Archive for the 'development' Category

What if we give it away?

By David Parkinson

A tiny jungle of kale plants hunkers down for winter

That which seems to be wealth may in verity be only the gilded index of far-reaching ruin.
(John Ruskin, 1860, “The Veins of Wealth”)

Yesterday, to celebrate Black Friday, Democracy Now rebroadcast a couple of recent interviews: one with economist Manfred Max-Neef and the other with environmental activist Derrick Jensen. They’re both worth listening to, but I was really caught by the interview with ‘barefoot economist’ Max-Neef, who proposes an economics in radical opposition to neoclassical economics and its trendy offshoot neoliberalism, which can be summed up as the belief that the market is the supreme force underlying and determining all aspects of human life.

Max-Neef proposes a new set of principles on which to base a sane economics. From the transcript:

The principles, you know, of an economics which should be are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle.

  • One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.
  • Two, development is about people and not about objects.
  • Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.
  • Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.
  • Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.

These principles lead to an economic (and social) system which is extremely different from the one we are stuck in now. I believe that events beyond the control of the economists and politicians are going to compel us to shift to a more human-scale economics within the next decade or so; and this process of humanization and relocalization will continue for the foreseeable future — played out against the ongoing consequences of the overshoot and damage caused by clinging for too long to an anti-human and anti-biospheric way of living. Everything in our media and societal belief system sets us against these coming changes, but I’m not alone in hoping that their net effect will be positive. The way we do things now is extremely out of balance in every way, and the pendulum needs to swing back. Other values need to start trumping the relentless voracious consumption of the planet and its conversion to junk.

The lucky thing is that the seeds of the new economic arrangements are everywhere around us, many lying dormant but many others beginning to sprout and take root. And the place to look for these seeds is in the gift economies that perform an absolutely staggering amount of the good work that goes on around here, and in every community.

The essence of a gift economy is that “valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists).” And where do we see that most often? It’s the not-for-profit and volunteer sector, where people regularly contribute enormous amounts of work for no tangible benefits — at least not of the sort that economists know how to measure, at least not without converting them into ‘in-kind donations’ measured in conventional units of currency. Volunteers and givers work to be part of a healthy community with arts, culture, recreation, and strong social ties among  people and groups. This is not something we can or should expect the cash economy to produce; if anything, the relentless need to work and consume undercuts the hard work of the gift economy.

To take an example which is front and centre in my life lately: I am bowled over by the amount of cooperative work and passionate energy that people are putting into the resuscitation of our local community radio station, CJMP FM. I’ve been involved in plenty of volunteer projects in and around Powell River, but I have never seen anything like the work that people are devoting to this one: they’re showing up to meetings, doing research, and contributing their time and their skills. Local DJs and promoters are offering to donate proceeds from music shows to help get the station off the ground. And the energy is growing. It’s very inspiring to see.

The most interesting thing about this particular project is that operating a community radio station is unlike many other not-for-profit initiatives in that it requires relatively small amounts of capital for startup and ongoing cash for operating expenses. Once you have the gear you need to get the signal from microphone to transmitter to tower, then you only need to rent a space, keep your gear dry, and you’re pretty much ready to get going.

What you do need, and in large amounts, is the time and energy of dedicated and cherished volunteers. And in order to attract and keep volunteers, you need to create an environment which rewards people for contributing their time, expertise, and energy. It has to be the case that those who contribute more, instead of feeling taken advantage of, get even more out of the experience than those who contribute less. Participation has to become its own incentive.

The radio station is only one of many such examples, but it happens to be one that is much on my mind lately. And I’m certain that as the current economic system continues to shift and shudder we’ll start to see more of these seedlings of mutual support and community-building take on more importance in people’s lives. We have surrounded ourselves with an economy which produces unimaginable amounts of what we call ‘wealth’ but which at the same time has impoverished the world by trashing the non-human world and lessening our dependence on each other. We need to start figuring out how to give away our wealth and our labour with the expectation that it will come around again, although not necessarily from the same person or place we gave it to.

For the last half-century or so, we’ve created a system in which extreme dependence on large-scale systems has rewarded us with the most widely-distributed wealth ever seen in the history of the world. Everyone in our society, except for the very poorest, still lives in greater comfort and security than the richest people in previous ages. But the dark downside of this total dependence in huge centralized social, political, and industrial systems is that, once they start to fall apart, we find that we have lost the simple ability to connect, cooperate, and build an economy to sustain us. This where we’re heading, and we’re going to have to find the ingenuity to flow around the eroding remnants of the broken system on our way to saner arrangements.

We’ll find our back to relationships among people and groups which are based much more on the free, uncoerced giving of our labour and our belongings in the knowledge that we will not be abandoned by a system imposed from above by people who have no interest in our local struggles and needs. Of course it’ll be scary and weird at times; but along the way we’ll gain the perspective that permits us to see how scary and weird this supposed best of all possible systems has been all along. That’s something to look forward to.

The right to useful unemployment

By David Parkinson

The past? the present? the future?

The title of this week’s post is an homage to Ivan Illich, about whom Ran Prieur writes, “Ivan Illich was so smart, and wrote so clearly, that I can barely stand to read him — it’s like looking at the sun.” That’s an accurate description of the effect of reading Illich: I find myself having to stop after every few paragraphs because the writing is so dense; unlike a lot of intellectually rich material, though, it is written in language as clear and simple as the thoughts allow. It’s the depth of thinking under the surface that makes it a joy to read. And Illich’s amazing prescience: he diagnoses our situation from his vantage point more than thirty years ago and points towards solutions which seem more apt now than they might have done at that time.

The theme which runs through his work is that of the counterproductivity of social and industrial systems: how any system which addresses some aspect of human need eventually acquires its own internal logic and, if not resisted, begins to work against human interests. Illich investigated this trend in education (Deschooling Society), medicine (Medical Nemesis), transportation (Energy and Equity), and in very general terms in Tools for Conviviality and its sequel, The Right to Useful Unemployment (And its Professional Enemies). It’s a superficially simple concept with very profound consequences for the way I see the world.

At the Kale Force meeting this week, Carol Battaglio was present to talk about her evolving plan to create a therapeutic farm on the 31.6-acre lot she bought from PRSC Limited Partnership (known locally as ‘the joint venture’). I am personally thrilled to see this project happening, as I was deeply involved in the 2006–07 campaign to stop the City of Powell River from excluding this and other parcels of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve. The conversation around the table was a freewheeling one, and we made some solid connections among existing projects and concepts that Carol might use to realize her vision. The most tangible outcome is that Carol found someone to help her clear the land, which is overrun with stumps and brambles. (But sometimes those seemingly small steps forward are really crucial ones.)

We had one of those huddles near the door that are the sign of a satisfying conversation: people know they need to get going, but stall on the way out because the ideas are flowing. Someone suggested that this region is at a tipping point because there are now so many little projects brewing, underground, semi-underground, just starting to connect to each other and create an alternative economy, barely visible now but growing fast. Another person suggested that this alternative culture is on the rise because the prevailing culture really only has one big idea, whereas the ‘new guard’ comes equipped with any number of schemes all along the continuum from crackpot to surefire; so many of them that they are sure to overwhelm the monocultural approach just as weeds of all types will overrun a field of all one crop.

I think there is something in this. The prevailing mindset of our local economic leaders is to focus on a few large big-ticket projects, among them the quixotic rescue of the Catalyst paper mill. At the same time, citizens watch the City take on heavy debt to pull off what are essentially gambles that the global economy will continue to grow, sustaining the consumerist lifestyle that will see people retiring wealthy, traveling, and shopping as far as the eye can see. I sense a growing unease at what this is going to do to people’s tax burden, especially when the other expensive projects are added to the tally.

Meanwhile, there is a mass movement, disorganized and provisional but gathering speed, to opt out of this worldview and instead focus on the essentials: food, shelter, transportation, health in the holistic sense, and more. If the economy continues to destroy jobs and wealth as measured in money, people will inevitably shift their allegiance to those things which are the real foundation of wealth. And here our economic leaders are (so far) of very little use to us. If anything, the social systems we have created during the past century or so are actively inimical to people’s efforts to build a vernacular culture: for a good example, look no further than the insane amount of highly-paid make-work it took to overcome the provincial Meat Inspection Regulation, which proposed to deprive people of their ability to buy locally-produced and -slaughtered meat as they have been doing for thousands of years. This is just one example, although a particularly egregious one, of trends which have become almost universal: the creation of classes of phony professionals to intervene in the simple exchange of goods and services between people, making them onerous and needlessly expensive; or the outright criminalization of these exchanges, making them dangerous (and needlessly expensive).

Which brings us back to Illich. His life’s work was to argue for a convivial culture, one in which people’s right to create their own culture, tools, language, and social systems is paramount. I like to think we are perched on the edge, maybe even sliding down the slope towards the time for Illich’s deeply humanistic vision to be realized. And it won’t happen because suddenly we’re all attending seminars in ‘sustainability’, or being told how to grow our own food by self-appointed experts — if it happens (when it happens) it will be because the elaborate and meaningless barriers to imagination and creativity are unsustainable. People will start to act as though they are no longer there, and an exhausted tradition of phony professionalism and bureaucratic pantomime activity will be revealed as laughable.

The depth and breadth of the creativity bubbling under the surface of every town and region is an unstoppable force compared to the decreasing returns of the business-as-usual projects we’re supposed to look to for future economic development. The culture we build here will be made up out of semi-employment, improvised solutions, the invention of work, civil disobedience in the face of outworn and unenforceable regulations, and mutual aid in place of phony professionalized ‘services’. This collection of (maybe) unappealing characteristics won’t come out on top for any reason other than pure necessity: the failure of our experts and leaders to have any ideas worth pursuing. Better to have useful unemployment than all of the useless economic development schemes in the world.

What can a local food-security cooperative do?

By David Parkinson

It's the time of year when the hidden galaxies of mycelium burst forth in flower and send their seeds out into the world.

It's the time of year when the hidden galaxies of mycelium burst forth in flower and send their seeds out into the world.

Last week I posted some of the reasons why I think we need a food-security cooperative in the region, by which I mean a maximally democratic, open, accountable organization committed to helping its members become self-reliant in food. One of the really powerful reasons for favouring a cooperative corporate structure is that it inherently emphasizes the creation of community and mutual aid. When Herb Barbolet spoke recently at the local campus of Vancouver Island University, the main message I took away was that we needed to build stronger community ties and get more things happening.

Yesterday we saw some of the wonderful cooperation and action in the community of people who support local food: the first ever Celebration of Local Food, which was co-sponsored by Transition Town Powell River and the Powell River Food Security Project. Food producers, processors, retailers, and others were there to offer their respect and gratitude to the many people who make it possible to enjoy local food. It was a really lovely time.

Even though there is a lot happening now, I believe that there is a place in the local economy for a cooperative which will help its members meet common needs that many struggle to meet on their own:

  • access to the equipment and other physical resources they need in order to grow and preserve sufficient food to consider themselves food-secure;
  • the skills, knowledge, and know-how, as well as the self-confidence to get started and keep going;
  • the time or the physical ability to engage in these activities;
  • a community of like-minded and supportive individuals and groups.

Although I expect that the main focus of the cooperative will be in helping people grow their own food, I expect that the cooperative will also be active in providing its members with the tools, skills, and labour needed to ensure a year-round food supply. Canning, preserving, pickling, drying, and other food preservation techniques, as well as root cellaring and food storage, are methods of making the harvest last. We are seeing considerable enthusiasm in the community for these ideas, and I believe that members of a cooperative would be willing to pay for access to tools and technical know-how at fair prices, especially since some of the tools are expensive and not likely to be used frequently by any individual or family.

Here are some of the projects which we could carry out (or push further) under the auspices of a cooperative whose mission was to get more people to be more food-secure. Many of these are ideas that I have heard mentioned more than once. And still they are not happening, usually because no one person wants to sign up for the huge amount of time and effort it would take to get a project up and running on a volunteer basis. And there is no organization whose mandate specifically drives it to start projects like these, to publicize and support them, and to seek ways of funding them. This needs to change!

Year-round crops and food: storage crops, preserves, dried food, etc.

Scenario: Perceiving a need for locally-grown storage crops, the cooperative pools labour and materials needed to plant large amounts of onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, and other crops. The expense of maintaining these crops through the growing season is shared equally among the participating members, who receive shares of the harvest according to the labour or money they put in. (Some portion of the harvest should be contributed to the community.)

Goal(s): To pool labour and expenses

Requirement(s): Land; labour; tools.

Enabling factor(s): Plenty of disused gardens and other land around Powell River; high demand for produce in winter.

Outcome(s): More food is being produced to meet people’s needs year-round.

Materials and labour for construction and maintenance of home gardens

Scenario: A member of the cooperative wants to grow more food in her backyard. But she does not have the expertise or time needed to prepare raised beds, trellises, compost bins, etc. Through membership in the cooperative, she can buy needed materials and resources at fair prices, and can also get some of the work done by worker-members of the cooperative. The member can pay for these goods and services with money, labour, produce, or some combination of these.

Goal(s): To make it easier, less time-consuming, and less expensive to start and maintain a home food-producing garden.

Requirement(s): Workshop and storage space; labour; tools; materials; publicity.

Enabling factor(s): Interest in growing more food locally; local knowledge and expertise.

Outcome(s): More people are able to overcome barriers to growing some of their own food at home; the network of home food growers becomes more organized; surplus food can be donated within the community or sold to raise money for the cooperative’s activities.

Access to seeds, starts, soil, amendments, compost bins, cold frames, etc.

Scenario: A member of the cooperative wants to start composting and using cold frames to extend the growing season, but does not have the time, tools, or know-how to build these at home. Through her membership in the cooperative, she is able to purchase these, or construct them as part of a workshop, and save money. She also has access to seeds and plant starts at a fair cost, grown by other members of the cooperative and distributed within the cooperative at a reduced price.

Goal(s): To provide useful resources for home food production to members at low cost.

Requirement(s): Storage and construction facility; tools; materials; designs; greenhouse space (for plant starts).

Enabling factor(s): Tools; workshops; greenhouses.

Outcome(s): People can produce food more efficiently and economically.

Access to shared tools (e.g., rototiller, cider press, pressure canner)

Scenario: A member of the cooperative needs to press apples from her tree to cider. But she does not want to buy and maintain a cider press. Instead, she uses the cooperatively owned cider press for a fee (which might be paid in cider to be sold to members, sold to raise money for the cooperative, or contributed to the community).

Goal(s): To allow members to borrow (or use in place) tools that they may be unwilling to own.

Requirement(s): Storage facility; maintenance; tracking system

Enabling factor(s): Tools in the community; expertise

Outcome(s): People can produce food more efficiently and economically.

Augment the Fruit Tree Project; preserve annual fruit harvest

Scenario: A member of the cooperative wants to make applesauce and dried fruit, but does not have fruit trees. Through the cooperative, she is able to go and help pick fruit from trees in the community, some of which she keeps, some of which goes to the owner of the trees, and some of which is given to the community (before or after processing). Working in collaboration with other members of the cooperative, using tools belonging to the cooperative (e.g., pressure canners, dehydrators), she preserves the harvest of fruit for her own use and for the use of the cooperative.

Goal(s): Reduce amount of food wasted; reduce bear incidents in the community; increase amount of local fruit available to members of the community; educate about tree care.

Requirement(s): Tools for picking fruit (ladders, baskets, etc.); organizational structure; transportation; processing facilities; tools for processing fruit.

Enabling factor(s): Huge number of untended fruit trees in the region; existing Fruit Tree Project and Bear Aware; ladders; pressure canners; dehydrators; cider presses; Open Air Market and other venues for selling preserved fruit.

Outcome(s): Less fruit is wasted; people are better fed.

Community resource library (books, magazine articles, etc.)

Scenario: A member of the cooperative is interested in researching technical information pertaining to home food production or preservation. She is able to consult free resources available through the cooperative, and get help finding the information she is looking for.

Goal(s): Collect together unused books and other resources pertaining to the activities of the cooperative and make them available to members.

Requirement(s): Books; magazines; CDs; storage space; filing system.

Enabling factor(s): Many books and magazines in the community.

Outcome(s): People have easier access to information on growing and preserving food.

Community composting

Scenario: Members of the cooperative compost their own kitchen scraps (and other scavenged materials from the community) in a common area, in order to supply themselves and other members of the cooperative with compost to use in growing food. The cooperative can also sell some of this compost to fund its activities.

Goal(s): To keep organic materials out of the waste stream; to produce compost for food production.

Requirement(s): Common storage facility; means of transportation; composting bins.

Enabling factor(s): Existing interest in the community for reduced waste and more compost; expertise.

Outcome(s): People have access to high-quality compost for use in improving soil quality.

Community seed-bank

Scenario: Members of the cooperative work together to plan and grow seed-saving gardens, in order to augment the supply of seed produced locally, contribute to Seedy Saturday, and possibly provide a source of revenue to the cooperative.

Goal(s): Increased food sovereignty through control of local seed supply; strengthen Seedy Saturday; educate about seed-saving.

Requirement(s): Storage facility; filing system; information.

Enabling factor(s): Existing Seedy Saturday organizers and participants; other seed-saving efforts in BC and elsewhere; many local growers whose gardens could be used to raise plants for seed.

Outcome(s): People are more aware of the importance of saving seed locally and know how to do so. This region has a seed-bank to reply on in case of emergency.

Chicken- and rabbit-raising

Scenario: A member of the cooperative is interested in raising chickens for eggs, manure, and insect control, but does not know how to house them or care for them. Through the cooperative, she is able to learn how to build a chicken house, and how to care for her chickens.

Goal(s): Provide small-scale growers with access to manure; eggs; meat; pest control.

Requirement(s): Tools; expertise; materials; local network of chicken-breeders; cooperation from local governments; education.

Enabling factor(s): Existing chicken farmers; interest in poultry and other small livestock in the city; need for nitrogenous fertilizers.

Outcome(s): More people are raising small livestock; more manure fertilizers available locally.

Workshops, work parties, and social opportunities

Scenario: A member of the cooperative is interested in learning how to start a new garden bed. The cooperative plans a work party at someone’s home to convert some backyard space into a food-producing garden, and members are invited to contribute labour in return for credit to be applied to some other good or service provided by the cooperative.

Goal(s): Spread skills and knowledge throughout the community; involve members of the cooperative in the cooperative’s activities; build community.

Requirement(s): Organization.

Enabling factor(s): Existing interest in workshops and other opportunities to share expertise.

Outcome(s): More members of the community have more expertise related to growing and preserving food.

What is your favourite idea?

Why we need a food-security cooperative

By David Parkinson

A late huckleberry clings on into the autumn

A late huckleberry clings on into the autumn

In a previous post I wrote about the need to start talking and thinking about how we might address some of our challenges through collective action. Lately, the idea of starting up cooperatives seems to be cropping up more and more frequently, one of its manifestations being the new Working Group on Cooperatives under the auspices of the BC Food Systems Network. The purpose of this working group is to act as a provincial clearinghouse for groups looking at the cooperative corporate structure as a way to work on food security in the community. And there is a conversation going on locally within the Transition Town Powell River (TTPR) group about the role that cooperatives might play in taking action on the challenges posed by resource depletion, climate chaos, and economic downturn.

Here is something I wrote about my vision for a food-security cooperative in a recent email thread among some of the members of TTPR:

I can see a local cooperative which exists to identify potential sources of common wealth (gleaning, foraging, growing, fishing, hunting) and create a supply chain between provider and consumer which pays the former with dignity and rewards the latter with delicious food. I like the idea of creating a sort of free-floating laboratory of different projects: so if one person wants to gather fruit and make wine, and another person wants to buy bulk ingredients and make fresh pasta, and another person wants to create a ‘cow-op’, then all they need to do is present their idea to the members of the cooperative and see who wants a piece of the action. The co-op exists to make sure that everyone plays fair, money is tracked responsibly, decisions are made in a correct way, and other policies are followed (e.g., I strongly believe in paying a share into the community via charities, soup kitchens, food bank, etc.).

Just over a year ago, when I was engaged in a previous series of conversations about starting up a local food cooperative, I put some of my thoughts down on paper. I’m hauling this paper out now since the signs are propitious that we can start a conversation about this. There is not much in it that I would change after a year of letting it sit and ferment; but I’m sure that we can think of ideas that should be in here. I intend to use next Sunday’s Celebration of Local Food event, co-sponsored by Transition Town Powell River and the Powell River Food Security Project, as an opportunity to advance the conversation about cooperatives a little bit.

This week’s post is more about the reasons for favouring cooperative solutions to the challenge of building a resilient regional food economy. Next week’s will address some of the projects that such a cooperative (or network of cooperatives) could tackle. I take for granted that there are good reasons for wanting to develop a regional food economy and start out by trying to figure out what some  of the pieces of that economic system might be. The central idea of a cooperative is that it makes the best possible use of limited resources, by finding ways of spreading them around — as opposed to the corporate model which aims to take abundant resources and make them artificially scarce so that their cash value is as artifically high as possible.

The shift to a more local food economy will take place on different scales: individual, family/household, group/neighbourhood, municipality, and region.

Individual

Individuals can participate in the local food economy by contributing skills, labour, or tools to the common effort. We will need more people with more skills contributing more labour, making use of common tools, and creating economic activity.

Family/household

At this scale, participation in the local food economy means providing for household food security: home gardens and food preservation and storage, in particular, are activities ideally suited for families and small groups.

Group/neighbourhood

At the scale of the larger group (e.g., church groups, service clubs) or neighbourhood, it becomes feasible to set up community efforts; e.g., community gardens, shared greenhouses, work parties, etc.

Municipality

The government of the City of Powell River has the power to affect the implementation of a local food economy, by imposing or relaxing regulations that affect people’s ability to produce and distribute food; e.g., regulations controlling animals in the city, growing and selling produce, composting, etc. The City is also a potentially valuable partner in funding food security initiatives which would benefit the whole City, such as community gardens, community and commercial kitchens, and so on.

Region

At the regional level, it makes sense to think about how to implement procedures for producing, storing, and distributing food that can serve the needs of the entire region, and possibly intersect with regional emergency preparedness, Area Agricultural Plans (AAPs), and other policies and processes that impact the region as a whole.

A cooperative or network of cooperatives should be able to organize efforts at whatever scale is appropriate. Since it is an enterprise with the mandate to serve the whole community equally and does not generate profit for a limited number of shareholders, a cooperative should be relatively immune from conflicts of interest or favouritism. Ideally, it can be everyone’s chosen vehicle for accomplishing the goal of building a local food economy.

This shift will require a high degree of cooperation, communication, and mobilization of shared resources (skills, labour, and tools).

We do not have enough of these resources available locally, and what we do have is not distributed equally throughout the community.

But we do have considerable resources available in the community: skilled and knowledgeable people, many of them elders; young people able and willing to work on building a local food economy; tools and resources such as land, rototillers, and greenhouses.

In order to build on what we have now, and start building more for the future, we need an organization to network in the community and provide stability and guidance towards a local food economy.

We cannot rely solely on government-funded or corporate solutions to make the shift quickly and broadly enough.

There are many community initiatives currently working on various aspects of a local food economy: the Farmers’ Institute, the Agricultural Association, the Food Security Project, the Fruit Tree Project, Good Food Box, Food Bank, 50-mile eat-local challenge, etc.

Many of these organizations and initiatives exist on scant and unreliable funding. Getting the work done depends on and commitment by voluntary associations and volunteer labour. It is difficult to assure continuity when organizations and the individuals within them are spread thin and constantly in search of funding.

For–profit corporations exist to provide a return on a capital investment. There is a place in the local food economy for many privately controlled businesses to prosper and provide valuable goods, services, and employment. But there is also a place for organizations which exist to provide a return to the entire community, in the form of food security and a stronger sense of community and common cause.

The ideal solution is to create an organization which democratically represents the interests of the entire community, is open to participation by anyone who wishes to contribute time or energy, and (crucially) is engaged in developing and sustaining itself from new economic activity within the community, rather than relying on funding from outside the community.

The community-building function of a cooperative is an essential part of our plan. People are isolated, powerless, and dependent on a globalized food industry that is out of their control. We aim to give people the tools they need to take control over their own food security and to exercise genuine democratic involvement in their community.

A cooperative or network of cooperatives is best able to marshal the resources and deploy them at the appropriate scales in order to develop a resilient local food economy.

Activities depend on three essential resources: skills, labour, and tools:

Skills are things that people know or know how to do.

Labour is the time and physical effort that people put into doing things.

Tools are the physical resources that people use in order to do things.

Skills

Collecting, organizing, and distributing information is going to be enormously important. For-profit enterprises typically make no explicit commitment to the free sharing of information; in fact, they often benefit from hoarding information. Our cooperative will make an explicit commitment to make information freely available to those who benefit from it.

The most effective way to transfer skills is to give people opportunities to work together. The cooperative should organize work parties and workshops that members can attend in order to acquire skills and knowledge by doing, rather than in a more academic setting.

Older people in the community are priceless resources. Many of them grew up in a time when it was common for families to grow and preserve some of their own food, and they are eager to pass these skills on to younger people.

A local resource library is one good way to give people access to information. A cooperative can easily take donations of books, old magazines, and other sources of information on any aspects of a local food economy. These resources can be housed somewhere, catalogued, and made available to members of the cooperative for free or for a nominal fee.

Labour

There is a huge amount of work involved in producing food and making it available to the community. We’ll need highly trained farmers able to use a variety of methods and work on different scales of production. We’ll need experts in preserving food for later use, whether this means freezing, drying, canning, pickling, or other methods. And we’ll need more people who know how to prepare delicious healthy meals from locally-produced ingredients. Much of the knowledge is out there in the community; we need to harness that knowledge and those skills and start finding ways of making them part of the local economy.

Building up areas of the local food economy that can support year-round, well-paid jobs is going to take some time and a good deal of experimentation and persistence. But as many people acknowledge, we must begin somewhere and constantly seek new opportunities for creating employment.

One promising area for job-creation is in maintenance of people’s food-producing gardens. It is possible that more people would be willing to grow food in their backyards if they were able to have the garden maintained when they are away on vacation.

The proven viability elsewhere of the SPIN Farming model (e.g., Victoria, Parksville/Qualicum, Vancouver, etc.) suggests that the cooperative might be able to provide members with jobs and services by using people’s properties for food production.

Tools

Tools comprise everything from books, hand tools, seeds, and compost bins, all the way up to large expensive resources such as rototillers, walk-in fridges, apple presses, and greenhouses. It is uneconomical and wasteful to expect people to have their own rototillers when a commonly owned one will suffice. Tools owned by the community, used for the benefit of the community, will allow us to develop a local food economy as efficiently as possible. And many of these tools are lying around waiting to be picked up, repaired, and made available.

There is no organization in the region which aims to provide people with greater access to the tools needed to help them become more self-reliant in food production. All that is needed is a storage space and a system that allows people to use these shared tools when they need to. A not-for-profit cooperative could also allow people to make tax-deductible donations of tools and other infrastructure. We believe that people would be happy to make donations for the benefit of the community.

We need to salvage as much as we can. It will almost always be cheaper to overhaul existing resources than to purchase or construct new ones. The region is full of abandoned vegetable gardens, greenhouses, tools, and other valuable resources. In the spirit of doing-it-yourself and creating minimal waste, we need to encourage as much salvage and re-use as possible.

Any thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.

Next time: some of the things we might want a local food-security cooperative to accomplish.

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

An amazing public meeting

By Tom Read

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

For years, our region has tried to avoid implementing a poorly conceived, oppressive piece of environmental legislation spewed forth from Victoria called the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). I’ve written about it in this space before, pondering Texada Island’s fate. Alas, we can dodge this bullet no longer, because the Powell River Regional District, which includes Texada, is finally moving to comply with the RAR. This means public meetings.

The first Texada meeting happened this week. Islanders were invited to a “roadshow” featuring three regional district directors, one staff planner and one consultant. So on a cold but dry Tuesday evening, off we drove to the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, stopping first in Van Anda to pick up an elderly friend who doesn’t drive anymore. Our friend, Phyllis, lives by the ocean and has drainage ditches on either side of her property. She was quite worried about the RAR’s potential impact, and she wanted to attend the meeting to ask questions and express her opinion.

About 25 islanders showed up, a decent-sized group. I had already seen the consultant’s presentation (posted online here), so I knew that he wanted to saddle us with development permits, or “DPs” as the jargon goes. At this point I’d like to remind the reader that our Regional District is one of the very few in BC that deliberately employs no building inspectors or bylaw enforcement officers. We enjoy a greater degree of freedom – and a greater degree of personal responsibility — than other places as a result of this policy. Texada’s Official Community Plan Vision Statement starts with the words, “The Texada Island community is committed to maintaining a spacious, independent and sustainable rural lifestyle with minimum regulations.” And we mean it, too.

So I was feeling a bit resentful at this meeting because our tax dollars were being used to hire a consultant who claimed we had to adopt one of the most expensive, intrusive and therefore oppressive of urban-style land use regulations, the dreaded “DP.” This new regulatory push arrived in the name of protecting the island’s fish and to help our Regional District avoid potential lawsuits (not necessarily in that order).

The consultant lives in the city of Courtenay and served as a regional district planner on Vancouver Island for many years. He spoke in jargon. He gave off an air of “I’m an experienced professional planner and I know what’s best for you.” He kept referring to places on Vancouver Island, (population 700,000) as examples that Texada Island (population 1,107) should emulate. He claimed, over and over, that we had to adopt DPs as the only effective way to protect Texada’s fish. He insisted that only DPs could offer significant protection from legal liability to our Regional District, leaving the vague but menacing threat of potential lawsuits in the air. Most of all he tried to convey his biased viewpoint as having a sense of inevitability, which reminded me of the “resistance is futile” mantra of cyborg conquerors in a Star Trek episode.

Mr. Consultant obviously underestimated Texadans. We politely pointed out to him that nobody protects the fish on this island the way we do. We explained that local residents possessed more common sense than to pay $2,500 or more to a consulting biologist just to determine whether a particular body of water near our property contained fish, as would be required using the DP approach. Mr. Consultant appeared surprised to learn, from research done by yours truly, that a legal opinion on the RAR, paid for by the Union of BC Municipalities, showed that the risk of legal liability for Regional Districts is low.

A glimmer that something good might happen came when the audience told Mr. Consultant that we wanted to hear details about other options for complying with the RAR. The least readable of his presentation slides showed a text-packed chart comparing five different approaches; he had only discussed two in any detail: DPs and the even more oppressive Zoning option. What about the others, we asked? So, with some reluctance, Mr. Consultant gradually explained the less regulatory ways to comply with the RAR, all the while peppered with questions from what had become a very animated audience.

The attending Regional District directors caught the mood, too, as they heard Mr. Consultant concede that there are very real, much less costly and less egregious options spelled out right in the RAR legislation. To cap things off, Texada’s area Director, Dave Murphy, stood at the end of the meeting and proclaimed himself firmly in favour of freedom — there will be no RAR-inspired DPs on our island if he can help it.

As we were leaving the hall I heard someone call out, in a triumphant voice, “who says public meetings are unproductive?” And as we drove Phyllis back to Van Anda, she sounded much relieved, too.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” goes the saying; this was a night for Texada to shine as a community.


Post facto

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