Category Archives: Developing Community

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

Helping hands

When you have helpful visitors you realize how nice it would be to work together or live communally. So much more can get done on a farm when there are more hands involved. When Virgil, Tami and Meah were visiting I got all sorts of things done that would have taken me much longer on my own. And, some things would, quite simply, not get done at all–like the cleaning of the barn roof! Although it needed doing I did not have it as a priority on my own list of things to do. The harvesting, drying, canning etc is paramount for me and the ‘incidentals’ of keeping things looking pretty and clean move to the back burner.

Virgil on roof_MJW5524As luck would have it Virgil was more than happy to help out when he visited me this summer. First thing after morning coffee, he asked what sort of things needed doing and I rattled off the various tasks on the list. I don’t remember how the cleaning of the barn roof came up–he may well have noticed that is was dirty and suggested it himself; he’s that kind of guy. At any rate, once the idea was in play Virgil was on top of it. It was an ugly job (the roof was very dirty and had nearly four years of accumulated birch tree sap all over it) and it took him the better part of two half-days to do it, but it was spotless when he was finished.

Finally, feeling slightly guilty about how hard he was working at it, I suggested we didn’t need to be able to eat off of it. “I just don’t feel right about not doing a job well” he insisted and continued beavering away until the job was done to his satisfaction. I reckon it’ll be another four years before it gets done again (unless Virgil is able to visit every summer!). Thanks friend, you’re welcome back any time!

Virgil concentrating on not falling off my barn roof while he cleans it for me.

Virgil concentrating on not falling off my barn roof while he cleans it for me.

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Filed under Developing Community, Repairs and maintenance

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

What’s behind door number two

My new home made barn door!

My new home made barn door!

My red barn which we built five years ago was to have three sliding doors for its three openings, all hanging from the same rail. However, so cute was the final product and so perfect its lines that we felt a rail would spoil the façade; besides, it’s nice to look across from the house and see the hay bales inside the middle opening.

The right hand side was soon filled by a door fortuitously found at the local dump, to contain the goats at night when I decided, after confronting as cougar on our driveway, that they should perhaps have a dormitory for the danger hours, at least.

The third, left hand space served as a garden tool shed until we decided this spring to try goat milking. I ordered a machine, and we built a stanchion inside that room. All it lacked was a door, and now as the chance to have what I had always desired: a barn door made of planks with a ‘z’ support.

Mechanism for hanging the door.

Mechanism for hanging the door.

The project was the more fun because my friend Dave agreed to teach me how to do it properly, just as soon as we were finished clearing the front forty. So it was that as the first of our summer’s heat waves subsided and the last goat fence post was planted and nailed up, that we decamped to the front lawn and awaited Dave, his wife Judy, his home-milled cedar planks, and his tools.

Dave is an exemplary tool-man. Not only does he have one for every job (and I mean every job: he has eight skill-saws, each with different blades and angles, so that he never has to alter one of them), but he also maintains his tools in perfect condition, whiling away the hours after his 15 hour days labouring, with cleaning their motors and sharpening their blades. So he literally “set up shop” for this operation, with power cords and extension leads festooning the ground. He had carefully (and lovingly) selected the best, driest cedar from his drying room for this job. He had thought to use hinges, but when I produced the remaining two meter length of barn door steel railing (left over from my brainwave utilization of the majority of the rail on the new turkey barn), he was delighted. Now he could make the door a respectable width, rather than the cramped door opening of our red barn.

I'm tightening the bolts on the barn door.

I'm tightening the bolts from underneath on the barn door.

As always, Dave was an excellent teacher. When I asked why he didn’t find my requests to learn these ‘manly’ jobs odd, he replied that his parents had raised him and his eight siblings totally alike, “All of us peeled carrots and chopped and stacked wood.” Jobs were there to be done, and a son or daughter should both be equal to the task.

We spend almost a day planing those boards smooth, using various sanders and progressively finer papers. You have to be careful with cedar that you don’t start tearing the fibers away, so sanding with the grain is a must. To make sure the planks didn’t shift or warp, Dave taught me to use his router to make grooves along the edge of each plank to accept a one inch plywood cookie which would dovetail into the next plank’s groove. We glued all this together for extra strength and snugness, then bolted on the beloved ‘Z’ reinforcing frame.

The rail and pulleys took some adjusting until the door was the right distance from the concrete and from the barn wall, and even Dave learnt something when he decided to grind off the ends of the bolts after we had sanded the door—which left an iron filing grey cloud around each bolt, staining the wood. More sanding and a cedar stain covered everything up. Now we have an easily opening barn door, just right for maneuvering a recalcitrant milking goat from pen to stanchion!

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Filed under Developing Community, Educational, How to...

The bloggers’ half-marathon

I began my blog because I complained to a friend that there weren’t enough hours in the day to develop my subsistence lifestyle and to document this for a book as well. She suggested starting my blog, because I could note things down as they happened, accumulating material and in point form to jog my memory for later creativity, and if there was ever a dull moment I  could expatiate at length without worrying about whether the material would fit into my next book. In essence, my blog would be my field notebook (I’m an anthropologist by training, after all). It didn’t really occur to me that strangers could peer over my shoulder, let alone ingratiate themselves into my world and my life through this medium.

But those strangers have turned into sources of inspiration and information, a support group in times of need, advisers, my community (because I don’t actually talk over my fence to my neighbour here about my livelihood, nor does anyone in today’s world, it seems)–and now you, once strangers, are my friends. Our global separation evaporates in virtual space and we come together with our common interests, concerns and passions. I am more than 450 kilometers from the nearest stop light (let alone the nearest Tim Horton’s do-nuts, Dairy Queen, or veterinarian), so this blog has filled the vacuum of expertise around my geographical situation. Early on in all this, I wrote a post called “Conscious, conscientious decision-making” and suddenly I discovered that a fellow traveller ‘Stonehead’, somewhere in Scotland, had “pinged” me, i.e. referenced the post on his own blog.

When I needed goat advice, I got it from one of the top goat veterinarians in the United Kingdom thanks to the efforts and links of Little Ffarm Dairy; when I needed reassurance about my pregnant goats, I got it from a couple of different folks ‘somewhere’ in the United States. Moreover, nobody was patronizing or dismissive. Every response to my blog validated my experience.

As a result, I feel confident to try things; my network of virtual friends and advisers is there to support me. If something goes wrong or I need a question answered, I now have a community of people I can turn to and rely upon. For example, when I read Stonehead’s post “How to Skin a Rabbit” I was validated and informed about the messy business of slaughtering one’s own stock; I also learned about the sometimes virulent response to such declarations from the world at large. When I emulated Stonehead with my own post on how to slaughter turkeys, I was apprehensive about negative responses (death threats, even!); but I forged ahead, because I knew that this information was at that time non-existent in the virtual world, and would be useful as well. In fact, when I came to butcher my own turkeys rather than those of my mentor whom I had described in that post, I found myself resorting to my own post to refresh my memory about the procedure! I’m happy to say that my post was received with gratitude, and today it remains my most popular (my host site gives me that information, too!).

Soon afterwards, I was invited to be a regular writer for another blog Not Dabbling in Normal, one which I had admired from afar. And so it goes…

Then there’s my audience, those of you who check in to see what’s going down at Howling Duck Ranch, perhaps wanting (as a Vancouver friend put it) to live the ‘good life’ vicariously. This audience has gained in numbers steadily over the past ten months of my evolving blog. I know this because my host, WordPress, gives me detailed data. I remember being excited the first time I had a hundred ‘hits’ in  a day. I would analyse their origins, and be excited as the circle of interest expanded from North America to the world: for example, I named one of my goats after a favourite wine, the ‘Shiraz’, then learned from an Iranian that it’s the name of his home town there (I got an invitation to visit!). Now, when I hear news about strife in Iran, I’m concerned for that friend!

This may sound rather adventitious, and I suppose to a degree it is. But maybe it’s because I’m concerned with husbanding the Earth and extracting a subsistence from it that I do feel a genuine kinship with others around our small planet who are attempting to do the same. And I know that your shared interest is what has brought you to my blog.

Why am I waxing so philosophical? Well, July 2009 has yielded 5,000 hits; my biggest month to date. My host site generates all this kind of data, and it becomes quite absorbing reading! Anyway, that’s a milestone, I reckon. I don’t have a name for it–the Demi-Mille, the Blogger’s First Step, the half-Marathon Month–but I feel elated, and grateful. I look forward to expanding my virtual circle. My background is working in community development, and here I am, realizing that I am participating in developing and sustain the community of subsistence lifestylers into which I have been so warmly welcomed. As I hit “Publish” I wonder with excitement what will happen next.

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Filed under Developing Community, Educational, Just for fun

New Chum Awards!

A male chum salmon ready to spawn here in Bella Coola.

A male chum salmon ready to spawn here in Bella Coola.

This blogging world has provided me with a creative outlet; without it, my life would be less rich. I began the blog with a view to helping me get down on ‘paper’ some of my ideas and stories that come from living this sort of subsistence lifestyle. What I didn’t count on or foresee was that it would also open up a rich environment for making friends and developing community.

Every now and then some of you stand out for various reasons: your generosity and ether support, your willingness to share your experiences and fears, or simply your being there since the beginning, or near beginning! All of your personalities have jumped out at me through the ether (or in Mike’s case here on the ground!), and caught my attention and affection. So here are my new ‘Chum’ awards:

Suburban Bushwacker – for our many discussions, and most of all for not letting pink threaten your macho image.

Phelan of A Homesteading Neophyte – for your kinship in the ‘freaking out first time’ kidding experience, and for sharing your delicious goat meat recipes.

Small Pines – for your sense of humour, great writing style, being a fine example of a ‘who-dunnit’ conversion from dreamer to dream actualizer, and most of all for enquiring if I was OK after a spell of down-time.

MMP of The Art of Proprietation – for your fine blog, for the kidding support, and for helping me not to ‘freak out’.

Tony – of Little Ffarm Dairy – for ‘lurking’ quietly until you were needed!

Fred – of Blackfarms– for the great conversations, for sharing your many thoughtful suggestions and brainstorming methods.

Michael Wigle of Jumping Mouse Productions – for your inspirational photography, for being flexible and open to trade,  for understanding what ‘real food’ is, and for being a friend who is here ‘live and in color’.

Thank-you to everyone who reads this blog and participates through sharing comments, questions, advice, and personalities. You help make my remote existence less lonely, and thus easier to maintain.

cheers,

HDR

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Filed under Developing Community, Just for fun

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

David Suzuki Digs My Garden

SuzukiGnomeVancouver’s most famous Environmentalist, David Suzuki, is running a contest for pesticide free gardeners this summer. They say you don’t have to be a master gardener to play a starring role in the ‘David Suzuki Digs My Garden’ contest. They want a passionate storyteller who believes pesticide-free growing is the way of the future–which needless to say I do–that they can follow this summer in video, pictures and print, from soil prep and composting, through seeding and weeding, to reaping the harvest.

Without hesitating, I filled in the contest form on Thursday night and promptly went to bed. On Friday, I received an email saying I was accepted to the second phase, the video audition. How exciting! There are, of course, many problems with this: I don’t have a video camera, I don’t know anyone with a video camera, I haven’t ever used a video camera, I live 500 kilometers from the nearest store with a video camera, and no, I can’t buy one over the phone from the Vancouver camera stores. Consequently, I spent Saturday hunting down some options and finally a friend in Vancouver came to my rescue. He bought the camera and put it on the plane to Bella Coola this morning.

It arrived at 1:30 pm. I have since then been reading the instruction booklet whilst charging its batteries. I’ve managed to write my script and practice it twice on an old tape-style video camera (that won’t let me translate it to an AVI file so I can upload it to You-tube as the Suzuki Foundation requests) and hone it down to about 90 seconds. Now, I’ve gotten half way through what was going to be my final take–on the newly charged fancy digital jet-lagged camera–and I’ve hit something that has made the whole thing mute, and can’t figure out how to undo it!!! It will be a miracle if I manage to get this completed by Wednesday night! Wish me luck.

If I successfully manage my way out of the nanotechnology quagmire I’ve waded into, I’ll put it up on the blog for all to see. In the meantime, you can view Suzuki’s just over one minute promo video by clicking here.

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Filed under Developing Community, Just for fun, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

To bee or not to bee

beeonwhiteflowerSince living in New Zealand, where there are more kinds of honey on any grocery store shelves than I ever thought could exist, I have wanted to keep bees. In New Zealand, until very recently, all honey had been organic by default. The country did not have veroa mites and very few bee diseases in general, so the apiarists could raise bees in natural conditions (sadly, this is no longer the case as the veroa mite moved into the country in about 2002). “Bees are the easiest animals you’ll ever keep on your farm,” was the typical response to my queries; thus this thought has remained with me.

Since my time in New Zealand, I have wanted to add bees to my repertoire on the farm. Keeping my own bees would be the answer to getting off the grocery store dependency for sugar. For a couple of years in NZ, I lived without sugar when I was lucky enough to live next to ‘Tony-the-Greek’ who kept his own hives and always gave me some of his honey. When I ran out of Tony’s honey, I could drive about a mile further down the road and buy more from ‘Robin-the-honey-man,’ who had his extractor not far from our house. At the time, I did everything with honey: sweetened my coffee and jams, baked with it, even used it as a skin softener.

To date, I have never been ready to accommodate bees by early spring, when  you need to get organized and order them. This year I finally thought I had the time to do this, and began the task of finding the equipment and different sources for the actual bees. There is a lot to learn about bees that I hadn’t counted on. Once I began my research I was soon quite discouraged: “You’re living in a very marginal area for bees,” was the answer I got from two agricultural specialists. Further inquiries with the two local fellows who have historically (or in one case, still do) kept bees confirmed what the professionals said. These two men have either lost all their hives or all but one hive over the past couple of years.

Apparently, bees like warmer weather than we get here–they don’t appreciate our wet weather or the damp–and they need acres and acres of good fodder (think wildflowers like fireweed and clovers) in order to keep healthy and well fed. Because Bella Coola is in a rain forest, coupled with the fact that we have very little cleared farm land, there simply is not enough fodder to support a colony of bees. If that wasn’t enough to put me off, the local experience is quite the opposite of the New Zealand experience. Bees are not the easiest farm animal to keep in British Columbia–even in a better, warmer, drier location. We have a higher number of diseases and thus the amount of work involved and numbers of times you have to tend to your hive are far greater than the time I have to dedicate to such an uncertain endeavour.

So, like the growing of great tomatoes and shell out beans, bees have been crossed off the list of things I can do well, given my geography. Despite the fact that the maple and birch syrup take a huge amount of energy to extract, that is a much more environmentally suitable solution to my sweetener needs than honey. Location, location, location–it’s not just good advice for real estate speculators. Now I know why most of Canada’s honey comes from the Prairies!

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Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Educational, Food Security, Learning to Farm, Sustainable Farming