Hello everyone –
Spring has finally and definitively arrived here. It has been a couple of weeks now since we had a night frost, it seems, and the snow is at last gone from all but the shadiest places. The chickadees (black capped’s and boreal’s) and juncos (slate-coloured and Oregon’s) at the feeder have been replaced by white crowned sparrows, while the yard and the woods are filled with sapsuckers and flickers, barn and tree swallows, the swamp with winnowing snipe and quacking hordes of wood frogs.
We are pretty much right on schedule with our started plants in the greenhouse, although certainly the direct field seeding has been delayed some by the late thaw. It is now windier than this country normally is, (according to neighbors,) more like the plains we just left. We are hoping this is something short-lived. We have enjoyed the sense of calm that has prevailed here until the past week or so.
The last weekend of April we took a minor part in the “Local 101 and 102” events put on by Slow Food at the Palace Theatre and the University of Calgary. This event was focused on local food production. Driving in, we reflected on the teeming hive of activity Calgary has become, and felt excited that the city was hosting an event focused on such an important issue as put on by such an esteemed organization. We had fun, there were some great presentations and films. The attendance, however, was frankly appalling for the entire weekend, with this fact being the dominating factor in pretty much everyone’s analysis of the event. We are hoping this was due to a lack of advertising exposure – which we have heard was not what it could nor should have been – and not an honest reflection of the relative order of priorities in our city. (Perhaps next year the event can be slid out onto the ice during the intermissions in a Flames game, some wag suggested.) This may well be the case – certainly the CSA model is receiving plenty of support from Calgarians these days, with the number of startup CSA’s on the rise, and this is a very positive sign.
Our first flats of brassicas (broccoli, kale and cabbage,) have gone out into the house-garden field as of yesterday. This field was the produce source for the original Norwegian family who arrived here from Minnesota by ox and wagon. (What a trip that must have been!) They knew where to put a garden in a climate like ours – and theirs – it is a lovely little micro-climate they chose, noticeably warmer on a cool windy weekend like we just had. We are deeply grateful to members Jo-Anne and Ashley Gibson, Bev Hollenbeck and Shelina Knight for coming out and participating in the planting. These folks were efficient! In a matter of a few short hours, they came, they conquered and they left, like a small locust plague in reverse, leaving the beginnings of a crop where just hours before there had been barren dirt, and turning for us what would have been an all-day task into something easily manageable in an afternoon. Similar events occurred here earlier in the past month, including the crucial help we received in erecting a new passive-solar greenhouse (for peppers and tomatoes) and in surveying our north fenceline thanks to dear friends Boris Berthelot and friend Paul, and Corinne and Gary Funk, respectively. Many hands do indeed make light work, not to mention a priceless sense of community!
There is a raven with a nest in the nearby woods who is stealing our eggs. I had seen him coming and going from the area of the hen-house with pale objects in his beak that looked too small to be eggs, but this was a reflection of his considerable size. Eggs they were. In the old days, a firearm would have been produced, and a raven would have died, but that thought is appalling to us, where ravens are involved. Watching this raven dip and soar in the wind, like some gorgeous airborne dolphin – with an intellect on par – we can only come to the conclusion that ending such a fine, unfettered life for the sake of our own ones, (which may well be of inferior quality,) would be a terrible sacrilege. So the problem is one of husbandry, and hopefully it is one that can indeed be solved. Our dogs chase him when they see him, but his patrols are relentless. He is the master at this game.
Predator issues were one of many factors bringing inefficiencies that lead to the (temporary) solution of modern agriculture – keeping everything under lock and key at great expense that could only be compensated for by increasing scale which in turn required ever more massive energy inputs. Of course, we know what this does to food quality, not to mention the quality of life for the creatures involved (including the farmer’s.) Sometimes problem predators do have to be killed, but this is not something that should be done without careful analysis. As a culture, we congratulate ourselves today that we no longer kill the hawk (a basic, reptilian creature compared to a raven,) that raids the henhouse like the small farmers of yore, without recognizing the inherent stack of ironies involved. It was precisely the shift to an industrial scale and mode of life that bought us the luxury in recent decades not to have to deal sometimes harshly with competing predators on the farms, and what’s more, that provided a living in our modern times for the scores of biologists and conservationists that champion such creatures (only a fraction the number of whom were provided for by the old system of patronage) so that they could in turn speak out against the nature and actions of the very industrial system that enabled most of their livelihoods. Thanks in large part to such folks, it is now a criminal act to protect your poultry by eliminating a problem goshawk, for instance. It is a complicated, convoluted time we live in. For is it not better to have many more small farms free-ranging their hens and necessarily killing the odd goshawk, however magnificent, than to have a system that saves some hawks and creates a profession of being a naturalist on the one hand while endangering all of life on earth – hawks and humans included – with the other?
We hope you all have a wonderful May, and that you’re able to get out there and enjoy our splendid part of the world!
-Jon and Andrea
You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.
Today’s industrial agriculture… will become utterly unsustainable once the huge fossil fuel inputs that go into farm machinery, agricultural chemicals, worldwide transport networks, and the like stop being commercially viable. Converting back to horse-powered agriculture would be a challenge, but one well within the realm of the possible; relatively simple changes in agricultural, taxation, and land use policy could do much to foster that conversion.
- John Michael Greer