Category Archives: Locavore

To stay or not to stay?

About one month after I quit my job in Regina and two weeks after I arrived back home, my husband got notified his services were no longer needed where he worked. Needless to say, our stress level went up. We were lucky enough that he got offered a part-time job in the fall that quickly turned into full time work. However, the job is only a one year replacement position, so we are now faced with the potential of neither of us being gainfully employed after June 26th. Not a big deal for some, but when you live in a small, remote town where there are few, or no, job prospects, it is: we are once again faced with the dilemma of whether or not to start looking for work outside the valley.

Unfortunately, it is not just the lack of jobs that begs this question.

Yesterday, I went to talk with the neighbour who lost the three beautiful dogs to the cougar a couple of weeks ago (see Cougar capers begin again). Since this fatal attack, they too are contemplating whether to stay: “Leaving was never a topic for discussion before this.” To say the least, the loss of the dogs has put a bad taste in their mouths for the moment; he showed me where the dogs were killed, stashed and eaten–and also where the grizzly bears show up each year! He worries constantly about his animals (not to mention his children!); he told me of the myriad battles he had, last summer alone, with different wild predators trying to kill one form of livestock or other. “One night I had 5 grizzly bears in the yard…right over there.” He pointed to a fence-rail that bordered the chicken coop just 30 yards from his house. Frighteningly, this was not an uncommon theme last summer; there were several reports of 5-7 grizzlies in people’s yards at once, unwilling to move off even when shot at!

We talked about the lifestyle we were both committed to, and the pros and cons of achieving it here. Then we commiserated about the fact there is work here for only one of them, as a couple. He laughed as he told me he thought farming would save them money–it doesn’t. “It would be cheaper to go buy the stuff from the store–even the organic.” He tells me about making mozzarella cheese from the local milk that he bought, and realizing that after all that work, he could have bought a bigger block of organic mozza from the local store for the same price he paid for the milk! He has tried to make a living on the farm in a variety of ways but doesn’t see any way of making it. He even bought a saw-mill, but the price of lumber is now too cheap to make even that pay–and that’s when he has his own trees to fall!

Despite the fact he’s not ‘making a living’, he is doing amazing things on his farm. He’s raising lamb, chicken, and beef for his family, growing a vegetable garden and raising fruit trees. They buy in wheat and make their own bread. At one time they kept a dairy cow and made all sorts of milk products but when she died they didn’t bother to replace her–too much work for one man. Besides, they found another source they could access. They keep two llamas for the fibre and–he tells me, not inconsequentially–the poop! Apparently llama poop is like gold for the garden: you can put it straight on the veggies and it won’t burn them. As if that was not reason enough to recommend llamas, their poop comes weed-seed free!

On top of all that he’s doing on the farm, he managed to grow a decent crop of wheat in what is supposedly a very marginal area for wheat–something I’m quite envious of and interested in doing. I took over my two samples of wheat to compare. Beyond the ‘hard red wheat’ identification of the label on the original bag, he has no idea what kind he’s grown. It appears to be neither of the two kinds I had: the Marquis and Red Fife. I’m curious to know what kind of wheat it is, because it certainly did a lot better than my experimental plot of Marquis last year–and last summer was nothing to write home about. His wheat resembled the Red Fife most closely, but had a much deeper, richer color–it is very beautiful.

While I look out at his field of ‘wheat to be’ (this year he’s going to grow two green manure crops to enrich the soil and not plant wheat again until next year), I am envious of his space. It has always been my dream to grow a field of wheat. The way my place is laid out presently, there is no room for a field of dreams! Since we bought the place we have not taken down any of the trees in the front half of the property. We’ve worked within the space that was already cleared but have now utilized nearly every square inch. So something has to give. For one thing I want my own field of wheat, and another–the predators. I want to feel safer on my property. So we plan to clear some of the front half (about 1.5 acres) and fence it. I’m hoping it will push the predators further from the house, and encourage them to go around the property instead of through it as they do now.

I tell my neighbour about my plans to clear some trees, fence in more of my property, and generally limb up trees to provide better visibility. He nods and says he’s going to do more of that himself. He has two small children at home and no longer feels safe on his own land: “They can’t be outside without one of us.”  I ask if he’s going to get more dogs and he shakes his head. “I can’t justify the cost of getting more dogs to work like those ones did. I lost $4000 in dogs in three nights–actually much more than that, when you taken all their training into consideration.” We talk about the heartache of losing them and our love of living with dogs in general. They will get one family dog but it will come in at night, so it is safe. Sadly, this will leave his farm animals unprotected. Without saying this explicitly, he sighs as his eyes survey the paddocks with the various grazing animals, “If we have a year like last summer…”

He says he likes spending time in the wilderness, but in places where you don’t have to worry about bears and cougars; he laments the fact that he can’t take his children hiking here. As he says this he pauses to consider the towering mountains surrounding us and laughs, “Actually, we are probably safer out hiking in the mountains than we are standing right here on my land among my animals! There are probably various sets of eyes watching us right now.” I know he’s right. I’ve got those same eyes looking at my place. I’ve seen them reflect back at me when I shine my flashlight at night after the dog has alerted me to the direction of their presence.

I find contemplating these sorts of realities depressing. This is my home, my dream-life and I don’t want to leave. But I do have do consider that there may be easier–and much safer–places to live. I have to consider whether or not this place will ever satisfy the farmer in me, or if I’ll have to keep relying on my husband to earn money that supplements the food I’m producing (with the losses from predation, this place has, thus far, been impossible to make pay for its running costs). Then there is the further investment of clearing land, fencing it off, and more housing to keep the animals safe. Another friend of mine was lamenting the fact she had to spend $1000 to build a chicken coop. I wish I had those kinds of cost worries! (A grizzly bear would smack that structure apart in one swipe.)

I wax and wane in enthusiasm for this place. Mostly, I love it. After all, it was my dream for over 15 years to live here.  I do wonder about whether or not to forget growing food for others and simply homestead, as my neighbour friend is. I am not sure I can let the desire to farm go, but as we both get older and the predator question becomes more and more ridiculous, I find myself rethinking the wisdom of staying. As my neighbour agreed, the most outspoken people on the predator question often have no clue about the realities of living with these creatures. They don’t grow their own food so they don’t address all the issues; instead, the wild animal issue has become largely sentimentalized.

As I bid my farewell, my neighbour leaves me to consider the question he and his family are pondering: “With all these wild animals right at our doorstep and the general population against our right to defend ourselves, is this any way to live?”

Post Script:

I am aware that there may be economic opportunities that I’m too blind to see. Thus, I am open to suggestions as to how I could make this work; ideas, suggestions welcomed.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Cougars, Learning to Farm, Locavore, Politicking with predators, Sustainable Farming

Rod and Gun Club dinner and dance

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

Last weekend we held the annual Rod and Gun Club fundraiser dinner and dance. In preparation for the dinner, the members of the Rod and Gun Club prepared the meat they hunted this fall, butchered farm raised food animals, and taxidermied animals for the display. Earlier in the year, I helped Clarence butcher the turkey he planned to donate and also helped his son, David, skin and butcher out the cougar which he recently prepared for the display. The dinner provided me the opportunity to bring my duck breeding venture to a close. I butchered the last of the Muscovy ducks and took them to the dinner.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

The vast array of different foods there was surprising given the small community and was a testament to the amount of ‘industry’ the people in this valley are involved in. I could have tried every kind of meat on offer but managed to limit myself to what I could fit on the plate and still be able to remember which meat was which by the time I got from the smorgasbord back to the dinner table. On offer was nearly everything one could imagine and then some: deer, moose, caribou, elk, wild boar, duck, turkey, beaver, llama, black bear, grizzly bear, and of course, David’s cougar. He presented it freshly roasted as well as smoked sausage and hams.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

I tried everything except the caribou and beaver. I had tried caribou before and the beaver just wouldn’t fit anywhere on the plate by the time I got to it, though it did look delectable having been made up into a beautifully presented stir-fry. I was surprised to see that the dinner even catered to vegetarians, with salads of various kinds and several versions of tofu, vegetable stir-fries and bean dishes. I also took a home made loaf of bread and others had made rolls and biscuits. The meal was scrumptious and most of us ate far too much, but I did manage to save room for dessert!

What struck me most about the dinner, besides the fact that it was such a  unique example of local culture and something particular to this valley, was the fact that the vast array of meats differed little from each other. I was expecting to notice a greater difference in texture and taste between the carnivorous animals and the ruminants. My favourite meat was the elk, with the cougar and the grizzly bear roasts tied for second place. So similar in taste and texture were most meats that I’m certain I could feed my mother a grizzly bear roast and tell her it was beef! Of the options I sampled, the animal that had the most distinctive taste was the llama.

The Rod and Gun Club puts on this dinner and dance every year to raise money for the club and to raise awareness of hunting and animal conservation. Many would find it curious, if not ironic, that the hunters in this valley are some of the most aware of conservation and environmental issues and the most active people in terms of environmental conservation and preservation of animals. They are by far the most knowledgeable bunch of folks I have ever had the pleasure of learning from about the complexities of the natural world around us and the balance of nature.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars, Educational, Food Security, Hunting, Locavore, Politics of Food

Food Safety 101

Two headline stories from the USA on food safety caught my eye today: `Georgia Peanut Plant Knowingly Shipped Contaminated Peanuts’; `Study Links Corn Syrup to Toxic Mercury.’

1. The FDA has issued one of the largest food recalls in history after eight people died of salmonella poisoning. A Georgia peanut plant knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella on a dozen occasions over the past two years. There are 40,000  cases of salmonella reported by people in the USA every year, many more go unreported, and it kills 600!

2. And a pair of new studies has revealed traces of toxic mercury can be found in many popular food items containing high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener has become a widely used substitute for sugar in processed foods, including many items marketed toward children. To listen to/watch/read the report, go to:
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/29/food_safety_georgia_plant_knowingly_shipped

Meanwhile, back at home in Canada, we’ve had our share of problems this year. In September 2008, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest meat processor, contributed a serious outbreak of Listeriosis in their deli-style products which killed, oh, about 20 people. This outbreak, in a country that has recently made substantial investments in food inspection, occurred at one of the Federally licensed and inspected facilities. Recently, we have been victim to E. coli-tainted spinach from the U.S.; cantaloupes from Costa Rica contaminated with salmonella; pet food and infant formula both containing a toxic chemical imported from China; and the latest, a recall on Black Diamond Cheese slices which are purported to contain small bits of plastic mesh. This week,  the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Hygaard Fine Foods EST 318 are warning the public not to consume certain Hygaard brand sandwich products described below because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. These products have been distributed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Ontario. Anything containing peanut butter (Chocolate Dipped Honey Peanut IsaLean Bar, granola bars with peanut butter flavouring, and a host of others) has also been recalled because of the risk of salmonella from the tainted peanut butter. In addition, Les Cultures de Chez Nous Inc. brand sliced, washed leeks and S. Bourassa (St-Sauveur) sliced leeks may be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. Those are just some of the public safety warnings that the CFIA issued THIS WEEK!

Food imports increased 21.5 per cent from 1996 to 2006. Federal health officials say they’re becoming more and more worried about the fact fresh fruits and vegetables shipped to Canada from other countries, including those with lower safety standards, are making up an increasingly large proportion of cases of food-borne illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects less than 10 per cent of imported shipments of low-risk products, which includes a majority of fresh produce that comes into Canada. The CFIA doesn’t scrutinize products based on the country of origin, but instead looks more closely at high-risk food products, so a major portion of the food Canadians eat will never be inspected by the federal government before it goes on store shelves. One article I read said, “As the number of outbreaks and illnesses linked to foreign food continues to mount and an increasing proportion of the Canadian diet is made up of food imported from other countries, there are serious questions about whether food growers and sellers, as well as the government, are doing enough to keep what Canadians eat safe.” Is it really reasonable that we should rely not only on our government to regulate safety, but also that the foreign growers will ascribe to our (so called) standards?

All this raises serious questions about the security of Canada’s food supply. Why are we importing lousy food and exporting our high quality food? Why are we allowing low quality foreign food onto our store shelves, all the while developing more and more prohibitive legislation that paralyzes our local food producers under the guise of public health and safety?

Ironically, the very food that we could have some influence over, we are busy making it more and more difficult for farmers to produce and  our fellow citizens to access! One would think that such a rise in the number of cases involving food-borne illnesses would create a strong public desire to change the food production and distribution system. Unfortunately, a desire for change won’t come until the masses realize that the government cannot ensure food safety: local farmers, in concert with the watchful eye of their customers, can.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Learning to Farm, Locavore, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

When in Rome: eating local

Warning: some graphic butchering photos contained on this page.

I have always loved cooking (my grandmother thought I should have become a chef), but the thought of being stuck inside for my work and at such a repetitive, yet highly competitive, job put me off. As a consumer I’ve always loved trying foods from far off places. I’m the only one I know who can go to Mexico, eat like the locals, and gain weight! When I began studying for my Masters Degree in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to do fieldwork with the Aboriginal Australians. While it would have been an amazing opportunity, I eventually dismissed the idea–based on food choices. Being a ‘When in Rome’ kind of gal, I just couldn’t see myself eating grubs (and other traditional bug-type bush food), yet I knew I might have to if I spent months in the bush with the locals of Australia. Bush meat, however, doesn’t revolt me, and while in Australia I have eaten emu, kangaroo and some other ‘bush meat’.

Throughout my ‘worldly travels’, limited as they have been, I have drawn the line in gustatory adventures at bugs. I have seen grubs, grasshoppers, beetle larvae, cockroaches and ants as edible options on different menus, but the closest I ever came to venturing into the culinary arena of bug eating was while in Mexico. Living near Tepoztlan, I came upon a street vendor who cooked amazing traditional fare. One day,he was frying up a huge wok-like pot of chulapines (grasshoppers) and, lured by my trust in his chef-like prowess coupled with my ‘when in Rome’ philosophy, I nearly went for it. He was friendly, the food was obviously relished by others, they smelled tasty,  and I stood there overcome by the wrestling match between my mind and my gag-reflex. In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to try them. Thankfully none of the families I lived with depended upon them for their food, or I might have been forced to eat out of politeness.

When the chance presented itself to come and work with the Nuxalk of Bella Coola, BC,  I jumped at it. I would kill three birds with one stone: a trip home to visit my family that I’d not seen in nearly six years, a visit to my beloved Bella Coola again, an opportunity for my thesis fieldwork, and exotic food that I could cope with. The Nuxalk traditional diet would not encompass anything that repulsed me, or so I thought. Lots of the foods here I had never tried before, but thankfully none of the traditional foods came into the insect category. Living in Bella Coola during the past five years has afforded me the chance to eat all sorts of things I would not otherwise have the opportunity to try: moose, mountain goat, salmon roe, ut, traditional smoked and barbecued salmon (the Nuxalk way), ooligan fish and grease, sopallili (Indian ice cream made from a berry).  I have liked most things, and now much of the above list forms at least part of my diet. However, I have come to discover there are things I can’t get down my gullet without gagging, like ooligan oil and ut. The former is a thick grease they make by rendering down ooligan fish, while the latter is herring roe on kelp. The people go crazy for both items, sometimes travelling for 3000 kilometers round trip to get it (the ooligan run has been wiped out on the Bella Coola River, so they trade with other First Nations people far north of here for their beloved grease).

When a cougar was killed, I offered to help the taxidermist skin and butcher the cat. I had never done that sort of thing before and was pretty excited by the opportunity to learn a new skill. He planned to mount it for the hunter who tracked the cat with him. My friend the taxidermist was exhausted by the end and very thankful I’d been there to help speed up the process. Nevertheless, the job took us several hours late into the night.

The next day, his wife called me and reiterated their thanks for the help with the work. After some pleasantries she got to the point of her phone call: “Would you like a package of the meat?” With all the passion and knowledge of a food critic, she listed off all the merits of cougar meat and lard. She told me the story of how they’d hunted the cougars for years but had never used the meat or lard, and then by economic need, they finally tried it one year and have never looked back. Like nothing else on earth, cougar lard makes the best pastry, and there is no better recipe for cougar meat than stir fried with snowpeas and water chestnuts. I had heard about folks eating cougar here, but I had always turned down the opportunity to partake. Now that I’ve been up-close-and-personal with that cougar in particular, the social qualms I harboured have withered. Once it was all gutted our and laying there, it barely looked any different from a pig–nice, clean, white flesh. With my friend nearly drooling into the phone while spouting off the recipe I reconsidered my position and answered, “Sure I’d like a package.”

Keeping in mind the immense popularity of Vancouverites Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon’s best selling book, 100 Mile Diet, who was I to turn down such an interesting example of local food as cougar, when the offer arose? Where else in the world would I get the opportunity to try this? Suddenly I could see economic development possibilities for our community. I envisioned a highly specialized tourist industry burgeoning around local foods, with high end restaurants sprouting up to cater to a tourist elite who would fly in from far off places (just as our Heli-skiers do) to try the wonders of our local cuisine: Bella Coola Beaver, Grizzly Bear Stroganoff, and the founding specialty, Stir-fried Cougar with Water-chestnuts and Snow Peas!

I have yet to pick the package up or try cooking it, but will keep you posted when I do!

Cougar ready for back cut skinning.

Cougar ready for back cut skinning.

Sorry the images are not clearer, it was late and the lighting not great!

Back splitting of cougar begins at the tail.

Back splitting of cougar begins at the tail.

When a taxidermist field dresses and butchers an animal, they use a back-split technique in order to preserve the skin’s integrity and make it easier to put back together. If you are not going to use the skin for tanning or mounting purposes, this is unnecessary.

Peeling the cougar out of his skin. This is coming around under his fore shoulder and elbow.

Peeling the cougar out of his skin. This is coming around under his fore shoulder and elbow.

Once the skin is off, then the normal butchering process begins. From this point on, it looks like any other animal ready for processing.

Opening the belly, just like you would a turkey!

Opening the belly, just like you would a turkey!

If I had not participated in this whole process, I may have been unable to think of cougar as game meat–not anymore!

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Filed under Animal issues, Butchering, Cougars, Funny stories, Hunting, Locavore, Politicking with predators

Crack and sniff: How fresh are your eggs?

Because they all look roughly the same on the outside, the only real way to know if you have bought healthy, fresh eggs, is to crack them open. The following information will help you determine whether your eggs are fresh and if they have come from healthy chickens, or are old and have come from poorly fed, stressed birds.

First rule of thumb: it is best to bypass the cheap, supermarket brand egg.

These are usually produced in vast factory ‘farms’ (though certainly not my definition of a farm, hence the ‘single quotes’) with upwards of 500,000 birds in one facility. The birds are caged in buildings that are artificially lighted and ventilated. The feed is most likely a mixture of conventionally grown corn and soy, undoubtedly contaminated by Genetically Modified Organisms and laced with antibiotics; these confinement operations must lace their feed with antibiotics in order to keep disease from spreading among the hens. They contribute to the amount of antibiotics we humans are ingesting (along with milk, cheese, and other animal products that come from confinement operations). There is not much goodness in eggs like these.

‘In-store’ freshness tests

The shells should be dull, not shiny. The eggs should feel strong, not so delicate that regular handling threatens to crack them. Hold one up in front of a light: sometimes you can see through them well enough to see the size of the air sac inside–it should be small and lopsided or angled.

‘At-home’ freshness tests

  1. Place the eggs in a large bowl of cold water. If they float, they are quite old.
  2. Once cracked open and lying on a plate, the yolk of a fresh egg will ‘dome up’ and stay up, while the white will clearly be thicker in the middle part, thinner on the edges. (A family that buys eggs from me has morning breakfast contests to see who’s yolk stands up the highest.) The yolks should be a deep yellow-orange, not pallid yellow; this deep orange color will tell you that the birds have had access to fresh greens, like grass and mixed pasture. They should also be virtually odor-free.
  3. Another test you could perform (though you will know well enough by the above two methods whether your egg is fresh or not) is to break the egg into boiling water, as if to poach it. Most supermarket eggs break up into tiny pieces on contact with the water, whereas fresh eggs will hold together.

‘Get Crackin’: shaking the hand that feeds you

If you seek out eggs from a small local grower, consider asking the following questions to learn more about the eggs you buy:

What do you feed your chickens? The ideal feed is a combination of grains, legumes, grasses, greens, worms and insect–in other words, pasture raised with free access to grains, to supplement their range diet. Less than ideal, but still acceptable to many, are organic lay pellets and organically grown corn and soy. At the bottom of the heap are commercial lay pellets, conventionally grown corn and soy, and cottonseed meal.

Do you use antibiotics? If the health of a whole flock is threatened, then the judicial use of antibiotics can usually be tolerated by the consumer, as long as eggs from that period are not sold. The answer should not be, ‘Antibiotics are routinely added to the feed ration.’ (Nevertheless, this is the practice of conventional agricultural operations. )

How many birds do you have? In this arena, small is beautiful–and better. If the birds are separated into smaller flocks–maximum 100 to 150–the chickens can maintain a healthy chicken society and a natural pecking order, and thus will be less stressed.

What are living conditions like for the birds? The birds should have regular access to the outdoors. Their living quarters should not be cramped, and they should be able to express themselves as chickens. In other words, they should be able to run around, scratch for worms and bugs, and have personal space to get away from marauding roosters if they want to. If chickens are given enough space, they are less likely to become stressed and/or diseased.

How fresh are these eggs? Small producers sometimes store eggs for days or weeks until they have enough to make a delivery. Eggs should not be older than 10 days when they are brought to market, and should be labeled with the date of harvest.

Are the eggs fertile? If the producer keeps roosters, the flocks will better resemble a natural chicken society and the hens will be less stressed. There should be a good ratio of roosters to hens; 1 to between 1o and 20 is a good balance, depending upon the breed and aggressiveness of individual roosters. Many producers say they cannot keep more than one rooster because they will fight. This is a sign that the birds do not have enough space to get away from one another! A healthy, happy flock with enough personal space will not fight to the death, or pick on another bird and kill it.

What breed are your chickens? While this likely doesn’t matter much to individual egg quality, you may want to know for your own personal reasons. There are reasons beyond freshness and animal ethics to consider. For example, do you want your dollars going towards helping a farmer keep a heritage breed alive, develop a breed with special adaptive characteristics for your area, obtain farm status to lower their land tax, or increase food security in your neighbourhood by being able to be economically viable? These options are not only interesting philosophical motives, but also politically oriented, in that they help ensure increased food security by keeping the gene pool of chickens varied (which makes them less susceptible to a host of problems), developing regional characteristics in a local flock, maintaining important animal husbandry skills alive, and helping a local farm be or stay viable. These are all interesting, conscientious ways to spend your hard earned dollars.

May I visit your farm? While you might never do this, the producer’s response will give you an idea of whether he or she is proud of the operation or ashamed of it.

When asking these questions, remember that life is a compromise. In an ideal world, your farmer’s feed would be organic, the chickens would have constant access to fresh pasture, and they would roam around a large space, never at the risk of being predated upon. However your farmer has many variables to consider in creating a healthy, vibrant yet economically viable, ecologically sustainable farm. How much you’re willing to pay for the end product is a big part of that juggling act!

In the end, it is always better to shake the hand that is feeding you. You will have the confidence of knowing where your food is coming from, and where your dollars are going and what they are supporting. You may also develop strong relationships between yourself and the grower, and indirectly strengthen your community bonds (what academics call ‘social capital’).

Isn’t that better than mindlessly letting your dollars get funnelled through a chain supermarket check-out to an unknown conglomerate far, far away?

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Filed under Chickens, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, How to..., Locavore, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Egg ‘profits’

A couple of years ago I asked one of our local grocery store managers (there are two grocery stores in the valley)  how many dozen eggs per week the store sold: the answer was 1500 dozen. That means  our community spends annually at least $312,000.00 on eggs, and likely twice that considering the second store! We are a remote, economically depressed community. Imagine if all that money kept circulating in our valley instead of the majority (the local stores keep a small percentage  of that money in retail mark-up) going to an anonymous corporation  a thousand kilometers away.  If we could develop a local food system, this money would be used to support small family farmers, who could farm in an ethical manner as I do. Then, our community would  not be supporting which treats animals inhumanely, raisies eggs of questionable integrity,  and polluties the environment with long distance egg travel–and let’s not even start on the idea of freshness!

Why am I on about this? I was recently crunching the numbers to see if I could make my farm economically viable through the egg business. Here are my preliminary calculations:

  • I am trying to build my flock up to 99 laying hens and am almost there. Hens only lay well for approximately 40 weeks per year(industrial producers might achieve 46-50 weeks by confining the birds in artificial conditions, stimulating them with artificial light, mutilating them,  and feeding them antibiotics and hormones). So:
  • 99 hens x 1 egg per day (almost) x 6  days per week = 594 eggs per week;
  • 594 eggs per week divided by 12/dozen = almost 50 dozen per week;
  • 40 weeks (to give the benefit of the doubt) x 50 dozen x $4.00 per dozen (average cost based on local grocery store)= $8 000 gross income.
  • That doesn’t sound too bad until you factor in the feed cost (which has increased dramatically recently) and the costs to build a henhouse, buy the chickens as day-olds, transport them to the farm, provide electricity for lighting and/or heating to raise them and keep water from freezing during the winter, provide bedding material (including trucking it to the farm), and pay the occasional vet bill. Oh–and factor in the mistakes, blunders, ice storms and power outages (e.g. 47 new chicks and no extra room in your bra to keep them warm!). How much is left of the gross income? It doesn’t take a sharp pencil or further detailed calculations to realize there will be next to nothing left over at the end of the year!
  • Other expenses that must be factored in if you are to make a serious ‘go’ of it include: the up-front cost of the building to house the hens, nesting boxes, roosts, waterers, feeders, and special lights for heating the chicks as newborns; egg cartons and their labels (legally you can’t re-use cartons!); and annual taxes –which are not lessened unless you obtain farm status, an increasingly difficult thing to achieve.
  • Additionally, there are labour costs. Like many small farmers, I have chosen to work on my farm rather than develop a career (for which I am well qualified) which would give me a good wage, full benefits replete with life and disability insurance, a pension plan, unemployment insurance and paid leave. Instead of selling my time to an employer, I choose to spend it conscientiously:  caring for my birds; checking their feed and water daily; letting them in and out twice daily; changing their bedding regularly; collecting and cleaning eggs; putting them in cartons daily; delivering them to customers; doing the specialty chores (which take an inordinate amount of time) like giving them greens or conducting the Poopy Bum Patrol; creating an ecologically sustainable farm; contributing to local food security; practising local economic development; increasing my community’s social capital; advocating for food sovereignty through meetings, discussions, educational workshops, and writing this blog; researching, reading and learning from mentors and trail-blazers.

In fact, as I write, the powers that be are considering upping the amount of money which a small farmer like me needs to make on a farm of 2 to 10 acres from $2500 per year to $10 000.

That increase in requisite gross sales volume will put many small farms in British Columbia, Canada,  out of business. According to Statistics Canada (2006) there are 19 844 farms in B.C. 9466 of them make less than $10 000 gross sales each year. In other words, if the powers that be have their way, nearly 9 500 family farms will go out of business!

The increase in required gross sales revenue, coupled with the Egg Producers Marketing Board’s ceiling of 99 laying hens, make it impossible to keep a two acre farm in non-industrial egg production alone.

Ah, you say, what about economies of scale? Why not get bigger? Why not have more hens? Because I’m not allowed to, that’s why.

Here is the British Columbia government’s regulation:

The British Columbia Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) issues egg layer quota to registered egg producers. An egg producer is legally required to obtain quota from the BCEMB if they have more than 99 layer hens. Registered producers with quota are bound by the BCEMB’s Standing Order to produce eggs according to provincial and federal legislation.

The BCEMB Standing Order defines a layer, applied to chickens, as a laying hen, layer, and any class of a female chicken hatched for the purposes of egg production that is aged nineteen (19) weeks or older.

[See BC Egg Producers Board for more information; but be forewarned, it is difficult to wade your way through to understanding the rules and regulations–I’m still wading.]

The British Columbia Egg Producers Board governs how many laying chickens anyone is allowed to keep, without getting ‘quota’ (say, 10,000 or more). This legal exclusion of chicken numbers between say, 100 and 9,000, severely limits the ability of a ‘would be’ farmer to grow and develop a sustainable, economically viable, environmentally-more-sustainable-than-the-system-we-are-locked-into, local business.

Somewhere in these pages, there seems to be a window of exemption for  a flock of 99-399 flock limit, but I have yet to be able to find out how this is achieved. The next  stage up is 1000-3000, the ‘Small Lot’ farm. There is an application form on the website; however, it is not as easy as filling out the ‘Small Lot Authorization’ application form. You cannot simply grow your business the way you you see fit: if you want to be bigger than 99 or 399, you must decide which of the categories–Free Run, Free Range, Organic, Certified Heritage Breed (along with requisite mountains of paperwork, reporting, etc.)–you wish to comply with, and the mountain of paperwork you are willing to submit yourself to.

Here is a sample of the less-than-crystal-clear legal requirements:

Small Lot Authorizations – The Board has established a Small Lot Authorization program to a maximum of 10,000 layers.  A person who wishes to keep or maintain more than ninety-nine (99) layers but three hundred and ninety-nine (399) layers or less, must apply annually to the Board to be exempt from: the requirement of obtaining a licence, registering as a Registered Producer and paying marketing licence fees if they do not market their eggs through a Federally Registered grading station. The following conditions apply: (i) No person shall keep or maintain, in concert with another person or persons, such layers in facilities contiguous to or a part of each other, such that in aggregate, the number of layers kept or maintained, would if kept or maintained by one person in such facilities, require that person to obtain a licence and register as a Registered Producer. (ii) No Registered Producer shall permit a person exempt from the requirement of obtaining a licence, to keep or maintain layers in the Egg Production Unit of or in facilities contiguous to or that ordinarily would constitute a part of the Egg Production Unit of the Registered Producer. (iii) The producer is certified organic, certified heritage breed, certified free run or certified free range by an agency meeting the criteria contained in SECTION 7(p). (iv) For certified heritage breed flocks the applicant must demonstrate that 99 birds is too few for the maintenance of a viable heritage flock. (v) If the producer direct markets their eggs ungraded at the farmgate the producer must be in compliance with the Agricultural Produce Grading Act, Shell Egg Grading Regulation.  Should a producer decide to market eggs as Canada Grade “A” the producer must also pay Marketing Licence Fees on product marketed through a registered grading station. (vi) Priority for entrance into the Small Lot Authorization program will be given to applicants producing specialty eggs, including certified organic, certified free run and certified free range in regions outside the Lower Mainland. (vii) Persons currently holding laying hens that may qualify for a Small Lot Authorization have until December 31, 2006 to complete and submit an application for Board approval. (viii) If required, a waiting list system will be established for the Small Lot Authorization program.

This is not the end. You must meet the ‘New Entrant’ requirements. What are they? Ah, well … all is on hold, and has been since June 13, 2007 when the Egg Producers Board put out the following letter:

June 13, 2007

To : New Entrant Applicants

From : Mike Gillanders, Operations Manager

NEW ENTRANT WAITING LISTS

At their meeting May 30, 31, 2007, the BC Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) reviewed the BC Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) decision on eligibility for New Entrants and addressed the waiting list process that has occurred over the past several years while the BCFIRB reviewed the New Entrant policies. Due to uncertainty of how waiting lists would work and who would be eligible, the process has been very confusing for everyone involved.  The BCEMB Directors therefore resolved to replace the New Entrant selection by waiting list with a New Entrant selection by lottery. As a consequence, the Standing Order will be revised to remove the sections dealing with Waiting Lists and a new section will be drafted to detail how a New Entrant Lottery will operate. Once the new policy is approved, the details will be posted on our website and you will receive a copy.  Any persons who have paid the Waiting List fee will receive a refund.

Despite the fact that I don’t have inordinate material aspirations, the limitations imposed by the BCEMB are painfully prohibitive to my aspirations of working from home and increasing our community food security. It’s no wonder there has been a mass exodus from the rural communities and family farms, and a concomitant burgeoning of cities and their environmental issues. Why would anyone want to try to develop a farm and raise food for their communities when the profits are too low (or non-existent), and the barriers are too high?

When you cannot grow your business as you wish (build your chicken flock up to a reasonable number–beyond the allowable 99 but in keeping with your farm size and sustainability–without having to jump major ‘exemption’ or ‘special status’ hoops that might provide you with an actual profit at the end of the year), what is the incentive to farm? How can a small egg producer in BC avoid throwing in the towel and working off the farm, returning to the city, and becoming part of the unsustainable urban flock?

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, Food Security, Locavore, 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

Getting my hunting license.

So, having completed my CORE  course and received in the mail my CORE certificate of completion, I thought I was ready to go hunting. Not so. I now have to go to the government agent in order to get my ‘hunter number’. At first I was confused, because I had thought that the reason for the CORE course was to get your hunting license. But I was wrong. What that piece of paper allows you to do is go to a government agent and get a ‘Hunter Number’. Please note, this is still not your hunting license; no, this is yet another piece of paper that allows you to purchase the actual hunting license–which still doesn’t allow you to hunt.

So… I went to the government agent in town to get my hunter number. This was fairly easy and straightforward. When I asked if I could now buy the species tag, I was surprised when the gal said, “No. You first need to purchase a hunting license.” OK, what is the hunter number for? “That allows you to buy the hunting license.” OK, so what was the CORE certificate for? “That allows you to receive the hunter number. ” Confused? So was I.

She explained that she, too, didn’t quite understand why there is a two tier system in order to get the hunter license (the CORE and the Hunter Number), but she did laugh and say, “That part is free.” For the actual hunting license, I would have to pay. I was pleased to find out that I could also purchase my hunting license and species tag there. Originally, I had thought I would have to make another trip to the mercantile store to get that. But first, I must fill out a whole other set of paperwork that needs to be registered by the agent before receiving that. Who knew it was so complicated!

Having waded through the red tape this morning, I am now the proud owner of my hunter number, a hunting license (good till March 2009), and a mule deer species tag, all for the price of around $50.  (This of course, does not include the money for the CORE course or the Firearms Acquisition Licensing course and exams.) I am too late this year for any LEH tag (limited entry hunting), where you put your name in to a lottery type thing and hope your name is drawn. I’m not entirely sure how that all goes down yet; some things will have to wait until next year for me to get my head around. Right now, I’m just hoping to get an actual hunting date nailed down with my hunting coach and friend, Clarence.

Interestingly, what I also learned at the government agent’s is that foreigners do not have to put their names into the lottery for the limited entry hunting species tags: they simply pay for whatever they want to hunt. If it is a bear they want to hunt, they simply fill out the requisite paperwork, sign on the dotted line, and pay for the privilege; and that privilege will cost you about $1100 plus GST in the case of a grizzly bear, according to the government agent. Having just filled out a mountain of paperwork for my license, I doubt that this fee will even cover the cost of the paperwork involved in filling out the ‘non-resident’ license. It does beg the questions: How much is the life of a Canadian bear, or moose, or wolf, worth?  Are we to reagrd them like all our primary products (wood, oil, gas) and sell them at bargain basement prices? And, why do we not allow everyone to ‘buy’ their way in to a species hunt? It is a cumbersome, inequitable and illogical system.

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Locavore, Politics of Food