How farming saved Hardwick, VT

October 14, 2008

This story is pretty inspiring, and sounds like where we could be headed in the Powell River region, with some more smaller farms springing up, a bit more awareness of the value of local food to the local economy, maybe some small businesses and value-added operations, and something like Helena Bird’s proposed teaching farm & market garden (AKA “Full Circle Farm”) to anchor the community around a central facility to provide a common infrastructure for production and processing.

Here’s the part I like:

“All of us have realized that by working together we will be more successful as businesses,” said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds. “At the same time we will advance our mission to help rebuild the food system, conserve farmland and make it economically viable to farm in a sustainable way.”

Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local composting company. Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles.

Somehow we need to start pulling in the same direction. Things seem very ragged and disorganized right now, largely thanks to the policies of large centralized governments, but helped along by societal forces that make farming an unattractive profession. It’s so bad now for small-scale farming that almost anything would help reverse the trend.


My response to Cernetig

May 20, 2008

I just submitted this to the editor of the Vancouver Sun in response to Cernetig’s really lousy piece on the 100-mile diet:

To the editor:

Miro Cernetig’s May 17, 2008 piece on the 100-mile diet (“Worship the 100-mile diet, eat at the world’s table”) manages to miss the point in its trendy haste to name-drop Capers and Lulu Lemon.

The 100-mile diet is a response to the global food system that Cernetig celebrates so lustily. This system is based on the consumption of enormous amounts of fossil fuels, in the form of fertilizers, packaging, fuel for farm equipment and transportation. Crude oil production is in crisis, and its price is at unprecedented levels and rising fast. Extraction and consumption of these chemicals contribute to atmospheric CO2, the main cause of global warming.

The 100-mile diet is based on the observation that this global food system is dependent on an environmentally destructive resource whose future availability and affordability are in question. We need to start developing strategies for reducing our use of fossil fuels. We all love mangoes and bubbly, but we need to be aware of the true cost of getting those mangoes and that bubbly to our table. The 100-mile diet is a method for starting to understand and talk about the true cost of food.

David Parkinson
Powell River, BC

I feel slightly better, but the 200-word limit is a tough constraint. There’s a lot to say about journalism this slack-ass and complacent.

100-mile diet schmundred-mile diet

May 20, 2008

The Vancouver Sun is running a feature this week called “Feast or Famine”, all about the global food crisis, local eating, urban farming, organic farming, and other related topics. Unfortunately they got one of their regular columnists, Miro Cernetig, to write a ‘contrarian’ piece about the 100-mile diet, which is truly awful. I guess a backlash is a sign of success, but they could have tried harder to find someone willing to investigate the really interesting problems with relocalization and trying to eat locally.

The argument seems to be something like:

  1. Privileged people with money can buy food and wine from everywhere; therefore that is a good thing.
  2. Eating locally hurts small farmers in the third world. (I don’t want to talk about agri-business.)
  3. Hey, I thought we were all about fair trade. You guys changed the rules again! Miro is confused.
  4. Eating ethically is hard; so why bother trying?
  5. As soon as food travels more than 100 miles, it becomes evil.

Here’s the peroration:

But if eliminating CO2-heavy food from our diet is the new imperative, it also means you have to feel guilty about buying anything not grown within a 100-mile radius. How is that going to help the world’s peasants trying to sell their beans to us?

So, to be honest, I’m not into the 100-Mile Diet and never will be. I love my 40,008-Kilometre Diet. I don’t even feel guilty about it. In fact, I celebrate eating a mango and drinking a glass of bubbly from the other side of the planet as one of the heights of human achievement.

I mean, didn’t we spend millennia getting to this point as a species? From Alexander the Great to Rome’s Caesar to the British nabobs, building global empire was often about expanding the food chain, as much about finding tea as gold.

Global epicureanism is part of human evolution. And now it’s here.

Horrible, horrible, horrible.

Julian Darley: “Rethinking and relocalizing our food and fuel systems”

May 8, 2008

From HopeDance Magazine:

“Ultimately, the most obvious way to source your food – and energy – more securely, resiliently and locally is to grow some of it yourself. And this is the part that could apply to every able bodied human being  – if only they have access to some fertile land and the tools and knowledge to work it. After all, if we lived within our local carrying capacity and had fair access to fertile land, we would be able to feed and provide for ourselves without relying heavily on a vast and increasingly unreliable food and fuel system. That however, will involve us rethinking land use, land ownership and how we should live. The sooner we are ready for that, the sooner we’ll start building a sustainable food system, and much else besides.”

His comments about meat consumption underscore how truly idiotic the meat inspection regulations are that we are facing in BC. A wise government would be doing everything it could to encourage small-scale meat production and local consumption. Instead, the small-scale is under threat, and we will have to rely increasingly on trucked-in meat. It’s madness.

If you can’t get enough of Julian Darley, here‘s a link to a conversation between him and David Holmgren, one of the co-founders of permaculture.

Every crisis a potential goldmine

May 4, 2008

From the Independent UK: “Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis.”

Cargill’s net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.


Cargill says that its results “reflect the cumulative effect of having invested more than $18bn in fixed and working capital over the past seven years to expand our physical facilities, service capabilities, and knowledge around the world”

Why we’re in trouble

April 30, 2008

Interesting update from Corky Evans, who will be in Powell River on Sunday June 1 to talk at the Open Air Market. Corky is currently touring the province talking to farmers and getting lots of information on the effects of the new regulatory regime, especially the meat inspection regulations, which are causing a lot of our local farmers to fear for the future of farming in this region. Corky:

Dear Friends,

I have been traveling BC for a few months talking to farmers about farming. I have heard a huge number of excellent ideas for support systems to regenerate the business of farming that are not subsidies. None of these ideas, though, will work as long as BC is content to be LAST in Canada in support for food production and farming.

The enclosed graph was sent to me yesterday by a person who I met on the tour. It is the best representation of the overall situation in BC, now and historically, I have ever seen. Please give it a look. In fact, please give it a considerable amount of study.

The graph is pretty easy to understand. It starts in the 1980’s and runs up to last year. It shows that under the Socreds, the NDP and, now, the Liberals, British Columbia has failed farmers and farming. The top line is the average (not the best, the average) of support by Canadian Provinces. The bottom line is BC. As long as this condition continues to exist no Minister, no Cabinet and no Premier will be able to turn things around for the farmer. Essentially, we are the least competitive jurisdiction for this particular form of business in Canada.

If the graph interests you, send it to your friends. Maybe broad public knowledge of this embarrassment will convince society and societies Leaders to want to fix what is broken. I am working on the Party I support to understand the issue. Maybe you could work on yours.

Corky Evans
Agriculture Critic/ Official Opposition

In case you missed it, here‘s that graph again. It tells a pretty sad story indeed. But the question is: what are we supposed to do about it?

Come on out on June 1 to hear Corky Evans speak in Powell River. Guaranteed to get you fired up!