Archive for November, 2009

Beautiful ruckuses

By David Parkinson

Rosehips, thorns, wintry sky.

As 2009 winds down, while 2010 is still only a shimmer on the horizon, I’m looking forward to some of the projects I want to devote my time to in the coming year. A couple of these took a good-sized step forward in the past few days.

The project of forming a cooperative took a giant leap last Friday, when a few of us gathered together over a potluck dinner to start discussing how a cooperative could take on some of the needed food-security projects in the region. It’s always a little strange how these community projects get going; there is a fine line between keeping the conversation manageable in the very early stages and opening it up wide from the beginning. Each extreme has its dangers: if the initiating conversations are too restricted, then the project will be hobbled by a failure to really explore the full range of possibilities; but if the early conversations are too wide open, then the risk is that the founding idea will become blurry and be lost in a fog of meandering agendas.

The only way to navigate these (and other) dangers is to stay alert to them, to constantly interrogate oneself and the group whether the right people are in the room, whether the right steps are being taken to tap into the collective wisdom of the community, and whether the conversation is starting to wander off into places best handled by some other process entirely. It’s a bit like building a house by starting with a provisional foundation, knowing that as the walls go up and the rooms begin to take shape the foundation will need to be widened here and narrowed there. Meanwhile, the people who plan to live in this house begin to show up in greater numbers, each one offering an opinion on what has gone before and suggestions on how future work should proceed.

I’m sensitive to the need to construct a cooperative framework broad enough to take on all the regional food-security problems that people feel are best addressed by a collective solution. Having only had one group conversation so far, it seems as though there is an evolving consensus that we want to form a broadly defined ‘umbrella’ type of organization, but we’ll have to ask and answer many more questions before we know what that ends up looking like. My hope is that we can come up with something to handle the following sort of scenario:

  • Someone in the region perceives a gap in individual or household food security; let’s say they decide that people would be interested in participating in a project to grow large amounts of tomatoes as a group and then can them in the late summer;
  • This person, with help from the cooperative, writes up what is essentially a business plan; although unlike a conventional business plan it demonstrates tangible benefit to the project developer, to the members of the cooperative who participate, and to the broader community;
  • The business plan also operates under stated principles and values of the cooperative; e.g., all participating workers receive fair pay or other consideration of respectful value for their expertise and labour, the project is accountable to the members of the cooperative, etc.;
  • The board and/or committees of the cooperative undertake to work with the project developer to research the project, to draw up a realistic budget, to publicize the project and attract participating members, to document the project, etc.;
  • The process and the results are made public so that members of the cooperative and all others can learn from our experience, participate in future, offer suggestions, and steal the idea for their own use — this is genuine open-source development.

In other words, the cooperative does not perform a rigidly defined set of functions so much as it acts as an ‘incubator’ of projects, each of which fulfills some aspects of the mission of the cooperative, operates according to explicitly stated and well understood values and principles, and creates genuine value for the members of the cooperative who do the work of the project and those who benefit from it.

This approach should allow the community to engage in very flexible ways with the cooperative, as participants in some projects and as workers in others. The cooperative itself, rather than working on a narrow range of static projects, can ‘crowdsource‘ its projects according to the evolving interests and needs of its members. This can work only if the members of the cooperative are genuinely engaged and committed to its mission, vision, values, and principles; and if they are empowered to take the lead on initiatives that particularly interest them. And all this can happen only through a constant effort to educate members and to interest them in assuming positions of leadership (whether this is explicit or implicit).

So here’s where the real design work lies: in developing a governance framework and sets of guiding principles generous enough not to feel constricting but at the same time constrained enough that they clearly define the cooperative’s purposes and give a strong sense of collective mission to its members. I don’t know of many models for this sort of open-concept cooperative, so maybe we’ll be doing a little trailblazing here.

Defining and refining will be an ongoing process. What I’m learning from my involvement with some local non-profit societies is that, as time goes on and founding members drift away, they may start to lose their way. What were once well-defined purposes and principles become vague and unclear to incoming members; these members learn a kind of ‘broken telephone’ version of the principles, and eventually there is no longer one clear vision shared by everyone. Unclarity about the direction of an organization or about its principles inevitably leads to conflict and an under-committed or apathetic membership. I hope we can start something that will have a strong sense of purpose that will persist through passionate involvement of many members of the community. Part of the journey will be figuring out how to make that happen.

As for the other project that is moving forward: after months of saying we were going to do something together, Dolores de la Torre and Martin Rossander got together with me today to kickstart the radio show Beyond Survival into the internet era. This show, which used to go out live on the local community radio station CJMP FM, has been on an extended hiatus while the radio station shifts to a new license-holder. But Dolores and Martin are working to create new episodes in the form of a podcast. If you’re interested, check it out and subscribe in iTunes. We recorded a loose conversation about local currencies, cooperatives, and community engagement. More episodes are on the way. If you’re interested in learning how to create a podcast, feel free to contact me. We need more local media!

Citizenship practice

By Tom Read

The Powell River Regional District lives in a former residence in the Townsite part of Powell River. The residence may date from 1911, but the PRRD started in the late 1960s. Texada Island is known as "Electoral Area D" of the regional district.

It is not uncommon for Texadans to consider themselves citizens of Texada Island. If you care enough about a place to identify yourself as a citizen, not merely a “resident,” then it follows that you would find it worthwhile to keep yourself informed about public policies affecting your home. So it is with me.

A routine part of my citizenship practice is to keep an informed eye on government. All levels of government affect our lives here on Texada, but I especially like to follow the activities of our local government, the Powell River Regional District (PRRD).  Why? Because local government touches our community directly, every day, and it seems more accountable to citizens than the “senior” levels of government (provincial and federal).  Here are some examples of PRRD agenda items:

— Proposed tax rates for Texada property owners for next year, and the cost of our local government;

— Proposed new services and the tax increases and fees expected to fund them;

— How often the PRRD Directors meet in camera (behind closed doors) and for what purposes;

— Who is recommended (and ultimately given) contracts, at what cost, to do tree work, gardening, carpentry, grass-cutting, facilities maintenance, and various types of professional consulting regarding Texada;

— How many campers stayed at Shelter Point Park last year, compared to previous years;

— Proposed land subdivisions;

— Proposed new regulations, including zoning bylaws, development permits, and burning restrictions;

— Proposed water licenses;

— Proposed industrial developments, including aquaculture, mining, power generation facilities, and communication towers;

— Who gets appointed to the local and regional committees that shape public policy on Texada;

— This year’s cost of insuring, heating, lighting and administering Texada’s public buildings;

— Who wants a local road permanently closed to vehicle traffic, and why;

— Which community groups are getting grants from the PRRD;

and the list goes on and on….

The word “proposed” occurs frequently, doesn’t it? That’s because such topics show up as agenda items for PRRD committee meetings before they’re voted on at an actual PRRD Directors meeting. There’s a window of opportunity, sometimes only a day, other times stretching into weeks, months or even years, when citizens will first learn about an issue, yet still have time to provide input to the directors before they vote on it.

Since most of the real work of governance takes place in committee meetings, it’s critical for citizens to get a look at committee agendas before the committee members meet to thrash out their “recommendations” to the formal Board of Directors. Why the quotes? Because by the time a committee makes specific recommendations, that’s quite often word-for-word (and dollar-for-dollar) what the directors will eventually approve as official policy.

Holding government accountable isn’t a particularly sexy topic, so I congratulate you if you’ve stayed with me this far. Now we come to the heart of the matter: the do-it-yourself citizen’s guide to keeping track of our local public servants. Here’s how to do it online:  go to the PRRD website home page, click on Meetings, then click on Agendas, then open and read each .pdf agenda package (warning: these are typically large files, requiring a high-speed internet connection). Beware also that the agenda package for a given committee is usually posted about 24 hours before the meeting, so if something important shows up, you may have to act fast to be heard in a meaningful way.

Each agenda package usually begins with Minutes from the previous meeting, so if you want to read about new stuff, scroll down and pick out anything that mentions “Texada” or that might affect Texada Island. By doing this each month, I feel that I’m much better informed as a citizen, and I am even able to occasionally give meaningful input before decisions that affect me are made.

Are we a bioregion yet?

By David Parkinson

A bioregional collage of hopes and dreams

What I really want is for people to think for themselves and feel for themselves and to listen to their own land base and to ask that land base, “What must we do?” Start a relationship with the land where you live. Ask that land what it needs from you. Because the truth is the land is the basis for everything. It’s embarrassing to even have to say that, but — and this is something else I think is really important — the only measure by which we will be judged by the people who come after is the health of the land base, because that is what is going to support them.
(Derrick Jensen)

Bioregionalism seems to be in the air lately. The theme of the BC Food Systems Network‘s annual gathering back in late September was bioregionalism, and this theme recurred just last week at an event that I helped to organize. So, what is bioregionalism, anyway? Wikipedia offers the following:

Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, and environmental system based on naturally-defined areas called bioregions, or ecoregions. Bioregions are defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries and soil and terrain characteristics. Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon, and emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions.

This sounds an awful lot like the kind of economic and social relocalization that various groups and initiatives are working towards (e.g., Transition Town Powell River, the 50-mile eat-local challenge, GreenSteps Solutions, Powell River Sustainability Stakeholders). But the concept of a bioregion really gets to the heart of the matter: how do we define the geographical area whose boundaries define what is ‘local’? Are we closer to Vancouver Island or to the Sunshine Coast? Are we our own bioregion? How can we answer these questions?

More from Wikipedia:

The bioregionalist perspective opposes a homogeneous economy and consumer culture with its lack of stewardship towards the environment. This perspective seeks to:

  • Ensure that political boundaries match ecological boundaries.
  • Highlight the unique ecology of the bioregion.
  • Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
  • Encourage the use of local materials where possible.
  • Encourage the cultivation of native plants of the region.
  • Encourage sustainability in harmony with the bioregion.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s pretty clear that we’re going to have to let the concept of our bioregion emerge over time, as we learn more about the characteristics of this area which unite it with other places and the ones which set us apart. And how do we get started with that kind of work?

Well, last Thursday and Friday, a group of about 25 food-security activists, farmers and friends of the local food economy in the Powell River region and along the Sunshine Coast got together in Pender Harbour to talk about how we might collaborate better together across the Jervis Inlet. This mini-conference, titled “Lund to Langdale”, was funded by the BC Healthy Living Alliance (BCHLA). I was one of the organizers, along with Stacia Leech from Roberts Creek.

Since the fall of 2008, the BCHLA has helped start projects in the various communities, such as the “Garden to Table” workshop series being offered through the Community Resource Centre in Powell River and the Sliammon Community Garden. The purpose of the “Lund to Langdale” conference was to take action on some of the things that the BCHLA folks were hearing as they carried out community consultations along the Sunshine Coast and up our way: specifically, they were hearing that people working in food security wanted more opportunities to learn about community engagement, better collaboration, and strategic planning for policy changes. So we planned a one-and-a-half-day event to bring us all together, get some work done, and make some connections to serve as a foundation for future collaboration.

The most interesting thing to see was the amount of information being shared. It’s amazing, given that we are so close to each other, that we are so ignorant of the work going on one ferry trip away. But as one person said, we Powell Riverites largely see the Sunshine Coast as something to race through on the way to the Langdale ferry terminal. There are a lot of common concerns, though, from the effect of the new meat inspection regulations, to the cost of farmland, to ALR removals, and beyond.

Towards the end of the second day, the group decided that this was a conversation worth continuing, so we are now hoping that we can find a way to hold a follow-up event over on this side of Jervis Inlet sometime before the next growing season. There are so many ways we can be sharing information better, learning from each other, and possibly starting to collaborate directly on food-security projects and policy work. We only scratched the surface of all the ways we could be working together for food security all the way up the Sunshine Coast as far as Lund… or beyond.

So watch this space for future news about more events to bring together some of the hard-working farmers, activists, and policy-makers. I believe that we have a real chance to create a bioregion on the basis of similar terrain, similar ecological systems, as well as a similar sense of isolation and independence from both the Lower Mainland and the island. We’re one baby step along that road now.

August planning pays off in November

By Tom Read

I uprooted these carrots yesterday. They not only look lovely, but they taste really good, too. The standard-sized teaspoon gives a sense of scale. Linda assures me the spoon was clean when she took this photo, but the lights reflecting on it make it look kind of grungy. She cut up these Nantes-variety carrots shortly after taking the picture, and we enjoyed them in our yummy chicken-and-dumplings dinner. Yours truly made the dumplings!

It’s the third week of November and our kitchen garden is still providing a fine harvest. The carrots are sweeter than they were this past summer, thanks to the onset of colder weather. Also yielding well are parsnip, kale, arugula, bok choy, romaine lettuce and various other greens.  Most of our potatoes are still in the ground, but they will have to come out in the next few days because their bed has become waterlogged given the last two nights of torrential, deafening-on-the-roof-for-hours rainfall.

Our attempt this year to grow food through the winter started last August when I attended Carolyn Heriot’s excellent workshop on winter gardening, sponsored by the Texada Garden Club. Looking back over my notes from that day, I can see that with a little more foresight and investment, we might have planted a much larger and more diverse winter garden. Alas, we’ll probably have only enough fresh greens and root crops to last perhaps another few months, for which I’m nonetheless quite grateful. Next year’s goal will be to have ample harvests all year long.

Along those lines, I’m pleased that the Texada Garden Club has also decided to sponsor Robin Wheeler, Roberts Creek, BC, resident and author of Food Security for the Faint of Heart, to give a “MicroFarm Forum” workshop here on Texada on Saturday, February 20 of next year. I’ll have more to share on that topic as we get closer to the date.

In the meantime, Linda and I are busy harvesting animals as well as plants. Last weekend we “did” the chickens with our friends An and Seneca; next weekend we’ll be on our way to our first pork harvest, as well.

Who would have thought November could be such a busy month?

The harbingers of Transition

By David Parkinson

Branches

You’ll never live like common people,
You’ll never do what common people do,
You’ll never fail like common people,
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there’s nothing else to do.

(Pulp, “Common People“)

Today I attended a meeting at the Four Square Church in Powell River whose purpose was to bring people together who are concerned about poverty, especially its effects on children and youth. BC has had the highest rate of children living in poverty in Canada for six years now. Meanwhile, the funding that helps to alleviate some of the worst effects of this poverty is drying up as a result of government funding cuts, resources and volunteers are stretched thin, and children and youth are waking up hungry, going to school hungry, and going to bed hungry.

There were about fifty people present, many of them from the social service agencies in the region which provide services to children and their families. Representatives of numerous churches and service clubs were also in attendance, as were various members of the community.

The main part of the two-hour meeting gave everyone an opportunity to speak for about two minutes, so that we could give our perspective on the situation, what we are trying to do about it, and where we see a need for more effort. The top three concerns which emerged as we went around the room were food, housing, and transportation. That makes perfect sense: if for whatever reason you’re living on a low income, you’re going to be struggling at the most basic level: keeping food on the table, keeping a roof over your head, and affording to keep a car on the road (or taking the bus if you’re unable to afford a car).

What occurred to me as we went around he room and the same themes kept coming up over and over, is that poor people are ahead of the rest of us in their struggle with the absolute basics. Everything I have read about the effects of peak oil, climate mayhem, and economic decline, compounded by the special problems of a small isolated community, leads me to believe that we are all going to be struggling to keep food on the table, a roof over your heads (including the heating and utilities), and a car on the road (or some alternative way to get around).

So far, we are still able to keep the problem of poverty on the margins, out of sight where it is conveniently out of mind. The mass media keep pumping out the message that everything is returning to normal, the recession is ending, and soon we will all be back to the froth and frivolities of the industrial economy. This news comes as a constant relief, because it means that we will not have to face the breakdown of the simplest and most essential aspects of living in society: food, shelter, and transportation (plus a few others not yet even up for discussion, among them a reliable supply of potable water and a functioning electrical grid).

We are raised to associate poverty with shame and failure, specifically personal failure. We are almost entirely unable to see poverty as a collective or systemic failure; instead we choose to see it as the unfortunate side-effect of an otherwise perfectly functioning system. And although we may acknowledge — when we think about directly — that some poverty is not solely the fault of the poor themselves, we aren’t good at thinking of how our social systems make it easy to fall into poverty, and hard to climb out of it. We are uncomfortable in the face of real poverty, and we have a hard time coming to grips with people who are suffering in the midst of a social system which is supposed to be the best and richest one the world has yet seen. Poor people confound our worldview.

What we all try  hard not to recognize is the non-accidental nature of poverty and other forms of human misery, many of which are on the rise in this society which promises so much and delivers much of it, increasingly to a select few. Any social system which produces so much teenage suicide, death by chronic alcoholism or other substance abuse, beaten children, beaten wives, chronic depression, and the rest of the panoply of ‘unfortunate side-effects’ really has a lot to answer for. And so we put a tremendous amount of collective effort into ignorance, denial, and victim-blaming. The myth that everything is OK is a powerful one.

As it all starts to slowly come unwound, as we all start to slide downhill a little bit at a time, almost imperceptibly but nonetheless surely and steadily, as we begin to lose our collective faith in the stories we grew up believing, as we face the fact that we are struggling to put food on our tables, to keep a roof over our heads, and to easily get from one place to another at will, at what point will we wake up to realize that we have slid into the margins of the world we knew? Will we have to admit to ourselves that we have joined the ranks of the poor? As this becomes a general phenomenon, not limited to people who have made bad choices or were just born less fortunate, who will be there to provide the services that we need in order to make it through the day? When almost everyone is poor, who takes care of relieving the poor?

This all sounds pretty grim. I could be wrong: we might not be on the downside of Hubbert’s Curve after all; the economy might just have a case of the hiccups; technology will save our bacon after all. But if the peak oil prophets and so-called ‘collapsniks‘ are right that we are entering a protracted period of economic decline and social turbulence, then we are going to have to learn that poverty is not necessarily a pathology to be treated by means of band-aid programs like soup kitchens, food handouts, and vouchers redeemable at local stores. Poverty will become a general condition of life as some of the things we now take for granted become scarcer. And dealing with this poverty, which will be much more widespread, is going to have to take place at the centre of economic activity, not — as now happens — as a kind of afterthought which gets by on the surplus of the main activities in the economy, the crumbs which fall from the table.

Looked at from this angle, there is actually much to celebrate in the generalization of poverty. It’s time we recognized, as a society and as individuals, that there are limits to the things we can take without someone somewhere getting burned. And it’s time we saw to it that everyone has a basic level of decent subsistence in the areas that matter, the ones which are pinching the poor most severely now. In this respect, the poor of our society are like the harbingers of where we’re all headed. The sooner we figure out how to address their problems, and to do so in a sustained manner, the sooner we assure everyone’s safety and security in the time of transition to a post-carbon economy.

A politician listens to Texadans’ concerns

By Tom Read

EUpsideDownEBCLegAssmblyBldg

You’ve heard of centralized vs. decentralized government? Well, perhaps it’s time to consider “inverted” government! In this governance model, the grass roots (that’s us) resides on top, using direct local democracy to make most of the decisions that affect our lives, while the provincial legislature and its bureaucrats are shrunk and limited in scope to a few concerns best shared across a wider geographic area. This is one possible context for a future Commonwealth of Texada Island.*

Nicolas Simons, provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Sunshine Coast, including Texada Island, toured our island today, meeting with various groups of locals to hear what’s on their minds. I attended one such listening session, and here’s my paraphrasing of what some islanders had to say, in no particular order:

  • Why did the Ministry of Forests (MoF) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fixing up the road to Cook Bay, which very few local people use, especially when MoF neglects maintenance on roads that local residents depend on every day?
  • Our island’s local improvement districts are being deliberately prevented from receiving matching grants for upgrading our water systems. The province seems to feel that regional districts will take over our improvement districts, but the RD isn’t interested unless we first spend lots of money upgrading our water systems. That’s a classic “catch-22,” and it’s extremely frustrating!
  • Texada’s local businesses could greatly benefit from a direct ferry run between Blubber Bay and Little River (on Vancouver Island near Courtenay/Comox). Of course, that might also result in losing our locally-based ferry crew, so it’s a trade-off that would need to be considered very carefully.
  • Much opposition exists to “jackboot legislation” by the provincial government, which is trying to take away our civil right to freedom of speech by prohibiting placement of certain signs on private property.
  • Why weren’t we consulted about the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) before it became law? Our cost of living is high enough already!
  • The provincial meat regulations that make it illegal for me to sell a chicken to my neighbor need to be changed so that “farm gate” meat sales are specifically condoned so long as basic common-sense standards are met. In trying to apply large-scale meat processing laws to all areas, the provincial government is forcing people in small rural communities to stop selling and buying locally produced meat or to do so illegally.
  • Why is it that if I get my water from a well, and then add a second structure on my property that also gets water from that same well, I’m now considered by the provincial government to be a formal “community water system” that must comply with the same regulations as would apply to water systems that serve hundreds of people?
  • We’ve seen a steady loss of local jobs in forestry and mining over the last few years, so we’d like to know what’s the hold-up on provincial approval of Lehigh’s proposed new quarry for Davie Bay?
  • We supposedly live in a democracy, but our system of government looks a lot more like a “partyocracy,” where decisions are made solely by a few members of the cabinet of whatever party happens to be in power. Might it not work better to see this reversed, so that the power to make decisions is strongest at the local level, and weakest at the provincial and federal levels. That would be real democracy.

Nicolas and his assistant, Maggie Hathaway, listened and both took notes. He says that he’ll get back to us with some answers. He also mentioned that he’s in the process of setting up a constituency newsletter/website/blog.  Nicolas’ party is not in power, but he keeps trying to keep the pressure on those who do make the decisions. No wonder so many of us feel distant from our “senior levels of government” (i.e. provincial and federal). As always, however, I’m sure that Texadans will find a way to carry on, regardless of what the politicos in Victoria decide for us.

* Commonwealth of Texada Island.

Exuberance as a survival strategy

By David Parkinson

Mushroom

It's the time of year when the vast networks of mycelium send up their fruiting bodies to send spores out into the unimaginable world above the soil.

Last week, I did something that makes me wonder if I’m losing my marbles: I voluntarily reduced the amount of paid work I am doing. Why would anyone do something like that, especially right now when the economy seems to be headed for a long slow collapse? Well, it’s not like I won’t have enough work to keep me out of some amount of trouble: I will continue (as long as funding continues) to coordinate the Powell River Food Security Project. But that gig’s budget only allows for about 12 hours of work per week, and even for Powell River that’s a little thin.

As I have written recently, the one project that really gets me fired up lately is the idea of getting some cooperative projects going in the region. So I’m doing the best I can to understand the process of incorporating a cooperative, gathering together a group of inspired amateurs unafraid to gamble on crackpot ideas, and planning ahead to the coming year. Somehow I hope that this work can replace some of my lost income, but that might take a little time. Unfortunately, I know if no other way to start getting serious about the effort to develop a resilient regional food economy. The simple fact is that we need to let a thousand small experiments bloom; we need to hope for success but plan for failure (and learn from it if we must); we need to connect with the small but vital segment of the regional population who get what is happening and will support food-security projects that might grow into crucial parts of a functioning food system. And there is no time to waste.

In the earlier posts linked to above I throw around some of the possible projects that a cooperative could take on. These are mostly projects that haven’t found a home under the umbrella of an existing non-profit association or for-profit business. One of the aspects of a cooperative that I find most appealing is that power derives very much from the membership; and this is something that I hope a local food-security cooperative would really emphasize. I think what we need to get going is a sort of laboratory where we can brainstorm ideas — a community oilseed farm! a selection of local dried fruit! a shared potato crop! — and find people willing to assume the leadership role on them. If we can combine careful planning with a flexible approach and plenty of volunteer energy, then we can start working on some of the real problems we need to deal with.

Eventually, we need to answer the question, “How self-sufficient can this region be in terms of food?” This is a huge and complex question, but it can be broken down into small digestible pieces, not all of which need to be taken on at one time or by one group of people. But let’s say we want to think about how well we could supply the needs of the regional population in terms of fruit. It’s fairly clear how to do this sort of work (which is not to say that it’s simple): make some assumptions about the needs of the average person, multiply by the population, perform an inventory or a decent estimate of the present amount of fruit production, and then work on shrinking the gap between needs and available resources.

We can repeat this work for any kinds of foods that we’re interested in, taking into account the available farmland, the types of crops or livestock most likely to thrive here, and as many other factors we can measure or estimate. And the value of small and flexible community projects is that they can answer some big questions on a small scale. For example, if we wanted to figure out the amount of grains and legumes we would need to produce each season so that everyone in the region could be assured of some minimal amount of protein crops, we could run some little experiments on small plots, being sure to understand how those small experiments would scale up. For example, is it more or less efficient to work at the small scale, using hand tools and duplicating similar labour in many locations? Or to work at the large scale, using motorized tools and not needing to perform the same tasks in multiple fields? Are there factors besides efficiency we need to take into account? And so on.

My hope is that we can find people in the community with an inquisitive spirit and the desire to start working together to really tackle some of the tough aspects of securing our regional food supply. As someone said to me today, “We’ve pretty much got vegetables covered,” by which she meant that, even if we don’t produce enough vegetables to feed the region, we know a lot about how we could do that if we had to. But vegetables only really last from May through October or thereabouts. The big challenge is to give everyone the tools they need to make it through the year with as much good local food as possible.

And we’re going to need a lot more little projects, groups, and organizations. We can’t put all of our eggs into the same overflowing baskets any longer. One of the challenges ahead of us is learning how to work well together, to make good decisions as groups, and to push towards our goals together. We need to stop trying to limit people’s creativity by insisting that things be done as they have always been done. We need to listen to more ideas and find ways to act on as many as we can without spreading ourselves too thin. We seem to have forgotten how often true inspiration comes from the purest accidents. Time to bring back serendipity.

In nature, resilience comes from exuberance: thousands of spores from one mushroom, of which maybe only a small number will successfully germinate and produce offspring. And those tough survivors often have characteristics that will help future generations to survive. We need to lean to emulate nature in this respect, by spawning many small, simple, but scaleable projects in the community, by continually learning from these projects and sharing what we learn, and by encouraging others to get something going. We need to throw enough good ideas at the wall that some of them will stick and form the core of our strategies for regional survival.


Post facto

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