Tag Archives: Community Development

HDR Moves North, Part Two

The Arrival:

Is this where I get out?

Having loaded the goats first thing in the morning before leaving Howling Duck Ranch, once Nick was installed in the rear, I was set to go. Originally, I had thought about over nighting in Williams Lake. I phoned the Veterinary Clinic there to see if this was possible. It was in theory but because it was a Sunday, I would have to get there before by 5 pm when they closed. In light of the fact I had to conquer The Hill and get 458 kms of rough road behind me, I just couldn’t see how I could to it. Also, I was still tired from the trip in and needed to visit a few more people before leaving town. I realized, talking with the clinic, that I was going to have to do the trip in one go.

Tens hours into the journey, I stopped in Quesnel for a Tim Hortons coffee. I wondered if Nick needed a break from being cooped up but worried about the wisdom of letting him out. After all, what would I do if I couldn’t get him back into the trailer? What would Claire do, I wondered. Rex (the Vet) had told me that I could safely drive with the animals for 36 hours. But, because I knew I had nearly 24 to do, and I worried that if I had a flat or some other vehicle trouble, we could easily get over that time limit and then what would I do? Finally, I decided to risk it.  I walked him around a field for about twenty minutes while he sniffed the night air and fed on the grass. When it was time to load him back up, again, lovely boy that he was, he went in without any drama.

Nick's first minutes on Couplands farm. I'm talking with Rex about how to integrate him into his herd.

Twenty-two hours of total driving time later, I was at Rex’s just outside Grande Prairie on Saskatoon Mountain. I unloaded Nick and introduced him to Rex’s herd, Dusty and Bo. Rex was certain that Dusty would create a fight, or at least a bit of a horse rodeo so Rex asked if I would stay for a while just in case. I assured Rex that I thought Nick would integrate nicely and not cause any fuss. I took Nick into the pasture and turned him loose. Just as Rex suspected, Dusty was the first to run up to greet him. She pranced around Nick trying to stir the pot. Nick put his ears back once and turned his bum to her. “Well, I think that’s all the show we’re going to see today Rex,” I said. Rex was unconvinced, “I’m sure there’s going to be some trouble. Dusty is a bit of a terror. She seems to get other horses whipped up. I’ve seen it before!” And so we waited. And, we waited some more. And nothing happened. Finally, Rex visibly relaxed and I headed to the next farm to unload my goats. “I’ll call you later to see how things are going,” I said before getting into the truck.

Within minutes of being let loose into the paddock with his new herd mates, Nick is happily integrated.

Not more than two miles down the road, I saw something odd. There was a vast number of deer bunched up along the brush line just off the road. I wondered why they were all clumped up like that until I saw a flicker out of the corner of my eye. Not more than 30 yards in front of them was a full grown cougar laying like a house cat in the snow. His tail flicking in concentration every now and then. I pulled over to watch the scene and called Rex. “Really? In nearly thirty years of living up here I’ve never seen a cougar. Trust you to see one in your first five minutes of being here!” I didn’t wait for Rex to get to the scene but moved on with my load. To this day, Rex still has not seen a cougar. He’d moved off before Rex got to the scene of the crime. A few hours later Rex called to say that Nick and Dusty and Bo were all acting like they’d known each other forever.

Thirty minutes later I pulled up to Russ and Brenda’s farm and unloaded the goats. I introduced my ‘Group of Seven’ into their herd, and then there were 60. Theirs had just had kids so there were goats of all shapes, sexes, and sizes in the mix along with one token guard llama, Gibbs. So devoted to his job was he that he would not let my goats into the feeding area. Russ eventually had to have a talk with him and let him know his job duties extended to the seven newcomers!

My 'Group of Seven' follow me like perfect little citizens into their new home.

Today, I farm sit at both places and look after my own and others’ animals. I have farm sat for Russ and Brenda a few times and gotten to look after their livestock. Before that I had never taken care of cows. It was a unique opportunity for me.  Presently, Rex and Debbie are away and I’m sitting their farm. It is a beautiful place on the mountain. Best of all, I get to see my horse every day. These opportunities not only make me happy but also they let me play farmer.

Fatty-Fat coming in for a pet.

I'm very happy to have my animal family united with me after 18 long months!

10 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Developing Community, Horses

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.

19 Comments

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

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.

9 Comments

Filed under Developing Community, Educational, 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.

8 Comments

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

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.

2 Comments

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.

7 Comments

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

Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

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

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

A matter of time:

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

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

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

Life is a compromise!

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

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

What’s important:

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

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

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

15 Comments

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

First Steps in Food Sovereignty: what you can do.

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

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

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

1 Comment

Filed under Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food