Archive for the 'food sovereignty' Category

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!

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.

A politician listens to Texadans’ concerns

By Tom Read

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

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

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

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

* Commonwealth of Texada Island.

Find your tribe

By David Parkinson

Fennel seeds and sky

Seed to Sky

We will not live to see the work of the new age, we shall fight in the darkness; we must prepare ourselves to endure this life without too much sadness, by doing our duty. Let us help one another, call to one another in the gloom, and practice justice wherever opportunity offers.
(Pierre-Joseph Proudhon)

I spent this past weekend in Chehalis at the annual gathering of the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN), this being my second consecutive year attending this event. The gathering brings people together from all around the province who work in food security in the broad sense: from the grassroots organizers working at the local level to develop community gardens, community kitchens. cooperatives, and other projects, on up to people working at the regional and provincial level to develop policy and strengthen our ability to create a strong and equitable food system in BC and beyond. It’s an opportunity for folks working in small and isolated communities to come together with the folks from the big-city hotbeds of food security work (the entire Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, especially the Victoria-Nanaimo corridor). Opportunities such as this are really valuable to front-line activists, since it is enormously reassuring and empowering to know that you are not alone out there, that others all around the province share your perceptions and your passions, and that there is a big picture taking shape out of the constellation of tiny efforts everywhere.

This year’s gathering was the tenth and the theme was Bioregionalism. From the website:

A bioregion is an area defined by naturally occurring boundaries such as watersheds, terrain and soil. It is also cultural in nature and thus includes healthy associations between people, plants, animals and nature. These bioregions or eco-regions, could generally be self-sufficient with respect to local food systems and land use. When the local population makes choices that support the local ecology, economy and culture a bioregional consciousness is created. Promoting this sense of place enhances many of the principles the BC Food System Network values. Sustainable land use, enhanced Indigenous land interactions, empowered local communities and reduced carbon footprints are some examples of the benefits of healthy bioregionalism.

We spent some time during the gathering breaking out into bioregional discussions and then coming back together to report back and synthesize the information being discussed in the breakout groups. I was the only representative from the Upper Sunshine Coast, and there were two people from the Lower Sunshine Coast: Eleonora Molnar, a community developer with Vancouver Coastal Health, and Dave Ryan, one of the main growers for the Gumboot Restaurant in Roberts Creek. We weren’t sure what the borders were of our bioregion, so we chose to consider the entire Sunshine Coast as a bioregion, separate from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. I can’t say how much sense that makes, but the conversation will continue as we refine our ideas about what makes a bioregion and how we can work within and among the various bioregions in BC.

Some friends were asking me a couple of nights ago what we did at the gathering, and I was a little hard-pressed to say. Much of the real ‘work’ of a gathering like this one lies in forging new connections between individuals and groups. I attended one discussion session on setting up cooperatives, and out of that came a potential new working group under the auspices of the BCFSN to share information and resources about how groups can use the cooperative structure of corporate governance to create pieces of a local food economy. I hope to use this working group as a way of investigating the possibility of using a cooperative to take on some of the projects that people keep talking about, especially the collective purchase of tools and equipment such as a rototiller, a crusher and cider press, a commercial dehydrator, and so on. There is a gang in Salmon Arm, which I named the Salmon Army, doing precisely this: instead of forming a standard non-profit society as an umbrella organization for pulling together the various food-security projects in the area, they are creating a cooperative. It seems like a perfect fit when part of the aim of an organization is to foment public engagment and involvement.

But the gathering is really about talking with all kinds of people from all corners of the multi-front struggle to create an abundant and just food system. And all of that meeting and talking and sharing takes place within the context of an institutional culture which has much to admire. For one thing, people in the BCFSN work very hard to create an egalitarian and respectful dialogue between indigenous populations and the settler community. First Nations folks are central in all discussions and traditional food systems are put on an equal footing with imported agricultural techniques. Another aspect which was mentioned by one attendee during one of the plenary sessions is the ‘culture of gratitude’ cultivated by the BCFSN: people within the network take time to honour everyone’s contributions and make sure that all the work that might otherwise go unnoticed is gratefully and respectfully acknowledged. That might sound like a trivial thing, but it is not. I see a lot of people in my community whose hard work and dedication takes place in obscurity, while others are ready to put themselves in the spotlight at every chance. A huge part of building a resilient community is honouring the people who do the work, especially the ones on the front lines who sometimes get overlooked.

More than just recognizing and acknowledging each other’s contributions, we need to start understanding how our social networks hang together. We need to know which forces strengthen them and which ones weaken them. We need to pay attention to the subtle but very real signals which draw us closer to some projects and some people, and learn to recognize the warning signals which caution us against wasting our time or getting involved with people who put their own personal interests before those of the community. We need to learn the simple but neglected art of showing gratitude to each other, of listening attentively, of respecting the differences among us, of including the ones who are easy to forget about.

In other words, we need to create a tribe for ourselves. A tribe consisting not simply of the like-minded — that’s a cult not a tribe. But a tribe of the people we can work with, the ones who share the more important pieces of our worldview and (even more importantly) are willing and able to work collectively, with gratitude and respect, even when there are differences.

The Chehalis gathering drew together a geographically far-flung but otherwise tightly-knit tribe of people from around the province who are all dedicated to the creation of a network of food-secure communities. So, what’s your tribe?


Post facto

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