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Cherry blossoms

Ornamental cherry blossoms, a sure sign of springtime

Michael Ableman is a farmer and food activist based on Salt Spring Island, so he’s like a neighbour to us folks here on the Sunshine Coast. His farm is called Foxglove Farm, and Ableman is creating an educational centre there. From the website:

The Center for Art, Ecology & Agriculture was established to demonstrate and interpret the vital connections between farming, land stewardship, food, the arts, and community well being; to model the economic possibilities for small and medium scale sustainable agricultural and forestry projects, and to nurture the human spirit through public programs, classes, and events.

For a really wonderful introduction to Michael Ableman’s thoughts on food, agriculture, urban farming, and the need to inspire many more people to take up food production, tune in to this recent issue of Deconstructing Dinner, the weekly radio show out of the Kootenays. I found it very inspiring. I particularly liked Ableman’s policy recommendations (starting at the 23 min. 50 sec. mark):

  • Every urban area should have an urban agricultural centre, offering practical assistance in urban food production and support for making these activities economically viable;
    • These centres should support urban agriculture on all scales, from containers to rooftops to acreages, with a particular focus on fundamental sources of protein and carbohydrates (i.e., grains, beans, eggs, dairy);
  • Urban areas should have agricultural extension agents on their staffs offering workshops, classes, and on-site technical support and help in agricultural marketing;
  • Organic waste should be returned to farms via large-scale composting operations;
  • All permits for new housing developments should require that space be set aside for food production;
  • All new office, retail, and warehouse projects must contain a rooftop farming component, with greenhouses that use the building’s spent heat;
  • All municipalities should immediately phase out lawns (this suggestion got a big round of applause from Ableman’s audience);
  • All existing schools, churches, and sports facilities should provide cooperative neighbourhood canning, freezing, and dehydration services to the community;
  • All real estate transactions should include a 1% farmland preservation tax and the lands preserved should be put under covenants which protect their status as agricultural land;
  • Municipalities should offer property tax credits for landowners who turn their property over to long-term food-growing initiatives.

These all strike me as pretty sensible proposals. But we’re not yet at the point where these ideas will get much political traction. Nonetheless, we need to start engaging with local politics as much as we can to look for opportunities to promote the idea of greater self-reliance and resilience in the region. Every town, city, and region should be thinking about how to support its population as times become tougher.

So does anyone want to start a working group to develop a local food policy charter?

I just posted something about Seedy Saturday over at the new Slow Coast blog. That post is really about community development and about how Seedy Saturday is a good example of a community-building initiative which is relatively inexpensive, popular, and fun. Check it out.

Well, now that we’re past Seedy Saturday we’re well and truly into the early stages of the growing season. I’m hoping to have some workshops organized, so if anyone out there has some suggestions let me know.

Also, I am trying to organize a food garden tour this summer, so if you have some thoughts about that — or (even better) you’d be willing to put your garden on public display — then email me.

And now, for anyone who missed Seedy Saturday 2009, here are some photos (click on the thumbnails to see larger versions):

Because I don’t have enough on my plate, I decided to start a little inependent online news and opinion blog with a strong regional focus. I named it “Slow Coast”, which is a name we came up around our house for this lovely part of the world where things move a little slower than other places we’ve lived in. I wanted a place where we can carry on conversations that might not otherwise find a home in the other media, for whatever reason.

This here blog is very much about the work of the Powell River Food Security Project and all of the many community projects that have to do with making sure that people can get enough to eat. But there is so much more going on here and out there in the wide world, and I felt that we needed a place to talk about some of that. Hence Slow Coast.

It’s only been online since February 22, 2009, and already there are a few contributors. And we can certainly use more.

Take a look. Send feedback and ideas.

Check out this recent report on our visit to the Comox Valley Seedy Saturday, last weekend in Courtenay. And Tom Read‘s latest post from Texada. And my most recent post about community development and how we’re all going to have to start doing more of it.

If you feel as though you have something to say, let me know. Perhaps you could be our next new contributor!