Archive for the 'food security' Category

Why don’t we have a local food incubator?

By David Parkinson

Early dawn of a bright and warm November day

The more I think about building a local food economy, the more I believe that the key to success is creating an economy that sustains growers and producers, processors, and consumers all year round. We focus so much of our energy and attention on the growing aspect of the food system, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we can see at this time of year that the abundance of the summertime is waning fast. Scour the local farmgates and the Winter Farmers’ Market and you’ll see some carrots, potatoes, late greens, winter squash… and not much more than that.

And for as long as I’ve been working in the local food-security scene I’ve been hearing the same ideas popping up again and again: common root cellars and other storage facilities, and community commercial kitchens for processing and preserving the harvest while fresh. Many people still do a good deal of this essential work, but many no longer do. And more (including myself) never learned how.

This summer, Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative organized a tomato-canning bash in the kitchen of a local church. About a dozen people got together to learn how to can tomatoes and everyone walked away with a few pints of canned tomatoes. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: if we’re seriously contemplating an extremely local food economy, we’re going to need to boost production and we’re really going to need to learn how to store food efficiently, inexpensively, and safely.

Food-growing is becoming highly visible and a recognizable and important part of our embryonic local food scene. And if you can grow food, you can preserve it; in fact, preserving food strikes me as the easy part (although that might just be because I’ve never had to do it for extended periods). I don’t think my talents really lie in the garden, and so I’m increasingly drawn to food preservation as a slightly neglected and uncelebrated aspect of food security.

This coming summer, I want to organize many more community-kitchen get-togethers along the lines of the tomato-canning bask in September. The model is simple enough: we buy a good amount of whatever is in season in a given week, find the best way to preserve it, get a bunch of people together, split the costs (supplies, facility rental, etc.), add something on top for the organizer and something for the community,  and work together to stock our pantries for the winter.

One tantalizing way to organize a project like this is to run it along the lines of Community-Supported Agriculture: people sign up at the beginning of the preserving season, pay some amount in advance to help the organizer(s) buy materials and ingredients, and then each week they receive a supply of something for their pantry. This could be a great way to strengthen demand for local food — by extending the time of the year during which we can continue to eat local food. It’s the way people used to eat, and it seems poised to make a comeback.

Eventually this sort of collective activity can generate the demand for a proper community-owned and -managed processing facility, along the lines of the ones discussed in this article that came to me this week and got me thinking again about food preservation. Somehow we need to centralize at least some of the work that goes on in isolation, in the interests of getting more people involved, lowering costs, and minimizing the barriers to participation such as knowledge of health and safety regulations.

So do we spend our time hunting for grants to help start a project like this? Or start small and build our way up? I don’t know the right answer, but I hope to do some on-the-ground investigating and learning when the growing season returns. We need year-round local food.

Lower your sights, yeah, but raise your aim

By David Parkinson

A late rose, blossoming despite the cold weather.

Last night I attended Murray Dobbin‘s lecture at Vancouver Island University here in Powell River. The title of Murray’s talk was “Globalization, Local Food, and Powell River”, and most of it was about globalization: where it came from, what its intended effects were, and what it has accomplished (if that’s the right term) since the mid-70s when the whole idea began to take shape among western elites.

Since Murray has spent a good part of his career as a journalist and activist examining globalization, there was a lot of information packed into his presentation, and I won’t try to do it justice here. But one thing he said struck me very strongly: referring to the neoliberal project of stripping away social programs and redirecting government revenues away from the general population and towards corporations and their wealthy owner class, Murray pointed to polling research that shows how resilient Canadians’ values have remained throughout this retrograde thirty-five-year project. Our support for social democratic programs like unemployment insurance, Medicare, and government-guaranteed old-age pensions has remained high during the years in which these programs have been under attack by a series of governments both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’; at the same time, what has changed is our sense of whether or not the government can achieve these things.

The takeaway is that it is far easier to diminish or destroy people’s sense of the possible than their sense of the desirable. We cling fiercely to our vision of the world we want to live in, not surrendering our hopes even when everything everywhere tells us that it is unreasonable and impossible.

No wonder, then, that people put into such situations have typically fled to religion, since it offers a way of reconciling our vision of the world as it could be with the shortcomings of the world as it is — or as it is made to be by malevolent social forces. With the disenchanting of the world and increasing social isolation, the refuge of choice for the western world has been the consumerist lifestyle, which only ends up strengthening the forces deforming the world and making it intolerable: a classic positive feedback loop which is now tighter than ever.

But underneath it all — even among a population that seems disaffected, alienated, tuned-out — the desire for community, solidarity, and shared purpose persists, submerged but not eradicated. The French Situationists had an evocative phrase to express this powerful urge for liberty and beauty in everyday life: Sous les pavés la plage (“Beneath the paving stones, the beach”). We have been given a paved world — worse, we have been made complicit in paving the world — but nothing can destroy our sense of a world lurking just below the harsh man-made surface. For the moment, we don’t know how to dig for it, but we know it’s there, waiting…

How can we narrow the gap between our aspirations and what we are told is possible? Many of us feel trapped in a world of such complexity that we can never see a way to make our mark, to connect and create something with others, and to change the things that threaten the integrity of our lives as individuals and as members of a community. Everything is all so huge, interconnected, and obscured with jargon and specialized knowledge that we’re lucky if we can carve out any small section and make sense of it. Another good reason for retreating from engagement into an unsatisfying but controllable mini-world of superficial pleasures.

Those of us lucky to be living in a country like Canada have been raised on the belief, drummed into us from an early age, that we all have what it takes to make a mark on the world. Our job was to find our special gift, apply it, work hard, and persist; then with some luck our efforts would be rewarded. It feels now as though this sense of future possibility is draining away, and quickly: we worry that the generation of young people now coming up will fall short of their parents in health, wealth, longevity, satisfaction, and security. Unless we pull off some kind of societal reboot, we are at or past the cusp of the curve of social progress and starting the downward slide. Imagine how it must feel to be a young person who realizes this: our secular culture has rarely had to contend with the idea of the end of progress, but decline may become the backdrop of all our planning and action from this point forward — unless we manage to tackle the multiple serious challenges ahead of us. The steps our governments and large social institutions are taking in this direction so far are way too little, way too late, and it’s hard not to feel that we’re on our own for now.

Stoneleigh, one of the commentators at the rambling collage of symptoms known as The Automatic Earth, has this to say in a recent post about the decline of trust in our culture:

Over time institutions become sclerotic, unresponsive, self-serving and hostage to vested interests, at which point they cannot be reformed, as the reform would have to come from those entrenched individuals who have benefited most from the status quo. Institutions become demonstrably less effective, while consuming more and more of society’s resources. Corruption, abuses of power, lack of accountability and the loss of the rule of law become increasingly evident, exactly as we have seen with unauthorized wire-tapping, extra-ordinary rendition and many other actions undermining the open society. Once this happens, trust is living on borrowed time. That is very clearly the case in many developed societies today.

I can’t put it better than that. A more conservative mindset will look at the same set of facts that Stoneleigh is looking at and see some bugs in the code, minor hiccups, a periodic readjustment, but nothing on the scale of a social realignment. Nothing we can’t get out of by doing more of the same, only slightly different. Only time will show which outlook is the wiser: the one which says that many of our systems are reaching the breaking point; or the one which says to hang on, hunker down, and weather the storm, because we’ll soon be back to normal.

One thing is certain, as far as I’m concerned: the combination of a generalized decline in trust with a repressed but uneradicated desire for genuine social connection and a meaningful and decent culture is going to produce some real turbulence. (And this might be as much productive and positive as it will be negative.)

Since the beginning of the neoliberal era, we have been under orders to sit tight and wait for the dividends trickling down from the project of cutting social spending and rewarding the class of owners. These dividends never did show up for the majority; and as time goes on, more and more people see that they were swindled (if they don’t always see by whom). Worse, they fear that the next generations coming up are going to have it worse than they will. Trust is dying, and we don’t know what will take its place.

Stoneleigh continues:

Working within the trust horizon is important, as it means individual small-scale initiatives can benefit from the same kind of social support at a local level that larger-scale ones once did at a societal level, when trust was more broadly inclusive. Local currencies work for exactly this reason. While the task will still be difficult, it has a chance of being achievable, especially where the necessary relationships of trust have been established before hard times set in. It is very much more difficult to build such relationships after the fact, but relationships built beforehand may actually strengthen when put to the test.

Trying to maintain a positive and constructive focus at the local level, where trust has a chance to survive, and perhaps even thrive in hard times, and to avoid being drawn into a blame-game, will be an uphill battle. It is nevertheless something we need to do as a society, if we are to have a chance to preserve as much as possible of who we are through what is coming.

I think that Stoneleigh is dead-on here. We need to set our sights on simpler things, to draw in the radius of our world and build trust within arm’s reach as it evaporates at higher levels. People who lose faith in the social contract (because our supposed leaders have torn it up), but whose belief in a decent society remains undiminished, will be casting about for reasons to re-engage and find meaning and connection. We see the early shoots of this new meaning in the many small amateur efforts around us, many of which revolve around our food sources.

The outline of the next few years is vague. There is a dim sense that things are breaking down; maybe not completely, but to an extent that makes it hard to know how to plan, what to expect. Uncertainty can lead to fear, but it can also be liberating. When the social systems we thought were unavoidable turn out to be flimsy and short-lived after all, we are freed to experiment with new ways of configuring our own lives and of organizing our social relations. Someday we may look back on the present moment and trace the lineages of the new structures that emerged — small, hesitant, and hidden at first — from the old ones deliberately and maliciously pulled apart by those we thought were looking out for us.

The Situationists had another slogan which is relevant here: Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible! (“Be realistic, demand the impossible!”). This is good advice as we begin to learn that the so-called impossible might be possible after all — possible and desirable to us even though undesirable to those who no longer deserve our trust.

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A HOUSEKEEPING NOTE

I’ve decided to change my regular weekly posting day to Tuesday. Mondays belong to James Howard Kunstler; and Mondays are often holidays when it’s harder to get a post together. As always, I welcome a co-conspirator here, so if you relish the opportunity to blog about matters of interest to our little corner of the world, please get in touch with me.

Ymir? Why not!

By David Parkinson

Beautiful downtown Ymir, BC, on a misty morning

I’m back in Powell River, publishing a day late after a week traveling to the Kootenays for the annual Gathering of the BC Food Systems Network. This is now the third time I’ve attended this event, this year thanks to the generosity of the good people at the now-defunct BC Healthy Living Alliance, which has wrapped up after a couple years of seeding all kinds of food-security projects around BC, including the ‘Garden to Table’ workshop series and the Sliammon Community Garden here in our region.

I followed a wandering route to Ymir (rhymes with ‘rhymer’), via Vancouver and then Kamloops where I visited my ninety-year-old aunt, who is amazingly still living alone in the house she has lived in since 1957. We agreed that we both hope that I got some of that good genetic background, although without the glaucoma and macular degeneration.

I caught a ride with a couple of colleagues from 100 Mile House and we spent the day driving from Kamloops to Ymir, via Kelowna, Grand Forks, Castelgar, and Nelson. Since I don’t have a car and rarely get around to see the province, this was all new to me: the amazing range of climates and topographies between our rainy coastal forest and the misty-sided mountains and river valleys of the Kootenays. What a huge and beautiful province this is.

Eventually we rolled into tiny Ymir at about 9:00 PM and settled into the absolutely amazing Hotel Ymir, decorated to the hilt with art and sculptures from all around the world. An uncanny and bizarre little place watched over by a taciturn German and a voluble Québecois. Already other participants were gathering in the bar, so we caught up with old friends and made new ones over locally-brewed beer.

The next day we got going with a presentation on the theme of the Gathering, which was water this year. Kindy Gosal from the Columbia Basin Trust walked us through some of the basics about water, shortages, climate change, and patterns of use. And then Marilyn James, spokesperson for the Sinixt people, followed up with a blistering presentation on the terrible history of the Sinixt people, declared extinct by the Canadian government in 1956 and denied rights to their traditional lands and waters to this day.

I can’t begin to do justice to Marilyn James’ very powerful talk. But she said something that was very resonant: when we have exhausted all avenues for change through reform and dialogue, when we have knocked on all the doors and had no proper reply, then what we must do is go home, find the source of our water, and protect it.

This resonates with me because it cuts through a lot of the crap we hear and tell ourselves; namely, the ridiculous notion that we can always take on the powerful systems causing destruction and damage and win. This is not to swing to the other pole and give in to despair, but I feel that a huge reason for alienation and isolation is that people have been fed this story about taking on the big guys and winning; and if you don’t win then you’re nowhere. No wonder it’s so hard to get more people involved with the big and terrifying campaigns to right the wrongs of the world: the stakes are so high, and there is nothing out there but a remote and almost unimaginable victory — or a frankly more believable and foreseeable defeat.

How are we supposed to find more allies for all of the struggles in all of the places over all of the things which sustain life and which are under threat from so many directions? What do we promise people when they take on the defense of some part of their world which they are not willing to surrender to an oil pipeline; or a dam; or a powerline; or a new regulation? What will it mean to win in these struggles? Or to lose? And if we lose, what then?

I expect that all committed people ask themselves these questions, whether explicitly or not. Everyone who defends something outside themselves — especially when doing so pits them against the ruling mindset of constant and total war on our natural world (only we call it ‘resource extraction’ or ‘economic development’) — must face the possibility of defeat. In fact, the ability to live with defeat and continue fighting is a quality that we all admire, judging from how often it crops up in the stories we tell ourselves and have done for thousands of years. In these fictional accounts, the hero usually triumphs over long odds; as Oscar Wilde would say, “That is what Fiction means.” Life operates by a different playbook, however.

The reason why I found Marilyn James’ injunction to defend our sources of water so refreshing is that it boiled it all down to something so simple that anyone could understand it. Our struggles are usually so complex and depend so much on specialized knowledge that it’s unfair to expect more than a small percentage of people to comprehend them. And who can care about what they do not understand? The power of the food-security movement and the related and more politically engaged movement for food sovereignty is that they are, at bottom, nothing more than the actions of people beginning to find the sources of their food and defend them. Water is so fundamental to all life, so infinitely precious and irreplaceable, that there is a natural connection between the BC Food Systems Network and all of the local, regional, provincial, national, and international struggles to preserve our waterways from relentless privatization and despoliation by forces who do not care about our access to the basis of all life. After all, if our streams, rivers, and lakes are ruined, they can always move on. As the Canadian government did with the Sinixt people, they can declare us extinct so as not to have to recognize our claims, our existence, or our humanity.

I know that speaking in this vein makes some people uncomfortable. (To which I could reply: “Good thing you weren’t there for Marilyn James’ talk, ’cause that would really have sent you over the edge!”) We all have times when we start to feel that the darkness is getting to be too much and we need to back away. And the edge of the comfort zone is always shifting for us; sometimes we’re too frail and exposed to take much more of what William S. Burroughs called the naked lunch: “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” But the inability to take in the whole picture or the inability to talk about it with one’s friends and allies is one of the greatest roadblocks to progress ahead of us. We’re all predisposed to remain stuck in infantile stories about creating a local revolution through opting out, going off-grid, having the grooviest parties, clicking on the right set of internet petitions, or what have you. When what we should do is go home, find the source of our water, and protect it.

And this brings me around to why I love the annual Gathering of the BC Food Systems Network: it brings together some of the hardest-working and most inspiring people I’ve ever met, who are engaged in tough work, often unrecognized (and always underpaid), able to contemplate the possibility of failure but unable to stop pushing forward even then. I am honoured to get to meet and know some of these heroic and hilarious people who can bring lightness and positive change out of what can be a very dark and difficult struggle. The Gathering culminated on Saturday evening with a beautiful feast of food from around the province followed by a dance. There were locals wandering in and out and dogs and kids running around on the dance floor, which was painted in the form of a traditional labyrinth. A wonderful symbol of traveling to the centre, following the lines at times and jumping over them at others; a precious noisy chaos and celebration of food and friendship and shared struggles.

Next year I intend to find a way to get more people from around here to the Gathering. There is talk that it will be held in July in or near 100 Mile House, July being a time of year when it’s easier to get farmers off the fields for a weekend. We need more locals who are connecting to the other folks around the province and getting inspired by the stories and projects that people bring with them to the Gathering. It really is one of the most wonderful feasts and festivals I can imagine. I hope some of you reading this will make the journey next year.

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A HOUSEKEEPING NOTE

I’d like to sincerely thank my collaborator Tom Read for his service above and beyond the call of duty to this blog. As I have told Tom, I don’t know if I would have had the discipline to stick to a weekly publishing schedule without his good example. Without him blogging weekly, I hope that I will continue to keep to a regular schedule. If anyone out there relishes the opportunity to co-blog about matters of interest to our little corner of the world, please get in touch with me.

And… we’re off!

By David Parkinson

A springtime harvest of delicious and beautiful purple broccoli

There seems to be three ways for a nation to acquire wealth:  the first is by war…this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture, the only honest way.
(Benjamin Franklin)

Last Tuesday evening the newly-formed Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative held its first public information meeting at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. The purpose of the evening was to share information about how we got to where we are, what we intend to do, and how our members can fit into all that.

One thing I realized as I assembled notes for my presentation was how much progress six novices managed to make in five months. Our first meeting to talk about forming a cooperative was back on November 27, 2009; so the public meeting last week was our five-month anniversary. In that short time, armed with little more than determination and persistence, this initiating team accomplished the following:

  • learned how to incorporate as a cooperative;
  • specifically, learned how to incorporate as a not-for-profit — or community service — cooperative;
  • learned how to amend the standard rules in order to create the governance structure we wanted to see;
  • wrote a vision statement (“A thriving community with a strong and reliable local food network”);
  • started drafting a statement of values and principles for directing our operations;
  • bought a domain, created a basic website, and set up email accounts;
  • created a logo;
  • started recruiting members;
  • began work on one major project, the Fruit Tree Project, and have started to line up other potential projects for this year or next.

I’m sure there is more, but these are some of the highlights.

But why, you ask? Why create yet another organization? What sets this one apart?

I’m still trying to figure out my best answer to questions like these. But the one thing about cooperatives that most interests me and the other members of the initiating team, who are now the board of first directors, is that they are highly member-driven organizations. A cooperative without members is not a cooperative, and cooperatives come into existence in order to supply its members with goods or services which they might otherwise struggle to supply for themselves.

In this case, the main gaps we aim to fill are shared skills, knowledge, and resources. Increasingly, people seem to be getting the message about the importance of food production to the local economy and to a broader picture of sustainability and resilience. Although it’s hard to gauge, there is uncertainty out there about the future and about our ability to keep the food supply running as it has been doing for the past few decades. Interest in local food continues to increase.

But once people start to question the global industrialized food system, how are they supposed to change the way they shop, prepare food, and eat? Some of us have what it takes to start tearing up the lawn to make room for purple broccoli and so on; but many people will feel that they don’t know enough about growing food, or they haven’t spent any time doing it and so it would fail. Or they haven’t got the time, or the tools, or a friendly neighbour they can work with or bounce ideas off. And so the good intentions, as they so often do, fall away and never manifest themselves as positive action.

What people need is a proper community of fellow food-producers (and -processors, and -preservers, and -preparers, and…) with whom they can share plans, garden space, seeds, tools, time, labour, laughter, and everything else that helps us all participate in a “strong and reliable local food network”.

This is where the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative comes in. We chose the word “Provisioners” deliberately: a provisioner is traditionally someone who supplies provisions, meaning food and drink, usually to an army or other large group of people. And of course provision also means forethought or foresight: to make provision for something means to take it into account in one’s plans. Provisions are preparations in advance of some foreseeable event or situation. We wanted to play on this cluster of related meanings — to suggest that each one of us has what it takes to make provisions — to indicate that we can all become provisioners and escape the narrow confines of being either a passive consumer or an all-powerful producer. Just regular folks who know where their food comes from, how it got there, and where it’s going. United into a community of provisioners supporting and strengthening each other.

In this sense, many people up until about World War II were provisioners: they had some idea what it takes to produce, store, preserve, and prepare food for themselves and their families. Most of this work was considered women’s work, but it was respected as vital to the prosperity of the family and the community. We need to get these skills back into regular circulation, but we need to help people ease back into them. Many people are utterly daunted by the idea of tearing up lawn to create garden; or canning large amounts of food and storing it against lean times; or making sauerkraut; or foraging for wild foods; or building and using a root cellar; and on and on it goes.

So the only way out of this that we can see is to create a community of people working together to save money, time, and effort as they increase the amount of food being produced, preserved, stored, and prepared in the region. We intend to work with our members to design and implement projects which will attract people who want to secure their household food supply, but need the impetus of working with others, acquiring skills through doing, gaining knowledge through talking and listening, sharing tools and equipment that they cannot afford to buy for themselves. The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative was set up to be the framework within which we can make that happen.

Some people out there are the fearless leaders and trailblazers who don’t let any obstacles slow them down. But more are cautious and need support and encouragement. If we’re going to create a grassroots revival of traditional food skills, we’ll need to create new institutions to bring back those skills. This is not something which can happen through the existing consumer model. We cannot shop our way out of our passivity. It’s time to start creating shared projects and community institutions that bring people together. Ones which are open, honest, and fair, and increase people’s sense of a hopeful convivial future.

If this appeals to you, please consider becoming a member and helping us figure out how we can get more people involved in the local food network. Our first general meeting will be on Wednesday June 23, 2010, at 7:00 PM at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. In order to participate in this general meeting, you will need to become a member before May 24, 2010. For more information, drop us a line. We need you!

There’s no place like home

By Tom Read

We came home to a plum-blossom surprise -- this young tree given to us by a neighbor a few years ago has never blossomed before now. Bees and other pollinators abound hereabouts, so we’re hoping for plums this summer.

Our 3,500-mile road trip from Texada Island to southern California and back is over at last. Our little Toyota Matrix burned about 110 gallons of gasoline during the 19-day sojourn, but this extravagance (for us) allowed us a rare and thoroughly enjoyable visit with family and friends ranging from Victoria, BC, all the way south to San Diego. Our previous road visit to California took place in 2007, involved travelling by pick-up truck and burned a lot more gas. Depending on the global price of oil a few years hence, maybe next time we’ll go by bus and train.

It was a refreshing, though tiring, trip. Being away from our island gave us a chance to see our lives here from a different perspective. For example, I’ve long been interested in the agricultural potential of Texada, which stands in sharp contrast to the huge agribusiness centres along Interstate 5 in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Any casual traveler along that route sees the vast monocultures of fruits, nuts, vegetables and grasses. My eye also caught the occasional grouping of bee hives, some looking normal but in several cases carelessly piled in a heap — dead.

What happened to the bees? Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that I saw, in nearly every field, at least one grouping of translucent liquid-filled plastic tanks boasting chemical company logos. Bees and toxic chemicals didn’t evolve together, so is it any wonder the bees are disappearing?

And then there was the soil. At 65 miles-per-hour you can’t do a soil test on the passing scenery, but you can see the emerging salt flats — white crystals on the soil surface amid flourishing salt-bush — caused by excessive irrigation and lack of soil tilth in a field that still shows eroding furrows from former food growing. There’s just mile after mile of it.

Along with the ruined soil I also saw signs, literally, of renewed political conflict over water in a place prone to increasing drought. One empty field after another for hundreds of miles contained a political campaign-style sign reading “Congress-Created Dust Bowl.” California agribusiness exists on federal subsidies, particularly for water, but since the state’s rivers and reservoirs have run much lower in recent years, the water-war propaganda has become more intense.

Bear in mind that these valleys provide much of the fruit and vegetables we find on grocery store shelves on Texada Island and in BC. Our dependence on this dying system becomes much more real when one sees it in person.

Which brings me back home to our island, where water is usually not an issue and the soil ranges from Agricultural Land Reserve Class 5 rocky pasture to occasional pockets of Class 1 bottom-land richness. Small-scale mixed farms once flourished here. The time is coming when factory food will no longer be cheap, and small local farms will once again become economically viable. Let the transition begin.

Rattled by the rush

By David Parkinson

A tangle of young fennel sprigs

My apologies to those regular readers and subscribers who felt the silence on this end for the last couple of weeks. Tom is on vacation, and I have had one of those periods during which it feels as though everything is happening all at once. Funny how the times when the most is happening are the times when it’s hardest to write about what’s happening.

At any rate: time to catch up.

Transition training in Powell River

Last weekend, Transition Town Powell River brought Michelle Colussi to town to lead a group of about 20 people through Transition Training, and I participated in that. The training, which introduces participants to the basics of peak oil, climate change, and the need to adapt to a world of lower consumption of petrochemicals, was spread over one evening and a full day, and was fairly solidly packed with information and techniques for community engagement. One of the good things that happened is that we Powell River Transition types got to meet a couple of people on Texada Island, a couple from Denman Island, and a couple from Courtenay who are interested in getting some of this activity going in their communities.

It was inspiring to see the turnout from Powell River and Texada and to reflect on the fact that we are only Canada’s eighth formally declared Transition Town, after Peterborough (ON), Guelph (ON), Victoria (BC), Dundas (ON), Nelson (BC), Ottawa (ON), and the delightfully-named Cocagne (NB). Quite an honour for such a small town; but like so many similar honours it speaks to the hard work and dedication of a small handful of upstarts and noisemakers. It was nice to feel as though we could learn from the experience of folks in Victoria, where Michelle was coming from, and also pass along some of what we know to folks coming up behind us in Texada, Denman, and Courtenay.

I imagine that everyone who participated in this training came away with a different perspective, having gone in there with different experiences and questions. My takeaway was a renewed sense of how vast will be the work of finding new ways to live well in the face of oncoming and extreme challenges from the climate and the economy. One area we did not really explore is the threat of severe social upheaval from all of these threats and reversals; it’s hard to look into that black hole for long without losing hope. Instead, the Transition movement focuses its energy and attention on positive action, even while acknowledging that we can have no sure insight into the directions the future might take. This is scary stuff, but liberating. And it’s gathering momentum.

Lund to Langdale Part Deux

After a day of unwinding from these two days, I leapt into ‘Lund to Langdale Part Deux’, the follow-up event to the ‘Lund to Langdale‘ get-together back in November 2009 which brought together farmers, foodies, and food activists from the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast for a day and a half of connecting and learning. That event ended with a commitment from the attendees to continue meeting with the intention of figuring out what it would mean to form a bioregional coalition and start trying to narrow the Jervis Inlet.

With support and organizational mojo from the BC Healthy Living Alliance, specifically the amazing Jamie Myrah, we were lucky enough to have a second opportunity to get together, share information and experiences, and start to really work on the outlines of this coalition: who we are, how we can work together, and what we can do as a ‘whole-coastal’ coalition that we can’t easily do as two separate loose coalitions on either side of the inlet.

And so about twenty-five of us, fairly equally balanced between Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast, came together and brainstormed our way towards a working coalition. I have complained about bad brainstorming experiences in the past, and it can sometimes turn into a random collection of impossible dreams or dead-ends; but the process was very productive this time. Part of the reason for that is that the people in the room were pretty familiar with the terrain and there was a high degree of consensus about what matters, what is feasible, and what we can actually commit to, given our many other commitments.

What did we achieve? We came to a better understanding of what we would gain from having better communication among the food-security and food-sovereignty projects on both halves of the Sunshine Coast. We all learned an awful lot about the huge number of projects and organizations already doing this work, and thought about how we can connect these existing resources together better. We ate well and laughed and got to know one another. We committed to another get-together in November, this time back down on the other side of the coast, specifically Roberts Creek.

One of the exercises we used as a way to illustrate the complexity of the situation was a mapping exercise, where we posted the names of all of the organizations, projects, and groups that we are aware of doing something to support the regional food economy. The resulting picture on the wall was overwhelming: there really is a lot going on, but often the people most likely to know about it are unaware of it all. And of course the public often have no conception of how much is happening under their noses.

Sadly, by the time we meet next, the BC Healthy Living Alliance will have been rolled up and packed away — the funding that enabled them to start so many projects around the province, including the Sliammon Community Garden and the Garden to Table workshop series at the Community Resource Centre in Powell River, was always intended to expire eventually. But with a little luck and a lot of hard work and constant commitment, one of their the lasting legacies will be a fierce and forceful network of food activists from Lund to Langdale, connected together through shared information and stories, collaborating on projects that benefit the Saltery side and the Earls Cove side, and forming a coherent and powerful voice for local food, agriculture, farmers, growers, and all the coming heroes of the relocalization movement.

Thank you, Jamie! Thank you, BC Healthy Living Alliance! And thank you to everyone who came out for this get-together. We meet again in November…

And finally

On April 6, 2010, the BC government granted our application for incorporation as a cooperative. And so the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is official. Stay tuned for more news about that.

A very practical food security workshop

By Tom Read

A lot of Texada-grown vegetables and even some local chicken went into the lunch served at our recent Micro-Farm Workshop, thanks to a dedicated group of Texada Garden Club volunteers.

Farmer, author and teacher Robin Wheeler came to Texada Island last Saturday to lead us in a six-hour “Micro-Farm Workshop,” sponsored by the Texada Garden Club.  Linda and I found the experience quite rewarding, and so did many others from what I observed. Here are a few highlights of the workshop, from big picture stuff to fascinating (to me) details.

By my count, 47 people came to the workshop on a mild, sunny morning, with 31 from Texada and 16 from Powell River (who arrived 30 minutes late due to an ambulance run that delayed the ferry). The Garden Club, of which I’m a member, had estimated a maximum of 50 participants would attend. So we were a little tense as people kept streaming into the Community Hall — would we run out of food at lunchtime? As it happened, there was more than enough food for everyone, and many of us felt pleased to see such a strong turnout.

Why so much interest in learning about growing food year-round, and building more capacity in our community to provide for a reliable local food supply? The term “food security” is not exactly a media buzz-word these days, but I think the concept is on folks’ minds in this community even if not in those exact words. In conversations I’ve had with fellow islanders over the last few months, many seem to sense that there’s a certain economic, environmental and energy-related volatility afoot in the world, where food prices and even availability might become a concern quite suddenly.

Robin briefly mentioned better food security as a key reason for the workshop, then she moved into specific ways we can do more to create a local food supply for our individual households and as a community. Here are some samples:

We learned how to understand our land better, including mapping of wind and water flows, soil types and most important, sun exposure.

We learned that seaweed is great for soil conditioning, but that we should collect it only in the fall, not in spring. That’s because spring seaweed contains fish eggs and provides both shelter and food to young marine organisms. If we take seaweed at that time of year, we could disrupt marine life-cycles. Besides, there’s lots more seaweed on local beaches in the fall, and it contains less woody debris, too.

We learned how to start a garden on heavy clay soil: use “sacrificial” deep-rooted plants first for a few years to break up the clay chunks, plus add more organic matter to the soil. Then plant vegetables.

We learned about the “spiral cut” on trees adjacent to a garden. This technique lets in some sun without killing the trees, as occurs with cutting off tree tops. The spiral cut removes selected branches in an upward spiral all around the tree, leaving the tree in balance and growing normally. This preserves the trees while letting in filtered sun, changing a fully shaded area where nothing will grow into a partially shaded garden that can grow some types of food plants.

We learned the critical necessity of planning at planting time how to preserve and store a crop so that you’re ready with adequate space and tools when the moment arrives for harvest.

We learned about the simple, affordable deer-fence building technique of using scrap wood, such as fence posts made from cedar tree tops left over after logging, and slabs from a local sawmill to fill the space between posts. Yes, this requires some annual maintenance, but it’s a really quick and cheap way to build a fence that otherwise might cost thousands of dollars.

There was so much more to this workshop — these few samples simply don’t do it justice. As I review my notes from that day I can see many more ideas and suggestions that I’d like to put into practice here at Slow Farm. Seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.


Post facto

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