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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