Archive for April, 2009


By David Parkinson

Washing line

Clothes on a line, clouds forming overhead. Brought to you by the verb "be" and the adverbs "here" and "now".

Everything was a lie, everything stank, everything stank of lies, everything feigned meaning and happiness and beauty, and yet everything was decaying while nobody acknowledged the fact.
(Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)

… what is real is you and your friends, your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, and your fears. And we are told no. We’re unimportant, we’re peripheral, get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that, and then you’re a player. You don’t even want to play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. Where is that at?
(Terrence McKenna, Q&A session of “What Science Forgot”)

Last Tuesday evening, about twenty people met at the Unitarian Hall in Powell River to have a conversation about starting a local media collective. As I’ve discussed in a couple of recent posts, much of this conversation was inspired by the current fragile condition of our local community radio station, CJMP FM.

The people who showed up for this conversation brought a lot of positive energy and creativity with them. Some wanted to talk about keeping CJMP FM on the air. Others, myself among them, were particularly interested in exploring other options made possible by newer technology: blogging, podcasts, vodcasts, mixed media on the internet, etc. The exciting outcome of the evening is that we decided to form a media collective, to continue meeting and working together, and to focus for now on two areas of work:

  1. Continue to explore ways of keeping community radio alive and well in our region;
  2. Learn some new skills, starting with podcasting.

There is now a group of people meeting and working on [1]. For [2], I undertook to learn what I could about podcasting, and to offer that information back to the community in the form of a free ‘teach-in’, by which I mean a workshop of sorts, but one that is more about colleagues exploring a subject cooperatively than it is about an ‘expert’ delivering information to a receptive audience of ‘novices’. If anyone out there is interested in participating in this teach-in, it will be at 7:00 PM on Wednesday May 13 at the Community Resource Centre (4752 Joyce Ave. Powell River), after the monthly Kale Force potluck and conversation. All are welcome.

I’m very excited by the possibility of getting more local people actively creating media of all kinds, especially media which focus on our particular concerns or on the lives of the people who live here. If we can get a functioning community radio station going again, that’ll be great — community radio is designed specifically to give a voice to the people and ideas excluded from commercial radio.

But what excites me most about podcasting and other new internet-based ways of communicating is that there are very low barriers and low costs to getting started and keeping going. This means that it can be done very much in the do-it-yourself spirit of other insurgent media like broadsheet printing, chapbooks, zines, graffiti, and indie film and music. And when something can be done cheaply and easily, it can have, as Frank Zappa used to proudly boast, “no commercial potential”.

In my opinion, the most valuable things in this world have no commercial potential, even though we live in a society which is hellbent on attaching monetary value to everything possible and ignoring what cannot be so valued. A grove of trees at the water’s edge, sheltering birds and other wildlife, adding beauty to the landscape, providing living proof of the miracle of all life… or raw timber to be trucked off to build something flimsy and ugly? A clear and pure stream, home to fish, insects and amphibians which provide food for other creatures, nourishing plants and trees, irrigating farmland and giving drinking water to humans… or something to shove into plastic bottles for a quick buck? Media and human communication for the purpose of giving expression to to their creators and bringing joy to those who experience it… or as a carrier of advertisements and frivolous nonsense?

In each case, there is a way of looking at something and seeing it as an end in itself — or as a means to the fulfillment of the highest human values — and another way of seeing it as a means to some lesser end, as something to be produced or consumed in the interests of making a living. Obviously I am not saying that no one should make a living or that there is no place for commerce; but we live in a time when we are forgetting that there is anything but commerce. Every piece of our world with the least amount of commercial potential has been claimed, colonized, strip-mined, drawn down, and left desolate. The common areas of the natural world have been fenced in, sold off, and converted to money. Forests, lakes, streams, watersheds, air, salmon stocks, soil… all have been commoditized and control over them has been taken away from the people and given over to special interests.

More and more we accept that this is the way things are and should be. More and more we acquiesce in the destruction of meaningful and important parts of our world. We need to hone our skills in pushing back against this. We must train ourselves to see a swindle when one goes down in front of us, and to have the language with which to call it what it is. We need to claim our right to engage in frivolous action leading to no financial gain. We need to commit gratuitous acts of humanity all over the place, and stop listening to the voices in our heads and elsewhere which urge us to play it safe, think of potential corporate sponsors, don’t rock the boat, say what they expect to hear.

Every time we pull a punch we run the risk of forgetting what we really meant to say in the first place. And even to demand the right to create media which are free from extraneous influences sounds somehow subversive. Remember that ‘subversive’ is defined only in contrast to a surrounding mindset or worldview which gathers much of its strength from being able to resist questioning and the harsh glare of attention and critical thinking. Much of what passes for the mindset and worldview of this culture does not bear much scrutiny. That’s precisely why it needs scrutiny. We need to be consumers less, and start becoming producers. Less the victims of pointless and destructive consumerism, and more the creators of a new producerism.

In case you’re thinking that I am advocating art or media with an overt political content, I should be more clear. I don’t really care much about the content of the media we intend to create under the aegis of this media collective. Some people might be drawn to produce works of a more journalistic nature, confronting the myths of our society or taking on the powerful interests. Others might want to record the rushing streams and the wind in the trees. Others might want to talk with the elders of our community to capture and preserve their knowledge, experience, and wisdom. To me, it’s all great. It’s all important. And it’s all vitally needed. More important than the content of our media will be its nature and the conditions under which it is produced:

  • complete artistic freedom;
  • no deference to interests other than those which the artist/reporter/producer brings to the project;
  • as an offering, a gift to our community;
  • a commitment to capturing what it is like to be human and alive in this place at this time.

To produce art and document our world under these conditions is already subversive. It will create the aura of genuine authenticity which commercial media and false art lack. Authenticity cannot be manufactured, and people are starting to crave it as a reaction against the artificiality and dead-endedness of our world.

**** * *—* * / * —* —** * — **** / — **** * / *** * *—* —— ——— —*

If you’re interested in being on the contact list for our new (as yet unnamed) media collective, drop me a line.


Seven sunny days

Where's the rain?  It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way.  Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

Where's the rain? It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way. Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

By Tom Read

Our local weather forecast from Environment Canada shows a string of sunny days reaching into the future. Spring weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but if we get all this warm sunshine, we’ll need to get busy in the garden, weeding and prepping beds for May planting. And the bees will be busy, I hope, so they’ll need some attention, too. Not to mention the chickens, which we let out to go walkabout every afternoon when it’s nice weather. They’re always back waiting for their evening snack by 5 or 6, then have to be tucked in for the night.

We’re still waiting for one of the hens – any one! – to go broody and start sitting on a clutch of eggs to ensure our next generation of chicken for the freezer. The rooster crows earlier every morning it seems, especially with all these bright days that start peeking out around the darkness way too early.

There’s some not-so-great parts to all this sunshine, though. The rain gauge in our garden seems stuck at about 1.5 inches for the whole month of April. Let there be no doubt: we’re too dry for this time of year. The implications for our homestead, for Texada Island and for the region include:

— barbeque season will be short, while irrigation season will be long;

— we’ll make a lot of solar power at our homestead during the day, but little or no micro-hydro (which operates 24/7) once the creek gets too dry, so we’ll have to burn propane in our back-up generator to make up the shortfall in electricity production. And propane costs a whole lot more than “free” microhydro;

— due to our decreased electricity production in the months ahead, we’ll probably have to shut down our freezer until the rains return sometime in the fall;

— some people with shallow wells aren’t going to have enough water this year;

— the forest will become “tinder dry” as they say, with water-stressed trees and increased fire danger;

I could go on and on about the implications of too little water for our area. Consider, however, that drought is affecting the world’s industrial food-growing areas as well. We’re fortunate that our creeks and rivers still have any water at all, because many other regions have little or none. “Resilience” is not an abstract concept, it’s a necessity. We live on an island on this sphere called “Earth,” and we are about to get a lesson in how to cope with multiple shocks to our too-comfortable, industrial-based, supposedly non-negotiable way of life.

Slow the economy!

By David Parkinson

Beautiful, practical, self-regenerating, self-regulating... the natural economy is everything the human-made one is not.

Beautiful, practical, self-regenerating, self-regulating... the natural economy is everything the human-made one is not.

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise… economics is a form of brain damage.
(Hazel Henderson)

The economy is falling apart. Why? When will it hit bottom? Can we get back to normal?

I don’t want to get back to normal. The economy which surrounds us, and which we accept as inevitable — although it isn’t — is a shambles. Even when it’s operating as it’s supposed to, it produces endless amounts of waste, destruction, and misery. And the smart-ass comeback to complaints like this is supposed to be something along the lines of “Well, let’s see you do better”, or “But the only alternative is communism, and look how that turned out”, or similar platitudes.

The fact of the matter, as far as I’m concerned, is that what we call ‘the economy’ is best seen as a huge and sprawling system of social networks which dictate how wealth is created, stored, and transferred. The economy is intimately connected to a similarly huge and sprawling  political system which determines how power is created and deployed. Political power roughly means the ability to make decisions about who gets what share of wealth created in the economic system and always comes backed up with a monopoly on the use of violence to enforce its decisions.

The people who are attracted to power — which is to say, the people who enjoy being on the inside, in the backrooms where the real decisions are made — end up being the people in charge of deciding how the economy is configured. And so naturally the economy becomes a tool for consolidating their power. If that sounds like a conspiracy theory, try to imagine how it could work out any other way. You don’t need a conspiracy to make the inevitable happen; you just need time. It’s a simple recognition of the truth of political power. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, in his 1983 book The Anatomy of Power, describes three types of power:

  • compensatory power, which asserts itself by purchasing submission;
  • condign power, which asserts itself through violence or the threat of violence;
  • conditioned power, which asserts itself through persuasion.

According to Galbraith, power originates with personality, property, or organization. So, for example, the power of a government is expressed largely as condign and conditioned power, since it has the ability to threaten to punish those who go against its wishes (the wishes of a government are called ‘laws’), and it uses conditioned power in the form of patriotism, allegiance to local norms and ‘decent behaviour’, and so on.

But a government also expresses its power — to be more precise, the power of those who control that government — in the form of compensatory power. Access to power is access to the rules by which wealth is generated. And therefore, without serious checks and balances, this is a classic positive feedback loop: those who have the power to determine how the economy functions can steer it to their advantage, thereby creating more wealth and more power for themselves. Again, not a conspiracy theory so much as an honest observation of the how the world works.

What we’re seeing lately, in the ongoing implosion of the economy, is that some of the more interesting and creative ways for wealthy and powerful individuals and groups to turn wealth into even more wealth were simply bogus. And as time goes on, we see the extent to which governments were colluding in this fictional economy. I don’t find it very useful to consider the government as separate from the corporations and other parts of the economy: increasingly over the last few years the two have merged more and more. Governments are really the public-relations and enforcement sector of an all-encompassing economy which takes everything in and leaves less and less space for people to live simply, according to ancient and honourable traditions. The right to gather and produce food and plant medicines is hemmed in by laws and regulations which are supposedly there to protect us, but which always end up favouring large centralized corporate interests. (As if by accident.)

Even worse, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the preferred solution to this potential catastrophe is simply more of the same. As long as the people who stood to gain from this massive fraud are the same people who control the mechanisms of condign state power, there will be no real punishment, no stock-taking, no accountability. Ask yourself: if you were powerful, would you allow the law to come down on your head just for doing what everyone else is doing? Not bloody likely.

And the real problem is that even when the economy is working it’s a nightmare for much of the planet. Everyone knows that we are devastating natural systems like fish stocks and aquifers. Everyone knows that human activity, much of it frivolous, contributes vastly to greenhouse gases. Everyone knows that species are going extinct at ever greater rates. Everyone knows that the food supply is threatened by climate change, changes in weather patterns, and disruptions often caused by wars and other man-made conflict. Everyone knows that we are in danger of running out of easily extracted fossil fuels, which will be simultaneously a tragedy and a godsend. The scale of human activity cannot be sustained by the natural world.

And meanwhile, as always, there is a smaller and quieter economy ticking away, doing what it does in harmony with its natural surroundings. Wendell Berry has a lovely essay about this where he refers to the ‘Great Economy’, by which he means the Kingdom of God, although he observes that other notions such as the Tao cover the same meaning. He makes the point that we can never hope to create a truly lasting human economy which does not respect the laws and ways of the Great Economy. Berry points to five principles of the Great Economy:

  1. Completeness: “It includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event”;
  2. Orderliness: “Everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it”;
  3. Ineffability: “Humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them”;
  4. Autonomy (in the literal sense of creating and obeying its own laws): “Though we cannot produce a complete or even adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it”;
  5. Infinitude: “We cannot foresee an end to it”.

I believe that many people, and more all the time, are starting to understand that we cannot continue to tinker at the margins of an unsustainable economy, serving the needs of a blind and swinish political culture. We need to work our way back to the fundamental principles of sustainability, only now we must do this as a conscious choice, and against powerful forces in the political and economic systems. And a genuinely sustainable society must revolve around a genuinely sustainable economy, and that economy must rest on principles as lofty and as all-encompassing as Berry’s. Sorry, but that’s just the way it’s gotta be now.

Traditional cultures lived according to Berry’s notion of a Great Economy because they had no choice; they respected the implacable laws of the world because not to do so meant needless suffering and death. We have created an economy which is the wonder of human evolution, which makes possible unimaginable technical feats, which is able to reduce and in some cases eliminate deadly diseases, hunger, and the other traditional sources of human misery. But the downside of these advances is the massive over-consumption of resources; the buildup of toxic wastes which threatens our air, water, and food; worsening resource wars; famine; poverty; early and preventable death. Our technical abilities are amazing, but we have no clear sense how to use them to advance the cause of all life on earth.

We have been faced all along with tough choices, but we haven’t had to recognize them as choices. We didn’t know that we could choose not to pull all the oil out of the earth’s crust and burn it up. We didn’t know that we could choose not to build cities in deserts and bring water in from hundreds of miles away, depleting watersheds and draining aquifers. We didn’t know that we could choose not to covert forests to grasslands to monocultured farms in order to produce more meat than was healthy for us or for the planet. Etc. Well, some of these choices are becoming clear in retrospect; and we will always be faced with future choices. Perhaps we can start to recognize them for what they are, and not blindly rush into anything that looks likely to make the powerful more powerful and the wealthy more wealthy.

How can we get from here to there? How can we create a functioning local economy which takes advantage of our increased technical abilities and yet does not endanger all life on earth? How ca we learn to recognize real choices and decide wisely?

Of course, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I’ll do my best to think through them in future columns, and I’ll report on some of the cutting-edge thinking going on out there. My personal preference is to look for answers in the last places where the technocrats and bureaucrats and well-paid consultants would have us look: in the practices of traditional cultures; in the pasts of the various cultures which make up North American industrial society; in the odd corners of the alternative universe where things like permaculture and gift economies are slowly but surely proving their worth as ways of organizing human labour and creativity and producing genuine (not phantasmagorical and life-destroying) wealth.

It’s funny (if you like gallows humour) to see so much fuss and fervour about sustainability these days, as though this is something that only we — the highly evolved citizens of the greatest society ever known — could have devised; when in fact it is this culture which has devised the need to talk about sustainability as though it is something to be added onto what one already does, like a condiment for industrial capitalism to make it yummier and more healthful. And that is because it is we who have strayed from the path of human history by inventing and practicing unsustainability on a massive scale, making it synonymous with prosperity, and letting it spread throughout the world like a virus.

To bee, or not to bee?

By Tom Read

That is not really a valid question, but it is the title of a little skit to be performed on April 25 as part of Texada’s Earth Day celebration. It’s not a valid question because there can be no doubt that the presence of bees is a requirement for life as we know it to continue. From a purely human perspective, bees pollinate the plants we need for food. No bees, not much food for us, unless we find other means of pollinating food plants. We are fortunate that Texada Island is one of the few places left in North America where local honeybees are still healthy, free of varroa mites, colony collapse disorder and other such bee afflictions.

Clover is starting to leaf, dandelions are appearing, bees are flying.  Our surviving hive is partially wrapped in tar-paper to provide additional protection from the cold (we're still getting occasional frosts).

Clover is starting to leaf, dandelions are appearing, bees are flying. Our surviving hive is partially wrapped in tar-paper to provide additional protection from the cold (we're still getting occasional frosts).

Here at Slow Farm we’re in our first year of beekeeping — last fall we took delivery of two hives filled with healthy bees moved here from Gillies Bay. Due to my inexperience, one of the hives didn’t get enough ventilation. Result: too much moisture accumulated in the hive and it perished over the winter. I felt a lot of guilt and sadness when I discovered the death of this hive, and my complicity in that outcome has given me new resolve to become a better beekeeper.

But life goes on, resilient in spite of human ineptitude. Our other hive is still going strong, and with a little help from my beekeeping mentors, it may soon be divided so that we can multiply our bee population this year.

So, for Texada’s Earth Day 2009 our community will celebrate long life and good health to pollinators. We’ll build mason bee nests in the afternoon, then come together for a community potluck dinner. Somewhere along the line we’ll be entertained by dueling poets and the aforementioned “To bee, or not to bee” story about pollinator stewardship brought to us by the “Clinging to the Rock for Dear Life Players.”

Let every day be Earth Day, as they say.

Landfill hearing in Powell River: More democracy in action

By Denise Reinhardt
(Updated April 24, 2009)

Where it all begins...

Where it all begins...

Next week, people in Powell River have an extraordinary chance to hear why Catalyst Paper and the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) think there should be a huge flyash dump at the top of the Wildwood hill. The Environmental Appeal Board is holding a hearing to decide whether the permit amendment issued to Catalyst on August 6, 2008 — which allowed the flyash dump to grow nine stories tall in a residential neighbourhood — should be rescinded or modified. It’s a public hearing, so everyone interested in the future of our region should turn out for at least part of the hearing, which will run from 9:00 am till late afternoon from Monday, April 20, through Friday, April 24 at the Town Centre Hotel.

Powell River Legacy is the community group that has opposed the massive expansion of the flyash dump ever since it was proposed. PR Legacy members and other people in the Powell River community were worried about the possible health effects of airborne flyash from dump operations and the possible escape of toxic materials from an old dump that would lie under the new flyash mountain. Community members had many other concerns about living next door to a huge contaminated industrial waste dump. Despite their opposition, the BC Ministry of the Environment’s Director, Environmental Management Act, issued the permit amendment allowing 620,000 cubic metres of flyash, waste asbestos and miscellaneous mill waste to be dumped over the course of 25 years.

Two members of Powell River Legacy, Dennis Bremner and David Harris, appealed for themselves and for PR Legacy; three other citizens, Patricia Picken, Rhonda Alton and Dr. J. Andrew Davis, are presenting their own appeals. PR Legacy’s lawyer will argue that the amended permit will not adequately protect the environment and that the mill’s financial situation compels the Ministry to require Catalyst to post a bond for cleanup costs in the event that it stops operating a paper and pulp mill in Powell River. Picken, Alton and Davis will point to the impacts on the community, especially health impacts, and ask why the amendment was issued. Catalyst will try to justify the permit amendment by presenting the testimony of its environmental experts, and the people who decided to issue the permit amendment will testify for the Ministry. The appellants will have the chance to cross-examine these witnesses.

There are questions about how effective this appeal may be, but the hearing is the community’s only chance to hear the decision-makers and experts explain themselves. It is our only chance to hear how the MoE and Catalyst witnesses answer our friends and neighbours, who will ask why they consider this flyash dump safe and appropriate. Although much of the proceedings will seem formalized and bloodless, there will be moments of great importance when our friends and neighbours will speak out to the government about why there should not be a mountain of flyash and other industrial waste in Wildwood.

The hearing will probably run all day continuously, with lunch and other breaks at unpredictable intervals. We won’t know the exact schedule of witnesses until the hearing is underway but, if you come on Monday morning, you may hear a rough schedule, so you can plan when to come. Also, Monday will almost certainly be the day that Bremner, Alton, Picken and Davis will testify and be cross-examined by Catalyst and the MoE, and you’ll want to hear what they have to say. Otherwise, drop in for a few moments when you can.

So stop by when you can. Maybe you will catch a great moment, and you will certainly be giving support to PR Legacy and the community.

Update (April 24, 2009): With permission from Powell River Legacy, I have posted the PowerPoint presentation they made to Powell River City Hall on March 20, 2009. The file can be found here.

The elements of resilience

By David Parkinson
(Updated April 16, 2009 & April 20, 2009)

Western Skunk Cabbage: spreads underground, produces heat to melt away the snow, uses its odour to attract pollinators in order to ensure its reproduction. Edible, useful, and beautiful.

Western Skunk Cabbage: spreads underground, produces heat to melt away the snow, uses its odour to attract pollinators in order to ensure its reproduction. Edible, useful, and beautiful.

The future — the sustainable future where we survive will not be created by those who invented the world we have just lost and are reluctantly giving it up, while salvaging as much of their privilege from the ruins as they can. It will be invented by people who have only each other to lose and understand that, in the coming era of chaos, collapse, and reconstruction, we will find support, security, comfort, and solutions within the context of communities — on the ground, online, overlapping, and emerging.
(Chip Ward, from the introduction to “After the Green Economy, Green Security: How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World“)

In an earlier post, I talked a little bit about resilience and why I see this as an even more important goal than sustainability. I believe that the work that lies ahead of us consists of finding ways to grow back some of the resilience we have lost over the past half-century or so.

The economy we have right now is very fragile. We can see this in the collapse of some of its largest institutions and sectors: banks, insurers, real estate, car manufacturers, and the stock market. Closer to home, we see the slow and steady collapse of the forestry industry. We keep hearing that these sectors are “too big to fail” when what we should be saying is “too big to be allowed to fail”. And the solution to these failures? Throw more money at the problems and hope that that will somehow fix the underlying sickness causing supposedly robust and central pillars of the economy to fall apart. If you think that we can pay or pray our way out of systemic failure, then I envy you. I don’t think it’s going to be so easy.

I think a lot about this “too big to fail” syndrome in the context of our food system. Thanks to cheap fossil fuels and centralized production, processing, and distribution, we in North America have a food system which is the envy of the rest of the world. Our supermarket shelves are piled high with products of all kinds from everywhere on the planet. We can eat just about anything we want at any time. Obesity is more of a problem than starvation.

But the hidden downside of this abundance is an increasingly fragile system dependent on a continuing supply of fossil fuels for fertilizer, machinery, transportation, processing, refrigeration, and more transportation to the nearest supermarket. None of this would be possible without an ever-shrinking number of players in the food game: huge multinational conglomerates which control many steps in the food chain from seed supply to packaging. These corporations are becoming “too big to fail”, but there is no reason to think that their growth can be sustained for very much longer.

I believe, as a matter of principle, that control over our food supply should be in the people’s hands as much as possible. And I believe that we have surrendered too much control to corporations which do not have our interests at heart. Before the situation becomes an emergency, we need to take back as much control as possible.

Luckily, many people here and elsewhere are working hard to rebuild local food economies in communities all around the world, and to push back gently but firmly against total corporate control of the food supply. There are all kinds of efforts around here, from the Open Air Market to the 50-mile diet challenge to backyard gardening to canning, mixed farming, permaculture, and plenty of other good and important work. Everyone involved in these little efforts will admit that we have a long way to go before we have a truly resilient local food economy, but they are doing their part towards that goal.

So, what I’d like to do is think a little about some of the features of a resilient system, using a local food economy as an example. These are some of the goals we should be aiming for in the region; the details of how we achieve these goals are less important than keeping the image of resilience in mind as we start to develop new projects and new ways of producing, processing, preserving, preparing, and sharing food locally. (These aspects of resilience are in no particular order.)


The local food economy contains many parts and performs many functions.
Example: Food is being produced in backyard gardens, neighbourhood gardens, community gardens, cooperative kitchens and canning facilities, market gardeners, mixed farmers, and specialized operations (greenhouses, orchards, vineyards, livestock, etc.). Knowledge about producing, processing, and preparing healthy locally-available food is widespread throughout the region.
Result: The local food economy provides adequately for local needs and is able to withstand serious shocks and disruptions without immediately leading to panic, hoarding, and hunger. People can afford to eat very well under normal circumstances, and can continue to eat under adverse circumstances.


The parts of the local food economy are spread around geographically and permeate many sectors of the community.
Example: Every neighbourhood has resources which supply people with local food, whether it’s a farm gate, cooperative, food store, community kitchen, or whatever. Specialized sectors of the community such as churches, schools, social clubs, etc. have their own pieces of the local food economy which serve the needs of that sector. All ages, ethnicities, and people with special dietary needs or wants are well served.
Result: Everyone is woven into the local food economy and can easily access the food and information they need to eat well.


Each function of the local food economy is performed by more than one part of the system.
Example: Canning happens in the home, in neighbourhood groups, commercially on the small scale as well as on the larger scale (possibly for export outside the region).
Result: If one part of the food economy gets knocked out, there are many others still performing its functions.


Each part of the local food economy performs more than one function.
Example: Neighbourhood groups can come together to exchange knowledge; pool resources to purchase, produce, or process food in bulk; create cooperative business opportunities; provide healthy meals for low-income people; tend each other’s gardens; and so on.
Result: No parts of the local food economy are putting all their eggs in one basket, and can easily adapt to changes in local needs, productive capacity, and shifts in the market.


Parts of the local food economy are able to change their functions and goals quickly.
Example: Small, inexpensive, easily replicated experiments proliferate throughout the region, testing out new methods in food production, processing, and preservation. Growers and processors are more easily able to shift their output towards the more lucrative or necessary ones.
Result: The local food economy is cushioned against disruption or rapid shifts in supply or demand; fewer business failures.


As much as possible, parts of the local food economy connect to each other as equals.
Example: Producers’ cooperatives and other less formal groups work together to  maximize productive output and ensure a fair price for goods; consumers’ cooperatives work to support local producers and provide high-quality food at affordable prices. Barter among and within these cooperatives takes the form of food, labour, or other goods or services.
Result: People have a high degree of control over the local food economy. Every part of the local food economy succeeds to some extent when one part succeeds; no one player becomes “too big to fail”.


Information circulates quickly and freely among the parts of the local food economy.
Example: New techniques and labour- or cost-saving devices are shared or bartered. The common good is respected and recognized as an essential part of a resilient regional economy. Anyone can involve themselves where their skills or interest are most needed.
Result: Everyone can understand how their food is produced and prepared and how it gets to the table. The local food system is not a mystery.

This fairly abstract overview just scratches the surface of resilience and how it might play out in our local food economy. The bottom line is that we need to shift our whole way of thinking, talking, and planning for the future of this region. Continuing to rely on a relatively small number of producers and retailers is dangerous; the danger may not be acute now, but the global food supply shows no signs of becoming more resilient — and how can it? It’s another top-heavy, centralized, hierarchical system consisting of a huge number of highly specialized companies hooked together in a non-flexible way. We need to be doing what we can now to move away from reliance on that system. As E.F. Schumacher famously said, “Small is beautiful“.

Unfortunately, we tend to seek a privatized market solution to every problem we recognize. And that works in some cases, but not in all. We need to create more opportunities for non-corporatized solutions based on barter, local currencies, and the free exchange of goods and services in a gift economy. These may sound like crazy ideas right now, but large-scale capitalism itself is looking increasingly like a crazy idea. A system based on giving profit to private corporations and individuals while sticking the public with the risks and the consequences of pollution and environmental devastation can only go on for so long. It’s brittle and top-heavy and prone to catastrophic and widespread failures. As it winds down we’re going to need proper working models to take over its functions and provide for human needs and desires. These models will naturally be more resilient and we can work hard to design even more resilience into them. In future posts I’ll look at local seeds of resilience that we can expand and connect to other parts of the economy, and at real-world models of resilience that we could adapt to our needs in this region.

Update (April 16, 2009): This post from John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog discusses another characteristic of resilience, which he calls scale invariance:

Essentially, scale invariance means that across all scaling factors (large, medium, small, tiny, etc.), the properties that define the whole are conserved (intelligence, mobility, form, productivity, etc.).

This is the missing piece in the argument that resilience needs to be built up at every level: not just that of the region, in our case, but from the individual on up through the household/family, peer group, neighbourhood, and so on. Only by having resilient individuals and families and other smaller groupings can you achieve genuine resilience at the higher levels we usually think of as most important (because those are the levels at which we elect people who we pretend are fully responsible for our well-being).

Update (April 20, 2009): Jamais Cascio, of the Open the Future blog, has a little article in the May/June 2009 issue of Foreign Policy magazine in which he lays out some of the differences between sustainability and resilience.

David Moore’s garden diary for early April, 2009

By David Moore

Photos taken in the first week of April, 2009.

(To see a larger version of any of these photos, click on the thumbnail.)

Post facto

April 2009
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