News Flash: Everything Stays the Same When People Do Nothing!

Tonight I feel a bit of what it must have felt like to be an American in 2004 when George Bush got “elected” again.  Final results aren’t in yet, but it looks like four more years of Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals, which means four more years of privatization, child poverty, police violence, and corruption for the province of BC.

Just like Bush, Campbell has used highly funded media campaigns to create a world of imaginary dangers and then convince people who aren’t used to critical thinking that he is the man that can protect them from it.  In Bush’s case, it was “THE TERRORISTS!”  Who exactly he meant was irrelevant.  With Campbell, it’s “THE ECONOMIC DISASTER!”  The irony, of course, is that it’s privatization, confusing standardized testing for education, raising tution fees, and failing to guarantee basic human needs like housing, food, medical care, and mental health support that’s caused the economic disaster in the first place.

Here at The Farmhouse, things won’t really change that much; we were marginal to begin with, and we’ll keep right on building a life for ourselves that doesn’t depend on structures that are beyond our control.  I don’t think any of us actually had any illusions that a new government would change very much, because it’s the structure of government that’s the problem, regardless of who’s in the chair.  At best, we might — and I stress might — have seen the threat of offshore oil and gas drilling and huge oil tankers in our fragile coastal ecosystems lifted, for now.  But then again, maybe not.  Until people get up off their butts and decide what they want and then go get it, change is not going to come by shoving some fucking piece of paper into a box and then going back to sleep for four more years.

The fact remains that there is not, and never has been, anything resembling real democracy in this province, or anywhere else.  The only thing that makes change is just getting out and doing it, building the world we want to live in by talking to each other, by going out and doing it.  So I guess I’ll get up tomorrow and head back out to the garden, just like usual.  Tonight maybe I’ll console myself with a little reading from Edward Abbey, and shake all that election insanity out of my head.  For a moment there I almost thought that voting made a difference; silly me.

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

I’m holding a series of three workshops this month on how to build a 10 X 10 Permaculture garden.  Check out the info on my Upcoming Workshops and Events page!  Thanks.

An Open Letter to Alan Weisman

I recently finished reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.  The basic premise is, what would happen if suddenly all of us humans vanished form the Earth?  Not through war or natural disaster or by any other means that might likewise devastate other organisms, but if all the humans were simply and suddenly gone.  What would happen to our cities, our factories, our nuclear power plants and toxic waste sinks, our oil sands and arms dumps?  How would ecosystems respond?  How would species currently on the road to human-caused extinction fare?  It’s really a phenomenal book, and while I highly recommend it, I was troubled by the way he handled what seemed to be the conclusion of the book, if one can say that it has such a thing.

Weisman ends the book with a brief discussion of human population dynamics, and although he never comes right out and says it, he definitely gives the reader the impression that the best thing we can do is limit every woman on Earth to only one child.  Sound familiar?  Familiar, and troubling.  So troubling, in fact, that I was prompted to write the following letter, which I have mailed to him in Massechusettes where I’m not certain if he’ll ever read it or not.  I have copied it here for your reading enjoyment and comment, with one caveat: at this blog, the fact that we live in a global patriarchy where women are disproportionately poor, marginalized, and subject to violence is NOT up for debate.  If you doubt, dear reader, there are lots of data and information out there in the world with which to educate yourself on the topic.  Please do so before commenting — it isn’t mine or anyone else’s job to educate you about something which is abundantly clear to anyone who investigates it.  Anti-feminist rants will not be posted, so don’t bother.  There’s lots of places for that, this blog doesn’t need to become another one.  Thanks.

An Open Letter to Allen Weisman

Dear Mr. Weisman,

I have recently finished reading “The World Without Us” and felt compelled to write you for two reasons.  The first is that your book has touched m in many ways — good and bad, but deeply — and I would like to thank you for all your work, research, and insight.  The second reason, however, is that I left the world of your book feeling troubled.  Not by its content, which while deeply troubling is also meant to be so, should be so to any living, thinking person and so I feel okay, even good, about being troubled by it, but by your analysis of it.  In the last few pages of the book you delve into the intricate world of human population, which is certainly an important and highly pertinent topic.  But to do so in only a few pages and with only one level of analysis — women should have fewer children — is an oversimplification that borders on dangerous in a way that leaves me feeling the queasy, heart-pounding fear of a woman under threat.

When studying food policy in university I often encountered the topic of so-called “population control” in discussions of world food security issues.  Certainly, anyone can see that reducing the number of humans would ease the pressure on both earth and human systems.  But far too often the attention paid to lowering overall birth rates distracts attention from the much more easily and equitably obtainable goal of reducing the overall impacts that each of those children will have throughout their lives.  A family of 5 in many places will use less resources in their whole lives than a child born in Canada might use in her first five years, as I’m sure you know.  And so the population control discourse becomes a way for people in overconsuming nations to abdicate responsibility for their choices and instead lay the blame at the feet of the poor in the majority world.  The irony is that this is overhwlemingly NOT their mess, and yet they are blamed for it because they have “too many children.”  An oversimplfication based in racist feelings of entitlement has the dangerous ability to masquerade as sound policy if not put into its social and historical context.

And then we must remember that when we are speaking about children, we are speaking about mothers, about women.  Women, who also did not make this mess.  Men have been in control in most of the world, and have used violence from the personal to the structural to maintain that control, for the last five thousand years or so.  Theories about prehistoric overhunting aside, it is in the timeframe of global patriarchy that most of the damage you write about has been done.  And now women are to clean up the mess by obediently having fewer children, after centuries of obediently having many children to facilitate patrilineal inheritance patterns and male ideas about “spreading strong seed” which created so much of the mess in the first place?  “Limiting” women to one child is a dangerous line of thinking that again implies that the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in does not lie with the ideologies that cause it — colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism — nor with those — primarily Euro- and Euro-American (and Canadian) men — who have perpetuated them and who disproportionately benefit from them to this day.  Again, some context is required.

I do not disagree with you that population reduction would be easier on the Earth and ourselves.  But the method of that reduction must be just.  In a just world, birth rates would lower themselves.  Given access to healthcare, education, equal rights and choices, women have fewer children and have them later.  At 28 I am a double minority among women my age across the world, both childless and university educated.  I hope to have a child in my life, but not likely before 30 because I have goals I want to acheive first — and the later in their lives women have children, the slower population grows.  Because I am not dependent on my family, my partner, or his family for financial or social support, I can assert these kinds of choices for myself and feel secure in sticking to them, knowing that I can live the life I want.

How different would the world be if all women had access to freedom and to choices?  If heterosexuality, marriage, and childbearing were not enforced but chosen, or not chosen?  To discuss population without placing the rights and standards of living of women and girls at the absolute centre is not only sexist and violent, it is also doomed to failure.  No method of enforced control of women’s fertility — and there have been many, as I’m sure you know — has ever proven to be sustainable or to produce healthy families and societies.  The mechanism of population explosion is not, or at very least is not only, access to more and better food and healthcare.  The mechanism of population explosion is women’s loss of control over our lives and our bodies, our loss of access to real choices about our lives; the mechanism of population explosion is patriarchy.  Its attendent poverty and insecurity leads to higher birth rates and deepening cycles of marginalization, therefor only a solution that addresses patriarchy is any solution at all.

I have the depenst respect for your work and for your intentions.  But no matter how good, our intentions must be expressed and acted upon in ways that are also good.  Our ends cannot justify our means, our means must reflect and demonstrate, must be our ends.  Creating a world that is just and safe for women is an acheivable goal that will also help make sure we still have a world in the future.  To discuss population and carrying capacity through a lens which doesn’t acknowledge that is to do more harm than good.  A world of 1.6 billion people, a projection which you allude to in your book as a result of a global one-child-per-woman policy, will simply baloon back to 6 and then 9 billion again if those 1.6 billion still live under the kinds of patriarchy and disparity that we live under today.  The lasting way — the only lasting way — to environmental sustainability is through equality and a just, peaceful world for us all.

In love for the Earth and all her humans,

rin, Vancouver, Canada.

Kate’s Beautiful Alley Garden

My friend Kate had me over the other day (lucky me) and we poked around in her yard looking for extra gardening space.  We spotted some unused space hiding in the back alley, and Kate wasted no time getting down to making it beautiful!

Here’s her take on it:

It was a very empowering exersize to capitalize on unused and available space for a garden. So often we think – we don’t have time! We don’t have space! We do have the space. It was empowering to design it myself, but also to collect the materials I needed to make this happen. I had to try a little hard to find the woodchips, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how available free things are. The woodchips people were only too obliging to help me out, from nursery folks to arbourists (as you said!). A whole load of compost picked up from the dump was $5…:)

It was also great to spend the time in my own neighbourhood, as part of it. I talked to more people on the 2 days I spent garden-building than I have since I moved in about 2.5 years ago. People are interested and happy to see that I was beautifying the alley.

I can’t wait to see what starts to grow and the growing pains I may have with soil erosion, drainage etc – but how worthwhile!

And the visual aids:

Great job, Kate!

2009 Deliveries! City-grown veggies, biked to your door.

Mmmm, smell those cherry blossoms!  Although the spring has been a long time coming, it’s finally here and that means it’s time to sign up for this season’s Farmhouse Farm CSA.

Here’s how it works:

With a $100 membership deposit, you get yourself on the list for a box of fresh organic veggies grown right here at the Farmhouse in South Vancouver, delivered to your door once a week by bicycle.  We’ll start deliveries at the end of May or beginning of June, and end sometime around Thanksgiving or Halloween.  Each box gets an equal share of whatever is in season that week, so that in weeks when there’s lots we all get lots, and weeks when there’s less we all get less, but no matter what it’s always an equal share.  This is a marketing structure known as “crop-sharing” that’s used by small farmers in many places to help us compete with large, corporate-controlled farms and the retailers that empower them.

And what will be in the box?  Each week there will be a bag of salad greens and edible flowers, several different varieties of herbs, hard greens like kale, arugula, orach, dandelion or beet greens, and then a selection of in-season vegetables and fruit.  Some of what’s on this year’s list include peas, pole beans, fava beans, summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes, blackberries, radishes, bok choy, and peppers.

In addition, this year I’m also offering our whole food natural-brewed Kombucha, a wonderful living food drink made with organic tea and herbs from the garden.  We are also collaborating with other urban farms to offer local honey and eggs as they become available.

All this delivered to your door (within the City of Vancouver) for a weekly charge of $30, plus a $20 bag-and-bottle deposit (payable with the first weeks’ delivery) which will be returned at the end of the season.

Interested folks should email  farmhousefarm (at) gmail (dot) com with your address and delivery instructions (back door, under the stairs, etc.) and I’ll get you on the list.  Spaces go quickly, so don’t wait!  And if you know anyone who might be interested, please pass on the info.

Happy Spring!

The Hundred Foot Garden

Well, wonder of wonders!  It looks like spring has finally (maybe) come to Vancouver.  Although we’re a few weeks behind due to weather, it’s definitely time to start thinking about gardening, and about learning to garden!

To that end, this is a callout for a currently under/unused but gardenable space to be the site of a one-day workshop on a Saturday in May.  The space should be large enough to hold a ten-by-ten foot raised garden bed, and should have adequate sun (five to eight hours per day of direct sun) and access to water.  The space holder will receive free attendance at the workshop for themselves and a guest, and will end up with a complete, self-sustaining food production garden which will produce food all year and require less than five hours a week of simple maintenance.  Included will also be follow-up maintenance coaching for the garden’s host, and the handbook that goes with the workshop outlining the installation and maintenance of the garden throughout its three-year rotation and into perpetuity.  Experience is most definitely not required!

Preference will be given to families and low-income people, or community gardens that serve those communities.  If you have or know someone who has a suitable space, please contact me by April 15th.  Leave a message in the comments on this site, or email farmhousefarm (at) gmail (dot) com.

Farmer on the Move

Well, I guess it’s official since I’m putting it on the internet: this will be my last growing season in Vancouver (I think). I’ve put a lot of thought into leaving the city, whether it’s time, whether it’s right, and while I am discovering that it’s more and more difficult for me to decide for certain what’s “right” in a lot of situations, here’s the decision I’ve come to.

First and foremost I have to admit that try as I might, I’m just not a city girl. When the moon is full on a clear night and the ground is covered with snow, the streetlights blocking out the silvery light make me want to cry; two nights ago that’s exactly what I did.  I want to walk in the forest, talk to my neighbours, babysit their kids, and live in a place where there’s no anonymity to protect you when you treat other people like obstacles instead of beings (to the car full of assholes who threw a beer can at me when I was biking past you last night, I’m talking to you!).  In a small town, everybody knows each other and you know that you’re all stuck there together – you have to get along.  There are trees, and darkness, and silence, and people know what it means to be a farmer.  Not that there aren’t conflicts and challenges, but with nowhere else to go you learn to work them out instead of isolating yourself or just calling in the authorities to deal with it.  There’s also a sense of independence, a direct connection to the resources that we live on that removes the illusion of limitlessness. When you actually see the trees coming down and the soil blowing away, it’s easier to make the leap to relying on local systems, local economy to support the community. When you know how far away things have to come from, it’s easier and more intuitive to collaborate with your neighbours to start doing for yourselves. I’m ready to live in a place where the economy doesn’t need “outside investment,” a place that doesn’t want outsiders’ money but rather to build a community economy that encompasses all the ways that we can create and measure value, including money, but also including so many other things that in the vast anonymity and consumerism of the city have become invisible.

On the other hand, I think it’s pretty safe to say with some degree of certainty that cities need help. Cities need to learn to live within their environmental means, which means adjusting the social and economic structures of the city to make that possible. And if everyone who cares about these things leaves the city, then it just gets worse.  Am I running away, abdicating my social responsibility to share what I’ve learned to benefit others?  I struggle with that, unsure how to balance my desire for the country with my feelings of obligation to people that have never had the opportunity to know anything but the city.  If you’ve only ever known concrete and cars, are you really free to choose something else, to take a road that you don’t know exists?  But at the same time, so many people when presented the choice still choose cell phones and shopping malls over forests and fresh air, so who am I to try to change their minds?  This is my conflict.

Of course, I can’t ignore the factor of the Olympics, either.  Does anyone really believe that once they get drug dogs and random bag searches on the SkyTrain and security cameras all over downtown, they’re just going to take them all down after the games?  I certainly don’t believe it.  And I will never, ever sacrifice my freedom for some illusory feeling of “safety,” especially when the threats that all this crap is supposed to protect us from are mere boogeymen, the manifestations of the empire’s fear of dissent, of anything it doesn’t control.  I also live in one of the neighbourhoods that’s been most effected by the recent rash of gang violence in Vancouver, and I feel that it’s pretty safe to say that fifty years of more cops and stiffer sentences hasn’t stopped gangs before, so what makes them think it’s going to stop them now?  Until they give up this rediculous prohibition rhetoric and admit that the war on drugs is just a scare tactic to convince people to put up with diverting resources to funding cops that should be going to education and health care, it’s only going to get worse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  I think this is a lot of what has kept me here so long; my vision of how it could be. I bike past car sales lots and I see fields of vegetables, those big glassy showrooms converted to greenhouses full of tomatoes and cucumbers.  I see food growing in every lawn, I see homes of natural materials sprouting in every parking lot, built with joy by the people who need somewhere to live and feel safe. I see kids playing in the dismantled streets because we don’t need personal automobiles any more.  A big part of me feels guilty leaving before that vision is acheived; but at the same time, the blessing that I’ve had in working on this farm project has been to meet so many people that are dedicated to making the city a living, breathing place, people that love living in the city for what it is. Not everyone wants to live in the woods with no electricity, I’ve discovered; I can’t imagine why not, but there it is. And meeting so many amazing, dedicated folks who love the city and want to make it better has let me feel okay with leaving.

And so by this time next year, we hope to be putting seeds in the ground on the North Sunshine Coast for a food forest and market garden. We’re looking to lease 3 to 5 acres of farmland, build a simple cabin, and put all these skills we’ve been collecting into real practice.   I hope to use the space and the freedom to push the envelope of what simple, sustainable technologies can do, learn new things and bring them back to the city to share the skills with people who want to put them to work here where they’re so desperately needed.

This also means the The Farmhouse Farm will be looking for a new farmer, someone who wants to take the foundation that the last couple of growing seasons have built and take it to the next level. Interested? Let’s chat.

All hail the urban farming revolution!