Thursday, January 9, 2020

Vernalization



The idea of ‘hibernation’ is not an uncommon one to hear in the post-holiday time when everyone feels a bit spent (in more ways than one) and in need of a good wintery rest.  And it certainly is a comfortable sort of idea; imagining a roly poly mammal who has eaten a bit extra now cozying down for a couple months of a deep sleep, ready to wake in the spring and start over. For some at this time of year it feels magical and even a little aspirational that a sleep could be so deep and presumably restful. It’s not surprising to see and hear so many wistful references to hibernation at this season, in our society of chronic over-tiredness and rush-rush from one thing to the next. 

While there is value in considering the idea of a human version of hibernating, I wonder if we’re not better suited, in our relatively northern climate to consider vernalization instead. By definition vernalization is: 
"the exposure(artificial or otherwise) of plants (or seeds) to low temperatures in order to stimulate flowering or to enhance seed production."
That is to say, like many wild flowering plants or a winter wheat or rye seed that is planted in the fall, it will produce some lovely ground cover with grassy leaves and then head into the winter for what seems like a certain death.  Yet, come spring, as long as the ice hasn’t been too cruel, they will burst forth with fresh growth and be the first crop to produce a yield come late summer. They are the go-getters of field crop production and are often an organic farmer’s dream, combining the beauty of great cover crop and a low maintenance, low input early-season harvest.
If planted directly, without the vernalization in the spring, there will be some growth, some leaves, but no slender stems and most certainly no seed production. Without that winter rest, the plant produces none of its beauty, does not fulfill its purpose, does not flower or produce anything enduring. 

Hibernation is a sleep and wake. Necessary, yes, but little is different before the rest to after. With vernalization, the act of resting is the mechanism that allows and even forces the flowering to follow. Without the vernalization, we’re merely a spent seed with nothing new to offer. Rather than just a rest for rests sake, perhaps we should rest, recognizing that it not just feels good, but is physically necessary in order to flower the following spring. And not just flower, but produce a bounteous replica of all the good it started with.  

Farmers have been attempting human vernalization since the beginning of agriculture when for most, winter is a season of planning, perusing seed catalogues and pondering equipment purchases. It’s a season of financial analysis, fiscal considerations, invoice gathering and paperwork wrangling. Farmers do not spend the winter merely catching up on the hundreds of hours of Netflix they missed during the growing seasons (although they may do some of that). A good farmer is using these cold days for reflection, analysis, adjustment and preparation for a fresh start. So while they could simply rest, sleep longer and then wake up ready to repeat the following seasons, most farmers are taking the time to adjust and adapt for a more productive or sustainable growing period to come.  

In order to produce and be the selves that we were meant to be, we must slow our roll and find moments of quiet in this darker season. As the wind blows hard against the windows, rather than lamenting what feels like house arrest against the weather, what if we instead hunkered down for an earlier bedtime, but also some moments to consider what our own personal flowering looks like. What does reaching our potential mean to us this year and how will we get there? Setting resolutions, goals and intentions is lovely, but it’s not vernalization until we aim them at our larger purpose. 

The beauty of vernalization is that it repeats. But only if given the chance to rest. 

Image result for vernalization 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Land Limits Do Not Healthy Soil Make

The Lands Protection Act is the real problem, not the Irvings (although a vigilant eye is not remiss). Relying on “the spirit” of anything in 2019 is frankly, na├»ve. If the intention of the Act is to preserve soil health, small farms and healthy, vibrant economies, I would suggest that history shows it has been failing for decades and that even those original intentions are not enough. We are no longer at a stage where preservation is sufficient. We, as people of a small, rural province need to be looking beyond sustainability to enrichment and regeneration. Being outraged by exceeding arbitrary land limits is distracting us from the real, tangible issues of land and soil management



Perhaps it’s (past) time to consider an amendment to the lauded land limits portion of the Land Protections Act.  Let’s move beyond the idea of sustainable farms being a specific size and consider instead the priority of what they do and how they do it. What if instead of the focus being on number of acres, the application for land acquisition was instead treated like a job interview?  What if the questions had weight and required sincere thought and consideration? Questions that lawyers couldn’t answer. Questions whose answers could be seen born out. Questions like, but certainly not limited to;


  • How often will you, the owner of the land, physically be on the property to feel the soil, smell the air and monitor the biodiversity?
  • ·      What will you do to care for the soil? 
  • ·      How often will you test the soil?
  • ·      What sort of management practices will you put in place to mitigate contributions to climate change? 
  • ·      What sorts of innovative plans do you have to help build soil and prevent it from eroding by wind or by water?
  • ·      Will you plant crop varieties that can be harvested early enough to put some winter soil cover in place? 
  • ·      Will there be livestock on the land? If so, how will they be housed and what is the plan for their manure?
  • ·      Are you aware of wetlands and waterways within and adjacent to your property? What will you do to improve and maintain those? 
  • ·      Does your pesticide management plan include a reduction in inputs? Explain.
  • ·      Will you source any manure in place of chemical fertilizers?
  • ·      How will you help build biodiversity? 
  • ·      Will you be planting any trees? 
  • ·      Do you have plans to clear land or remove hedgerows? 
  • ·      What will your rotation look like? Anything new and interesting on your radar that is particularly good for building soil? 
  • ·      How will you contribute to the local community? (Coach soccer, volunteer at 4-H, church, watershed group?)  Will you know your neighbouring land owners?

Of course an answer is only as good as its owner and it would be all too easy to pay lip service without any intention of follow through.  Which is why tax payers will surely support the creation of a Soil Conservation Officer who will meet with new landowners at their property and review their answers every 3-5 years, raising property taxes accordingly and increasingly year by year for each empty promise.


Soil health is too precious to spend any more time wailing about the evils of owning too much land. If a province has the power to limit land ownership, then it surely has the power to require answers to questions that address the issues those limits were once meant to. And the subsequent power to deny requests that don’t meet the needs of Islanders and their precious soil, air and water. What got us here, will not get us there, and it’s time to move forward with intention and focus on the thing that matters; protecting the land. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Little PGR With Your Toast?

Just doing my nightly review of Facebook before hitting the sack and usually it puts me in a mental lull that makes sleep come easy.  But tonight, it's got me fired up and frustrated and unable to sleep, so perhaps a venting blog will help. Thanks for being my shoulder to rant on.

A field of our organic wheat, free from chemical fertilizers or  PGRs.

So what caught my eye exactly? This article regarding the use of plant growth regulators in wheat production in Western Canada.  Without thinking too much, it's a pretty innocuous article, sharing the latest research in PGR's in various wheat varieties in the Prairies. Wonderful new technology needed because many of the currently popular varieties tend to grow very fast and they lodge, or fall over, making harvest very difficult. So these PGR's act as a grown inhibitor, slowing the growth so the plants don't fall over. 

How the hell did we get here?  We (conventional ag) have selected and bred varieties of wheat that produce huge white grains on long thin stems, encouraged by fertilizers that increase rate of growth. When there started to be some challenges with those varieties, instead of backing up and considering a mildly lower yielding variety on shorter, stronger stems, instead we turned to chemical regulators that alter the hormones of the plants so that their growth is stunted. 

Am I the only one gobsmacked at this cycle of pure insanity!?  Has Canadian agriculture completely lost the ability of independent thought and evaluation and handed 100% of our decision making abilities over to corporations who sell us things?  And then sell us more things to fix the other things they sold us that didn't work out the way they said?  Then a new thing when that fix stops working or is found to be really messing up our own health because we're changing the hormonal make up of our FOOD!?!!?!?!

There are moments in modern ag when I want to go shake people and have serious conversations about how we got here.  There are moments when I want to cheer from the rooftops for a job well done. And there are moments when I want to cry and move to a deserted island where I can have some hens and a garden (and nice toilet paper somehow).  This is one of those moments.  How did we get here? And why are we not asking harder questions and maybe sometimes looking back instead of always, always looking up, to someone to sell us a solution? (The most ridiculous thing about the article is that the PGR's can negatively affect yield- ya think?!- so it's not a cure-all by any means, just a panacea for farmers panicking over a lodging crop.) 

For contrast sake, we've grown Acadia wheat here for a decade now and it's a bit lower yielding and definitely shorter stemmed but we don't feed it any chemical fertilizer and it's slowly adapted to our soil and climate to produce quite a beautiful crop.  

 Sigh.  
I guess I'll take slightly less, clean wheat, rather than boatloads of PGR and glyphosate-treated wheat. 

One more reason for me to buy organic wheat, bread, etc.  I wish there weren't always more reasons.







Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Myth of Public (Mis)trust


Inherently suspicious of things that exist primarily as a reaction and opposition to some other specific thing, my response to seeing the Farm Babe as the keynote speaker at the PEI Soil & Crop Association’s 2019 Conference was unenthused, to say the least.
And it’s not her specifically that underwhelms me but what she represents, which is to say the entire ‘public trust’ indoctrination. Remember ‘social license’? That’s what public trust used to be known as, but the powers that be decided that ‘license’ sounded too formal and confusing for consumers, so ‘public trust’ was born. And born it was!  It exploded onto the agriculture scene and was immediately hailed by most as the magic pill to fix all that ails modern ag.  It’s not the farming practices, the food system or the changing climate; it’s stupid people!  If everyone would just eat what they were told, continue to support cheaply made food and not ask any questions, finally, agriculture would be saved!

Public trust is a tool of corporate agribusiness, not for the public, but for farmers, to bolster them in the practices that make those companies so much money.  It creates a soundproof echo chamber in which the inhabitants grow increasingly convinced that they are right and anyone questioning them is a threat. We have reached an uncharted point in human history, which is to say, the first time that farm groups are telling consumers that they’re wrong.

So a farm group spending money on amplifying a voice within the echo chamber isn’t surprising, but given the public outrage over the PEI soil blowing across the countryside, and the climate change challenges ahead, if true public trust were in order we’d be spending far more time and money figuring out why we tore out all the hedgerows and how to put them back in. Investing in more self congratulations and pats on the back in times like this is like lighting a candle while the house burns down around you. 
These are the funders of Canada's public trust ag train.  All aboard?

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Soil

She’s a heaving, breathing,
Feminine being.
Full of curves and points and hard parts and softness.
Laid bare by her carers,
Suffering the cold wind,
Bitten and bitter.
Her skin tears and she bleeds,
Wind whipping, scratching, opening wounds that do not heal.
Without any winter clothes she is vulnerable,
Weakened and worn.
Her power and energy flung wayward,
Watched dispassionately by her stewards.
Yet, with spring’s warmth
She will be called on to wake
And swallow what is fed to her
And endure her trials of tillage and seeding.
She’ll be expected to nourish the babies,
Give her whole self,
Absorb the poisons designed to protect the babies but
That weaken her, kill her immunities 
And open her to disease.

She sighs, subdued, waits for spring,
Hoping only that by next winter, she’ll be left with cover,
Maybe some new trees, like braids in her hair,
That can slow the wind, hold the snow, 
And keep her whole.
So that she can not only nourish everyone else
But start to rebuild herself.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back on the big yellow bus.

I was struggling with why I was avoiding writing this post and then I remembered the struggle I had writing the post about the decision to homeschool.  It makes sense that writing about my decision not the homeschool would be equally difficult.
It's not because I'm struggling with the actual decision. That part is over. I re-read and reviewed all the reasons I started homeschooling and I agonized and talked it out and wrote about it. It was a long, hand-wringing, crying, waffling time of reckoning, but it's over.  Mostly.  Sometimes, in quiet sad moments, I'll remember why I started the adventure to start with, but I know in my heart that mostly I'm just remembering the good parts.  And then I let myself have a little cry for that season being over and then celebrate that a new one has dawned.

Just as when I announced the decision to homeschool, I was clear to say that it wasn't a criticism of the teachers or schools, I now want to be doubly clear that the decision to put the kids into school is not a criticism of homeschooling.  In fact, I am more than ever, convinced that those who are able to put the time in to homeschool are doing their kids a great service.  I don't agree with the naysayers who insist that socialization is lacking, or that the advantages of the public system outweigh the advantages of homeschooling.  Having done it, and having spent time with several very grounded and 'normal' homeschoolers I can promise you that it truly does offer some very unique, valuable and incredibly important opportunities and lessons.  Opportunities and lessons that are not available in a public system.  I sincerely applaud and admire all the homeschool parents out there and wish that they could all know how amazing they are for doing the incredibly important work they're doing.  I wish they could all feel their value and recognize that overall, they are having far more successes than failures.

But alas, in the past year I have found my mind wandering.  I have found myself wanting to explore other things. I have found my creativity in homeschooling waning, and been feeling a pull to activities that inhibit my ability to homeschool the way I want to (this is the real crux of it).  I probably would have returned the kids before now, but was so encouraged by the many homeschooler parents who manage to work (both in and out of the home), or who take a year off, or who are contented to truly 'unschool' and allow their children to follow their passions and trust in that.  But I am self-aware enough to know that I am just not one of those people.  I have just enough A-type in me to need standards and expectations and when I can't achieve them (however arbitrarily set they are), I feel like I've done both myself and the kids, a disservice.

So I finally stopped feeling guilty about wanting to do other things and let myself consider public school for the kids.  And I feel good.  Really good.  I know teachers at their school. I've chatted with another former homeschool mom who put her kids into that school. I can now say that I'm confident that this is the right thing for right now.

 And I know that many homeschool moms will be wanting to send me encouragement to reconsider, with the very best of intentions.  Don't worry moms, I know I did an awesome job! haha.  I have had the BEST time, MOST of the time. I will never ever regret this time. Ever.  I am proud of how we did what we did and I think I've planted the only seed I was intentional about planting: a love of learning.  (A love of farming was a secret seed that I think I also planted in most of them...haha). I look forward to continuing to nurture these seeds.  We've all agreed that the part we're going to miss the most is Morning Basket and we all said that we hope that we can plan enough ahead the night before to be able to eek out a quick moment of morning basket before the bus (I'm sure I'll laugh at that in retrospect after several mornings of utter chaos).
And I know that many friends and family will want to send notes of encouragement for making this decision and assurances that it's the right thing.  And I know that too.  It's the right thing right now.  Don't tell me my kids will be better off, because I'm not sure that's true. They may not be worse off, but they won't necessarily be better off either. However, they will certainly enjoy themselves and we will all enjoy the experience of new things, new opportunities.  And go into it knowing that there will be inevitable moments of doubt or angst, just as there was with homeschooling.  Such is the nature of the beast of parenting.

The last three years have been one helluva an adventure and one I wouldn't have traded for the world.  And no one is to say that it's forever in the past.  I have learned to never assume anything when it comes to these kids.  But for now, we're on a new path and I'm looking forward to some one-on-one time with Sol (although he's a bit of a daddy's boy and will take time in the barn over time in the house any day).  The three olders are all on board and looking forward to the adventure.  Wilson was trepidatious, even reluctant at first, but thanks to the INCREDIBLE book, Wonder, he feels ready to face the unknowns and says he's actually excited now.
So, I'm off to round up 'school clothes' and lunch boxes and backpacks and indoor shoes and all the rigamarole that comes with the territory.  Guess what's going to be under the tree this year!? haha!



I hope this finds you finding joy in the season, as the third candle says.  Knowing January was on the other side of Christmas, we are having a lot of fun making the absolute most of this advent season.  It's been my favourite Christmas already and it's only the 10th of December. :)
The candles of advent are so timely and perfectly named, they really are the frame I build Christmas upon.  For those of you struggling this time of year, I wish you peace and that you can find someone who you can let help carry and share your burdens.  

Best,
Sally

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Farm Mamas: Stop trying harder




Note: I refer to 'farm mamas' throughout because that's what I call myself, privately, but this could apply to most farming women I think.

This one is for the farm mamas.  You know who you are. You're busting it everyday on the farm, kids in tow or home after school.  You've got plants in soil, animals waiting to get on pasture or emails to answer.  You've got meal plans on your mind and plans to do a spring craft with the kids that will never happen.  You'd like to wear your 'town jeans' someday but it's been a while, you're not sure where they are. You do a quick sweep with the broom once every few days and hope that will keep the Black Plague at bay which is surely festering in the bathroom you haven't cleaned in a month. You follow a bunch of beautiful farms on Instagram with their weedless rows and lush greens, two weeks ahead of yours.  You 'like' the "Women Who Farm" page on Facebook with all those daily photos of rosy cheeked, denim-clad, happy women with their hands in soil, making a difference in the world, maybe even a baby on their back.  Maybe you follow Barnyard Organics page on Facebook and those lovely filtered light photos with the clever hashtags.  Everyone has it so together.

Except you.

Spring comes upon you gently enough, but suddenly switches into high gear so quickly that it doesn't take long before you're way behind and the balls in the air are falling to the ground all around you and turns out they're not balls, but eggs and now they've cracked and not only have you broken them, but you have to clean them up.

I lost it tonight. I had one of those heaving, sucking, snotty, ugly full out bawls tonight.  So hard and so deep that my sinuses filled up and I had to breathe through my mouth.  And in the midst of it all I thought, "Gawd I hope no one thinks this doesn't happen to me."  I post pretty pictures on Instagram and cutesy posts on Facebook and I hate that it probably gives the perception that all is well all the time.  That I live some enchanted life with four, dancing, perfect children and hens that peck peacefully at my passing by as I sing hymns and toss glitter feed into the air.



So this is for you.  To know that a good heaving cry is not only good, it's necessary this time of year.  That feeling like dropping all the balls is also going to happen.  That the weather will be cold and miserable and seeds will rot in the ground. That maybe too many chicks are going to die and you're going to feel responsible for decades of shitty breeding totally out of your control.   That water will overflow and flood something important.  That something crucial will not arrive in the mail in time.  That the plumber won't show up and won't tell you when they will be able to get to you.  That your eldest has turned into a teenager overnight.  That your youngest needs you the most when you most need to be alone.  That you feel like a disappointment when your partner ends up doing what are usually your jobs around the house because you've forgotten for two weeks, even though they'd never think twice about it.   That you cook hotdogs for two nights in a row after 2 years of not eating one.  That you can't even muster a peanut butter sandwich and instead open a bag of chips for lunch.   That the thing you put away perfectly last winter is now a tangled/wrecked/ruined mess.  That your email goes down for three days while receiving registrations.  That the weedy flower bed out front feels like a taunt from generations passed, a metaphor for you domestic failure. That your computer shits the bed and you have to figure out a new one while responding to questions like, "I'm going on vacation on August 4th, my son will be picking up my share, can you not put onions in?"  That you forgot to pick up feminine protection and now it's day 2 and things are not pretty and you don't have time to get to town and have to ask your in-laws when they go for a coffee run.  That maybe things are actually going well and you feel guilty because your farmer friend is having a helluva week.  That homeschooling for the week' means "go back to the pond and check those frogs eggs and don't worry about coming back anytime soon." Or more likely homeschooling means, "carry this hammer while we walk to the fence perimeter." That the library books from a month ago are still strewn around the house.  That you forgot to tell your partner about the important phone message two weeks ago and now its gone on too long to tell him you knew.  That you are going on an average of 5 hours of sleep/night.  That you feel guilty for feeling so stressed when your partner has even bigger things going on. That your face is breaking out like a teenager.  That your body is sore and your son just asked, "Mommy, why is there purple under your eyes?"

So I don't have a helpful list called "A Farm Mama's Tips on How to Survive the Spring" and I don't think there really could ever be such a thing. (Although if there was it would surely include an Instant Pot because that thing really has been a saviour).
But I have this:
Stop trying harder.  When you hear that voice say, "You're just not trying hard enough", swing around and punch it right in the mouth.
I recently realized that I'm going to have to give up roller derby this year due to scheduling conflicts.  In accepting the reality I talked to a few team members about it and the very well meaning response I received from all of them, was, "You deserve derby!  You work too hard, it's your ME time! You can make it work, I'm sure of it!" While I don't disagree, what I really needed to hear was,

"It's ok to let it go.  You don't have to do it all.  (Insert a ball you have in the air that's stressing you) will be there when you're ready to juggle it again, if you want to.  Right now, embrace not doing it.  Make the liberty of letting go be your self-care.  Just lay back, shut your eyes, breathe deep and let.it.go."    

So that's what I give you tonight.  Take care of you.  And when you're having a jealous moment over someone else's Instagram know that I've posted beautiful photos and generated clever hashtags while crying over something totally unrelated because I think social media is my 'job' and heaven forbid I let that slide just because I'm sad/frustrated/overtired.  (Did I just ruin our social media? haha).


Love to you Mamas.  This season too shall pass and there will come days when we can prepare a big healthy meal and our kids will be clean , we will not feel guilt about neglecting the kids and our partners will relax and our house will be clean feel like a welcoming place and we'll get longer, deeper sleep (amen to that part!).