Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harvesting a Local M.E.A.L. - It's Time to Farm!

It's Time to Farm
I planted seeds this week.
Spring is the most optimistic season.
Seeds are faith and hope and life in the future.
Planting made me feel righteous and peaceful and quietly determined to thrive.

A Local M.E.A.L.
Last week, many of us were inspired in Charlottetown by the combination of speaking about and listening to others discuss local food and our commitment to a way of life that serves everyone on this island.  A Local M.E.A.L.(Meet Eat And Learn) was a very satisfying serving of networking, tastes of local food and 10 presentations by and for all of us who like to eat locally and live well!  Please follow this link for more: A video of each presentation will be made available through the link.
Here's mine:

A Local M.E.A.L. - John Quimby from nick battist on Vimeo.

I'm excited to mention as a follow up to "A Local M.E.A.L". that I am working with my son's fifth grade
teacher to create a presentation called "Farming in the Classroom" which will feature 3 hands-on project
demonstrations related to local food production and farming. We will be planting and growing seeds in a local school. We will be integrating the results of these student projects into our spring planting on the farm so  students will know that their work is included directly into our farm and will produce food that is available to their families. We want to teach that they aren't just consumers, they can be farmers too!  I'll be sharing more details and photos. This is really an exciting opportunity.      

Here's a Really Good Find!
I've mentioned before that we are increasing the number of open pollinated varieties that we buy, plant and harvest seed from.  Our goal is to always be able to grow non GMO, organic food from our own seed bank.
And I recently found a great resource online.  600 organic/open/heirloom tomato varieties are being offered at:  Our order was filled and returned promptly and I'm pleased now to refer them to you for this spring.

What's So Great About 600 Tomatoes?
As I browsed the choices I realized we could have exactly what we wanted for each of our seasons and customers. I got a small but super early variety (55 days) for our visitor and restaurant customers plus canning for our own needs. A flavourful French slicer for fresh summer eating,  An East German cherry for salads, the dusky and smoky Cherokee Purple for exceptional flavor, and a legendary Italian sauce tomato to mate with our garlic, basil and oregano in pasta and pizza sauces. And Gary Ibsen and Dagma Lacey threw in a bonus package of "Black Cherry" tomatoes for us to trial.  That's the beauty of bio-diversity friends.  You can find a seed for every need.

Local Organic Eggs and Chicken
I also placed orders this week for chicks to raise into laying hens and fresh meat birds this summer.  This is new to us and I'm relying on Joel Salatin's, "Pastured Poulty Profits" to guide us through brooding and pasturing our very small flock this year.  We are certified organic and so our chicken and eggs are already approved to be the only organic product I know of in our neighborhood.  But this is our first attempt!  So we'll need your support when the time comes for us to accept orders for organic eggs and chicken.  If our customers will help us by investing with us, we'll be a regular supplier of fresh, local, healthy, pasture raised, inspected by ACO and certified organic product. We're working for the gold standard in pasture raised meat birds and eggs.

Our chickens will be the primary customers for the organic pasture we nurture and the organic feed grains that we grow here this year.  All of this requires a substantial investment in seed, livestock, machines, time and labor. And we're adding time to teach our children to be part of the work raising chickens for your table. So a new generation will be learning how to grow feed and raise high value food while earning a share of the profits from our neighborhood poultry business. In other words, we're one of several small family owned businesses recreating the small mixed farm model that fed generations of PEI families and trained generations of good PEI farmers.

Your support,  through buying our product,  means that you are investing in your local food security as we keep and carry a small family farm on PEI into the next generation.                        

News Links:

Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags

JQ's Final Thought:
Demand-Side food security requires that consumers believe someone or something will always be able to deliver a sufficient and uninterrupted supply of food at a price they can afford over their entire life span.
Supply-Side food security means that you know and support a variety of local producers who put healthy, natural food on your table for generations.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Connecting The Dots: Climate, Energy, Global Markets and Food Security

This spring we'll be tackling some pretty heavy decisions to increase and sustain productivity on our farm.
I'm looking ahead to a lot of work and investment to grow, market and hopefully improve our ability to serve a few more of our neighbors in PEI.  It feels good to know we have the chance to add a bit more fresh food to our local supply from our very small farm.

In the mean time I'm reading more and more alarming news from a variety of sources on the current state of affairs in our world.  And I wonder again, as I often do, about the disconnect in the media between the dots (and sometimes "dotty") individual news headlines. It's the big picture that should be getting our attention.

This thread started for me when I heard a news item on the radio letting me know that my local fast food restaurant in Eastern Canada would not be able to serve me tomatoes or peppers because of unusual cold weather in California and Mexico. Hmmm.  

That item hit the news on the same day that oil prices broke 100 a barrel again. We know that the price of oil will continue to rise through spring and summer (driving season) and we know that this will impact consumers and producers alike. We also know that as long as petroleum prices are high, we simply can't grow our way out of economic trouble by using cheap energy to do most of the work. Hmmmm.

We also now know that the same financial houses that created the mortgage backed securities that caused the recent financial panic (a pox on them all!) have also created long term investment strategies in basic food commodities on a global scale. The result has been rapid increases in the market price for staple grains and cooking oil and these increases have hit consumers in the rear pocket and the stomach.
"Beginning in late 2006, world food prices began rising. A year later, wheat price had gone up 80 percent, maize by 90 percent and rice by 320 percent. Food riots broke out in more than 30 countries, and 200 million people faced malnutrition and starvation. Suddenly, in the spring of 2008, food prices fell to previous levels, as if by magic. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has called this "a silent mass murder", entirely due to "man-made actions.”
 - Johann Hari
Hmmmmmmmmm. Pretty ominous.  But we still don't see the whole picture.

Here is how I connect the dots in these three otherwise unrelated stories. First of all, the shortage of tomatoes and peppers.  This is the second year in a row that there has been a shortage of tomatoes caused by changes in average climate.  Last year (also in the first week in March) it was reportedly caused by frost in Florida. This year, it's frost in California and Mexico.  This is a direct result of climate change.  Argue all you want about normal variables. Farmers don't like risk and they know what the normals are. The fact is that this year and last saw major climate related impact on food crops in the US, Australia, Russia, and Pakistan. And even though a few peppers on your sandwich or a tomato on your burger might seem trivial it is in fact a climate change food shortage in your face. The farmers who lost crops designed to put a tomato on your Whopper will now be calling in their bankers, their crop insurance and their governments for help to avoid bankruptcy. Some probably won't survive losing their investment.

Today's increasing energy costs are about to make the situation worse during the growing season in this hemisphere.  Most people probably don't know that the chief ingredient in our food supply is oil.  Our dependence on fertilizers and chemicals, farm equipment, livestock feed milling, water pumping, trucking, air freight, cargo ships, processing, packaging, refrigeration, storage and delivery are all tied directly to the price of oil.  This dot in the matrix is a big one. Food prices are going up in North America. Major grocery chains are already announcing a 5% increase here.

But why are food prices going up so fast when market supplies in oil and commodities are sufficient and demand is relatively stable?  Let's check in on those wacky, irrational investment markets again:
According to a study by the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, index fund speculation jumped from $13 billion to $260 billion from 2003 to 2008. Not surprisingly, food prices rose in tandem, beginning in 2003.  Hedge fund manager Michael Masters estimated that on the regulated exchanges in the U.S., 64 percent of all wheat contracts were held by speculators with no interest whatever in real wheat. They owned it solely in anticipation of price inflation and resale. 
So there you have it.  Climate change, energy costs and global commodity speculation are now playing havoc with your ability to afford, "what's for dinner". The risk of economic disaster for global food producers is tied directly to wobbles in the global climate.  And market speculators in oil and commodities are engaging in risky behavior that would make an Amsterdam sex worker faint. The "invisible hand" of the market is dope slapping us with lower wages, higher food prices, a wobbly climate and general nausea caused by a growing sense of insecurity. It's a combination that is already driving stable governments and solid financial institutions off a cliff.

So what can we do about it? Well I don't think the answer is some crazy Communist agrarian revolution where we move hedge fund managers to the farm and make them eat kale. I believe that there are healthy free market alternatives here and around the world that you can invest in. And your investment will help stabilize the big picture.  This is the final dot.

It's time to go and meet your local farmer. Buy into your local commodity market. Stop exchanging a higher portion of your income on low value energy dependent processed and packaged food "products". Live like rich people do. Look to make your profit on the higher quality and higher value food available directly from a wholesale producer. Make an investment in shopping and learning to prepare better meals for yourself. If the current system does not sustain you then don't sustain it. Stop feeding your food dollars into speculation and greed. Start eating healthy meals produced by people you know who will be there when you need them. You'll feel a whole lot better!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shopping for Food Security - Part 2

Looking for ways to grow local, sustainable, small farms in PEI

Shopping for Food Security - Part 2

In the last blog post, I explained how organic farmers seek and plant organic seeds grown by other organic farmers and how that has increased the supply and diversity of organic seeds available to farmers and gardeners.   I explained that we are also starting to buy, plant and save open pollinated seeds to create our own seed bank at Dunn Creek Farm.  And I closed by promising to explain how food shoppers can protect and expand healthy diversity in the market.  The simplest explanation is that farmers grow seed for the food you buy. If you choose variety and diversity in your diet, you are supporting biological and genetic diversity in the field and in the market.

Thomas Morrison was kind enough to forward his writing on the topic of food diversity and security. I'm pleased to include him as a contributor.

The Importance of Biodiversity in Farmers Markets

Doug Band and the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) as well as US Ecologist Gary Nabhan have recently come out as strong proponents for crop diversity. Nabhan’s position is that in order to keep the idea of diversity at the forefront of our society, we must apply it to biology of crop diversification. †His theories of promoting sustainability through grocery shopping have become popular. In a recent interview Nabhan said, “in other environmental issues we tell people to stop something, reduce their impact, reduce their damage.” His article Coming Home to Eat published in 200l can be cited as influencing the popularity of green culture, the local food movement, and the increased appearance of farmers markets all over the country.

A host of other organizations have begun to promote sustainability through the act of conservation. Bill Clinton, Doug Band and the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) have set their sights on emission reduction projects throughout the country. In order to do this, they have partnered up with Donlen, GreenDriver, and Environmental Defense Fund with the purpose of reducing commercial fleet emissions by 20% in the next five years. †The Earth Day Network has brought together local and national conservationist groups and green enthusiasts to participate in an open forum. This forum serves as a space to incite discussion and dialogue on new ways to create a sustainable planet. Individuals can reduce their carbon footprint, create less waste, and stop the unnecessary wasting of water. Gary Nabhan strongly suggests as members of society we take a larger look at the state of our planet.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization produced a study with results indicating that a quarter of crop diversity is left and a dozen species provides 90% of the animal protein consumed around the globe. More over, roughly four crop species supply half of the plant-based calories in the basic human diet. Nabhan theorizes that growing food locally will have a massive impact on our planet’s sustainability. The “eat what you conserve” theory says by eating the produce that we are attempting to conserve, we are simultaneously promoting the granular dissemination of a vast amount of plant types.

Agriculturist Marco Contiero adds to the theory by saying, “biodiversity is an essential characteristic of any sustainable agricultural system, especially in the context of climate change.”
According to Conterio, since individuals raise and harvest our own crops and plants, we should purchase the crops harvested and produced by other local growers. If individuals buy food grown and harvested locally, the large carbon footprint associated with the transnational transportation of food is no longer a problem. Both arguments require an active effort toward conservation and sustainability. As the spring approaches, visit your local farmers market to get all the best in seasonal fruit and vegetables. Visiting your local produce stand is also a great way to promote biodiversity, support your local economy, and experience the delicious regional food varieties.