to make up for the fact that I burned the plum sauce that a friend was helping me make the night before. She and I spent the whole day washing, pitting and canning plums. It was so nice to have some company in the kitchen. The job seems to go so much more pleasurably when you have someone along for the ride; so much less like work.

Somehow she’d even managed to fit in making jalapeno poppers and we greedily devoured them while sauces reduced on the stove. Finally, it was late. She was tired, I was tired, her son was bored and in need of going to bed, so she left the last of the plums in my ‘capable’ care. Mistake. As Trapper will tell you, ‘never can when you are tired’. I wish I’d heeded those words (and read that post before yesterday) and went to bed instead. Then, J and I might just have my favourite plum sauce in addition to the jams and canned plums to show for our efforts, and I might have been able to spend yesterday harvesting the last of the beans instead of making guilt chutney!

To view Trapper’s comprehensive advice on canning, click here: Throwback at Trapper Creek.

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Preserving the harvest

Politicking with predators

Even these two are in competition for their livelihood.
Even these two are in competition for their livelihood. Photo: Michael Wigle, Jumping Mouse Studio

Living in harmony: a false belief system

Until two years ago, I had thought that I could live ‘in harmony’ with nature and wildlife. I didn’t own a gun and didn’t want one. I had the ‘citified’ belief of a newbie to the area that if I didn’t bother the bears, then the bears wouldn’t bother me–ditto for cougars, foxes, etc. However, it is simply not true no matter how much you want to believe it. Everything out there is trying to make a living just as I am. Unfortunately, when you are trying to make a living by raising all your own food, you present a sumptuous smorgasbord to a host of predators.

Not only that: if you do as I was doing–let an area of the land or lawn ‘go back to nature’ (as gardening tips in magazines for city-slickers suggest, in order to create habitat and lessen one’s carbon footprint)–what you end up with is just that: habitat. This is a great idea for urban folk and for those living in less wild areas than rural/remote British Columbia. There are wonderful stories of people living ‘in harmony’ with nature in this way: ‘Isn’t it cute to see deer re-populating this valley’; ‘We now have a riot of bird calls in the morning,’ and the like. However, I have come to learn that this idea cannot be applied universally, and certainly not to the conditions in which I live, because what I have managed to do here is create a wonderfully rich and diverse cover for the large predators (one that camouflages a cougar, for instance, quite nicely) as they find their way to that ‘sumptuous smorgasbord’.

This is a big topic and one that engages and enrages people depending upon their view and experience, of and with, the subjects. So here’s my story.

Facing reality: a shift in beliefs

So there I was on a gorgeous, sunny day quietly minding my own business, head down planting my strawberry runners into a new patch–which happened to be quite close to the area I had set aside to let nature have her way with. I was taking care to build the beds up into raised beds so that next year they would come on early, when suddenly I got the feeling I was being watched. At first, I thought I was just being silly and tried to shake the feeling off. However, after several minutes the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so I paid attention. ‘Cougar,’ I thought, ‘I’m being watched by a cougar.’

I took a look around to see if I could spot anything and when I didn’t, I thought, ‘This is just paranoia creeping in, because you are alone on the farm without a dog (aka my early warning system).’ I went back to what I was doing. A few minutes later when the feeling would not go away, I decided that I had better listen to my instincts and head inside. I put on a pot of coffee and began to make my lunch. While filling the kettle I stared out the kitchen window at the new strawberry patch, and out from the long grass came the cougar. It was a big, full grown cat easily outweighing me.

Calling for back-up

I called the Conservation officer right away and he came running, literally. I’m lucky to live right across the street from the office. He and a biologist came with the CO’s dog and tried to track the cougar, but to no avail. ‘Grass is too long,’ he said. That perfect cover for the cougar also meant he couldn’t be tracked!

After lunch, I abandoned my Martha Stewart aspirations and got out my power brush cutter. As I mowed down the beautiful mixed grasses, wildflowers and lilies, I again got the feeling of being watched. This time I immediately came inside the house. Again, within a minute of my getting inside, out jumped the cougar. This time, he was headed back towards the CO’s office. Sure enough, a few seconds later his dog was barking excitedly and moments later the chase was on.

Unfortunately, the CO and his one dog were not a match for the cougar and it got away.  I say unfortunately, not because I want to kill cougars, but because I wanted that cougar killed. It has kept coming back and consequently, I no longer feel very safe on the farm. After that incident, I felt violated and unsafe in my own home. The feeling was akin to the feelings evoked by a home robbery I experienced in the city. Now I felt my personal space once again violated, but this time on a much greater scale. This cougar could cost me my life, or at least the life of some of my animals, and therefore my livelihood.

Myths and Realities

There are many issues here, too many for me to deal with comprehensively in one post. For example, we should really have more than one Conservation Officer in this area. It is really dangerous work and they should  not have to face these predators alone. But this issue in itself is huge, so I’ll leave it at that.

Another is, and this will upset some readers, that this cougar should have been shot. These kinds of predators need to be ‘trained’ (or retrained, as the case may be) not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities 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. These animals have figured out that they can get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of them marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. If you don’t want to take my word for it, read the books by bear behaviour expert, Gary Shelton: Bear Attacks, Bear Attacks II, and Bear Attacks: Myth and Reality.

The bible on the realities of bear encounters.
The bible on the realities of bear encounters.

As for me, the issue of predators directly affect my livelihood: we have lost several chickens to hawks and foxes, baby ducks to eagles and ravens, and the Mallard drake to a fox. As for fruit trees, the bears have broken branches off the apples and the pears. Some people say, ‘Just go out and buy some more’; ‘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’; or (my personal favourite), ‘Well, you are in their territory.’ Am I really ‘in their territory?’ If so, isn’t all of the North American population? The reason we have the agricultural areas we do is because we’ve shot everything that moved there, and let them know they don’t belong here any more. It was a matter of survival and economics. After all, we all need to eat.

A right to livelihood

This is a personal economic loss. I am trying to make my living at home by what I like to call ‘direct economics’. Instead of trading my time in an office for a wage and then going to the store and buying food, I want to close that loop. Not only do I feel this is personally important to me, but I believe it is the best way I can help the planet: my food miles are very short, I don’t have to travel to work, my animals are treated decently (some would say spoiled), and I’m not polluting the water table.

Should I not have the right to own land where I chose to? To grow my own food, and make my living directly in this way?  To own fruit trees and raise chickens and turkeys instead of making a wage and having to buy them? If so, then I also need the right to push back a predator in order to protect my livelihood. If not, I will be forced to move to an already over-populated area (but an area carefully depopulated of wildlife), get a job, and be once again rendered totally dependent upon an agricultural system that is ruining the  environment (erosion, aquifer draining, desertification, water poisoning), mistreating animals, creating numerous diseases and mortal dangers for human consumers, and so on.

All is not lost

When I sat down to write this morning, I actually didn’t intend to go off the way I did above. What I had intended to write about was a bit more of a good news story and I was surprised at the turn of the tenor. Now I know first hand how a story can take a life of its own (I used to be skeptical when writers would say things like, ‘I didn’t know the story would go like this, or like that’).

Anyway, the good news is that mostly I do politick with the predators. After the cougar incident, we built more housing for the goats: by more, I mean more expensive and thus safer. In addition, I learned that when the bear comes and breaks branches on my apple tree, it is time to go pick all the apples as a preventative measure.  I have also come to several agreements with the bears. When I do harvest all the apples, I make three piles: one for fresh eating, one for preserving and one for the bears. I take the last pile out to the spot where she enters the property and dump them there. I have found that over the course of a few nights, she will come and eat them all and not bother to re-enter the property.

Also, I have several well established grape vines climbing on a pergola at the edge of the property; two green, two red. Every year a grizzly bear comes and eats the grapes. She likes the red but leaves me the green. She wrote up the contract and I signed on. To date, it is working nicely.

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

Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

Someone recently asked me if I plan to feed my dog with my farm produce, as well as ourselves. Another, whether or not I was going to make herbal teas and sachets. Still another, whether or not I would grow wheat, oats, and barley, and would I have a cow. Believe me, when I first committed to the ‘Year in Provisions’ project, those thoughts drifted through my head, as well as a host of others. Things like, whether I could feed the other animals on the farm–goats, ducks, chickens, horse. Could I use my horse for roto-tilling the garden. Quite apart from the question of whether or not I’ll continue to have the luxury items of modern day that I can’t grow myself, I had to work through these and a host of other ideas as well.

More importantly for me emotionally, I had to work through the attachment I had to a salary. I quit my job and came back to British Columbia to attempt the project. In order to do this, I need to be financially supported by my husband; something I have not been comfortable with until now. I have never not been self-supporting financially before. Not only that, I had a good paying job at a University, which afforded me certain luxuries I’ve had to give up, and which came with all the benefits of a government job: social security, medical, dental, a pension plan, and paid holidays. It was a big emotional trajectory that I had to work through in order to get here. Moreover it is a risk. I am no longer building up my pension, I don’t have social security, I don’t have a wage to save with for my future, and I am completely dependent upon not only, the generosity of my husband, but also his ability to continue bringing in a wage. Suddenly, these too become luxuries I cannot take for granted.

A matter of time:

Since taking on the challenge of the project, and beginning to let people know what I’m up to, there has been no end of suggestions about what I could do or should do. It is a daunting undertaking.  In particular, figuring out where to stop and what my limits are has been difficult. In fact, it is an almost daily negotiation: should I buy sugar so I can make jam with all my fruit, should I buy vinegar  to can relishes and pickles, should I make vinegar myself from my own apples, etc, etc.? I had to decide whether I would be a  ‘purist’ or simply accept that some foods are necessary to make other foods last. Ultimately, I acknowledged that even the pioneers and cowboys had sugar, flour and coffee!

In the beginning, we talked about cutting out foods we couldn’t produce ourselves, such as olive oil, coffee, wine, beer, etc., as Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet fame did, but ultimately we decided not to–because of the time constraints. Smith and MacKinnon spent their time sourcing local foods whereas I’m spending time growing it. What’s more, they’ve already done it–and for that I am grateful. What they have achieved–getting local eating on the media agenda, locally, regionally and internationally–is a major accomplishment. My hat is off to them.

We also decided not to cut out all ‘off-farm’ luxuries for socio-cultural reasons. Food creates community. Food is culture. Food is a social binder. Once you decide to cut out this or that, you can find yourself suddenly sitting alone on the bench (If you’ve ever gone on a strict diet you will know this!). In addition, this year, we knew we would be hiring a bunch of people to help us get barns built and green-houses built. The compromise we have made instead is buy regionally roasted organic coffee and to brew our own beer and wine at the local U-brew. I just couldn’t see myself explaining to ‘the guys’ why I couldn’t make them a coffee to keep them going at mid-day, or offer them a beer after a hard day’s work!

Life is a compromise!

In the end, I let the idea of rigorous ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’ go. I had to. For one thing, it was just too unrealistic a goal: I don’t own enough land, the growing conditions here are not conducive to grain, and I am only one person (albeit with a helpful partner). Moreover, I don’t have the funds to buy not only  the necessary larger piece of land, but also the requisite equipment needed to accomplish the above.

It was a good mental exercise to work through these ideas (and others such as, “How many cauliflower plants should I grow? How often do we want to eat chicken or fish?”). It has been, to say the least, a thought provoking exercise and something I encourage anyone reading this to ponder in terms of their own life. When you sit and think about how you would feed yourself, your family, your animals should you ever have to, it certainly sharpens the mind and focuses your energies! Once you suddenly realize just how dependent you are on ‘the system’, you will be humbled, if not shocked and somewhat un-nerved as I was.

What’s important:

This deep dependency on a system is not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Consequently, that has become my focus: extracting myself as much as I can from ‘the system’. I have made a shift from the original goal–to grow all my own food for  a year, to creating interdependency within my community and social circle. This goal, like my garden, is growing, changing, and continuously evolving based on its relationship to the outside world and my innate limitations.

What is important and what I can manage ultimately comes down to time, my community, and my priorities and abilities for living a rich life. Through the blogging world I have found a community of like-minded others who, by their own writings, have mirrored with scintillating accuracy my own feelings about the day to day of a small-holding. As this fellow blogger, Stonehead, states so humorously:

As always, there are just two of us working the [farm], one full-time and one helping out as and when. It means we cannot possibly do all the things that everyone thinks we should be doing, whether it’s tanning rabbit skins, keeping a house cow, making our own paint brushes from pig bristle, keeping the place totally weed free, making our own soap, or dancing the fandango on the rooftoop every hour on the hour while playing the bagpipes. We have to decide and adjust our priorities constantly to ensure we get the important things done first…

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

More Peas Please?

Peas on the vine, soon to be harvested as dried shell out pease.

Peas on the vine, soon to be harvested as dried shell out peas.

I’ve been up since 3:30 am this morning. Why? Because it seems to be my new ‘witching’ hour. I’ve been getting up around 4:30 for ages now (with a brief hiatus of 6 am while on a trip out of town) and enjoying the quiet mornings alone. Well, with my dog at my heels. At this hour, not even the birds are awake. I’ve often joked that what I really need is a herd of milk cows. I mean, why else be up at this hour?

Yesterday, I spent the day harvesting things in the garden  and making compost piles for next year’s soil (it always seems to take longer to do things than I think it will). This year is my first time trying to grow dried peas so I wasn’t really sure when to harvest them. However, I realized it needed to be done when Stellar Jays arrived and began gobbling up the peas at an alarming rate. So, I finally decided yesterday that I’d better get at them if I am going to have any for myself this year. After all, how else will I make pea soup or dahl this winter?

I got as far as getting the stalks down, getting them picked clean, and  getting them heaped into the garden corner to form the beginning of my compost pile. I placed the pods in a bowl. By that time (and after having done the same for the last of my potato crop), I was too tired to then face shelling them out.  It was only 4: 30 pm and I wondered why I felt too tired to face the shelling out task until I realized that I  had been in the garden for more than 6 hours and had been up for more than 12.  Perhaps I should pace myself better next year.

Dried Alaska peas.

Dried Alaska peas.

So, this morning I have spent the first few hours catching up on emails and the last hour and a half shelling peas. I’ve been shelling peas since 5:15 am and have just walked away from the bowl to do something else. Yes, it is quite a dull and repetitive job, but someone has to do it. Earlier in the season, I was shocked to see over and over again that a big of a basket of pods would shell out into barely enough for the two of us for dinner. Well, it is even more of a shock with the drier peas! After a diligent hour and a half, I’ve only got a cookie tray full of dried peas for my efforts. Either the Stellar Jays got more than I thought, or next year I’ll have to plant more peas. The harvest is probably only enough for a few good meals!

Now, I wonder what kind of return I’ll get from the broad beans?

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Filed under Food Sovereignty, Locavore, Sustainable Farming

First Steps in Food Sovereignty: what you can do.

A friend of mine emailed me about yesterday’s post, Food Sovereignty: latest fad or total necessity. He liked it very much. He is a conscientious person and keenly interested in food. However, like many people, he is not about to move from the city and take up the hoe, although he will enthusiastically ride my lawnmower when visiting! He asked me: What can us city-folk do? Now, I know that not everyone can grow their own food as I am doing. There is a variety of limitations each of us face: no access to land, lack of knowledge about how to grow food, or physical limitations. So the answer I gave him, in a nut-shell, is the following: Get out of the grocery store and go meet a farmer.

You can make your dollars count: quit feeding the mega-corporations and the venture capitalists that run them. Instead, put your money into a local pocket. Go to the farmer’s market and talk to the farmers there. Build a relationship with some of them. Farmers love to talk about the food they grow. They love to have feedback about the food they grow. They like to know that the work they are doing is valuable and appreciated (unlike most corporations, whose only interest is the economic returns they give to their shareholders).

You will get great pleasure from handing your hard earned dollars straight in to the hands of the person who works hard to grow the food that nourishes you. Not only will it support Food Sovereignty, both politically and personally, but also it might be the easiest, most rewarding and most pleasureable thing you can do for yourself and your local farmer. The bonus is that the food will probably taste better than anything you find in the grocery store, and it most certainly will be fresher!

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Filed under Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food

Food Sovereignty: the latest fad or total necessity?

This morning I woke up and did the farm chores as usual: fed and watered the animals, let the goats, ducks, and chickens out, checked on the baby turkeys to see they had enough water and food, and opened their window for the day. Then I returned to the house and turned on the CBC radio to keep me company, while making my week’s worth of yogurt.

I was shocked to hear that the news is still reporting on the listeria cases (yet another person, this time a baby, has died this week), and alarmed about the latest new food-system-related problem: babies dying from infant formula in China. Concern in Canada is due to the fact that our ‘global food system’ is dependent on imports from China.

So, yet another food scare in the news, again with mortal consequences. What I am most alarmed at is the fact that the CFIA seems to be taking a ‘hand’s off’ approach to both of these cases. In the case of the First Nations baby, they are trying to make it sound as if this case is not related to the previous 17 deaths due to listeria. The tone of the interviewee was that perhaps this death could have been caused by something the mother or caregiver did, while, in the case of the Chinese infant formula, they are ‘doing tests’.

Can we, then, breathe a collective sigh of relief that the CFIA is looking after us? No, and here’s why.

We are not allowed to buy things like local, raw milk or farm gate butchered meat because the CFIA has made it illegal. This means the CFIA knows better than we do and is–thank God– ‘protecting’ us from ourselves. However, when there is a dire problem in their system, suddenly it is ‘buyer beware’. A CFIA representative interviewed on CBC about the listeria crisis actually said, “People have to make sure they know what they are buying.” But the only raison d’etre for the CFIA is to make our food safe for us so that I, the consumer, don’t have to ‘make sure’ (whatever that would entail). Give me the ability to ‘beware’ of my own food, and I will. I’ll walk up the road to my neighbour’s barn and check out the milk he wants to trade with me. Since you prohibit me from doing that, then do your damned job!

The CFIA is trying to have it both ways: it is assuming total control of our food system, and no responsibility for its outcomes.

The Real Problem:

There is still very little discussion about the actual problems of the ‘global food system’ or even the large industrial food system (the likes of which cause the listeria outbreak in Canada). It is time to ask the government to talk about the real problem: the centralized food system. As my friend Suresh says,

It is a system that is dominated by super rich mega corporations, with centralised processing and distribution. This is a system that when some guy in Toronto or down in California goofs up and people in Vancouver can get sick. (Or the other way around, or any place in the world.) In such large scale operations it is impossible to test every package of meat or lettuce that leaves the factory. Inspection is done by means of random sampling. Some package of ground beef or a bag of spinach is bound to slip the scrutiny.  There is no point in pointing fingers at the food inspection guys or the meat packaging guys. This food system is open to such bacterial contaminations.

If we had a local food system, then the likes of the above problems would never be as far-reaching as these have been. We wouldn’t have mothers this morning in Canada wondering if they’ve given bad infant formula to their babies. They wouldn’t be spending the next 70 days wondering if their baby, too, will die. If we had a local food system and there were a problem detected, it would be localized and therefore detected sooner. In addition to this, the ability to find the source of the problem would be easier, and the dissemination of the information about the problem to the potential people affected would be quicker, precisely targeted and more thorough.

It is time to think in terms of re-localization of our food systems. It is time to think about de-centralisation. It is time to make local food systems more efficient and economically feasible. It is time to support our rural centers, our local butchers and our family farmers. Let us promote a food inspection system that supports small scale producers and processors, 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. Community food systems are healthy for local people and healthy for local economies. Let us create legislation that economically supports rural communities, family farmers and small food processors.

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. Until this morning, I had wondered if it is just a fad. Now, I’m glad I have as much control of my food as I do. I think everyone should feel this secure. I no longer think this is a fad. I think it is a necessity. It is time to know: where your food comes from, who is growing it and how, what sort of inputs the farmer/grower uses, how the animals are kept while alive, and how they are killed. It is time to know exactly what our money is supporting: overseas venture capitalists or your neighbourhood family farmer whose kids play with yours.

It is time to take back our local food system and put it in the hands of ourselves and our neighbours.

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food