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This blog isn’t getting the attention it deserves, and that’s probably because I have another personal blog, Slow Coast, to which I post almost weekly. (I’ve put myself on an every-eight-day deadline.)
This week’s post, “Why don’t we have a local food incubator?”, concerns an idea that has come up time and again since I’ve been coordinating the Powell River Food Security Project. We have all kinds of produce in the summertime and fall, but very little local food available during the cool wet months. many people have preserved or revived the traditional skills of food preservation, but many have lost those skills or never learned the in the first place.
It seems to me that we need to work towards this, and probably from a few different angles. We have the skills, materials, and facilities. We just need to put them together to support individuals and small businesses to help us feed ourselves throughout the year.
Anyway, take a look at the Slow Coast post and the Ecowatch post that it links to. Any thoughts? Leave a comment.
[Cross-posted from Slow Coast]
On the second Wednesday of every month (except July and August) a small miracle takes place in Powell River. This miracle is like many others that happen all around us all the time; we may be entirely unaware of them, but no matter — if we took the time to write the untold history of the communities we live in, we’d be endlessly finding unsuspected hives of activity; new groups, gangs, tribes, and teams coming together for special purposes; a whole buried secret world of affiliations and affinities. And small miracles that we take for granted at our peril.
Last week’s Chamber of Commoners get-together was intended to bring together some of the many organizations in the region whose activities are less well-known than they should be. In this age of information overload, it’s hard to stay on top of everything going on even in a relatively small region like ours. We have resources like the Powell River Peak, Powell River Living, Immanence Magazine, and the community calendar; but it’s not possible for every group to get its message out. I try to keep my ear to the ground, but of course I keep finding out about groups I’d never heard of (the latest is the Sunshine Gogos, which apparently has 56 members and is quite a going concern).
Imagine a diagram of all the people in the region, with lines connecting us together through our various groups and affiliations, with colour-coding to indicate all the different categories of activity. It would be mind-boggling — and, even then, it would only convey the most superficial picture of the complexity of the connectedness among folks in the region.
One of the little nodes of connectedness happens on the morning of the second Wednesday of the month in the Trinity Hall at the United Church in Powell River: the Good Food Box packing day. And I call it a minor miracle, because it produces so much positive action and energy with so little overhead.
The Good Food Box is a project that got started just over five years ago out of the PREP Society‘s BOND project, which supports pre- and peri-natal moms and newborns. The group of young moms was looking for a project that would help them provide for their own food needs, and they found the idea of a monthly box of produce, prepaid and reasonably priced. It’s been running since then with only minor changes. Here’s how it works: participants prepay their $12.00 produce box by the third day of the month; payment can be arranged through the Family Place in the Town Centre Mall, Centsibles thrift store on Marine Ave., at the PREP Society office on Marine Ave., or by calling the coordinator Annabelle Tully-Barr at (604) 485-8213.
Annabelle collates the orders and works with the produce department at Save-On Foods, who support the program by offering a hefty discount on the bulk order of produce. Then, on the second Wednesday, the team of volunteers gathers at the United Church to sort, weigh, and pack the produce into boxes and bags. This month, a participant’s $12.00 bought:
- Five pounds of potatoes;
- One or two onions, depending on the size;
- Two pounds of carrots;
- Four heads of garlic;
- One head of romaine lettuce;
- One bunch of green onions;
- One bunch of radishes;
- Four “Granny Smith” apples;
- Three large oranges;
- One lime;
- One mango;
- One bunch of four bananas.
Some families buy more than one Good Food Box, since it is such a good deal. And we know that there is a network of people buying boxes to help family, friends, an neighbours who are needy. So the produce is getting out there and promoting healthy eating and creating social solidarity.
And the activity of packing up the boxes and bags creates another whole network, one that I have been participating in for about three years now. For over a year, we are lucky to have a class from the Powell River Christian School come over and help. It’s always a bit of a madhouse making sure that everything weighs the right amount and is ready at the same time. And meanwhile, there is always a crew of volunteers in the kitchen cooking up some amazing food for lunch.
By about 11:00 we’re ready to start The Run: this is where some volunteers race around the tables set out in a U shape, with other volunteers filling the boxes/bags with the various items of produce. For a few minutes all is chaos, but eventually we’re finished and the floor is lined with neat rows of boxes and bags of produce ready to be picked up and delivered.
By this time, everyone is ready for lunch, so we all sit down together and enjoy a fabulous home-cooked meal. Last week, we had hand-made tortillas with rice, beans, fresh salsa, cheese, and sour cream; cold Asian noodle salad with satay sauce; chicken noodle soup made with local chicken and hand-rolled fresh fettucine noodles; and because it was almost Valentine’s Day, rice krispie squares with candy hearts. Our kitchen crew deserves kudos for stretching a small food budget into delicious and healthy meals (rice krispie squares notwithstanding).
We may only come together for a few hours each month, but we’re a gang of people who enjoy working together. We laugh and share jokes and stories, we share a meaningful task that makes a difference in the community, and best of all we share food. The crew of regular volunteers, led by the tireless Annabelle Tully-Barr, manage to make this initiative hang together from one month to the next, despite chronic lack of funding. Somehow the boxes from one month manage to pay for the little expenses, and we have support from the United Church, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, and River City Movers. The Good Food Box is a clear example of the many small shoestring operations out there in the region which bring good things into people’s lives with very little fuss and fanfare, and whose disappearance would leave an empty space in these lives. We should do everything we can to help fan these sparks into flame — or at least to keep them glowing until some real kindling comes along.
Cross-posted from Slow Coast.
What I really want is for people to think for themselves and feel for themselves and to listen to their own land base and to ask that land base, “What must we do?” Start a relationship with the land where you live. Ask that land what it needs from you. Because the truth is the land is the basis for everything. It’s embarrassing to even have to say that, but — and this is something else I think is really important — the only measure by which we will be judged by the people who come after is the health of the land base, because that is what is going to support them.
Bioregionalism seems to be in the air lately. The theme of the BC Food Systems Network‘s annual gathering back in late September was bioregionalism, and this theme recurred just last week at an event that I helped to organize. So, what is bioregionalism, anyway? Wikipedia offers the following:
Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, and environmental system based on naturally-defined areas called bioregions, or ecoregions. Bioregions are defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries and soil and terrain characteristics. Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon, and emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions.
This sounds an awful lot like the kind of economic and social relocalization that various groups and initiatives are working towards (e.g., Transition Town Powell River, the 50-mile eat-local challenge, GreenSteps Solutions, Powell River Sustainability Stakeholders). But the concept of a bioregion really gets to the heart of the matter: how do we define the geographical area whose boundaries define what is ‘local’? Are we closer to Vancouver Island or to the Sunshine Coast? Are we our own bioregion? How can we answer these questions?
More from Wikipedia:
The bioregionalist perspective opposes a homogeneous economy and consumer culture with its lack of stewardship towards the environment. This perspective seeks to:
- Ensure that political boundaries match ecological boundaries.
- Highlight the unique ecology of the bioregion.
- Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
- Encourage the use of local materials where possible.
- Encourage the cultivation of native plants of the region.
- Encourage sustainability in harmony with the bioregion.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s pretty clear that we’re going to have to let the concept of our bioregion emerge over time, as we learn more about the characteristics of this area which unite it with other places and the ones which set us apart. And how do we get started with that kind of work?
Well, last Thursday and Friday, a group of about 25 food-security activists, farmers and friends of the local food economy in the Powell River region and along the Sunshine Coast got together in Pender Harbour to talk about how we might collaborate better together across the Jervis Inlet. This mini-conference, titled “Lund to Langdale”, was funded by the BC Healthy Living Alliance (BCHLA). I was one of the organizers, along with Stacia Leech from Roberts Creek.
Since the fall of 2008, the BCHLA has helped start projects in the various communities, such as the “Garden to Table” workshop series being offered through the Community Resource Centre in Powell River and the Sliammon Community Garden. The purpose of the “Lund to Langdale” conference was to take action on some of the things that the BCHLA folks were hearing as they carried out community consultations along the Sunshine Coast and up our way: specifically, they were hearing that people working in food security wanted more opportunities to learn about community engagement, better collaboration, and strategic planning for policy changes. So we planned a one-and-a-half-day event to bring us all together, get some work done, and make some connections to serve as a foundation for future collaboration.
The most interesting thing to see was the amount of information being shared. It’s amazing, given that we are so close to each other, that we are so ignorant of the work going on one ferry trip away. But as one person said, we Powell Riverites largely see the Sunshine Coast as something to race through on the way to the Langdale ferry terminal. There are a lot of common concerns, though, from the effect of the new meat inspection regulations, to the cost of farmland, to ALR removals, and beyond.
Towards the end of the second day, the group decided that this was a conversation worth continuing, so we are now hoping that we can find a way to hold a follow-up event over on this side of Jervis Inlet sometime before the next growing season. There are so many ways we can be sharing information better, learning from each other, and possibly starting to collaborate directly on food-security projects and policy work. We only scratched the surface of all the ways we could be working together for food security all the way up the Sunshine Coast as far as Lund… or beyond.
So watch this space for future news about more events to bring together some of the hard-working farmers, activists, and policy-makers. I believe that we have a real chance to create a bioregion on the basis of similar terrain, similar ecological systems, as well as a similar sense of isolation and independence from both the Lower Mainland and the island. We’re one baby step along that road now.
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.