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.