Monday, April 27, 2009

Rocksalting in Vancouver and Blue Orcharding in Victoria

Had a nice weekend in Vancouver, starting with a place in the Rocksalt reading which was part of the Main Street Literary Tour, in celebration of BC Book & Magazine week. We hung out in the Cafe Montmartre,

being hosted by Trevor Carolan

till Mona Fertig got there from another event she was doing in West Vancouver.

Had a little beer tasting on Saturday. My trio was porter, raspberry wheat beer and Rickard's White wheat beer (my favourite)

Sunday's treat was a walk through North Vancouver. Here's how the allotment gardens look:

One question. Why?

Str(eat) art, Vancouver style.

How they tell it in Deep Cove:

Back home, and this lovely afternoon I took stock of the Blue Orchard (Mason) Bee (Osmia lignaria) house I'd put up on Thursday:

-- a couple of dwellings already dwelt in, with lots of action in others. Holy pollen, mama's home!

Hanging out on the fence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Food politics and a spring bee check

The rally at the legislature on Saturday was warmly attended by groups including COG:

The cavalry rode round and round the grounds:

There was a pleasing diversity of age and slogan:

with some rabble-rousing by Brent Warner

NDP candidate Lana Popham

farmer, beekeeper and food activist Linda Geggie

organic farmer Heather Stretch

and farmer-writer-editor Tom Henry

There's another opportunity for Islanders make their food interests visible to politicians, at a gathering on Thursday April 30.

More information at the BC Food Systems Network website; including the Food Security Election Primer which is a terrific tool to use on any visiting electioneers, and a handy fact sheet on the issues for educating yourself, your friends and neighbours.

I spent yesterday morning following a spring bee inspection with some of my bee-owning classmates from last year's bee-keeping class, led by Larry & Marilyn, who kindly lent me a bee suit for the occasion. I had a few curious customers stop by to admire my gloves.

Some of the girls hang out on their mom's shoulder.

Saw lots of crazy comb, including one with a donut hole in the middle:

Here are a couple of queens (the long orangy ones; one of them is marked in red; colours are agreed on each year so you can tell how old the queens are):

I brought along some of the honey I'd bought in Italy for people to sample; one of the varieties evoked some discussion about rhododendron honey, which is said to produce Mad Honey Disease. And here's a poem featuring death, rhodos and bees (but not mad honey disease).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Real Canadian ploddledygook

It's certainly not food and not quite poetry, but there is a useful new word in the English vocabulary: ploddledygook. It may look unpronounceable but it is certainly recognisable to anyone who's heard a police officer of any stripe or nationality interviewed within the last couple of decades.

We've had lots of examples in the emotionally bankrupt testimony given by the RCMP officers at the Dziesanski inquiry, where their version of events has been visibly contradicted by the amateur video available on Youtube. The tone of the testimony has given appalled listeners some important lessons in how to alienate your public and rob your profession of dignity. Some of the statements reported by the press include:
Cpl. Robinson's testimony: "I didn’t articulate it well," said Robinson... "I’m blending the whole interaction."
or Const. Rundel: "Mr. Dziekanski went from non-compliant behaviour at the luggage to what training has taught us is a resistant behaviour where he has directly disregarded a command and fled from us ... and took up a combative stance" and "I don't believe that the language barrier was a problem in that instant, due to the fact that he responded to the direction of the hand signal and the verbal 'No'"
or Const. Millington: "The person that it's applied against is supposed to fall immediately and it's supposed to immobilize them...It did not have that effect so I felt it was necessary to fire it again...He was in a combative stance, as we call it, and was approaching the officers I believe with the intent to attack...After the first one, when he fell to the ground, I interpreted that to be he didn't feel the full effects" and "We acted in accordance to our training...Of course I never intended this result. I never intended for Mr. Dziekanski to pass away."
It's sad and galling to see Mounties use language like this, to distance themselves from the events they're describing. I know in these libellous times it's the norm for representatives of any profession to excise the humanity from any public speech, but I don't have to like it. I can still long for plain-spoken testimony, a simple apology, some expression of regret for what happened.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Agriculture rally, the FLR, hoop houses and food-borne pathogens

This Saturday afternoon, April 18th, at 1.30pm, there'll be a Farms, Farmers & Food Security rally at the BC legislature, a proper foodie kick-off to the May 12 provincial election. There are many related issues we'd like our politicians to be better informed about, including the
The Forest Land Reserve, the taller cousin of the Agricultural Land Reserve, is open to similar abuses by money-grabbing developers, and has been in the news lately. The Capital Regional District attempted to undo the damage done by the provincial government, which released the lands from the FLR in 2007, and protect the area from development, but the BC supreme court said no, and the appeal won't be heard until June.

Yesterday's fun was helping to build a hoop house at Haliburton farm

and then attending a talk by Ed Ishiguro

about food-borne illnesses (and common pathogens salmonella, listeria, campylobacter and e.coli). Ishiguro has spent many years exploring e. coli 0157:H7 and had interesting things to say about the dramatic - unprecedented - rise in food-borne pathogens over the past forty years or so, coinciding rather dramatically with the rise of industrial food production, whose profit-driven livestock overcrowding methods have not just allowed but actually facilitated the spread of pathogens. He is also adamant that the low-dose feeding of antibiotics to all our industrial food animals (too low to prevent disease, as he says farmers are led to believe, but rather used to make them grow faster) has caused the antibiotic-resistant diseases that are infecting our hospitals. A no-brainer you might think, and yet governments in North America have been lead-footed in their response; he cited encouraging (though he felt not yet convincing) research results from Denmark where a ban on antibiotic growth promoters have actually caused antibiotic-resistant diseases to decline, and more treatable ones to emerge.

Some good background as I prepare for tomorrow's Foodsafe class...


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Worm bins, writers and online learning

A weekend ago I attended a composting course at the Compost Education Centre where we looked at several different ways of composting: 3 bin methods; backyard composters - both horizontal tumblers and vertical Earth Machines -; and digesters that can hold kitchen scraps and dog waste...

and even the worm bin benches they use for seating

in the straw bale classroom.

Then there was a regional meeting of the Writers Union of Canada in Nanaimo, where the potluck table was groaning

and the talk was largely about the pros and cons of the Google Book Settlement. There seems to be a move among many of Canada's writers to opt out of the settlement, and to pull their books from Google to protest intellectual property abuses - and associated injury to the cultural and financial interests of writers - by vastly profitable corporate monoliths like Google. We have until May 5 to opt out, or until April 2011 to pull our books from the digitization machine.

Last week's Planet Earth Poetry will likely be the last I get to this busy season, and I was happy to hear some excellent poems from Yvonne Blomer

reading with the touring Brian Bartlett

Some food-related courses start up later this month, at the Virtual University, perhaps the solution for people too busy to get to sit-down classes. For $20US you can spend 4 or 5 weeks studying nutrition, herbalism and natural remedies, or organic gardening.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday to you all

Started mine by listening to Vandana Shiva spell it out, again, in words of splendid simplicity, on CBC's The Current. The poverty and suffering inflicted by globalised trade - poor countries unable to compete with subsidised imports from wealthy countries; massive Indian farmer suicides caused by industrial debt; the destructive nature of fuel-based agriculture; and the madness of growing crops to feed livestock or fuel cars (and subsidised commodities) while people are starving..

And she referred to the IAASTD report on the future of world farming, a year after the release of its 2500 page report, compiled by 400 scientists from 64 countries (including Canada). Its findings were never ratified by our noble country, not surprisingly since they state pretty plainly that if the world is to be fed, we must radically change farming policies and practices: large-scale industrial (fossil-fuel-based) farming, agricultural subsidies and GM do not work as a sustainable way to feed the world. In a nutshell, small-scale organic farming is the way forward.

Can't wait till she rocks the G8 in July this year; as we were told by Carlo Petrini, an invitation has been extended by this year's Italian presidency of the group, to have a presentation to G8 leaders by Terra Madre.. and surely Vandana must be the first voice in food sanity. They will have a chance to hear, and we must hope they listen.

Here's an amazing poem by Alaskan poet Olena Kalytiak Davis.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The cultural amnesia of industrial eaters

In scrambling to finish reading a library book (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry) I came upon an essay called The Pleasures of Eating, which I was happy to find as well at the Center for Ecoliteracy website, which has a cornucopia of great Writings Online. (Scroll down to the Thinking Outside the Lunchbox heading to find lots of food articles.)

The nuggets in this essay include guidance for today's consumer of industrial food, who as Berry says
is one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is, therefore, necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim. When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.
This happens because, in the interests of those who make money - a great deal of it - producing, selling and marketing industrial food to us, regardless of the damage it does to the land, the community and the body,
…The consumer… must be kept from discovering that, in the food industry – as in any other industry – the overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price.
Suggestions to help us repair this cultural amnesia include:
1. Participate in food production: grow something.
2. Prepare your own food.
3. Learn the origin of the food you buy and buy the food produced closest to your home.
4. Whenever possible, deal direct with local farmers, gardeners and orchardists.
5. Learn in self-defence as much as possible of the economy and technology of industrial food production.
6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species (plants & animals).
In another of the essays in this book, Feminism, the Body & the Machine, I was most interested in his views on technology. It was his public decision not to use a word processor, and the public response to this decision, that brought the essay about. Here is what he thinks, overall, of technological progress:
...apart from its own highly specialized standards of quantity and efficiency, “technological progress” has produced a social and ecological decline. Industrial war, except by the most fanatically narrow standards, is worse than war used to be. Industrial agriculture, except by the standards of quantity and mechanical efficiency, diminishes everything it affects. Industrial workmanship is certainly worse than traditional workmanship and is getting shoddier every day. After forty odd years, the evidence is everywhere that television, far from proving a great tool of education, is a tool of stupefaction and disintegration. Industrial education has abandoned the old duty of passing on the culture and intelligence inheritance in favor of baby sitting and career preparation.
And the point of all this damage:
The higher aims of “technological progress” are money and ease. And this exalted greed for money and ease is disguised and justified by an obscure, cultish faith in “the future”. We do as we do, we say, “for the sake of the future: or “to make a better future for our children”. How we can hope to make a good future by doing badly in the present we do not say… A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now, and in the good things of human culture that we have now; the only valid “futurology” available to is is to take care of those things.
A perceptive point about "ease" - we've been sold such a bill of goods about 'labour saving devices' and the efficiency of technology. How many hours have we all wasted waiting for computers to reboot, projectors to connect with laptops, video recorders to be set up, engines to be repaired? And still we find with all this mechanical help, we're working more and more hours in dreadful soul-destroying jobs in order to pay for consuming all this disposable and destructive technology.

By the way, I found a couple of links to people and agencies mentioned in A Farm for the Future:
Agroforestry Research Trust (Martin Crawford)
Richard Heinberg and the Post Carbon Institute (whose Food and Farming Transition: Toward a post carbon food system document will have served as some of the source material for the film script, I reckon).
Colin Campbell and ASPO Ireland (Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Ireland) and ASPO International

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Herons, community meetings, poets and wood chips

All this rain and cold must have been getting to me and I've got a bit behind with postings, so here's a grab-bag of things.

The herons are nesting in a nearby park which makes for great spectator sport... if you are very careful which tree you stand beneath.

Our local community association had its AGM on a food security theme which made for interesting talks and - if I do say so myself - excellent snacks, since our urban farming group brought the food, which included local grape and apple juices; what I am pretty sure are very local devilled eggs; some fabulous pizza; some of my own squash, caramelised garlic and goat cheese tart, and molasses brownies. Some of our members brought some interesting gadgets with them, including a solar oven and a hand-cranked blender; as well as some vegetable seedlings to give away.

I was up-island a couple of weeks ago and watched some amazing sockeye salmon go into this beautiful old Moffat stove. Check out the dials on this beauty...

Meanwhile, back on the poetry trail, I was lucky enough to get to Planet Earth Poetry in time to grab a seat for an excellent double bill: Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurst.

And - although we've been blessed by a few days of spring sunshine - it's been a hard slog this spring through the puddles and gloom, which have delayed all kinds of things.

I spent one chilly afternoon at Haliburton, doing various things including spreading wood chips on the paths. They have a partnership going with a local tree-topping company that trims branches away from electricity lines, high enough that the foliage would not have been sprayed and therefore ok to throw around an organic farm.