Archive for August, 2009

The challenges of a 50-mile diet

By David Parkinson

Seeds of the red orach, one of the surprise hits of the Edible Garden Tour

Seeds of red orach, one of the surprise hits of our garden during the Edible Garden Tour

We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?
(Wendell Berry)

We’re just about halfway through the 50 days of this year’s 50-mile eat-local challenge, which goes from Sunday August 9 until Sunday September 27. On August 9 we held the first ever Edible Garden Tour, which showcased thirteen gardens from Lund down to Lang Bay where people are using a variety of techniques to grow food in a variety of conditions. From backyard lasagna gardening experiments to a demonstration garden and a community garden, and with all kinds of gardens in between, it was a really good opportunity for gardeners and would-be gardeners to see how other people are tackling the eat-local challenge by eating as locally as possible.

This is the third year that I’ve been involved in organizing the eat-local challenge; in fact, the famous ’50-mile diet’ was one of the first things I knew about Powell River before I moved up here in late 2006. And one thing I’ve noticed is that there are far more people eating locally than you might know from the number of people who sign up. In fact, quite a lot of people, when asked if they want to sign themselves up for the eat-local challenge, say something along the lines of, “But I eat locally all the time!” I’m sure that many people out there reading this can understand that response, since the idea of eating locally is really a part of the culture here, at least for a significant chunk of the regional population who have homesteading in their personal or their family’s history — or for those like me who moved here with the intent of getting closer to the sources of our food.

Another theme which has really jumped out at me this year is the number of people who feel that the eat-local challenge needs to be kicked up a notch. After all, just about anyone can go 50 days in the height of summer eating something like half of their daily food from sources within 50 miles of where they live; this is not entirely without some challenges and a certain amount of effort, but it can be done and it’s not a terrible hardship. But just try doing it in the winter! In the summertime, you can go to the Open Air Market, to numerous farmgates, and you can find local food at the fruit truck and at some of the grocery stores. In the winter, though, if you haven’t taken steps to put food by, you’re going to have a hard time finding local produce at any price. The upshot is that a wintertime eat-local challenge has to start in the summertime, while fresh food is abundant and while there’s time to plan and plant a winter garden. Of course, many people are busy right now canning, freezing, drying, and pickling, which are age-old techniques for preserving the harvest for leaner times. But if we were serious about eating local food year round, we’d all have to be doing this, and in serious quantities. Instead, we rely on the grocery stores to get us through the winter.

And this doesn’t even touch on all the foods that we don’t grow here, or grow in such small quantities that it barely counts:

  • Meat, dairy, poultry: I’m putting these at the top of the list, because — although we can obviously produce them here and in pretty serious quantities if need be — the government in its wisdom has seen fit to clamp down on small-scale production of animal products. This situation is still unresolved, and constitutes on of the most serious obstacles to a local food economy. What are we supposed to be doing about this situation? Will the grocery stores always supply our needs?
  • Grains: Imagine the amount of wheat, corn, oats, and other grains consumed here every day. Should we even be trying to grow these here? Many people are interested, and I am seeing some interest in a local grain CSA. Is it feasible? Can we produce these grains at anything like a reasonable cost?
  • Beans: A similar situation, except that beans are pretty easy to grow here. Although the amounts required are enormous. How can we approach the sort of commercial scale required to make a real farming enterprise out of this? Again, can it ever be economically realistic to do so?
  • Oils: Sunflowers certainly grow well here, and of course animals can provide oils for some uses. But again, imagine the amount of production needed to supply the needs of the region. How did people handle this in the days before importation of almost all food? I’m guessing that lard and other animal fats were pretty much a staple.
  • Spices, tropical/sub-tropical fruits & cocoa, coffee, etc.: There are some foods that we cannot grow here. That’s always been the case and always will be. We can try to find substitutes, or we can accept that no region can ever be completely self-reliant.

When you take a look at a list like this, imagine the amount of food passing through the tills of the grocery stores in the region, and then contrast that with the puny amounts of food produced locally, it’s enough to make your head spin. Are we even producing 1% of our local consumption? I’m not sure it adds up to even that minuscule percentage. But just because the task ahead of us looks Herculean, that’s no reason not to tackle it. The question you have to ask yourself is: why should we care? Why not continue to rely on the amazing global food industry, which brings us food from around the world at all times of the year?

What motivates the people who commit to eating locally, whether for 50 days at the height of the summer or all year round? I believe that for many of the people who make a commitment to local food, it’s worth growing, preserving, and hunting down local food for many reasons. But not the least of these reasons is the pure satisfaction — which is at heart an aesthetic pleasure — of connecting in the most primeval way possible with our surroundings. A strawberry from the garden certainly tastes more delicious than a strawberry from the grocery store, protected during its world travels by a pathetic plastic clamshell. But the strawberry also tastes better, and pleases us on a deeper level, because it is the fruit of our very own soil. It is as much a part of the place we live in and care for as we are. There is something genuinely spiritual about this connection to our food, and sadly this is a connection that many people have lost or have never had. The fight to save local food (and it is a fight, make no mistake) comes from the desire to save something whose passing from the world can never be replaced: the wonder of bringing our food into being, caring for it, harvesting it and preserving it, and creating meals that sustain our bodies and our spirits. The cultural importance of these activities is huge, but like so many things in our world, they get swamped in discussions of economics and efficiency.

Eating locally is an act of cultural preservation. And I think that most of the people who are drawn to the eat-local challenge understand this on some level, even if they’re not easily able to express it. And that’s why it is not going to stop growing, getting a little bigger and more visible each year. It’s a long game, but we have nothing to lose but the best food in the world.

Local, local government

By Tom Read

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Not a typo, the title of this piece means that Texada Island’s main local government body, the Powell River Regional District Board of Directors, actually convened in all its glory on Texada yesterday for its monthly Directors’ meeting. This made it a physically local, local government for the first time in anyone’s memory, according to a few longtime Texadans I spoke to. Usually, the directors gather in Powell River, not especially accessible for Texadans who want to keep an eye on the local politicians.

The Texada local government tour came about mainly through efforts of our own Electoral Area Director, Dave Murphy. Dave got to show off our island’s impressive range of public and community facilities to his political colleagues, driving everyone around in the Texada Island Inn’s 13-passenger van. The assembled dignitaries then dined at the Tree Frog Bistro.  And then everyone got down to business at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay.

The meeting started a few minutes after 7:00 pm, with probably around 80 to 90 people in the audience. That’s an extraordinary level of attendance for a local government meeting on an island summer evening, in my experience. Why so much interest? Answer: most likely, Lehigh’s proposed South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay, virtually the only controversial item on the night’s agenda. That item drew speakers pro and con for about 20 minutes, while the directors silently listened.

No fireworks erupted, no discussion ensued, no decision occurred. That’s set for next month in Powell River, of course (fireworks optional). No, in Gillies Bay last night the meeting rather lacked entertainment value after each side had had its say, because Chairman Colin Palmer (representing Electoral Area C, “south of town”) closed the meeting to further public comment so the Board could get on with its business. Indeed, from that point on, the directors moved swiftly through their agenda like limestone dropping from a conveyor onto a barge.

Thus, much of the audience departed shortly after public comments ended. It was, after all, a pleasant summer evening.

But those of us who stayed got to applaud as several distinguished islanders received much-deserved public recognition for their decades of volunteer efforts. We witnessed the founding of the Texada Island Heritage Commission, a new public service on our island that emerged through the efforts of the Texada Heritage Society. Plus, we got a subtle lesson in local government: all the real work happens in committees; the monthly directors’ meeting merely ratifies decisions made earlier in the process. The whole thing lasted only about an hour and twenty minutes.

Finally, the directors, their two staffers and a lone newspaper reporter all adjourned to the Texada Island Inn’s pub in Van Anda for a bit of libation and conversation before heading back to Powell River, the true seat of Texada’s not-so-local, local government.

An open letter concerning the Lehigh proposal for Davie Bay

By David Moore

Davie Bay, on Texada Island

Davie Bay, on Texada Island

[Editor’s note: the following is a letter sent by David Moore to the Powell River Regional Board on August 14, 2009, regarding Lehigh Minerals’ mining proposal and Crown land applications at Davie Bay.]

Dear Directors,

“There is a weakness – a Great Big Frailty – to the simplistic ‘economic’ argument for conservation of forests and wildlife. It’s like telling kids they need a mother because who else will make them toast and jam. True, but it misses the point. Every kid needs a mother for the irreplaceable goodness they give with or without the toast.”
(Rowan Jacobsen in Fruitless Fall)

It is important for the present and the future well-being of Texada Island (and the wider community) that our Regional Board firmly recommend against a proposal from Lehigh Minerals to develop a mine and barge port at Davie Bay. The reasons are many and I’ll list them in the order of priority which, in my view, makes a strong case for conservation.

But first I must state that it is wrong for people in general, and the media in particular, to characterize the issues and frame the debate as a polarized battle between those who are pro-mining and those who are anti-mining. That is divisive and over-simplified. Let’s look at the bigger picture and be sensible about planning decisions that will resonate into the future for generations.

For the last one hundred years the industrialized nations of the world have been gobbling up the planet’s finite natural resources at a rate that everyone and his dog knows cannot be sustained. The party’s over and the binge must be reduced drastically. Most politicians and bankers and business leaders will not be informing us and warning us of the accelerated rate of species extinctions, eco-system collapse, dying oceans, and the consequences of global climate change caused by industrial overshoot. As a society we need to tune in to what scientists are saying and slow the pace of resource extraction way down. Texada Island has several active limestone mines already and another is simply redundant and unneeded at this time.

It helps to consider the map of Texada and understand the location of Davie Bay and what lies close around it. Davie Bay is near the mid-point of Texada Island’s west coast. Like Powell River, it faces the glorious setting sun and its visual aspect is a stunning view of Vancouver Island. Davie Bay is a natural environment of exceptional beauty. Rocky and rugged, it is enhanced by the sculptural presence of small moundy islands which resemble huge whales at rest in the tidal pools. The fact that these tiny, fragile islands have received the land use designation ‘Resource’ by the Texada Island Official Community Plan cries out for an amended OCP, not for capitulation to Lehigh Minerals’ attempt to profit from a flawed plan. Sections of the OCP support environmental conservation and therefore the ambiguity problems deserve a closer look. Checking the map you’ll see that Davie Bay is about mid-way between Shelter Point Park and the recreation site of Shingle Beach. These are two other gems of Texada’s natural endowments which islanders and visitors revere for not only their beauty but the fact they have year round public road access. Stretching southeast from Mouat Bay near Shelter Point, leading in the direction of Davie Bay, is a wonderful hiking trail through the forest along the shoreline which is one of the best places in the Powell River Regional District to see old growth Douglas Firs which are hundreds of years old. About ten kilometres further southeast, Shingle Beach is a terrific spot for day visits or wilderness camping. The beach itself is perfect for kayaks and for people — it consists of a uniform coarse sand that cushions the bow of a boat landing and doesn’t stick to skin or bare feet! Looking out from Shingle Beach one can clearly glimpse in the near distance Lasqueti Island and between it and Texada the once private Jedediah Island. The latter is now a Provincial Park thanks to the efforts of dedicated conservationists; it now joins Sabine Channel Provincial Park, the nearby South Texada Island Provincial Park, and others which make these immediate waters into a boaters’ paradise. These small islands and sheltered waters make up an archipelago which from a bird’s-eye view have an obvious affinity to the whole southwest shore of Texada. Davie Bay is thus situated, one could say, on an axis which has in close proximity the natural attractions of Shelter Point, Mouat Bay, Shingle Beach and the Jedediah group. On this point alone I could rest my case that Davie Bay has a higher and better use than a barge port for a rock quarry.

It deserves wider public understanding that the Regional Board has been asked to consider the use of public land for a mining and export operation. Lehigh Minerals owns hundreds of hectares upland of Davie Bay, but they are asking the BC Government to lease them hundreds more for mineral extraction and the barge port. This Crown land is owned by all British Columbians and therefore the interests of all of us are at stake. We know that mining has been and still is an integral part of life on Texada, and its presence is evident and even dominant on the north end of the island. One does not have to be anti-mining to see that the Davie Bay location is highly inappropriate for the proposed use by Lehigh. Perhaps there could be, or will be other quarries on Texada, but let’s be honest – a quarry is forever. It’s blasting and digging and selling the mother earth herself. No one’s going to put it back. The existing abandoned quarries on Texada should be a reminder of what this industry leaves behind. They have their charms as great swimming holes, it’s true, but look around and notice that bio-diversity has been permanently eliminated. One needn’t ponder for long to grasp the short-sighted foolishness of inflicting this fate upon the region close to Davie Bay. Even if Lehigh agrees to a different barge port site, the Regional Board should acknowledge that wider area conservation values should prevail and have the resolve to recommend that Crown lands in this area are unavailable.

The power of money and the behaviour of corporations are a part of modern life. For better or worse, no one escapes these forces. As long as we have a democracy, though, it is still within the rights and responsibilities of the general public and their elected officials to exercise self-determination and uphold values of equity and justice. It is apathy and ignorance which allows corporate interests to exploit the common good for their narrow focus of profit and gain. In the case of Lehigh Minerals it is worth looking at the source of their power and influence. The parent company is Heidelberg Cement of Germany. Heidelberg is a very big multinational corporate entity. With the takeover of Hanson in 2007, the company is the largest aggregate and the fourth largest cement producer in the world. In 2008 it turned a profit of 1.9 billion euros, and currently employs approximately 65,000 people worldwide in 2,800 locations in 50 countries. It should not go unreported to the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau however, that Heidelberg has an appalling record of regulatory violations spanning decades of time. Earlier this year, the largest corporate fines ever handed out in Europe targeted Heidelberg with the largest individual fine of a whopping 252 million euros! This was for industry wide price fixing which had been going on for decades according to the German cartel office which issued the sanctions. Other companies included in the total fines of 660 million euros are Lafarge, Dyckerhoff, Holcim and Schwenk. Heidelberg Cement has built a profitable and powerful commercial empire on a foundation of rule breaking. If they came knocking at my door wanting to set up in my backyard they would be met with an instant ‘no thanks’ and a slammed door. The Regional Board must respect the values of its citizens and do exactly the same thing with the Lehigh applications. [Further information on Heidelberg Cement can be found at this English translation of the German Wikipedia page.]

Texada is a unique island on the BC coast that is renowned in the world of geology. It is a laboratory of ancient history which can teach us for years to come of the million-year-old movements of tectonic plates and the formation of the North American continent. It is not a broken off remnant of the mainland. Geological evidence shows that its origins are from afar and that it (along with Vancouver Island) came crushing into the mainland forming the Coast mountains and leaving a rich mineral wealth. The karst formations in proximity to the proposed quarry site are worthy of protection from industrial impact. Texada can also boast of its unique heritage in both animals and plants. A rare stickleback species inhabits Texada lakes and rare plants, such as the blue listed Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) and the Seaside Juniper (Juniperus maritima) have healthy populations on Texada. All these are extremely rare or non-existent on the mainland. The Texada climate is ideal for the Coastal Douglas Fir forest type which is now in need of protection. This is all to say that Texada Island has an important role to play in preserving the bio-diversity of BC and at the same time has much to offer for ‘green’ tourism and recreation. Agriculture on Texada also has unrealized potential for commercial development. There are alternatives to a dependency on mining resources for economic activity.

In conclusion, the social and cultural history of Davie Bay should not be disregarded. Some might speculate on the metaphysical how and why, but let’s not discount the history of Davie Bay and its power of attraction which has appealed to wanderers, artists, poets, hippies and squatters of many descriptions. Who among us has not sought out the intangible yet undeniable power of natural beauty in our search for fundamental truths, self-healing and longing for simplicity? Over the years the immigrants came and went, each taking something of spiritual value with them. For those whose sensitivities are so inclined, there is an unmistakable magic at Davie Bay. No, that’s not in the OCP, but please add this to the equation when considering if it is wise to blast the uplands into millions of tons of exploded and crushed rock and move it to offshore destinations over the now peaceful domain of Davie Bay.

Sincerely yours,
David Moore, Powell River

Kids know

By Tom Read

Al explains how a solar thermal tube can heat water using the sun's energy, at the second annual Kids for Saving Earth Texada Day Camp. Photo: Jeffrey Weber

Al explains how a solar thermal tube can heat water using the sun's energy, at the second annual Kids for Saving Earth Texada Day Camp. Photo: Jeffrey Weber

Monday of this week I found myself seated in front of two dozen very eager six-to-twelve year old kids at the Texada Community Hall, talking about energy — what it is, why we need it, how we get it and the value of conserving it. Thus began day one of the second annual Kids for Saving Earth Texada Daycamp, or “KSE Camp,” as we’ve taken to calling it. Four more days were to follow, exploring the island’s natural environment. Photos and more can be found at www.texadakse.com

Anyway, on Monday the kids — and some teen and parent volunteers, too — learned about renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Show-and-tell included a battery-less digital electronic clock that we powered through a chemical reaction by combining salt and tap water inside a clear plastic case with two electrodes. Among other renewable energy-makers we got to see a microhydro turbine, and a brief explanation of how it works when it’s hooked up on a creek.

But the most hands-on example was provided by Al Davis, who showed us how a solar thermal tube can quickly heat water using the power of the sun.  Al started with cold tap water from the Community Hall kitchen poured into the tube, then placed it in sunlight outdoors. Forty-five minutes later he used a digital thermometer to measure a 17 degree increase in water temperature inside the tube, from 20 to 37 degrees centigrade. Everybody got to stick a finger in the tube to feel how warm the water had become in that short time. If he had waited much longer the water would have become too hot to touch.

As part of my talk I wanted to demonstrate the finite nature of oil as an energy source by using an object that would be familiar to my audience. So I held up a juice box (apple, in this case) and asked: “how is the juice in this box like oil in the Earth?”  Right away a girl in the front row shot back with the concise answer: “they’re both limited.”  Yes!

A follow-up demonstration by one of our teen volunteers, using straws to represent oil wells, showed how one will deplete one’s supply of juice (or oil) more rapidly as the number of straws/wells increases. Kids know — about the fundamental truth that non-renewable energy sources are limited, and if you want to conserve some for the future you’ve got to take sips, not ever-increasing gulps.

Local deities

By Tom Read

Visiting family members Barry, Kayla, Alex and Ethan at my favourite glacial boulder, in a long-abandoned farm field off the High Road.

Visiting family members Barry, Kayla, Alex and Ethan at my favourite glacial boulder, in a long-abandoned farm field off the High Road.

Off and on over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a short history of Roman Britain, by I. A. Richmond, published by Penguin Books in 1955.  I’ve enjoyed reading history almost since I first could read, and having English roots (paternal side only) has given me an ongoing curiosity about ancient Britain.  How all this might relate to Texada Island I’ll get to in a moment; please bear with me a little longer.

The blending of Celtic and Roman cultures in Britain 2,000 years ago fascinates me in many ways, but one that Roman Britain especially brings into focus is the discovery of ancient temples dedicated to both local Celtic and Imperial Roman deities, even in small rural communities. The locals had been conquered by Roman legions, and were required to display loyalty to their new masters by literal worship of living Roman emperors. But to avoid violent uprisings, the Romans tolerated local traditions as well, within certain limits. For example, Roman authorities disliked Druid tendencies toward human sacrifice (perhaps a waste of good slaves?), thus reinforcing greater reliance on sacred trees, rocks, and sculpture rather than the spilling of blood in local religious practices.

Flash forward a few thousand years and halfway across the globe, and I find a few local echoes of that Romano-British past on our own Texada Island. Today it is widely held that we live in a consumer culture, dominated by the almighty dollar. That’s our equivalent of the Roman Empire and its deities. This invasive culture of endless consumption holds sway over our economics, politics, entertainments and now supposedly even defines our basic assumptions about “the good life.”

But the grip of consumption is not total; some of us still feel an unexplained emotional closeness to particular natural places or features. You know what I mean if you would prefer to go into the forest to climb atop a glacial boulder for quiet contemplation rather than buy a new DVD. Without quite knowing why, I have found myself actually hugging a big old Douglas Fir, or issuing a verbal “thank you” to an abandoned apple orchard for enjoyment of its bounty, or even seeking out a glacial boulder as a special place to Just Be. Lacking any formal religious affiliation, perhaps this is my atavistic connection to a good life that doesn’t emphasize buying and selling (necessary as such activities may be today).

This never used to happen to me when I lived in the city. It now happens sporadically for me here on Texada Island. Transformation happens.

Of bread and boaters

By Tom Read

Boaters are attracted to Texada's harbour at Marble (Sturt) Bay by the warm welcome, adjacent village and, of course, bread.

Boaters are attracted to Texada's harbour at Marble (Sturt) Bay by the warm welcome, adjacent village and, of course, bread.

According to the wharfinger, Texada Island’s only all-weather protected boat harbour, located at what locals call Marble Bay (Sturt Bay on the charts) in Van Anda, hosts about 500 to 600 visiting boats each year, mainly from May to September. Boaters have learned of the warm welcome and convenience when re-provisioning from a small harbour adjacent to a walkable village. Texada may lack public transportation, but it’s just a 10-minute leisurely walk from the harbour to most anywhere in Van Anda, including the grocery store, post office, restaurant, bar, hot showers at the hotel, gas station, credit union, church, school and museum.

So at this time of year it’s not unusual to see couples strolling up into the village from the harbour, sometimes asking directions to the Texada Food Market, First Credit Union, Post Office or Centennial Service gas station. I mention the grocery store first in that list, because every summertime cruiser’s galley needs resupply from a grocery store sooner or later. Lately the item most in demand seems to be bread.

We often bake our own bread, but with the warm weather lately it’s been a luxury to buy bread rather than run the oven when we’re trying to keep the house cool. Thus, imagine my consternation last week, and again yesterday, when I’ve gone to buy bread at the store and found the shelves stripped bare of the typical plastic-wrapped, pre-sliced, 7-or-12-grain bread loaves usually available in abundance. Even the tasteless, nutrition-challenged white bread had vanished.  Let me repeat: empty shelves where one would normally see dozens of industrially-packaged loaves.

“It’s the boaters,” said one store staffer, by way of a speculative explanation. Whether that’s true or not, last week’s mysterious shortage seemed to take the store staff by surprise, and I went home with tortillas instead. But we’re fortunate that Texada Food Market regularly bakes its own bread, which happened to be fresh from the oven when I arrived at the store yesterday. So that’s what I bought, still quite warm from their oven, and it’s a fine product indeed. I’m sure it, too, sold out quickly. I later learned that a new shipment of bread arrived at the store within a few hours of my late morning visit; the shelves were never empty for long.

Maybe an influx of visiting boaters bought most of the bread, or perhaps the dearth was only an innocent coincidence, but whatever the cause I felt a real shock when I first saw empty shelves instead of an expected staple food item. In light of previous posts on food security and the like, need I say more? Let us be grateful for any bread in our possession, and keep plenty of baking supplies in the pantry at home, just in case.


Post facto

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