The Long Goodbye

Okay, so nobody ever accused me of being good with time.

I’ve owed this blog a windup post for a long time, but have been putting it off because it’s hard to know where to start.  So I guess I’ll just start with the truth:  My days at the Farmhouse Farm are over.

As I announced almost a year ago in this post, my new home and farm project is in Powell River, back in my homeland of rainforest, islands, and eccentric, marginal people who live on boats.  Being back in the country (and away from electricity!) has been such good food for my soul, and it’s taken me this long to look back and reflect on all the wonderful things that happened to me because of this project, and this blog.

Running the Farmhouse Farm was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I learned so much, met so many people, and have come out of it with such a sense of independence and strength.  I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who was a part of it, from buying shares to attending workshops to working in the garden; I learned so much from each and every one of you and I’m grateful every day for all of my experiences.

There are exciting things brewing up here, and I will keep posting to this blog occasionally with directions on where to head in the internetosphere to keep abridged of what’s going on.  Thanks so much for all the love and support; I could not have done it without you.

A little more on Community Supported Agriculture

With all the talk lately about climate change, economic localization, and the transition to a post-oil world, local food is getting a lot of attention. Providing for our own food needs as locally as possible seems almost a no-brainer in our looming energy descent future, but the question of how we get there looms large in a lot of peoples’ minds. Farmers and eaters in small (and not-so-small) communities everywhere have created a model called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that offers one way we can make it happen.  Here’s how it works:

 

 

Shared Risk, Shared Reward

 

In the Community Supported Agriculture model, folks sign up as members and commit to buying a share of the whole years’ harvest at the beginning of the season. This means that the farmer doesn’t have to go into debt to buy seeds and supplies, and can grow a greater variety of produce instead of needing to gamble on a few high-value items. This is the shared risk part; by lowering the farmers’ financial risk, members allow the farm to make choices about what to grow and how to grow it based on best practices for healthy farms and good produce, instead of based on cutting costs and what will fetch the highest price at market. It also means that members’ food dollars are going straight to the farmer, instead of to the distributors, processors, and retailers that all take their cut.

 

Each member receives an equal share of the harvest every week once crops start coming in, so when the farm does well because of the community’s support, everybody benefits. Members get to try a little of everything, and get a feel for what it means to eat by the seasons instead of by what gets shipped to the grocery store. This is the shared reward part; by helping the farm get going on solid financial footing, members allow the farmer to focus on farming — and this means that there’s more and better produce for everyone.

 

Food Is Not A Commodity

 

In our market dominated world, people have tried to treat food as just another commodity. But in the rush to produce more and more for cheaper and cheaper, farmers are often forced to make choices that are ecologically unsound or that lower the nutritional value and overall quality of their food in order to keep their heads above water financially. Many farmers get trapped in a debt cycle, borrowing what they need to start their season only to find they can’t turn a profit at the end of it because industrial farms that are corporately controlled and subsidized by governments push the prices that are paid for individual crops to artificially low levels. Local farms vanish, and communities lose in the end because industrial farming turns its ecological and social costs — things like air and water pollution, soil erosion, and poverty wages for farm workers — into what economists like to call “externalities,” factors that don’t get included in the accounting because they don’t show up in the prices that are paid for each individual commodity. This piecemeal model hides the true costs of industrial scale farming while making it nearly impossible for small, organic farms to stay alive.

 

But the truth is that food is not a commodity; we can’t live without it. The market-based approach to food only offers people the end result of the whole process of farming, instead of making the whole food system accountable to the community from the very beginning. It also puts a wall of distributors, processors, regulators and retailers beween people and their food, taking control of the social and ecological aspects of food production away from those who are affected by them.

 

Community Supported Agriculture offers a way out. When you join a CSA you are committing to build a relationship with your farmer by supporting the farm for the season, not buying individual food items separated from the system that produced them. The emphasis is on changing the focus from a commodity model (I value carrots) to an overall value model (I value carrots that are grown in a way that makes my whole community better), bringing the “externalities” back into the equation where they belong. By supporting the farm directly instead of buying food items one by one at market price, members are able to get a lot more for their food dollars in two ways. The first is that farmers have the resources at the beginning of the year to guarantee a successful season, so since each member gets an equal share of whatever is harvested, there’s more for everyone. The second is that the community’s guarantee of enough financial support to survive the season makes it possible for small independent farmers to simply keep on existing, which supports all the ecological and social goods that local farms bring to our community.

 

 

Healthy Communities Need Healthy Farms

 

A diverse and vibrant local food system is key to the ecological and economic health of our community, and to the health of everyone who eats. Food is at its most nutritious when it is organically grown and as fresh as possible. Local farms provide the healthiest, tastiest food for your and your family, food that is appropriate for our climate and seasons. Organic farms also provide vital ecological services for our community and beyond, by conserving and building healthy soil; by providing clean water and air; by protecting biodiversity and providing habitat. And just like any local business, when you support local farmers you are keeping your money in our community. In a CSA, members not only buy produce, but also cultivate a relationship with the farm that keeps the benefits of farming available to everyone. That’s the “Community” part of Community Supported Agriculture; getting us back into right relationship with our food, and with each other through our food. After all, the one thing that we all have in common is that everybody eats. And eating is such a fundamental part of our lives that I can’t help but think that if we can fix our relationship with our food, somehow fixing all the other things we have to fix in our world will become a whole lot easier.

Permaculture Design Certificate Course, Vancouver – October 2009!

As promised, I am officially offering a Certificate in Permaculture Design course to take place over 4 weeks this October.  Details below:

Announcing a full Permaculture Design Certificate course right here in Vancouver!

Learn the principles of design and implementation of sustainable human systems and how we can apply them where we live, right now.  This 14 day course will give you the tools you need, and meets all curriculum requirements to grant participants the internationally recognized Certificate of Permaculture Design upon completion.

This non-residential course will take place in a series of four three-day modules (Tues/Wed/Thurs) and two hands-on learning days (Saturdays) here in Vancouver between October 6 and October 29, 2009.  For more information or to register, email farmhousefarm (at) gmail (dot) com

COST: $900 (includes course package and supplies)

Chickens, Elitism, and the NAFTA Flu

I saw an article in the Vancouver Courier a few days ago talking about a Vancouverite who had recently returned from Indonesia, where backyard chickens have been banned as a response to fears over avian flu. He was “shocked” to learn that Vancouver is considering legalizing backyard chickens and was outraged; we’ll all die of avian flu, apparently, if instead of tortured in warehouses where nobody can see them, chickens are made a part of peoples’ families.  The headline on the article was something like “Coastal Health Downplays Risk of Flu in Backyard Chickens” or somesuch thing, which while giving due time to a person from the health region saying that backyard chickens pose no avian flu risk, was still a headline that I thought seemed calculated to play on the fears of people who know nothing about animals, food, or health; they’re “downplaying” the risk, implying that it’s more of a risk than they’re admitting to.  In fact, the whole article seemed to be written with thinly-veiled support for this dude who’s afraid that people’s chickens are going to cause a flu outbreak; sounds a lot more like rich, elitist NIMBYism to me, blaming the poor who raise their own chickens for the problems caused by rich global agribusiness corporations and their unsanitary, unhealthy practises.  My favourite quote was something about how “raising chickens should be left to professional commercial operations away from urban areas.”  Wait, what?  So, healthy, happy chickens in someone’s backyard are out, but battery cages and factory farms are okay?  Rediculous.

It made me think of this segment from Democracy Now! a few months ago, about the roots of swine flu in confinement hog operations that fled the US to Mexico when NAFTA was signed, after they were charged with the biggest environmental fine in US history for dumping hog shit into Chesapeake Bay.  Since they would have had to clean up to keep operating, they just went to Mexico where NAFTA allowed them to operate without any environmental oversight.  Now, I’m certainly no chicken expert, but I see a lot of parallels here.  It seems to make sense that if sick pigs cause flu outbreaks, sick chickens probably do the same, yes?  I doubt that it’s the healthy, happy chickens in peoples’ backyards where they have real food, fresh air, and a clean place to live that are going to transmit flu.  Proximity to people is much more likely to make sure that chickens are kept in good conditions; a dirty, unhealthy chicken coop smells, well, like shit.  Hidden away where the people eating the eggs and meat don’t have to see (or smell) them, chickens in these so-called “professional commercial operations” can be treated appallingly and be unhealthy in every way and nobody says boo.  It seems to me that folks should be calling for a ban on Chicken McNuggets and closing down that goddamned chicken hell on Powell street if they’re worried about flu.

Urgent! Farmhouse Farm Needs Your Help!

This is a callout to anyone who believes that food is a human right, and that nobody has the right to stand in the way of growing food and living as we choose.

As I found out today, Vancouver has something called the “Untidy Premises Bylaw” which unequivocally says that if you do something different in your yard than your neighbours do, your neighbours can make the city make you do what they do.  Wait, what?

That’s right.  Look it up, like I did, and you’ll find that the words “standard of maintenance prevailing in the neighbourhood” are used more than once to describe what you are and are not allowed to do in your yard.  There’s no definition given, no standard except “do what everyone else does.”  Woe to the person who wants to innovate, experiment, or try something different.  If you want to get out of the trunk, to follow David Suzuki’s metaphor, too bad…  here in Vancouver, the people who are driving us all to ecological destruction have the power to make you come along for the leather-upholstered ride, as long as there’s more of them than there are of you.  And here in my neighbourhood, there are definitely more lawns than farms.

As of yet, I don’t know what this will mean for the Farmhouse Farm.  The person I talked to refused to tell me what, exactly, he’s ordering me to do.  I have to wait for him to pester my landlord about it (my supportive, awesome landlord who respects that this is our home and we should be allowed to treat it as such), who will then pass along to me whatever ludicrous orders some bureaucrat who may have never held a shovel in his life has about the work I do.

So I’m putting out a call for letters of support, short or long, outlining why this kind of NIMBY-coddling bylaw has no place in a democracy.  Send them here, send them to your neighbours, send them to newspapers and to the mayor and council.  Let’s let them know that we have a right not to ecologically shoot ourselves in the head if we don’t want to.  Growing food is a human right, and we’re going to fight for it.

Below is an open letter on this subject, which I’ve also forwarded to city lawmakers.  Feel free to check it out, do some research, and form your own conclusions.

Yours in Love, Solidarity, and Dirt.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing this letter to draw attention to ways in which Vancouver city bylaws are applied in a discriminatory manner due to specific wording in what is called the “Untidy Premises Bylaw.”

In this bylaw, the wording “standard of maintenance prevailing in the neighbourhood” is used to describe the standard to which a person should be held when they make choices about how to use their yard.  This means that if someone chooses to do something different than their neighbours, their neighbours can decide that what they are doing is illegal.  By making a complaint against a person doing something different, the person complaining therefor makes the act illegal by pointing out that it is different than what the neighbours do.  This paves the way for discrimination against anyone who doesn’t do what their neighbours do, and has no bearing on public safety or security and simply is a means for neighbours to enforce conformity, even when that conformity means enforcing ecological and social irresponsibility: green lawns in the middle of a drought, weed whackers at seven in the morning on a saturday, and visible clouds of white chemical powder floating over the neighbourhood from peoples’ front yard golf courses.

In my neighbourhood, there is only one house on the block that doesn’t have a front lawn — mine.  I grow food for my house and five other houses, and have been and continue to be deeply involved in the urban agriculture movement in Vancouver.  But apparently, I have a neighbour who doesn’t like what I do and had decided that because I make different choices than they do, they are empowered to stop me.  Sounds like a classic case of someone’s discrimination against another person’s perspective that they don’t understand, right?  Except that in this case, the city’s bylaws seem to be written specifically to empower just that kind of discrimination.

The Property Use Inspector that I spoke with told me that the only reason there’s a problem with what I do is beause nobody else on my street does it.  “You go down to Commercial Drive and everybody does this and it’s not a big deal,” he said.  So my crime is that I can’t afford to live on Commercial Drive, where rents are twice what I pay?  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since Vancouver seems to be adept at finding new and innovative ways to criminalize the poor, but to have the person responsible for enforcing it tell me flat out that I’m being discriminated against is quite astounding.

In an era of peak oil, the 100-mile diet, and a much-touted food garden on city hall’s lawns, being the only person on my street to stop wasting resources on a lawn and grow food to feed to people should be winning me honours, one would think.  I certainly don’t expect to be punished because my neighbour doesn’t know that dandelion is food.  I’m happy to meet people in the middle — if someone has a concern, they can address it to me and we can work something out that makes everyone happy, because we’re all equals.  But I refuse to live in the reality that what I do is wrong if it’s different than what others do and someone is empowered to order me to stop doing it just because they don’t do it.  If you jump off a bridge, am I supposed to follow you?   The society of lawns and SUV’s is jumping off an ecological bridge, committing slow collective suicide.  It makes me sad, but I’m not going to try and stop them if that’s their wish.  What they don’t have a right to do is demand that I jump with them.

A law that makes an action legal if your neighbours like you and illegal if they don’t is no kind of law to have in a democracy.  If Vancouver is serious about sustainability and not just greenwashing, city lawmakers need to take steps to protect people who grow food instead of lawns from the predjudices of those who are afraid of diversity and afraid of change.  We all make different choices, and that’s what makes a society strong.  I moved to Vancouver because I thought it was a place that did everything to foster and support diversity.  It would be nice if I was right.

Summer Workshops!

New workshops added to the schedule, including Permaculture Water Conservation Strategies and Introduction to Permaculture.  Check out the Upcoming Workshops and Events page for details.  For more info or to register, email to farmhousefarm (at) gmail (dot) com.

A Hundred Square Feet of Permaculture: 10 x 10 garden workshop in New Westminster

I’m running another 10 x 10 Garden workshop this Sunday (June 21), in New Westminster near 16th and Edinburgh. Email for details and registration. Info below:

The 10 X 10 Garden: A Hundred Square Feet of Permaculture

Do you want to grow more of your own food, but don’t know where to begin? Think you don’t have enough space? Are you interested in learning more about Permaculture and organic gardening?

If you have a 10 X 10 foot space and want to learn how to turn it into a full year of fresh, nutritious, yummy food without chemicals or hours and hours of work, this workshop is for you.

This one-day workshop with Rin from the Farmhouse Farm — an urban farm right here in Vancouver — will show you how to start from scratch and build a garden that will produce food all year long in just a hundred square feet! Vegetables, herbs, and greens are all a part of the comprehensive garden plan that you’ll learn to build and maintain. Perfect for those with small yards or working in allotment plots, this easy-to-follow plan incorporates Permaculture principles into a garden design you can follow to the letter or change and evolve to fit your space and goals. We’ll spend the day going over the plan and then getting down and dirty and building the garden from scratch at the host site. You’ll leave with a copy of the full garden design including crop rotations, maintenance routine, and all the information you’ll need to get started.

Email farmhousefarm (at) gmail (dot) com to register and get the details.

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