Happy Earth Day everyone!
It was certainly a lovely, warm day here at the farm, one of the few we’ve had so far this spring. Seemed like winter wanted to hang on forever, and then of course, spring flooding from lots of rain, still frozen ground, and rapid snow/ice melt…sigh…this is why I’ll be building raised beds in the vegetable garden. I always optimistically schedule my first direct seeding of sugar snap peas in the field for end of April, but that hasn’t been possible for years! My fingers are crossed that with raised beds, I can actually hit that end of April seeding date next year…
I read a CBC opinion piece today saying that Earth Day is no longer relevant:
” The planet now finds itself in grave danger. We’re way beyond holding a day once a year to raise awareness on the issue. If your house is on fire, you’re not going to ask the family, “Any ideas on how we should celebrate Fire Safety Day this year?””
I remember when I was a young teenager in Edmonton (where I was born), celebrating Earth Day with sincere hope for the future. I still even have an Earth Day t-shirt from then. But now I read about all that is happening in our environment, and see little to no political or social will to change things. Bumblebee species are in decline (in fact, pretty much the whole insect world). Flooding, raging fires, severe storms. Climate change used to be something that I thought we needed to be acting to prevent now, but I didn’t think we’d actually be experiencing its effects within my lifetime, and I’m not expecting to die for hopefully a few more decades.
Currently, my only regular contact with the outside world (yes, farming is that isolating) is working part-time during tax season in a local tax office which has many people come in and out all day. I overhear lots of complaints about the price of gas going up from the federal carbon tax…but everyone makes sure that we’ve applied for their climate action incentive credit (yes, the federal government is flogging that horse, a lot). And with the shift in governments both locally and around the world to politicians who don’t want to make the drastic changes necessary to actually slow (not even halt or turn around) the climate change train wreck happening right in front of us…I’m not feeling like anyone wants to change anything at all.
Meanwhile, here at the farm, and in my growing circle of agroecological farmer friends, all we do is talk about climate change, and farming practices that will actually sequester carbon. We prioritize increasing biodiversity on our farms, and definitely don’t use chemical products for killing insects or plants we don’t like. We’re totally into compost and all its magical effects and dream about having more livestock, so we can get more manure, so we can make more compost. This must sound so strange to most of you. Lately, I feel like an alien when socializing outside organic farming circles.
This year, I’m again the president of the National Farmers’ Union – Ontario, Local 344 for Grey County (yeah, that’s a mouthful). As a board, we decided on three priority issues for the year: climate change, indigenous solidarity, and new farmer support. With a federal election this year, we’ll be doing our best to challenge local candidates to state their positions on these topics. And we’ll be researching what parts of the Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto, the two most radical political movements in North America for divesting from oil and prioritizing climate change action, relate to farming, and what we can do now on our farms.
With my farmer friends, we dream of a world where all farming is done agroecologically, without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Where RoundUp (glyphosate) and genetically modified crops (most of them modified to resist RoundUp, so you can spray that crop with RoundUp to kill all the weeds, but your crop stays alive) are banned. Glyphosate causes cancer, as two U.S. courts have already ruled…but Health Canada and other government agencies won’t/can’t admit this. Why can’t this be admitted? Because if glyphosate were banned world-wide, global agriculture as we know it would collapse, pulling down hedge funds, chemical companies, seed companies (which are mostly the chemical companies anyway), farm equipment manufacturers and retailers, banks with agricultural lending (which is all of them)…the list goes on. And of course, people would starve in the short term, because not enough people know how to farm without the chemical inputs and genetically modified seeds. So the non-organic farms all around me continue to spend as much on fertilizer, pesticides and seed, as they make from their crops, if not more. Because that’s the way agriculture is done. Farmers are producing commodities. Not food, not ecological stewardship, not vibrant rural communities. The fewer farmers it takes to farm more and more land, the better, right? Efficiency is king in this capitalist world. Resiliency is at the opposite end of that spectrum.
So now, I’m really depressed. Why do I start writing blog posts late in the evening instead of going to sleep? Because I’m sick and tired of holding my tongue, or not wanting to get political with people, or having to explain myself while the other person’s eyes glaze over. I don’t want to preach to people, or point the finger and accuse people of using too many plastic straws, because that’s not the point. Frankly, individual actions are nothing in the face of the massive societal changes that need to happen. We literally have to decide, as a society, that no more fossil fuels are to be removed from the ground. No oil washed off sand. No more refining. No more pipelines, or train cars moving bitumen around. We need to get off fossils fuels, full stop. We need to stop producing food covered in chemicals, which destroy the environments in which they’re grown. We need to stop shipping food all around the world to be processed and eaten. We need economies to be localized, where we all adapt to producing what we need closer to home, and doing without that which we cannot produce locally. In a globalized world where shipping and logistics companies like Amazon are king, a localized economy sounds like some sort of hippy dream, right? Well it’s not. Much as I love eating mangos and oranges, I can survive without them. I can survive eating food that could be grown right here in Ontario, or even in the rest of Canada. I don’t have to eat food that is shipped from South America, or Asia (though I would miss rice, I am Chinese after all). I could survive wearing wool and linen (flax) clothing. Though frankly, if we all just started swapping our clothes instead of throwing it out, we already have a massive supply of clothing right here. We could have solar panels on every building surface, and size/community appropriate wind turbines for electricity. I so desperately want an electric vehicle instead of my Dodge Caravan, but unfortunately, do not have the funds to get one.
Which brings me to my latest source of depression. CSA membership sign ups are down this year, and not just for me. Many other organic CSA farmers are experiencing the same thing, and if I believe the various CSA marketing gurus who’ve found my email address, this decline is widespread. Their solutions essentially ask CSAs to be more accommodating to their members, allowing full customization of weekly packages, via their super duper on-line ordering platforms. Because that’s what non-CSA grocery box delivery services can do…because they don’t grow the food!!! I’ve realized over the years that the only people who enjoy being CSA members, are those who enjoy the challenge of cooking in season, with whatever vegetables, meat, eggs, legumes, etc. are presented to them. Those who need specific ingredients for every meal, find CSA packages hugely challenging and often end up discarding unused items. I certainly understand the challenge of coming up with a healthy meal that your whole family (of picky children) will eat, and so I definitely sympathize, but that doesn’t mean I can, or should, make vegetable packages customizable. The logistics of vegetable growth means you harvest what’s ready, when it’s ready…which is actually great, because you get the freshest and most tasty and nutritious veggies! And customizing harvesting and packaging would require more labour, which my farm just can’t afford. In fact, few organic farms can afford more labour, which is why there are so many seasonal organic farm internships (board and lodgings, maybe a stipend) and places for WWOOFing volunteers. But wait, we could afford more labour, if we could actually charge the real cost of production of food, but that’s impossible in Canada where people expect the cheapest food prices. And none of us actually want to be the private farmers for only super rich people anyway. I am not a serf.
So, ranting aside, please consider joining an agroecological farm CSA, any farm CSA, not just mine. Yes, it will be more challenging to produce meals with what you’re provided, but the ingredients will be so fresh and tasty, you’ll have to do less to make them taste good to your family. In the summer time, I eat more than half my vegetables raw anyway! And you’ll be supporting a farm which isn’t causing climate change, but doing all they can to mitigate climate change. Take your climate action incentive credit and put it towards signing up for a CSA membership. It’s a step towards a more localized economy, which is better than no step at all.
Happy Earth Day everyone. I know the Earth will still be here long after I’m gone. I would prefer if human beings were still part of its ecosystem.
This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.