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The fourth annual Powell River 50-Mile Eat Local Challenge starts on Sunday August 9, 2009, and goes for 50 days until Sunday September 27, which is the second day of our two-day Fall Fair.

This year, the organizers of the Eat-Local Challenge decided to kick off with an event of some kind, and the popular choice was an idea that has been floating around for some time: a tour of food-producing gardens. And so the Edible Garden Tour was born. This tour of local gardens is going to be a great way to see how other people in the region are producing some of their own food, which is one good way to provide plenty of fresh local food during the eat-local challenge (and throughout the year).

I know from personal experience, and from talking to plenty of people, that one of the highest barriers to growing more food is the feeling that it is all very complicated and too difficult for most people. So traveling around and seeing the creative ways that people are growing food in backyards, sideyards, and frontyards should be enough to inspire almost anyone to think about doing something similar where they live.

The gardens are split up into two sets:

  • a morning set to the north of Powell River, and in Wildwood, Townsite, and Cranberry; and
  • an afternoon set in Westview and Lang Bay (south of Powell River).

There is no fixed order for the gardens, but you might want to start in Lund (Nancy’s Bakery opens early, so you can start with a (non-local!) coffee there) and work your way down through Wildwood into Townsite and then Cranberry in the morning. The neighbourhood of Cranberry is having Cranberry Days in Lindsay Park on Sunday, so you can stop there for lunch and a midday break. Or head over to the Open Air Market. Then in the afternoon you can see the gardens in Westview and travel down to Lang Bay to finish off. Take a snack and spend some time on the beach south of town! The order in which the gardens are described here is a suggested order only. See the map on the last page for the overall layout of the tour.

If you are looking for a guide and map, you can pick one up in Powell River at Breakwater Books, Kingfisher Used Books, the Powell River Public Library, and at the Community Resource Centre. Or click on this link to see a printable or downloadable PDF version.

Thank you to all the volunteers, to the gardeners who have graciously opened their gardens up for the public, and to you for coming out. If you would like any more information about the Edible Garden Tour, the 50-Mile Eat-Local Challenge, or any other projects of the Powell River Food Security Project, please contact David Parkinson at (604) 485-2004 or david@prfoodsecurity.org.

Thank you for supporting local food!

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The Oil Drum is one of the best internet sources for information about peak oil and resource depletion in general, as well as some of the very creative ways that people are planning to cope in a world with declining sources of fossil fuels.

Some of the posts on the Oil Drum are very complex and detailed and may contain too much math and too many graphs for the average reader. (Although the quality of information and discussion that you will find at TOD is as high as anywhere I know of on the internet.) Recognizing this, back in December the editors of the site started up a new department of The Oil Drum, which they called The Oil Drum: Campfire. Here is some of what they said about this new forum:

We intend this forum to be akin to a summer night sitting around a campfire, dreaming, hoping, and tossing around ideas that might bring about positive change. The types of discussions we would like to foster are where there are no right or wrong answers, just shared experiences, advice and wisdom. Topics will relate to wide boundary issues surrounding energy descent, including local food production, small scale energy production, experiments in living with less, or just general information and ideas to be shared with the online community.

On May 20, 2009, Jason Bradford published a Campfire post titled “Ecological Economics and the Food System“, which looks hard at the fossil-fuel consumption of the present system of industrial agriculture. There are some very interesting statistics on the relative levels of carbon-dioxide emission stemming from various food sources (meat, fruits/vegetables, chicken/fish/eggs, etc.) and lots of information about how the various parts of the industrial food system contribute to energy consumption. Here are some of Bradford’s conclusions:

The bottom line is that every measure must be taken to rapidly eliminate fossil fuel consumption and dependency in every component of our lives. The key word is “rapidly.” Don’t passively assume inexpensive alternative energy substitutes will arrive to replace fossil fuels-we may have waited too long to respond to have a smooth transition. Therefore, focus most attention on reducing energy demand rather than substituting a new energy supply. And finally, in the context of ecological economics, fossil fuel depletion and climate change, ask whether what you do in your life, vocation, hobbies, and habits, contributes to the long-term function (or dysfunction) of society.

Here are some of the things we should be doing, or agitating for in our food system, according to “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis”, a paper by John Hendrickson cited by Bradford:

It appears that some of the greatest saving can be realized by:

  • reduced use of petroleum-based fertilizers and fuel on farms,
  • a decline in the consumption of highly processed foods, meat, and sugar,
  • a reduction in excessive and energy intensive packaging,
  • more efficient practices by consumers in shopping and cooking at home,
  • and a shift toward the production of some foods (such as fruits and vegetables) closer to their point of consumption.

All of this meshes nicely with many efforts underway on the Upper Sunshine Coast. The eat-local movement; workshops on growing, preserving, and preparing healthy local food; preservation of our lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve; Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and other small-scale urban farming projects such as the various community gardens; the Open Air Market and other markets to give small producers a place to sell their goods — these are all beginning steps towards a local food economy which serves the needs of local producers and consumers and also helps us move towards a radically lower regional carbon footprint.

Bradford moves on to a discussion of Brookside Farm, a one-acre farm in Willits, California, which functions as a working farm with a fifteen-share CSA and strong connections to a local elementary school and the wider community. Here are some of the ways that Brookside confronts the challenge of reducing fossil-fuel inputs and overall energy consumption, conveniently broken down into the various areas in which energy consumption occurs “from farm to fork”:

Type of Work Common Fossil-Fuel Inputs Alternatives Implemented
Soil cultivation Gasoline or diesel powered rototiller or small tractor Low-wheel cultivator, broadfork, adze or grub hoe, rake and human labor
Soil fertility In-organic or imported organic fertilizer Growing of highly productive, nitrogen and biomass crop (banner fava beans), making aerobic compost piles sufficient to build soil carbon and nitrogen fertility, re-introducing micro-nutrients by importing locally generated food waste and processing in a worm bin, and application of compost teas for microbiology enhancement.
Pest and weed management Herbicide and pesticide applications, flame weeder, tractor cultivation Companion planting, crop rotation, crop diversity and spatial heterogeneity, beneficial predator attraction through landscape plantings, emphasis on soil and plant health, and manual removal with efficient human-scaled tools
Seed sourcing Bulk ordering of a few varieties through centralized seed development and distribution outlets Sourcing seeds from local supplier, developing a seed saving and local production and distribution plan using open pollinated varieties
Food distribution Produce trucks, refrigeration, long-distance transport, eating out of season Produce only sold locally, direct from farm or hauled to local restaurants or grocers using bicycles or electric vehicles, produce grown with year-round consumption in mind with farm delivering large quantities of food in winter months
Storage and processing at production end Preparation of food for long distance transport, storage and retailing requiring energy intensive cooling, drying, food grade wax and packaging Passive evaporative cooling, solar dehydrating, root cellaring and re-usable storage baskets and bags
Home and institutional storage and cooking Natural gas, propane or electric fired stoves and ovens, electric freezers and refrigerators Solar ovens, promotion of eating fresh and seasonal foods, home-scale evaporative cooling for summer preservation and “root cellaring” techniques for winter storage

There’s more to the article, including a slightly cheeky demonstration that Americans could spare some of their average daily viewing time of four hours and thirty-five minutes (!) to tend a productive home garden and become more self-reliant. Go read the whole thing.

February 2009 plan for turning a lawn in Powell River, BC to a veggie garden, using the “lasagna” method. I used seaweed from down the street, and cardboard boxes from up the street, along with some straw and compost in the backyard. Visit this link  for a long-range look at what a lasagna garden looks like over time: http://www.witsendbb.com/lasagna1.html And see here too: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1999-04-01/Lasagna-Gardening.aspx
lasagnalasagna

Here‘s an interesting little piece from the Independent about the move away from ornamental gardening and towards more food gardening in the UK. It’s all great news, but here’s the slightly alarming bit:

The UK’s leading seed sellers, Tuckers, Marshalls and packetseeds.com, are struggling to cope with the number of orders coming in. The Horticultural Trades Association put UK sales of the seeds of edible plants at £40.3m in 2007; new figures expected shortly are likely to show significant growth.

I expect we’ll be seeing more of this in the next few years, until supply can meet demand again. But will the supply be just more genetically-modified seed produced with chemical agriculture methods? It will unless we all start saving seeds in our own communities.

Here is the online hub for seed-saving action in the Powell River (BC) region. I hope your community has a Seedy Saturday; if not, start one! And this is the time to start rounding up your serious local growers and get them to save more seeds. And save seeds yourself in your own garden.