Kale Force meeting of Dec. 10, 2008

December 11, 2008

Had the last meeting of the year last night, and (I think) the first meeting of the second year of meetings… meaning, if I remember rightly, that the first meeting ever was in December 2007, back when we had no name for these monthly gatherings.

About 8 people showed up, which is not bad for a December evening. The food was great: a delicious curry and rice, some mashed (local) potatoes with parsley & smoked salmon, deviled backyard (illegal!) eggs, and yummy shortbread and other treats for dessert.

Conversation was, as always, fairly free-wheeling. But we did do a go-round and give everyone a chance to talk about what they’re up to, what’s going on in the garden, and all that good stuff. I handed out copies of the first draft of the seed-saving plan and we talked about that. I’m pretty certain that this is a project that will really spark people’s imaginations and lead to good conversations about the importance of local seed-saving, the fragility of the global food supply, backyard gardening in hard times, and all sorts of other topics near and dear to the heart of the Kale Force.

For anyone interested in getting more involved, the seed-saving project — which badly needs a jazzy name — has a blog. There’s not a huge amount of information there now, but this is the place on the web where we will be creating and following this local project, answering questions, sharing information and results, and all that.

See you in the new year!

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Seed-saving workshop II

September 18, 2008
One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

We had the September Kale Force meeting last night, one week late since I was out of town at the Sorrento gathering of the BC Food Systems Network last Wednesday. This month’s meeting was the follow-up meeting to July’s meeting when Wendy Devlin talked to the group about some of the basics of saving seeds. That was the classroom portion; last night’s meeting was the hands-on part. We met up at Wendy’s place, up in the far northeast corner of Wildwood, admired her ducks and rabbits and sheep, and then spent almost two hours wandering around in her garden, learning about the ins and outs of seed-saving.

We looked at chard, beet, dill, cilantro, beans, various flowers, talked about gathering seeds from plants like cucumbers and tomatillos, and spent some time gathering seeds from Wendy’s cosmos (cosmoses?). It certainly adds a whole new dimension to gardening when you have to think ahead to saving seeds, since you have to consider distances between plants, accidental pollination, flowering times, and the tradeoffs between growing plants for eating and growing plants for seed.

After that, some of us went down the road a piece to Heinz’ house and admired his incredible garden, built among the rock formations beside his house. Talk about making the best of a difficult situation for a garden! Heinz has trucked in large amounts of soil and amendments and created a very orderly and well-maintained fruit and vegetable garden. He has lots of strawberries, even this late in the season, which might be something to do with the fact that everything is surrounded by rock, which probably helps keep the garden from cooling down as much as it otherwise might. We enjoyed a nice potluck meal and conversation, and then called it a night.

One thing that came out of the workshop was a renewed interest in creating a regional seed-saving effort, whereby people in different parts of town could tale responsibility for saving seed from particular plants and varieties. This might allow for isolating plants from cross-pollination and accidental hybridization, and would allow for some plants to be grown for seed in areas which are more conducive to those plants. For example, Wendy was having trouble getting some of her plants to set seed before the cool damp weather starts; but in drier warmer parts of Powell River it should be possible to extend the growing season by a couple weeks or more.

So, this winter, as we continue to meet (second Wednesday of every month at 5:00 PM at the Community Resource Centre!), we will hopefully be planning a little network of seed-savers around the area, divvying up responsibility for seeds from various plants, and using these seeds to feed into Seedy Saturday. Perhaps over time this will evolve into a seed company or cooperative.


Kale Force meeting of July 9, 2008

July 11, 2008

Well, it’s been while since I’ve posted to this blog. But we had a good meeting of the Kale Force this week. A dozen people showed up, shared some good food, and talked about the usual good stuff: growing more food, eating more food, and working towards a proper local food economy.

The special guest for this month was Wendy Devlin, who very kindly agreed to come out and talk to us about saving seeds. She ran down some of the good reasons to do so, and helped us get our heads around how to get started saving seeds. It looks as though we’ll have a follow-up meeting in September to go out to her place and do some hands-on seed-saving.

I reported to the group on the demonstration garden project up in Sliammon. I’m working with some folks up there to set up a little garden in the front area of the Ahms Tah Ow School. On July 21, we are holding a public consultation meeting to give people in the community an opportunity to offer their ideas and advice.

I also reported briefly on our little effort to start a cooperative for the purpose of increasing local food production. So far we’ve been thinking about urban farming, maybe creating a small farm or network of backyards in the city, and using that as a way of producing food which can be distributed through a CSA or to the Open Air Market, or some other way of getting the food to where it is needed. It’s early days yet, but we have a core group of people working away at it and I hope that we’ll come up with something good in a few months.

Doug Brown asked about the by-laws regulating animals in the City of Powell River, and I agreed to pursue that. More details to come soon.


Disaster capitalism

May 13, 2008

This story from the Washington Post really tells you a lot about where we’re at these days:

Three companies — BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis — have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide, according to the report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, an activist organization that advocates for subsistence farmers.

The applications say that the new “climate ready” genes will help crops survive drought, flooding, saltwater incursions, high temperatures and increased ultraviolet radiation — all of which are predicted to undermine food security in coming decades. 

On the one hand, you have to think that, if you were running a corporation intending to produce profits from food under any circumstances whatever, then it’s only prudent to plan for the possibility of climate and other factors getting in your way. On the other hand, this just sounds like something dreamed up by a misanthropic science-fiction author.

And as long as we can pretend to be finessing our way out of disaster, we don’t have to confront the disaster. I’m sure that the PR flacks for these corporations would respond that they’re not in the business of solving global warming; they’re just trying to make an honest buck. But if this is what “making an honest buck” looks like, then we’re in a bad bad place. It’s hard to believe that anyone can really believe that we’re going to engineer our way out of the problems created in large part by technology… by applying more technology.

The global situation is becoming more frightening on all fronts. Frightened people make bad choices. Decisions based largely on financial outcomes are often short-sighted. Short-sighted decisions have bad consequences.

That’s where we are and that’s where we’re heading, as fast as the ever-toiling machine of industrial capitalism can take us. We have no real say in all of this; we’re just along for the ride. All we can do is try to stay sane and build better solutions in our backyards.


Growing your own food is catching on in BC

May 5, 2008

From The Tyee, Some evidence from local seed retailers that the grow-your-own food movement is really catching on this season:

“We put out the catalog at the beginning of January, as we always do” says Jeanette McCall, a sales representative at West Coast Seeds, based in Delta, B.C.

“Then, boom. We had many, many, many more orders than we anticipated. [Our computer system] simply couldn’t handle the load,” she adds. “It just sort of crashed.”

It’s the same story at Salt Spring Seeds, which specializes in heritage and heirloom vegetable varieties.

“I’ve never seen the likes of this in over 20 years of selling seeds,” confirmed owner Dan Jason.

Now, if we could only establish a local seed-saving project here, to serve our local needs…


Kale Force meeting of Feb. 13, 2008

February 14, 2008

Good meeting last night: 20 people in attendance (including me, and including Phoenix, the youngest member of the Kale Force, at a mere 8 months). After the usual potluck and casual conversation phase of the evening, we went around the table and talked about what sorts of things were on our minds. Here’s some of what came up:

Susan mentioned that she is putting together a bulk fertilizer order, and invited all of us to get in on that with her. She has been preparing her own mix of ingredients, based on Steve Solomon‘s recipe, and finds that it works really well. She also has lots of experience growing, cooking, and preserving food, and we really need to start harnessing her knowledge and experience… along with the knowledge and experience of so many other people in the region.

Doug mentioned that he is raising honeybees, and would like to know if others are keen to learn more about this. A possible workshop topic, although there are some legal restrictions on having honeybees in the City of Powell River that might discourage some people from doing this.

Lyn talked about the Community Resource Centre & the demonstration garden behind it. She mentioned that there are going to be plenty of opportunities for people to get involved, especially once the youth who are working on it start getting put on workplace training. We’re going to have to work to have a good longer-term plan to make sure that the demonstration garden is well cared for, and that people are using it as a site for workshops and work parties.

Lyra referred us to her blog, The Gluten-Free Hippie, which is an awesome resource filled with good ideas about vegan & gluten-free cooking. I sense another worksop coming up, since there are quite a number of people around here trying to reduce their meat intake and also dealing with food intolerances; gluten intolerance being one of the biggies.

Julie, in her role as coordinator of the open-air market, talked about our real need to increase the amount of food being grown locally and made available through the market. We are seeing a decline in the number of farms locally, and we need to work on some creative ways to make farmland affordable to younger folks coming up.

This led to an interesting general discussion about cooperative land ownership and land trusts. We are very lucky to have Bryon among us now, who has some experience in cooperative land purchase and stewardship, being involved in the Horse Lake Community Farm Cooperative up in 100 Mile House. We threw around the idea of cooperative purchase of some of the ALR lands in town, and I suspect that this is a discussion that will come up again.

We also had a freewheeling discussion regarding how we are supposed to educate more people out in the community about the pressing need to become more regionally self-reliant, and about the ways to become more self-reliant. Of course, I’ve been asking myself the same thing, and the answer has to be something along the lines of: organize a group of people who are committed to strenghtening our regional food supply, keep that group growing, and find opportunities to connect with regular folks out in the community who might benefit from knowledge about how to grow more food, how to eat well for cheaper, how to preserve the summer’s bounty into the winter, and so on. No one said it would be easy!

We took care of a little administrative business having to do with the meetings and some of the activities of the Food Security Project:

  1. we decided to stick with the name Kale Force, which is good news for me, since I had already started this blog;
  2. I mentioned this blog, and let people know how to find it — hopefully over time we can use it as a more interactive thing or else connect it to a forum or something;
  3. I mentioned the Sustainable Microfarm Forum in Roberts Creek on Feb. 24, and it looks as though Susan & I will be going to that;
  4. I intend to order some seeds from various catalogues, so I encouraged people to let me know if there was anything they were hoping to order this year, especially harder-to-find seeds.

We need to start lining up some activites and workshops to get more people in the door. We all want activities… now that we are doing show-n-tell, we need arts-n-crafts!

So for the next meeting, we picked up on Lyra’s excellent suggestion to make seed balls, as stage 1 in world domination by seditious guerrilla gardening. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now, and it’s a nice tie-in with Seedy Saturday, which will be on the Saturday immediately preceding the next Kale Force meeting. So we’ll figure out what ingredients we need, and start releasing seeds out into the community. This would be an awesome kids’ activity!

I’m going to look into a lactofermentation workshop, since there is interest in that. Anyone with expertise to share, contact me!