Archive for the 'gleaning' Category

Sharing should be easy

By David Parkinson

Oats!

Canada Border Services willing, this week will bring something I’m very excited about: the region’s first commonly-owned cider press. For just about as long as I’ve been living here and hearing about the Powell River Fruit Tree Project (now known as Skookum Gleaners), I’ve been hearing people say, “Someone should get a cider press that we can all use” — or words to that effect.

But one thing we can all admit — even though sometimes we go around acting otherwise — is that words alone won’t make this sort of thing happen. For reasons which are not very clear to me, we struggle to get from the desired outcome back to the simple steps needed to get started. I get frustrated fairly often when I hear people saying that we should do such-and-such, or someone should do this or that, and then leave it at that, as though coming up with the first idea off the top of one’s head is a real start towards making something happen. In fact, implementing the solution to a clearly stated problem is, like most things, the product of discipline and hard work. There are few shortcuts that aren’t dead ends.

So, in the case of the desire to have a commonly-owned cider press, we have to work backwards to understand what we can do to make that happen. And here we can easily bog down, hampered by a lack of imagination or a lack of exposure to innovative solutions to a pretty common and simple problem. After all, people throughout history have figured out how to avoid having to force everyone to own the same tools when those tools aren’t in use every day. We have lost our flair for the commons, dazed by cheap commodities and a perverse economy that rewards the illogic of gluttony and waste.

One solution is: buy a cider press among a group of family, friends, and neighbours. And from what I hear, this solution is in practice out there in the hinterlands, where there are enough people with enough apple trees so that there is both a real need for a common solution and a network of mutual trust in place to make it work with minimal effort. This is a fine solution when those conditions are present.

But what about the more common situation, where we see a widely-dispersed network of people with few trees, many of whom do not know one another? In and around Powell River there are many homeowners and tenants who have a few fruit trees on their property; but these trees produce nowhere near enough fruit for these people to start seriously considering getting in on a cider press, let along buying one for their personal use. Only at the level of the whole network of trees could we produce enough cider to justify the purchase of a press.

Also, this network is so disconnected and spread out that there is little hope of creating the sense of common need or mutual trust needed in order for people to work together for the common goal of sharing a cider press. Somehow someone or something needs to pull the network together, and we need to create an entity which people can trust to do the right thing by individuals and by the community at large. It’s unlikely that any individual tree-owner is going to take this task on. It’s one thing to say that someone should get a cider press to deal with this problem/opportunity; but who will buy the thing? Who will operate, maintain, and store it?

If any person or organization were to own and operate equipment which could be held in common for the use of the entire community, we would want that person or organization to be open and transparent to participation by anyone with an interest in using that equipment. In the case of our cider press example these people would comprise owners of trees, people who want to make cider, and others in the community who would benefit from having access to local cider.

The question of a shared cider press is only one among many examples which we could easily come up with, from shared hand tools all the way up to a community farm or vineyard or brewery. It’s simple to imagine cases where a great number of people can benefit from the collective ownership and control of assets which few individuals are likely to buy on their own. In a sense, it is a simple problem to solve, and yet we struggle to find a solution. Our economy has evolved to make it almost necessary for everyone to have to own the same commodities as everyone else, even when shared ownership would do so much to reduce the burden of individual ownership on people, on the economy, and on the environment. We place convenience high above environmental stewardship, and the result is a lawnmower in every garage, even though one per block would be more than enough to keep the lawns mown.

There is a growing movement out there, epitomized by websites like Shareable and the P2P Foundation, seeking sensible collective solutions to problems like this one. I’m amazed by the number and variety of creative solutions that people are developing in order to enable us to work better together, reducing the load on individuals while strengthening community networks of sharing and collaboration. Not to mention reducing the stress on our stocks of non-renewable natural resources and on the the systems which support life on the planet.

The solution we chose is to purchase the cider press through Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative. This organization is completely open and democratic, so anyone wishing to have some say in the use of the cider press is free to join and participate. There are other models we could have chosen for collective ownership, but the cooperative model is ideal for situations like this one, where people benefit collectively through access to resources that are hard to access individually. If we had 100 people buying together, this cider press would have cost about $13 per person: less than the cost of a night at the movies with a bag of popcorn. Well, eventually we will have more members than that, so that the cost (and benefit) of the press will be spread wider and wider.

As long as there is an organization which people can trust to manage the purchase, maintenance, storage, and use of shared resources, then we can have valuable community assets at a low cost to individuals and with a high degree of accessibility for the many owners. It is a simple and brilliant solution to a set of problems which are becoming more pressing all the time.

The bounty of the land and the fruits of our labour

By Tom Read

epeargingermarm1009

This year's fruit crop was especially bountiful. When confronted by large quantities of apples and pears, we made applesauce and pear-ginger marmalade. Those are coriander seeds left of the walnuts, just harvested a few days ago. The backdrop is Linda's favourite apron, a creation of local artist Shelley Thomson.

October is a time of such great food abundance on Texada Island!  Back on October 2nd I wrote about preserving our tomatoes in the form of salsa and how this contributed to feelings of greater self-reliance (“What really matters”). Here at the end of the month I’m struck by how much time and effort we’ve continued to put into preserving and storing food, learning new (for us) techniques along the way. So here’s a brief sampler of October’s epicurean activities and insights:

Walnuts — a mature, quite tall English walnut tree stands on the property of a friend who gave us permission to glean, so we watched and waited until one day a couple weeks ago, when it seemed like the nuts would be ready. Having never harvested walnuts before, I didn’t know what to expect so I brought my long-handled fruit-picker, thinking I might need to pick the nuts. Instead, I found hundreds of them on the ground, most with the outer casings cracked open, and even more fell around me as the wind blew them practically into my basket. A squirrel, unseen but noisy up in the tree, protested my harvest, unmistakably proclaiming his territorial right to these particular nuts.  I walked away with about 20 lbs, leaving easily as much behind for the wildlife.

Better applesauce — Linda found several recipes on the Internet that allows us to skip the tedious peeling step in making applesauce. Since we gleaned the apples from a friend’s trees, we know they’re free of toxic chemicals common in store-bought apples. This makes it safe to leave the skins on the apples, removing only the core before grinding and cooking with just a bit of added sugar and lemon juice. Leaving the skins on the apples results in slightly more colour and definitely a more nutritious sauce because much of the fiber and nutrients of the apple are contained in the skin. This smooth, full-bodied sauce tastes wonderful, too.

Pumpkin seed pesto — As mentioned in an earlier post on “Seed-saving adventures,” this year we grew “Styrian” heritage pumpkins as part of a regional seed-saving project. This variety is known for its easily edible seeds. Our seeds got planted a little late, in a spot that probably wasn’t quite sunny enough, so the pumpkins never fully ripened. Fortunately the seeds still matured to a deep green, and they taste quite good, so we roasted some with a little olive oil on their way to becoming an ingredient in a memorable pesto sauce. The light orange flesh of the pumpkin made a very good soup, too.

By all accounts it’s better to use seeds from ripe pumpkins for starting a new crop, so I’m not sure how these will fare when I plant them next year. Until we see the results, I’m holding off distributing any Styrian seeds back among the regional seed-savers.

Pear-ginger marmalade — Ok, so we cheated and used imports from far away: ginger root, oranges, and lemons. Combined with locally-gleaned pears, the results are quite wonderful. It took us about three hours yesterday to make this special treat, so here’s the recipe, with our modifications and subsequent results:

Ingredients:

¼ cup ginger root; chopped fine

3 medium oranges; cut in half and juiced, seeds removed, chopped

2 lemons; cut in half and juiced, seeds removed, chopped

(If fruit is small, as what we find at our local market, use twice as much)

All of the lemon juice and half the orange juice from above *

10 – 12 cups pears; pealed, cored and medium chopped

6 cups sugar **

1 package low-sugar pectin

2 tbs butter, an option which decreases foaming

Directions:

Use a large kettle, enameled or stainless steel. A food processor can be used for chopping ingredients (pears, lemon and orange peel, ginger) rather than doing it all by hand, it you’ve got the tool and are so inclined.

Combine all ingredients except the sugar and pectin in the kettle and stir well. Then stir in the pectin, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down to avoid boil-over, and add all the sugar, stirring until it’s all dissolved in the fruit mixture. Bring back to a rolling boil and hold it for one minute. Skim foam (a taste treat); let sit 5 minutes, then ladle into hot, sterile canning jars with ¼” headspace and process 10 minutes in a hot-water bath. This recipe should give you about 6-7 pints.

* The cooks get to drink the rest of the orange juice as a refresher after all that hard work peeling and chopping!

** We find this marmalade plenty sweet with four cups of sugar, but some canning purists will say that’s not enough. You decide.

Of apples and alders, of gleaners and poison

By Tom Read

Gleaned apples and an alder branch symbolize the food-versus-herbicide conflict that’s common elsewhere, and now could come to Texada Island if spraying goes unchallenged.

Gleaned apples and an alder branch symbolize the food-versus-herbicide conflict that’s common elsewhere, and now could come to Texada Island if spraying goes unchallenged.

Yesterday I missed my self-imposed posting deadline because Linda and I were out gleaning apples and pears. Texada Islanders are fortunate to have inherited a legacy of a few dozen century-old farms and orchards, some of which lie abandoned today. Typically, the farm buildings have vanished, and formerly productive fields now lie quietly under a canopy of alder and Douglas fir.  You have to know where to look to find these old farm sites.

But the orchards remain.  Sometimes they’re engulfed amid towering Douglas firs and thus rarely bear much fruit, but yesterday we were fortunate to find a bounty of heavily-laden heritage apple trees ready for picking, and so we gleaned. In some cases permission is required to glean, and in other cases the old orchards are publically accessible.

We obtained permission as needed, and took home fruit that otherwise would have fed a few deer or rotted on the ground. Today, we’re busy making apple and pear sauce, jam, and fruit leathers. There’s a delectable aroma in the house today, and a feeling of well-being as we prepare a supply of locally-grown goodies to last until next summer.

Alas, today — even as I write these words — something quite different is happening to about 20 acres of young alders which happen to grow under the 500-kilovolt power lines that cross Texada’s midriff. This is the day those young alders will begin to die, as they are girdled with a herbicide, sprayed one “stem” (tree) at a time. This is the doing of British Columbia Transmission Corporation (BCTC), a spin-off of BC Hydro that’s now responsible for maintenance of high-voltage transmission lines, among other things.

The herbicide, a poison that targets only broadleaf trees, is advertised by BCTC as harmless to other plants, animals and ground water. It is being applied by an off-island contractor, supposedly all in one day. BCTC claims that it will not be necessary to apply further herbicides on this acreage for up to 30 years, except for some minor touch-ups next spring.

Something had to be done to those alders now because they were growing too close under the powerlines. BCTC acknowledged that Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) contains language opposed to spraying herbicides or pesticides on this island. Most other organizations that regularly engage in maintenance of roads, gas pipelines and the like have respected Texada’s OCP.

After some prodding by our regional district, BCTC seemed at first to respect local opinion on this issue when it belatedly invited proposals for alternatives to spraying, such as manual and machine removal of the trees. The corporation actually received just such a seriously thought-out proposal last week from a local logging contractor qualified and willing to do the work. And local loggers sure do need the work, with logging itself at a near stand-still.

Obviously, the corporation chose spraying instead, albeit very targeted spraying in an out-of-the-way location that most Texadans won’t ever see. But there is a connection, in my opinion, between what is happening to those alders and our island’s gleaning tradition. I knew, as I picked apples, that nobody had sprayed any poisons anywhere nearby. If we let BCTC and others start spraying here unchallenged, will we still find it possible to grow clean and healthy food on our island a few years from now?

We need to do better in the future.

By their fruits ye shall know them

By David Parkinson

Almost ready to be picked and savoured...

Almost ready to be picked and savoured...

Anyone who accepts that the threats posed by peak oil (and general resource depletion), climate chaos, and economic meltdown are threats to be taken seriously must wonder how we’re supposed to get from here to there. Here means a society deeply dependent on fossil fuels and committed to endless economic growth. There means… well, that’s the big question, right? Anything other than the status quo — or the status quo only more of it — is hard for us to imagine. Much of the long and complicated work of our local Transition effort will revolve around the re-imagining of the future of this region; and to make that re-imagining happen, we first need to understand that we have the power as citizens to design the future we want to see and then work together to build it.

This is a massive task, and in order to be successful it will require collaboration and the creation of many new projects designed to strengthen our ability to provide food, affordable shelter, water, jobs, education, medical services, and all of the other goods and services which support the life of our region. To the extent that providing these goods and services now depends on excessive use of fossil fuels or other scarce materials, to the extent that they create excessive atmospheric pollutants, and to the extent that they actually undermine the local economy, we will want to create alternatives out from under the current system.

I admit that it’s hard to know what this is even going to look like. And my reading of many of the leading ‘post-peak’ thinkers (e.g., Sharon Astyk, John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, among others) tells me that none of them knows much more about what to expect than I do. The solutions they are advocating are all about preparing for as much as possible, given some reasonable assumptions about what we can expect to be coming at us. The idea is not to prepare for this or that specific thing so much as it is to become resilient in the face of whatever might be headed our way. And much of that preparation is pretty basic stuff, good common sense, and falls into what Sharon Astyk has written about under the name of “The Theory of Anyway“, which is to say: the things we should be doing anyway, whether or not there are crises forcing us to change our behaviour.

One of the very basic things which we should be doing anyway is being good stewards of all of the assets in our community. That we are not succeeding at this is obvious in every clearcut, every polluted waterway, every improvised roadside dump. We are going to have to reduce the amount and impact of our wasteful and environmentally destructive behaviour as resources become scarcer and more valuable.

One community asset which is currently being wasted more than it ought to be is fruit. There are countless abundant fruit trees throughout the region, and many of them drop their fruit each year because no one cares enough for the fruit to gather it and preserve it. After all, apples, pears, and other fruits are easily available year-round in our grocery stores, and cheap — especially when you consider that often they come from halfway around the world — so there is no huge impetus to make sure that we scavenge every last fruit from every last tree in the area.

But it is sad to see good food wasted, especially when people are going hungry around us. So for the last four years the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, a small but scrappy community initiative, has been working on a next-to-zero budget to see that as much fruit gets saved and used as possible.

Here’s how it works: the owner of fruit (or nut) tree who wants the fruit harvested contacts the coordinator of the Fruit Tree Project, Anne Michaels. Anne arranges for a team of volunteer pickers to go to the property and pick the fruit. The standard arrangement for distributing the fruit is that one-third goes to the pickers, one-third to the owner of the tree, and one-third to a local food pantry or other charitable organization to be distributed to those in need. But that arrangement is flexible, since sometimes the owner of the tree is happy simply to have the fruit picked and taken away, if only to reduce the risk of having a bear come and do it.

Anne is working hard to see this project expand. She is hoping that the Community Resource Centre in Powell River will be home to some fruit-preserving workshops and work parties this year. One of the difficulties in past years has been that the charitable organizations struggle to give away fresh fruit during the summer months, and there has been no way in previous years to can, freeze, or dry the harvested fruit so that it can be stored and distributed year-round. Now that the Community Resource Centre has a fully operational and inspected kitchen, the Fruit Tree Project can use that kitchen to preserve fruit for later use. Anne is planning to dehydrate a lot of the harvested fruit, in the hopes that dried fruit and fruit leather will be a product that can bring a little money into this perpetually cash-strapped project.

Anne also talks about expanding the project to take in more than just tree crops. What if we could arrange for crews of gleaners to swoop in when homeowners have more lettuce, beans, or (most likely) zucchini than they know what to do with? What if those crews could be sure that this fresh local food could get to those in need, via local soup kitchens or food pantries? And what if enough money  (or another form of exchange) could flow through this project to pay for a coordinator, for some equipment, or for the use of the kitchen facilities?

What if there were a whole regional network of gardens producing food which could be assured of not going to waste, because all homeowners knew that the community gleaning team were just a phone call away? If the volunteers could be paid either in gathered food or in some other form, such as a local food-backed currency which could be exchanged at any time and not just during the time of harvest? What if more people in the community were able to learn the skills involved in safely preparing and preserving the summer harvest against the long cold wet winter months?

And what if all of this activity were generating true economic value? How could it not? This would be food produced in the region by people who live here, harvested and shared among other people in the region, producing jobs and stores of food for anyone willing to work.

Somehow we have to get from here to there. And the only way to do that is to start with what’s here, now, and try to make it get a little bigger and a little better each time around. So if you’re interested in getting more involved with the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, feel free to contact Anne Michaels at prfruittreeproject@shaw.ca or (604) 485-4366. If you have fruit or not trees which you anticipate needing to have picked this year, let her know. If you would be willing to go out into the community as a volunteer picker, let her know. And if you have ideas about how to make this project even better, Anne is looking for a committee of supporters to brainstorm and work on expanding the project. Let her know if you’re interested in being involved.


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