Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gardens Update: 3 of 7

I started out with a plan when I was planning my seven garden spaces. It was logical, as plans are. It took into account harvesting times, water needs, and companion planting. I have no idea what it is. I seem to have just planted "things I like" in each of the seven. But they're thriving!

This is at my friend Sarah's. We each have half of her garden. The onions love that clay soil! The peppers, on the other hand, haven't grown since I put them in 1.5 months ago. I'm pretty sure you can't even see them in the photo.

This one is at my cousin's house. Three 100 sq ft beds, 4 ft wide. I was going to try square foot gardening, but rows are ingrained in me.

There is actually some reasoning behind crop selection in this last one. It is on a friend's acreage, 30 minutes away, so I planted potatoes, winter squash, and dry beans. This photo is pre-weeding.

I should be learning a lot from growing things in different soils (clay predominates in the city, sand at my cousin's, and lovely manure at the acreage) and planting at different times, and battling different weeds... but my record-keeping is so poor that this is nowhere near a scientific study. Maybe my goal this year can be not collapsing under the harvest weight.

Four more to follow!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vincent's Sweets: A Baking Experiment

Vincent has asked me a few times if he can bake cookies - from his own recipe that he makes up. I haven't wanted to let him because I have a miser's abhorrence of waste, and given his limited culinary knowledge, I anticipated having to throw out the mess of inedible ingredients post-baking.

That's probably not a good reason to quell curiosity and experimentation. The other day, I decided to let him try, with the caveat that he make a small batch. Here's how it went:

Vincent's Peanut Butter Chip Banana Cookies with commentary and handy tips from V

In the wet bowl:
1 egg (whisk)
1/8 cup oil ("hold the cup upside down a little bit; oil takes a while to come out"
1/8 cup milk
1 banana (he asks me to slice; he then smashes with the whisk)

V: Why don't we make a recipe store here if my cookies turn out good?

In the dry bowl:
1 tsp flour ("No, 1/2 a cup! Maybe two of them")
1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar (for next time, he suggests a tablespoon)
1 tsp salt (I said no to this amount)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

V: Shouldn't we write what they taste like? They taste like artificial banana flavouring with cookie dough and a little bit of sugar.

In sum:
V: I'm proud. I enjoyed making them, but I'm not going to enjoy the dishes.

I was very impressed that he'd remembered to separate wet and dry ingredients and had remembered all of the major components to most baked goods. He also chose fairly accurate measuring cup and spoon sizes for the ingredients. The cookies tasted a bit biscuit-like but definitely edible. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

In which we travel in time to the 1950s.

Can you read this? It was taken from a moving car again, as billboards in our city tend not to be in places where people walk.

I'll read it for you. Let me put on my horn-rimmed glasses first and help myself to one of those cocktail franks - thanks, Doris.

"Food powers mankind [sic]. But what powers food?"

Potash, my friends. Potash, the gasoline in our corporeal Studebakers. Potash helps nature provide. That floozy Nature, who will be made to fully submit to the rigorous standards of Science and Technology! That's true power, friends! The power of Mankind!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old MacDonald's Hens

As urban folk are further isolated from the countryside where the majority of the food is produced, the stereotype about Old-MacDonald type small family farms lives on. Who doesn't get warm fuzzies when contemplating a red barn full of hay with a rope swing in the loft, and happy cows contentedly chewing cud?

Courtesy of the CCA

McDonalds is all over that. Localism, nostalgia, patriotism - this burger has it all.

Saskatchewan farmers have also taken note, as shown by the "On our farm...we care" campaign. Remember the happy piggies? Billboards around the city also showcase cattle in a pasture, baby chicks in a pen with human babies foregrounded, bison grazing on the prairie, horses being embraced...

Blurry billboard picture taken from a moving car
 ...and eggs on a crate.

The Western Producer ran an article on May 25 titled  "Farmers, activists tussle to guide public conscience
." Consensus among farmers was that they needed to get the truth out to counter the claims of ignorant abolitionist activists who sway the opinions of people who don't know real farmers, but only Old MacDonald:

Maaskant said producers should be willing if people want to visit farms to see the source of their food. Animal agriculture practices have changed for the better over time and producers should be ready to explain it.
“I think it’s something we can be proud of and something we can talk about. I’m not ashamed to show anybody what I do,” he said.
John Maaskant is a chicken farmer. Or an egg farmer? I wonder what a picture of his hens would look like on a billboard, and why the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan chose to have the only billboard in the series without a picture of the animal that provides the food. These billboards are meant, according to the site, to be one of a "series of programs and activities, all designed to advance responsible animal welfare." Surely, then, the group can combat the wild claims about battery cages?

Not showing the truth is not a savvy move.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home Garden is where the heart is

I've planted in seven garden plots this year, but our home garden is still dearest to me. When we moved in three and a half years ago, it was a 54 square foot strip of patchy weeds in front of the driveway. That summer, I dug it up with a spade, added half a bale of peat and a garbage bag of well-rotted cow manure, and had a bumper crop of tomatoes. The next summer I learned the pitfalls of monocropping, as blight hit my tomatoes. The following year I diversified, and this year - I think I like this one the best.

I planted vegetables that I knew my kids would enjoy picking and snacking on and vegetables that are best when brought to the table five minutes later. Lettuce, snap and shelling peas, cherry tomatoes, mizuna, carrots, shungikyu, basil, radishes, peppers, fall-planted garlic and the perennial chives. My son added three onions he grew from seed and an upside-down tomato he got for his birthday and my daughter planted a butternut squash.

And now that I've picked up the old seed packs and trimmed the grass, I can show it off! Tomorrow: first salad with lettuce and mizuna thinnings, chives, and radishes.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Photoessay: What does a six year old find interesting about gardening?

My son got a camera for his birthday. He came to work with me last Tuesday. Here's what he thought was fit to shoot:


The windows look like arrow slits in a medieval castle.

Bedding plants

Me opening a can (there were many pictures like this)


Disgruntled mom (see "Gumbo")


Friday, June 8, 2012


Is gumbo:

a) a delicious thick soup featured in Lousianan cuisine that typically contains "a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables, which can include celery, bell peppers, and onions (a trio known in Cajun cuisine as the 'holy trinity')."

b)The plasticine-textured glop that is rock-hard when dry, impervious when wet, and passes for soil in the area in which I live?

The answer, here, is b) and c) the bane of my gardening spring. At my job, I have been working with 5400 square feet of this muck, which, despite the application of countless bucketloads of topsoil, still looks like this:

We need to get on the institutional composting, stat.

What is the soil typically like where you are?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May flowers?

Rain. All week. With a low of zero on Saturday. I have three gardens left to plant, not including the 5400 sq ft one that is my job.

I'm not too worried. It'll keep. Here's some happy pictures!

Grandpa's Siberian Home Pepper

Silvery Fir Tree

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food Tourism, Bakery Edition

Bakery in Istanbul, 2001 - I taught ESL in Turkey for a while

Boulangerie in Paris, 2012 - My mom's celebrating her birthday in proper style

Patisserie in Nice, 2012 - my mom's photo again
It would be too cruel to take a picture of the donut I bought at Safeway the other day and label it "Saskatchewan 2012".

Monday, May 7, 2012

Only 30 Chances to Get it Right?

Last Saturday, I saw the film To Make a Farm. It follows five young small farmers through the 2010 growing season. The director, who was present for the screening, said he originally thought he was setting out to make a depressing film about the end of farming, but it ended up being very hopeful.

The film is definitely worth viewing, and I could say more about it, but one line in particular got me thinking. A young woman in the potato patch, dealing with late blight, commented,
"If I farm for 30 years, I'll only have grown potatoes 30 times."
Unlike musicians who can practice a piece hundreds of times, or even high school teachers who could teach the same course over a hundred times in a career, farmers get only a few chances to learn from their experiences and to fix mistakes. Especially if the farmers do not have a family farm background, as none of the young people in the film did.

My dad and grandpa, in the 80s, conferring over machinery repairs.
My grandpa lived to be seventy-five. He probably grew wheat 60 times, because he grew up on a farm. But that's not all. He also had his father's memories, and possibly his grandfather's memories, to tap into, and their memories of neighbour's growing seasons. That was an invaluable resource for my dad, and my brother.

Regardless of how plant varieties and equipment change throughout the years, the past offers lessons for everyone. The internet has a multitude of farming forums to participate in, but those other farmers don't know your land intimately. I admire those young urbanites who are succeeding at farming, but I wish it could be easier for them - and intergenerational transfer of knowledge would make it easier.

With the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board, some bright young guys are thinking of ways to cash in. Just the other day, an acquaintance came up with the concept of a Wheat Pool whereby farmers could come together to sell their wheat. Yes, the same voluntary pool that didn't work in 1931 and morphed into an elevator company. Our ancestors had to learn to appreciate trees during the Dirty Thirties, and we may have to come to the same realization with the wild swings in spring weather we've been experiencing in the past few years.

And the best way to learn - as with languages, values, and swimming - is through immersion as early as possible in life. We need intergenerational family farms.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Connect the Dots: Wetlands and Agriculture

My extended family gets together on all the big holidays. Lately, my relatives on a farm southeast of where I live have been hosting. My cousins are thoughtful folks and I enjoy talking with them about farming - and I was gifted with some homegrown lentils, homeground flour, and some borage seed.

My one cousin is sitting on his RM's advisory board for a pilot project focusing on environmental stewardship. It's an area pocked with sloughs, and he was telling me about the benefits of leaving and/or aggregating the wetland areas in fields: increased biodiversity including pollinators and predatory insects, and less water erosion immediately spring to mind. He and his family also like to have cook-outs near one picturesque slough on their land. But lots of farmers like to drain wetlands and seed them, because driving around them takes more time and they want every bit of their land to yield a crop. My cousin figures this is a bit silly - often, the drained bits are still too wet to seed when the rest of the field is ready, then they get all weedy, and you have to spray more. Despite the benefits of maintaining the wetlands, my cousin estimated that maybe ten to twenty percent of farmers in his area would take up the practice.

Flooding in Yellowgrass in 2011, picture courtesy of CBC Sask.

The spring of 2011 saw unprecedented torrential rains and flooding in a vast area of southern Saskatchewan. I don't think I'm crazy for suggesting that wetlands could have helped mitigate the damage, but apparently dams, dikes, and disaster assistance are the Saskatchewan answers. Manitobans probably don't think I'm crazy, either. Many of them have connected the dots and realized the importance of wetlands What will it take before Saskatchewan does too? 

Turns there's something else that provides the service of water retention and can reduce flood risk. Unfortunately, it also gets in the way of being able to drive a tractor in a straight line for miles. That's right - shelterbelts - which are going to become even more of an endangered species since the federal government cut funding to the PFRA shelterbelt program.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Farm Safety: The Real Story

U.S. Labor Department has just withdrawn a set of proposed safety regulations for young people working in agriculture. The regulations proposed to disallow children under 16 from operating machinery with power takeoffs, and from working in feed lots, grain silos and stockyards.

Under these regulations, my brother wouldn't have been able to pay for his university education by farming my grandmother's land. And my dad wouldn't have been able to tell the story about riding his bicycle down the road when he was ten, and seeing a driverless tractor coming toward him. As it approached, he realized it was being driven by his five-year-old cousin who couldn't be seen above the steering wheel. My brother and my dad's cousin survived, just as I survived using the rotary mower, as a subcontractor mowing besides the railway tracks, at age 13.

But the thing is, my dad didn't survive a farm accident, three years ago. Farming is dangerous. A Stats Canada Report shows that "Agriculture is one of the industries with the highest rates of fatal injury. From 1991 to 1995, that rate varied between 14.9 and 25.6 per 100,000 workers in Canada... Agricultural production thus ranks as the fourth most dangerous sector, behind mining, forestry and construction ...With regards to non-fatal injuries among agricultural producers, studies indicate that annual frequencies are generally in the range of 5% to 10% of the population." It's not just because the average age of farmers is really high: the injury death rate for young children who live on farms is almost twice that for all young children in Canada.

Maybe it is more effective to educate about farm safety than to disallow children from working on farms - this is the tack the American government is going to take. However, I think there are two essential pieces to this news that have not been emphasized. First, these labour laws would not have applied to children working on their parents' farms. How many children under the age of fifteen (need to) work on other peoples' farms? Yet, it wasn't only 4-H instructors complaining about these laws. News articles were full of emotional manipulation like this:
e here:

On the Sombke family farm four kids learned everything they know about the trade from their parents..."I wouldn't have worked out here, I would have taken a completely different, completely different path in life," Brett Sombke said.
The Republicans were all over this overblown rhetoric, for their own political gain. However, despite the wholly inaccurate portrayal of the proposed laws in this article, the closing paragraph holds the key to another very important piece of the puzzle:
Brett says it's hard enough to find people to work during the spring and fall. He says that without kids being able to perform certain tasks on family farms the traditional meaning of family farm could end.
None of the farm groups protesting this law have mentioned the bigger issue behind it - the need for cheap or free labour on family farms. How many bankers or plumbers do you know who need to take their kids to work just to keep food on the table? (Hint: none.) And it's not because they are so much better at their jobs than family farmers are at theirs. It's because small family farmers are getting screwed every which way by input sellers, by processors, by commodity speculators, by consumer expectations of cheap food.

And *that* is the real problem.

And, it might even have something to do with farm safety. Stats Canada also says that farm receipts are inversely proportional to farm accidents.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Julie Guthman weighs in on obesity

I came across a book I'm pretty excited to read, via the Rams Horn. It's entitled "Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism" and it's by Julie Guthman, who gained fame in academic foodie circles with "Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California".

How can it be anything other than excellent, with a quote like this:

"Fast and convenient food has been a triply good fix for American capitalism. It entails the super-exploitation of the labour force in its production, it provides cheap food to support the low wages of the food and other industries by feeding their low-wage workers, and it absorbs the surpluses of the agriculture economy, soaking up, as it were, the excesses of overproduction to keep the farm sector marginally viable."

Triple whammy!

(And, for academic foodies, also quite reminiscent of Sidney Mintz.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

What does deregulation mean for health?

I didn't buy much chicken from the grocery store when I was in North Carolina. The "contains no more than 10% broth" label put me off. What was it hiding? In Canada, when you buy chicken, that's pretty much what you get - although the antibiotic and pesticide residue isn't listed, and the quality of muscle tissue that is confined, not allowed to stretch or move, is also dubious. 

Apparently, American chicken can get worse. Breaking American news this week: Chicken processing plants can now monitor themselves
The USDA hopes to save $85 million over three years by laying off 1,000 government inspectors and turning over their duties to company monitors who will staff the poultry processing lines in plants across the country. The poultry companies expect to save more than $250 million a year because they, in turn will  be allowed to speed up the processing lines to a dizzying 175 birds per minute with one USDA inspector at the end of the line.  Currently, traditional poultry lines move at a maximum of 90 birds per minute, with up to three USDA inspectors on line.
Engage in a thought experiment with me. Imagine film footage of dots moving from right to left. Three dots per second pass in front of your eyes. Now, imagine those dots are chickens with tumours, or chickens with traces of fecal matter on them. Are you going to spot that?

The ABC article linked above reminds us that "2010 was a record year for salmonella infection and 2011 saw 103 poultry, egg and meat recalls because of disease-causing bacteria, the most in nearly 10 years." If you were a betting person, what do you think is going to happen to those stats? (Or will we just be adding more ammonia to the meat to kill any nasties?)

This bears a striking parallel to some Canadian deregulation news this week. Only in this case, it's the health of entire ecosystems that is placed at risk, and unlike buying chicken, we can't opt out of the effects of this one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Can't see the forest...

In the city where I live, every single tree was hand-planted. There are over 350,000 of them. "Oasis" is probably a fair descriptor, given that we are also located in the semi-desert Palliser's Triangle and get 15 inches of annual precipitation.

We also happen to be frequently ravaged by winds - 22 km/h is the average, but a recorded high wind gust clocks in at 153 km/h. And our temperatures typically range from -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit) to +40 (Celsius).

So, despite the fact that tall trees are not native to our area, it's understandable that our ancestors planted so many. On farms, they prevented soil erosion from those constant winds, reduced moisture evaporation, provided wildlife habitat and increased biodiversity, protected livestock, trapped snow, reduced heating and cooling costs by sheltering nearby buildings, and made everything look nicer. Now, we also value them as carbon sinks.

This is why the federal government's decision to cut the Prairie Shelterbelt Program is ridiculous. This 111 year program has provided more than 650 million seedlings to farmers, and was a major factor in ameliorating the effects of the Dirty Thirties.

Our ag minister argues that, due to no-till and continuous cropping, trees aren't needed to prevent soil erosion; in fact, they get in the way of the big machinery used by big farmers - or, as our premier calls them, "producer-entrepreneurs of the highest order". Maybe our ag minister, a failed ostrich farmer, doesn't know about all the other benefits of trees. It's certain that he's not listening to the scientists who are trying to tell him.

I'll let William Blake have the last word:

"A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."
William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790   

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Recently, I heard about the value of being a generalist from two different places. First, I attended a workshop on permaculture by Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture. He suggested that being a generalist was valuable for permaculture because you need to be able to see whole systems and integrate a lot of different parts. You can, of course, specialize in mycellium or straw bale building, but you need to be able to put that together with a working knowledge of botany, climatology, animal husbandry, energy flows, nutrient cycling, etc. in order to create a permaculture system.

On her science blog, Sharon Astyk reviews some homesteading/small farming how-to books and says,

Agriculture requires a wide-ranging set of skills vaster than almost any field I can imagine, and while one becomes deeply expert in some parts of the work, it is still necessary, even imperative, to constantly be gaining some superficial understanding of a host of new things. The generalist is jack of many trades, but master of few. That's not a criticism.

This is good news if you're a person who's highly curious, who likes to see how things fit together, or who has a five year old who asks 'why' and 'how' a lot. In a way, it's what attracted me to my first career, teaching. A mentor told me, "You will never be bored." It was true, except for during staff meetings.

I also think there's danger in our becoming a world of specialists. For one, it results in certain metaphors being transposed where this may not be appropriate - so that, for example, everything is a business. To a businessperson, this seems axiomatic. Post-secondary education must produce workers trained for a specific career, and must pay for itself. I am expected to do a financial cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to take a job in another city, and if I decide to turn it down for family reasons then I am not a serious candidate. If I sell vegetables with business profits foremost, then I must try to achieve a premium price and lower my costs, which may mean that my produce is only available to the rich, or that I use free municipal waste, replete with pharmaceutical residue, to fertilize my crops. If I sell vegetables with the goal of increasing food security, biodiversity, and community engagement, my practices will look quite different and I may use a different metaphor to guide my practices - perhaps the metaphor of an ecosystem.

It's at this point that Gregory Bateson weighs in with the suggestion that

"whenever we pride ourselves upon finding a newer, stricter way of thought or exposition; whenever we start insisting too hard upon "operationalism" or symbolic logic or any other of these very essential systems of tramlines, we lose something of the ability to think new thoughts. And equally, of course, whenever we rebel against the sterile rigidity of formal thought and exposition and let our ideas run wild, we likewise lose. As I see it, the advances in scientific thought come from a combination of loose and strict thinking" *
In other words, a wide experience helps us to think of new ideas, to see new things, which can then be refined and tested. Perhaps all the things that I am learning, seemingly dissociated, will be used in ways I can't yet foresee. Learning many ways to learn may be the best strategy.

* Bateson, G. (1941). Experiments in Thinking about Observed Ethnological Material, Philosophy of Science, 8(1): 53-68.

Monday, April 2, 2012

DIY Compost Tumbler: A Photo Essay

55 gallon barrels that formerly held mold inhibitor for animal feed.

Hardware and tools purchased for the project.

Hammering old nails out of fence pickets to reuse for the base.

The base on which the barrel will turn.


Helping by putting the nuts on.

The paddle inside the barrel - more repurposed material.


The finished tumbler!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Absence Explained

On March 19, I was offered a job.

Not just any job. A kick-butt job. A job that combines my academic studies, my favourite hobby, and my teaching and volunteer experience.

I am planning, coordinating, publicizing, recruiting volunteers for, and implementing, a 5400 square foot vegetable garden at a public institution in town.

It's been a bit crazy! We launch the project in three days. Other than the launch, my tasks this week include planning what and where to plant, creating specs for compost bins to be built, liaising with local artists to possibly procure trellises, sculpture, and planters, ordering seeds and seedlings, creating a production timeline and duty rosters, preparing posters and handbills, deciding on tools to buy, and exploring possibilities for various classes to make use of the garden.

It's gonna be a ride!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You can lead them to water...

As requested, a horse cake, made from the best devil's food cake recipe ever.

The now three-year-old who refused to try even a bite of the cake.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

And you thought you were so health-conscious.

Whole wheat kernels, replete with germ and bran, have proven health benefits over refined, white flour. (True, benefits questioned by the Wheat Belly author and cardiologist.) One meta-analysis found that "There is a consistent, inverse association between dietary whole grains and incident cardiovascular disease in epidemiological cohort studies." Another concluded, "The case-control evidence is supportive of the hypothesis that whole-grain intake protects against various cancers." This study of older women claims that "Substitution of whole for refined grain may reduce chronic disease risk." 

So you're all buying brown bread, secure in the knowledge that it's the healthiest choice, right? This might not be news to you, but it surprised me: in Canada, whole wheat bread may have up to 70% of the nutritious wheat germ missing. If you want the whole grain, you have to buy "whole grain whole wheat" bread. And Health Canada doesn't care about the confusion.

Here's the bigger question: Where does the consumer's responsibility to educate her/himself end and the regulatory body's responsibility to provide clarity in labelling begin?

(And, perhaps, who is that regulatory body responsible to, when they cannot agree - industry or consumers?)

This is where one could make an argument that it's best to "know your farmer." Here's mine:

I know how it was milled. Despite the "whole wheat" label, it's whole grain.

But what about the people who can't?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women Feed the World

Happy International Women's Day! This post honours some women leaders in the global movement for sustainable, healthy, just food systems.

Let's start with Frances Moore Lappé's trenchant remarks on the food movement: 
"Some Americans see the food movement as “nice” but peripheral—a middle-class preoccupation with farmers’ markets, community gardens and healthy school lunches. But no... It is at heart revolutionary, with some of the world’s poorest people in the lead, from Florida farmworkers to Indian villagers. It has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves. And that vast power is just beginning to erupt."

Alice Waters, with her Edible Schoolyard movement,

Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, eco-feminist, and founder of Navdanya,

Marion Nestle, nutritionist and food policy watchdog,

Fatou Batta, of Groundswell International,

The dalit women of the Deccan Development Society,

Nettie Wiebe, Saskatchewan organic farmer, ethicist, and former president of the National Farmers Union,

Cathleen Kneen, Canadian food security activist,

And those who went before:

Rachel Carson, environmentalist, who alerted the world to the dangers of synthetic chemical pesticides in agriculture,

Violet McNaughton, prairie farm leader,

Lady Eve Balfour, organic farming pioneer, who could have been describing herself in this honouring of her predecessors: "They looked at the living world from a new perspective--they also asked new questions. Instead of the contemporary obsession with disease and its causes, they set out to discover the causes of Health. This led inevitably to an awareness of wholeness (the two words after all, have the same origin) and to a gradual understanding that all life is one",

and all of our women ancestors who nurtured us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Read the Comments?

I don't know how many times I read comments on a news item and wish I hadn't - and then I tell people about the horrible things people have said, and am told "Never read the comments!"

This time, though, I am glad I read the comments because I found this gem. I've been thinking a lot about waste lately, and about how to create as closed a system as possible with my gardening (and eventually, my daily living) so that I am not, for example, taking phosporous from Morroco and then peeing my own phosphorous into the local lake where our sewage ends up. This could be a closed loop within community - I have no problem using a friend's horse manure and returning vegetables to her. Basically, I don't want to enrich my own situation by impoverishing another. Nature provides a beautiful model to follow, and this commenter explains how it works in a food system:

One of the hardest things for me to wrap my mind around is the almost singleminded focus that so many people have on looking for a way to 'manufacture and sell' a remediation for a problem. In other words, techno-fixes are the way forward (particularly if one can market them or the tools to apply them).

Nature designed grazing animals to harvest, process and redeposit all the nutrients and organisms necessary to maintain soil fertility indefinitely with humans filling the supervisory role since we no longer allow the graziers to range at will on the landscape and we have removed the predators that kept the graziers moving and thinned the population periodically.

A lovely side benefit is a truly clean, healthy food (so long as we humans resist the urge to medicate the critters like we medicate ourselves or lock them up in small areas where they have to live in their own excrement) that provides most of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. I know, there are many things that also come from various 'vegetables' but the graziers eat the original vegetables and the nutrients are deposited in their tissues for their use as well as ours.

Another side benefit of planned grazing is the rebuilding of the soils' ability to catch and hold water using the root webs that happen when grass is thick and healthy. I think most of us on this forum are aware of the water issues we face and of the need to find ways to restore the water cycle to its correct state. You can fix the erosion and compaction problems faster with grass than with any other plants.

The constraint, as I see it, is that no one except the grower makes much money from these techniques. One can't be the next Bill Gates or Kubota tractor designer or Monsanto or ADM with these procedures. No one with an interest in promoting grass management is funding research projects at our land grant colleges so the researchers continue to pursue projects with a commercial bias...then give the results to whoever paid for the projects.

To the contrary, many times the land grant experts actively work to discredit grass management practices for the very reason that they reduce or eliminate the need for purchased amendments and equipment.
You find Rodale, Vandana Shiva, Allan Savory, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry Gene Logsden, John Todd and many other proponents of Natural Systems doing the necessary validation but the information does not make the front pages (or even the back pages) very often.

I wonder why we humans, particularly Americans, simply must complicate things instead of looking at what has worked for centuries and seeing if we can replicate the System.
Well, I think the commenter has given the answer to her own question - the engine of capitalist growth that we are all feeding drives our food system. The many fundraisers to cure cancer, and the lack of fundraisers to prevent it come to mind - it is far more profitable to create a pharmaceutical to cure a disease than to ban cosmetic pesticides. After all, crime, sickness, war, and pollution all can increase economic activity and therefore increase the GDP, our marker of success.

That is, the marker that we are told indicates success. How would you like to see success defined?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Buying Green

Did you get the impression, on Feel-Good Friday, that I was lightening up on the "vote with your dollar" movement? Well, it's Monday morning now.

From the Climate and Capitalism blog's review of Kendra Pierre-Louis' Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet:

Her new book Green Washed is a powerful critique of “the comforting message that we can shop ourselves out of our current environmental mess.”
“Too many businesses and environmental groups have led us to believe that if we buy the correct collection of products, we can save the planet. While these assurances have done much to assuage our collective guilt, and even more to create a generation of smug eco-shoppers, it has done next to nothing to fundamentally change the environmental landscape, while in many cases actively contributing to environmental degradation and misinformation.”
So far so good? Pour yourself a warm beverage into your reusable mug and lean back. 

In refreshing contrast to most books on consumerism, Green Washed pins the blame for excess consumption on our economic system, not on individual psychology.
“If we were to make reducing our consumption to a level that was both materially satisfying and ecologically sustainable our central focus, our entire global economic system would collapse. This isn’t a hyperbole. Our economic system is based on the need for perpetual growth; we either grow our economy or it dies, taking us along with it.”
Hm. Food for thought. Take a bite of that muffin.

Unfortunately, Pierre-Louis’s analysis of causes stops with criticism of growth. She doesn’t ask why the global economic system is so irrational. Why is the only alternative to one polluting product so often another that pollutes as badly or worse? Many brilliant writers have criticized growth, and offered detailed proposals for steady-state economies – why have they been ignored by those in power? What about our existing social and economic order makes growth so essential and environmental destruction so universal?

Because it doesn’t pursue those questions, Green Washed proposes band aid solutions when major surgery is needed. Having firmly rejected individual green shopping, the alternative Pierre-Louis offers amounts to green shopping in groups.

And the bracing shock of cold water. 

Projects that improve the sustainability and resilience of local communities are important, but they are no substitute for political and social action against the global forces that are destroying our world. Unless we stop and reverse those forces, Pierre-Louis’s shadow economies will be small green islands in an ocean of environmental destruction – and water levels will continue rising.

Back to work.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Feel-Good Friday II

This just in! A study that suggests voting with your dollar has a positive result that I didn't note in my indictment of the tactic. Supporting small businesses can improve your (the collective 'your') health!

From the linked article:
Counties with more small businesses tend to have lower rates of mortality, obesity, and diabetes, while those with more large retailers tend to post higher rates of these poor-health indicators. The authors explain that communities with thriving small businesses may be more likely to support bond issues for health infrastructures, recruit physicians, push for local anti-smoking legislation, promote community health programs, and support local farmers' markets.
And, in a fabulous coincidence, the Regina Farmers Market opens tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Starting 'Em Young

I asked my five year old what he would like to grow by himself this summer (note, I didn't give him a choice about growing something), and he said, "Edible flowers!" He thought the calendula in the Richters catalogue looked pretty good (although there is a divide on the internets: is it peppery, or bitter?)

I figure the earlier you start them, the better. This is good advice for getting kids to do chores, so why not with food production and preparation?

Here he is at age two, already taking it seriously.

With a farming grandpa, how could he help but?

 It wasn't all work, though.
There was reward.

 And, idealist that I am, I am hoping that the pleasure of work will become its own reward.