Monday, March 30, 2020

Grace in the time of Covid


Some of us have guarded ourselves against this uncertain time with a thick sweater of fear. It’s got a big hood that droops over our eyes and a wide, heavy neck that lets us sink our heads nearly out of sight. Sometimes the fear manifests as anger, indignant condescension or rarely, pure rage.  Rage at folks who so plainly don’t understand the simple rules of staying home and keeping physical distance, or worse, don’t seem to care. 
Classic cable knit sweater illustration by @aj_lim_ - www.ajlim.net
But if we reach down into the bottom corner of the pocket in that heavy sweater maybe we can find a small thread of grace. 


Grace for the alcoholic whose meetings are cancelled and because he’s older and on a limited income, doesn’t have a computer or internet to participate in the online check-ins with his sponsor.  And for who the stress of being home all day is exacerbating the risk of falling off the wagon without a short chat with a couple of his fellow addicts in a quiet place. 

Grace for the single mom struggling with food insecurity and has a quiet agreement with an overwhelmed farmer with kids at home during planting season who needs her house cleaned in exchange for some vegetables and seedlings. 

Grace for the co-parenting father with his young kids in the grocery store, who has no one to leave them home with. 

Grace for the cashier who forgets to sanitize the counter between customers because her mind is on the lost income of her partner who is home struggling with depression and needs support they can’t afford or access.

Grace for the wife living with an abusive partner for whom that trip to the grocery store is her only real freedom during a time of quarantine and lost income. Grace for her spending too much time perusing the flower section, seemingly in no rush to leave. Grace for her feeling, guiltily, like a hospital stay might be a welcome alternative to the life waiting for her at home. 



Grace for all those who are doing their best with what they know. Guilt-inducing social media posts about the carelessness and ignorance of folks who don’t stay home, who take too long in the stores, who take their kids with them, who don’t achieve appropriate social distancing, who simply don’t do what seems so black and white to you, in your heavy sweater of privilege and fear.

So maybe instead of sharing yet one more opinion on the failures of others or calling the telephone reporting line on a stranger, choose to tug on that small thread, unravel that heavy, fearsome sweater, let it fall away and slowly knit back together a lovely, cozy comforting blanket of humanity, empathy and most importantly, grace. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hatching and Dispatching Barnyard Organics Style



Need something different in your newsfeed these days? Looking for some real food security and thinking of raising your own chickens? Let us help!

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.

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