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[Cross-posted from Slow Coast.]
Anyone who accepts that the threats posed by peak oil (and general resource depletion), climate chaos, and economic meltdown are threats to be taken seriously must wonder how we’re supposed to get from here to there. Here means a society deeply dependent on fossil fuels and committed to endless economic growth. There means… well, that’s the big question, right? Anything other than the status quo — or the status quo only more of it — is hard for us to imagine. Much of the long and complicated work of our local Transition effort will revolve around the re-imagining of the future of this region; and to make that re-imagining happen, we first need to understand that we have the power as citizens to design the future we want to see and then work together to build it.
This is a massive task, and in order to be successful it will require collaboration and the creation of many new projects designed to strengthen our ability to provide food, affordable shelter, water, jobs, education, medical services, and all of the other goods and services which support the life of our region. To the extent that providing these goods and services now depends on excessive use of fossil fuels or other scarce materials, to the extent that they create excessive atmospheric pollutants, and to the extent that they actually undermine the local economy, we will want to create alternatives out from under the current system.
I admit that it’s hard to know what this is even going to look like. And my reading of many of the leading ‘post-peak’ thinkers (e.g., Sharon Astyk, John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, among others) tells me that none of them knows much more about what to expect than I do. The solutions they are advocating are all about preparing for as much as possible, given some reasonable assumptions about what we can expect to be coming at us. The idea is not to prepare for this or that specific thing so much as it is to become resilient in the face of whatever might be headed our way. And much of that preparation is pretty basic stuff, good common sense, and falls into what Sharon Astyk has written about under the name of “The Theory of Anyway“, which is to say: the things we should be doing anyway, whether or not there are crises forcing us to change our behaviour.
One of the very basic things which we should be doing anyway is being good stewards of all of the assets in our community. That we are not succeeding at this is obvious in every clearcut, every polluted waterway, every improvised roadside dump. We are going to have to reduce the amount and impact of our wasteful and environmentally destructive behaviour as resources become scarcer and more valuable.
One community asset which is currently being wasted more than it ought to be is fruit. There are countless abundant fruit trees throughout the region, and many of them drop their fruit each year because no one cares enough for the fruit to gather it and preserve it. After all, apples, pears, and other fruits are easily available year-round in our grocery stores, and cheap — especially when you consider that often they come from halfway around the world — so there is no huge impetus to make sure that we scavenge every last fruit from every last tree in the area.
But it is sad to see good food wasted, especially when people are going hungry around us. So for the last four years the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, a small but scrappy community initiative, has been working on a next-to-zero budget to see that as much fruit gets saved and used as possible.
Here’s how it works: the owner of fruit (or nut) tree who wants the fruit harvested contacts the coordinator of the Fruit Tree Project, Anne Michaels. Anne arranges for a team of volunteer pickers to go to the property and pick the fruit. The standard arrangement for distributing the fruit is that one-third goes to the pickers, one-third to the owner of the tree, and one-third to a local food pantry or other charitable organization to be distributed to those in need. But that arrangement is flexible, since sometimes the owner of the tree is happy simply to have the fruit picked and taken away, if only to reduce the risk of having a bear come and do it.
Anne is working hard to see this project expand. She is hoping that the Community Resource Centre in Powell River will be home to some fruit-preserving workshops and work parties this year. One of the difficulties in past years has been that the charitable organizations struggle to give away fresh fruit during the summer months, and there has been no way in previous years to can, freeze, or dry the harvested fruit so that it can be stored and distributed year-round. Now that the Community Resource Centre has a fully operational and inspected kitchen, the Fruit Tree Project can use that kitchen to preserve fruit for later use. Anne is planning to dehydrate a lot of the harvested fruit, in the hopes that dried fruit and fruit leather will be a product that can bring a little money into this perpetually cash-strapped project.
Anne also talks about expanding the project to take in more than just tree crops. What if we could arrange for crews of gleaners to swoop in when homeowners have more lettuce, beans, or (most likely) zucchini than they know what to do with? What if those crews could be sure that this fresh local food could get to those in need, via local soup kitchens or food pantries? And what if enough money (or another form of exchange) could flow through this project to pay for a coordinator, for some equipment, or for the use of the kitchen facilities?
What if there were a whole regional network of gardens producing food which could be assured of not going to waste, because all homeowners knew that the community gleaning team were just a phone call away? If the volunteers could be paid either in gathered food or in some other form, such as a local food-backed currency which could be exchanged at any time and not just during the time of harvest? What if more people in the community were able to learn the skills involved in safely preparing and preserving the summer harvest against the long cold wet winter months?
And what if all of this activity were generating true economic value? How could it not? This would be food produced in the region by people who live here, harvested and shared among other people in the region, producing jobs and stores of food for anyone willing to work.
Somehow we have to get from here to there. And the only way to do that is to start with what’s here, now, and try to make it get a little bigger and a little better each time around. So if you’re interested in getting more involved with the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, feel free to contact Anne Michaels at email@example.com or (604) 485-4366. If you have fruit or not trees which you anticipate needing to have picked this year, let her know. If you would be willing to go out into the community as a volunteer picker, let her know. And if you have ideas about how to make this project even better, Anne is looking for a committee of supporters to brainstorm and work on expanding the project. Let her know if you’re interested in being involved.
This year, we will be celebrating the fourth annual Powell River eat-local challenge, also known as the “50-mile diet”. This event is our very own regional spin on the 100-mile diet, which started out with two Vancouverites named Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, who decided to try to spend an entire year eating only food from within 100 miles of where they lived.
The idea is simple: anyone who wants to participate is welcome to do so at their chosen level of participation. The usual ‘entry level’ is 50%, meaning that you will attempt to get half of the food you eat from sources within 50 miles of where you live. Some participants go for 75%, some for 95%, and the real hardcore cases might go for 100%, although that level of commitment is not for the faint of heart. Like most diets, it works better if you can convince the other people in your household to go along with it — no one wants to be eating local potatoes and kale while surrounded by others eating Chilean grapes, Thai mangosteens, and Turkish taffy. That’s just not fair.
The period of the eat-local challenge has traditionally been six weeks, but this year we have decided to step it up a little bit in the interest of getting the numbers to line up. So we’re proposing a 50-day stretch to go with the 50 miles. Right now it looks as though the challenge will begin on Saturday August 9, 2009 and will end on Sunday September 27, 2009, which is the second day of Powell River’s annual Fall Fair.
The eat-local challenge is all about:
- educating individuals about where their food comes from;
- bringing families and households together in a common project;
- getting the community thinking and talking about its food production, present and future;
- creating positive connections in the community among food producers and food consumers, and among people sharing ideas, recipes, and (above all) food;
- demonstrating to ourselves and to our politicians that there is public interest in eating more local food.
This year I will be part of a team of eager organizers. If you would like to get involved with the fourth annual eat-local challenge, please contact me. We are hoping to kick things off this year with a tour of local productive food gardens, in the hopes that that might inspire people to start growing more food. We have all kinds of ideas about involving local restaurants and grocery stores. We would like to have lots of information going around the community about where the eat-local challengers can find food: weekly emails, blog posts, possibly even a podcast! Potlucks and other opportunities to get together and compare notes and progress. T-shirts. Local art from local artists. Maybe some kind of a celebration at the end, with prizes and a final local food banquet.
And if you simply would like to participate, you can sign up here. Once you’re on our email list, stay tuned for updates and information as we get closer to the challenge. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell the neighbours! Let’s make this year’s eat-local challenge the biggest and best yet!