A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Getting Stoned in the Garden


Perhaps I should say I got my rocks off......... from the truck that delivered my washed stone yesterday allowing us to finish up creating our first of 3 or 4 'weed free' garden beds. I am quite pleased with how it all came together, the concrete pot holders casting went quite well once I had the molds set up to be easily set up and able to be released from the resulting holder. The bed layout also looks pretty good and will allow us to switch out the potted plants as they come into flowering time (or croak from lack of water, which with the bottom of the pots sitting on the under-laying soil should not be too much of a problem). As you can see below we have yet to set the brick surround in place which will allow us to mow right up to the bed but the plastic edging is in and should stop 'grass creep' between the bricks from getting into the bed. Looking good....... time will tell exactly how 'maintenance free' it is!


So no, I am not on drugs....... but I think I deserve a beer after getting this done (with some help) in the last week or so!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flower Garden Makeover

As an apprentice many years ago I worked under an old fellow who when we were working at one of the several large country houses (in England) that had beautiful gardens would say “I like to see a nice garden ........ but I sure don’t like doing it!”. I must admit to agreeing with him for most of my life but now quite enjoy 'puddling around' in the garden but I still sure don’t like battling with overgrown flower beds or persistent twitch grass coming up in those beds that I have managed to keep reasonably tidy.

 The Jungle


With the above in mind we are ripping out two of our original perennial flower beds, splitting and potting the plants as we find them in the 'jungle' and will be making a whole new bed to accommodate them but this time with a few changes. Its going to be a 'pot' garden, the flowers will remain in the pots and be surrounded by a 4” or so layer of stone, sort of a cross between these two gardens....


The Plan


I have one major addition to this idea though, I am casting a number of concrete 'pot holders, bottomless concrete tubes that the pots will sit in that will sit level with the top of the stone layer. This will permit the ready exchange of those pots of plants that are done flowering, are not doing well or need weeding or TLC with others from the Green House or from our 'growing on' holding area. I could use large clay tiles (if I could find any) but even clay tiles will deteriorate over time and have to be dug out and replaced so I am going with a one time and done concrete surround.


Salvaged plants & Pot holders


Its a lot of work now with, I hope, a weed free maintenance free lazy mans garden emerging. The only real challenge right now is deciding upon the garden edging, I think we will be going with a brick border with plastic roll edging inside them to stop 'grass creep' into the bed. More to come as we get it done, don’t hold your breath expecting to see the finished project anytime soon, I may be doing much more looking than doing in memory of the old tradesman who is now looking down upon those 'nice gardens'.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Milkweed & Monarchs

Most folks are aware the the Monarch butterfly numbers are declining in part due to the reduction in the number of Milkweed plants growing here in Canada where they lay their eggs and feed upon these plants. I am therefore pleased to report that after a number of years where we only found one or two plants this year they are in very good supply, at least here on our property in the Klondike Hills. We leave some scrub areas and encourage wild growth of all kinds on our property, with over 30 acres we feel we can share with the birds, animals and insects that need such growth and anyway almost an acre of mowing is more than enough to upkeep!

I wish I could post a picture of hundreds of Monarchs clustering around the Milkweeds but thus far we have not seen even one, we can only hope some show up soon. For now I will post a picture of the plants just coming into flower and hope to update it with at least some butterflys on them soon.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rural Election Stories

Originally posted over at Democracy Under Fire it is reproduced here for my handful of rural readers.


With the Ontario election now history and a slight uptick in the voter turn out I will relate a few of the problems various voters have encountered whilst trying to vote in an effort to make both the voters and those that run the system aware of impediments to voting during said election. Most of these stories are specific to rural areas and related to poll location and rural addressing issues, it may be that in urban areas such things are not such a problem and it would seem that Elections Ontario either is unaware of such problems or considers rural voters as less important than their urban counterparts. Non of the stories are new to the 2014 election but have been ongoing throughout the last several Ontario elections, some are relevant to the federal electoral system also.


Let us first look at a couple of lads who were first time voters and who lived across the road from each other one of whom had found out where to vote and took his buddy along to also vote. Trouble was that his buddy was to vote at a different poll, not one across the room or even a couple of blocks away but 8 or 10 miles away. These lads had already travelled 10 or 12 miles from their home to get to the poll and unfortunately it being 8.45pm had no chance of getting to the other poll location before closing. Not a good first time voting experience!


At the same poll a number of seniors some using walkers came to the poll location situated just a few houses away only to be told that they could not vote as their poll was in a village some 10 to 12 miles away. To add insult to injury the entire village where they lived was directed to the distant location despite there being more than enough room to accommodate more polls at their local hall. This issue is common to many rural polls and has been well documented in my personal blog during the previous election.


At an advanced poll a fellow came in to vote and pulled out his recently renewed drivers licence for identification only to find that the address did not match, his drivers licence still showed lot and concession instead of the now required road and fire number (rural equivalent of street number). Seems that the word has not reached licence renewal folk that lot and con is no longer a valid address!


At the same advanced poll a fellow came in to register and vote as no voter card was received, not a problem except that he had not moved in the last 10 years and had corrected his information before the last two elections and his information on the voters list was STILL not corrected on the list. Third time lucky perhaps?


A number of voters either declined their votes or deliberately spoiled their ballots. How do we know this? To decline a ballot the voter must hand the ballot back to the clerk and tell them they wish to decline, anyone nearby can hear and see this transaction. By the same token at locations where a tabulating machine is used (as in most advanced ballots) the machine will reject an incorrectly filled out ballot, the voter must then tell the clerk that they want the vote processed as filled out. There is no 'Declined / None of the above' box on the ballots!


These are just a few of the 'difficulties' that I have been made aware of most of which in my view are not that hard to fix or at least make less of a problem. The addressing problems can only be corrected by keeping an up to date database which requires those moving to somehow get that data input into the system, how is that we must update our drivers licence immediately after moving but this does not filter down to voting lists and that rural addressing conventions are still not being observed despite Canada Post recently declaring that they will soon stop delivering rural mail unless it has the road and fire number on it.


Finally how is it that at advanced polls anyone from within that riding can vote at any poll but on voting day you MUST vote at a specific poll location? The major impediment here is that the voter lists are still being distributed to the polls in printed form and to wade through some 80,000 names on hundreds of loose leaf pages is a major chore, just ask an advanced poll clerk about that. At the very least the riding list should be on computer as a read only file with a search utility (the feds have done this at advanced polls) but should not updates and the fact that the citizen has voted not be instantly updated via computer? As it stands it takes 24 hours or more for the written changes to go to the district office, be entered and new printed lists to be produced and sent out to the advanced polls. If someone wanted to vote multiple times it would be relativity easy and whilst it would probably be picked up eventually and (presumably) the perpetrator taken to task, the votes themselves could not be cancelled as no vote is coupled with any particular voter.


Whilst so many of us are calling for election reform in the way in which our votes determine the composition of the legislatures, the way in which we actually cast our vote is at least as important if we wish more citizens to make their wishes known. Its a difficult thing to ensure that any system is not subject to manipulation by those who would 'cheat' but we must try and make it less of a chore and eliminate as many problems as possible so that ALL citizens can and will vote. In my opinion whilst paper ballots must still be an option the use of technology can only help with this despite the perhaps increased possibility of voter fraud and the difficulty of conducting a 'recount' in such situations.


I note that information as to where to vote and identification required was available on line or by telephone but for many folks who do not use the internet or were unaware that they had a problem until they went to vote it was too little too late. I wonder how many folks actually read the bulk mailing that went out right after the election was called and how many thought to take action when they did not receive a voter card. The above difficulties are not ALL the systems fault!


Let us know about your Rural Election Stories!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Revitalization of Rural Economies (Conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a 3 part article by guest Nathan Carey.

Some Thoughts For You to Take Home
Agriculture is, of course, a primary industry, since it takes seed and soil and produces something of intrinsic value – food. This food, in turn, can result in a thousand secondary off-shoot industries. Think about a canning factory, a distillery, a community delivery service, or a candle manufacturer from Bee's wax? The possibilities boggle the mind, and every community will be different based on the needs and desires of its residents. 
Small farms trade back the destructive relationship between fossil fuels and efficiency for the creative relationship between human labor and resiliency. Farms need year-round labor, and if you’re not riding the wave of a commodity grain, that means job stability.  Stability means a stable local economy, but also stable families and households.  There are as many opportunities in or around small-scale agriculture as you and your neighbors have energy for.
     
What does all of the above mean for you right this moment? Well, it certainly adds a lot of weight to the phrase, "buy local". The idea of buying local has allegedly been accepted and embraced by mainstream commentators, but they use it as little more than a catchy slogan. Instead, it should be understood as something radical and revolutionary! Resilient food producers out there are challenging the food system on all fronts. 
So you’re not just reducing your carbon footprint and enjoying the tastiest, most nutritionally dense food, but you’re also -and perhaps most important of all- ensuring the long-term viability of your own community.  If you're an investor, then why not put your money into a small-agricultural business or related industry?  One of the largest barriers for new farm businesses is start-up capital.  Banking institutions generally don’t understand the benefits of this kind of resilient endeavor, because they see no immediate profits to be gained. 
The bottom line may look decent, but the return on investment (ROI) is very long-term and the interest might come in the form of hams, lettuce mix and soup stock instead of cash.  But if you’re a frequent reader of The Automatic Earth, then you probably understand why nutritional food is a much better ROI.  Instead of looking for a quick monetary profit, we can be satisfied settling for delicious food security. 
It is obviously important to learn the proper skills and gain experience. There are certainly a lot of folks out there trying to farm without the proper business sense or agricultural knowledge to succeed. With access to online or community resources, though, it is never too late for people to get started on their rural revitalization education. The cities of our nations are where we have focused our attention, but I believe it's in the "empty spaces" where the room for creativity and reinvention of a more equitable and prosperous society will find its roots. 
Innovation at the "human scale" is happening at the end of hoes and around micro-brews in a small town watering hole. Food is a basic need, it is non-negotiable and come rain, shine, deflation or inflation, we must eat! As the uncertain future looms large over all our lives, we need to be prepared both to survive and to thrive. For now, it is clear that people in some rural economies are feeling hopeful about agriculture for the first time in a generation. 
The fault lines are shifting, as the fastest growing segment among farmers is young women! What better statistic to reflect change from the "traditional farmer" in our culture’s iconography, and the agricultural landscape in general. "Eating is an agricultural act," Wendel Berry famously said, and we are all engaged in this agricultural act every single day. Whether those acts benefit a few multi-national corporate networks or our next door neighbors is entirely in our hands.

To end this discussion, then, I will turn to the extremely informative and insightful book, The Town That Food Saved, written about Hardwick by Ben Hewitt. 
The Atlantic Magazine interviewed Mr. Hewitt about the book last year, and he made clear that none of the things happening in Hardwick came without great patience and effort from the people and businesses of the community. 
It is not easy to revitalize our rural economies after decades and decades of mis-allocation and mismanagement of resources. Still, with enough effort and imagination, Hardwick proves that this revitalization can be done.
In Rural Vermont, From Famine to Fork
"In the course of researching The Town That Food Saved, Hewitt found that the issue of food systems was far more complex than he had first thought. "I wanted to ask what it really means to create a localized food system," he told me over coffee, one of the few items on his daily menu he does not produce. "It's hard—culturally, economically, and in terms of people's habits. Readers looking for empirical answers should look elsewhere. In a way, this book is more about questions than answers."

Still, Hewitt comes away feeling that 
Hardwick's recent history may be providing a template for a food system that could save all of us. "The fact is that our nation's food supply has never been more vulnerable. And we, as consumers of food, share that vulnerability, having slowly, inexorably relinquished control over the very thing that's critical to our survival," Hewitt writes. What is at risk, he contends, is the entire model of the way we nourish ourselves. Fixing this broken model is a matter of national urgency.

Should our industrial food system collapse, the Hewitt family (which includes his wife and two young boys) will have far less to worry about than most of us. They raise 80 percent of the food they eat: in addition to all their vegetables, they produce milk, beef, lamb, pork, chicken, eggs, blueberries, raspberries, apples, and maple syrup. Their house, which they built with help from friends, gets its electricity from solar panels and its heat from wood stoves.

Where does that leave the rest of us? "For 100 years food production has been headed in one direction," Hewitt told me. "
The people I profile [in Hardwick] are all articulating steps to get us going in a different direction."
This is the final part of a 3 part article by Nathan Carey, see part 1 here and part 2 here.
Nathan raises a variety of animals and grows organic vegetables in a sustainable manner on his 'little piece of heaven' near Neustadt, Ontario. Visit http://www.greenbeingfarm.ca/

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Revitalization of Rural Economies (part 2 of 3)

A guest article by Nathan Carey


A Rural Revolution.


The revitalization of rural economies through the use of small-scale agriculture is nothing short of a call for a revolution in our food production and distribution systems.”

The Precedent Has Been Set in Hardwick, VT
The best way to conceive of this revolution is by illustrating a place where the challenge of rebuilding our food systems from the soil up has begun in earnest - Hardwick, Vermont (pop. 3000). The town had its best days in the 1920s, as it was a primary source for granite. When Granite was replaced by concrete as a building material, the industry collapsed. Therefore, the town has been in a sort of stasis for generations. 
According to the US Census Report in 2000, the per capita income for the town was $14,813 per year, and about 10.5% of families and 14.0% of the population were living below the poverty line. The town's current unemployment is 40 times higher than the state average in Vermont and its average median income is 25% lower. Like most American towns, the supermarket is peoples’ main connection to the industrial food system. 
However, there's a growing and well publicized movement happening in Vermont that could provide some clues to the rest of us on how to proceed in a systemic process of revitalizing rural economies. There are many small and medium sized agricultural businesses in Hardwick that popped up within a short time frame and have been growing and making their positive influence felt.
The New York Times wrote an article featuring this movement back in 2008, and, despite the worsening financial meltdown that is tearing many communities apart, it still remains a viable and thriving model for Hardwick.
Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town
"This town’s granite companies shut down years ago and even the rowdy bars and porno theater that once inspired the nickname "Little Chicago" have gone.

Facing a Main Street dotted with vacant stores, residents of this hardscrabble community of 3,000 are 
reaching into its past to secure its future, betting on farming to make Hardwick the town that was saved by food.

With the fervor of Internet pioneers, young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, 
reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism. [..]

Rian Fried, an owner of Clean Yield Asset Management in nearby Greensboro, which has invested with local agricultural entrepreneurs, said he’s never seen such cooperative effort.

"Across the country a lot of people are doing it individually but it’s rare when you see the kind of collective they are pursuing," said Mr. Fried, whose firm considers social and environmental issues when investing." 
The bottom line is they are providing jobs and making it possible for others to have their own business."

These businesses include names like "High-Mowing Seeds", "Clair's Restaurant", "The Vermont Soy Company", "Jasper Hill Farm", "Pete's Greens" and "Highfield's Center for Composting". All of these companies and more describe the beginnings of how we take back our food systems and our rural economies in the process. They all carry important lessons for us to take notice of and adopt in our rural communities throughout the upcoming years of both industrial collapse and alternative agricultural opportunities.






Tom Stearns, Vermont local, is the owner and entrepreneur behind one of the few commercial organic seed producers in the country and one of the even fewer focusing on heritage or heirloom varieties. Heirloom varieties tend to pre-date the industrialization of our food supply. They are selected for flavor and nutrition, and adapted to local conditions instead of being selected to fit into a neat, efficient process. Mr. Stearns epitomizes the transition that is occurring in Hardwick, and its emphasis on cooperation and sharing.

NY Times (article linked above): 
"All of us have realized that by working together we will be more successful as businesses," said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds. "At the same time we will advance our mission to help rebuild the food system, conserve farmland and make it economically viable to farm in a sustainable way."

Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local composting company. 
Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles."


High-Mowing started out as a hobby for Stearns, who had a lifelong love of seeds, but soon it became a business. It's a $2 million/year concern that employs 30 people at reasonable wages. Besides providing employment, the business of growing seeds really gets to the heart of what it means to be resilient. Seeds and soil are obviously the basic foundations of agriculture and cannot be taken for granted, as most Americans tend to do.

The seed supply has become as inefficient and brittle as our money system and we risk more than we know by concentrating the breeding, growing and distribution of seed into the hands of a few. With men like Stearns at the forefront, who is more than willing to cooperate with other businesses in the community, the movement is in excellent hands. We enthusiastically buy our own seed from High-Mowing for some of our gardens.




Claire's Restaurant (Community Supported Restaurant)
CSRs are an adaptation of my farm's business model - Community Supported Agriculture. A group of five people started the restaurant and the funding model is as unique as the dishes you will find there. A holding company was created who bought the lease for the restaurant's building twelve years in advance. It turns out that pre-paying your lease for twelve years is a great way to negotiate a sweetheart rate!

NY Times: 
"Mr. Tasch is having a meeting in nearby Grafton next month with investors, entrepreneurs, nonprofit groups, philanthropists and officials to discuss investing in Vermont agriculture. Here in Hardwick, Claire’s restaurant, sort of a clubhouse for farmers, began with investments from its neighbors. It is a Community Supported Restaurant. Fifty investors who put in $1,000 each will have the money repaid through discounted meals at the restaurant over four years.

"
Local ingredients, open to the world," is the motto on restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. "There’s Charlie who made the bread tonight," Kristina Michelsen, one of four partners, said in a running commentary one night, identifying farmers and producers at various tables. "That’s Pete from Pete’s Greens. You’re eating his tomatoes."


The equipment that is needed to run a restaurant, and typically put a heavy burden on start-up capital, was purchased by the same holding company for use by the restaurant and any future food business that would take the place of Claire's Restaurant, should it fail. In this atmosphere of financial and social support, the chef, Steven Obranovich, is able to focus on cooking and, perhaps more importantly, the sourcing of ingredients.

That focus has led him to source an unheard of 80% of these ingredients from local farmers and businesses (it’s not just the garnish that is local). Here is both an outlet for the food being produced locally but also a place where people can meet, talk and spend time becoming ensconced in the spirit and vitality of eating food grown close to their homes.



This company provides a necessary service for any agrarian community. Good quality compost is in short supply and for many reason most new farmers take on market gardening as their initial venture into the world of agriculture. Without on farm fertility gardeners need a good non-chemical source of nutrients for their gardens. Thomas Gilbert, executive director and founder, is a composting guru and has a deep respect for what compost and fertility can mean to an agricultural community.
These are just three of the business’s that make up the incredible, unfolding story in Hardwick. Each enterprise is exciting on it's own but having so many agricultural business's so close together both in proximity and mission has the makings of big time change. As the NY Times article makes clear, the unprecedented level of cooperation between these businesses provides an atmosphere of economic stability and social cohesion.
NY Times: 
"For the past two years, many of these farmers and businessmen have met informally once a month to share experiences for business planning and marketing or pass on information about, say, a graphic designer who did good work on promotional materials or government officials who’ve been particularly helpful. They promote one another’s products at trade fairs and buy equipment at auctions that they know their colleagues need.

More important, they share capital. They’ve lent each other about $300,000 in short-term loans. 
When investors visited Mr. Stearns over the summer, he took them on a tour of his neighbors’ farms and businesses."



The recently started Center for an Agricultural Economy is another organization in our community that will give shape and push this vision forward in a more organized and transparent way. Since the NYT article was written, this organization has remained strong and committed to Hardwick’s revitalization through small-scale agriculture, and the town’s residents, from farmers to business people to students, have benefited greatly as a result.

NY Times: 
"To expand these enterprises further, the Center for an Agricultural Economy recently bought a 15-acre property to start a center for agricultural education. There will also be a year-round farmers’ market (from what began about 20 years ago as one farmer selling from the trunk of his car on Main Street) and a community garden, which started with one plot and now has 22, with a greenhouse and a paid gardening specialist.

Last month the center signed an agreement with the University of Vermont for faculty and students to work with farmers and food producers on marketing, research, even transportation problems. Already, Mr. Meyer has licensed a university patent to make his Vermont Natural Coatings, an environmentally friendly wood finish, from whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking."

Hardwick's access to local food is unparalleled. It is likely that Hardwick could feed itself and the surrounding environs without any outside input. And while that may seem like a small thing, as all of us have become so used to the ubiquity of food, it bears remembering how incredible brittle our long food supply chains are. Most cities have about four days worth of food on hand at a time without constant delivery. A food system based on resilient parts - i.e. people and businesses - will itself be resilient as a whole.


This is the second part of a 3 part article by Nathan Carey, see part 1 here.
Nathan raises a variety of animals and grows organic vegetables in a sustainable manner on his 'little piece of heaven' near Neustadt, Ontario. Visit http://www.greenbeingfarm.ca/


Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Revitalization of Rural Economies (part 1)

A guest article by Nathan Carey

Profiling Small-Scale Agriculture
The Historical Trade-Off Between Efficiency and Resiliency
For several generations people have been tearing up their country roots and planting themselves in urban centers. It is one of the strongest and most ubiquitous migrations of this century across the world - the migration from rural areas to urban cities. In fact, "rural areas" have simply become the space between departure and arrival. They’re just exits off of the freeway that you have no reason to take. The reason for leaving is quite clear, though. 
Starved of jobs and opportunities for socioeconomic "mobility", our rural towns are dying painfully slow deaths. This process is evident traveling through almost any small town two hours away from any urban center in North America. We see empty storefronts with yellowing "For Rent" signs, empty cracked streets with faded paint, empty crumbling grain silos and empty tilting barns. In the last few years, poverty has only gotten worse in America, and especially the rural portions that are largely ignored.

But, as our economy and the society it supports simplifies from the myriad of pressures bearing down on it, human populations will have to leave their energy and import hungry cities to once again fill the ‘empty’ spaces with life and labor. I believe there's a great way to revitalize and prepare these empty places now, while we still have the means to maneuver.  Small-scale, resilient agriculture is a way to transform the rural landscape into the kind of place people want to visit and live in.
The starkness of these places became viscerally evident to me when I moved from my boyhood suburbs of Toronto to rural Ontario. My wife and I bought fifty acres of fertile soil that we fostered into a farm business. After many years of interning, living in trailers and seeking out farming know-how, we felt we were finally up for the challenge of running our own farm business and got started. 
Our vision of agriculture is small and diversified. We run a winter vegetable CSA where our members pay us in advance for vegetables that we dole out throughout the long Ontario winter. We also raise and sell various kinds of meat: lamb, pork, chicken, turkey and soon, beef. Neither of us come from farm backgrounds and we represent many in the ‘new farmer’ movement – young, educated, practical and willing to put the hard work in to transform the ideas floating around in our brains into reality.
The kind of farming we are practicing is based on resiliency. It is in direct contrast to industrial farming whose underlying strategy is efficiency. We don't plant one type of crop; we plant thirty. We don't have one income stream; we have several – including teaching and telecommuting employment from Toronto. We don't have one customer; as many wholesale producers do, we have hundreds. 
But while we are resilient we also suffer some lack of efficiency. Our larger, more conventional neighbors can take an acre and turn it from sod to seed bed in less than an hour. It would take us a full ten hour day to do the same with our small walk-behind tractor.  I think it's helpful to see these two strategies, resiliency and efficiency, as opposing points on a continuum of system building. To be too far towards one or the other is detrimental to the system's health. 
Too efficient and you "find the straightest road to hell" (a quote from James H. Kunstler via Nicole Foss). If you are mired in resiliency, then you'll never really get anything accomplished. Resiliency is supple and adaptive. Efficiency is hard and effective. Too supple and you have no form. Too hard, though, and you become brittle and break. Our modern economy which has made a god of efficiency is ultra-efficient and ultra-brittle. 
Small-scale agriculture is attempting to move back to the middle but hedging much closer to resiliency than efficiency – a hedge based on our uncertain future. What does resiliency look like?  On our farm we have five different types of animals that all produce manure. This assures we are not dependent on outside sources for the garden’s fertility needs. We have been careful to scale our operation to be largely manageable by hand or with small tools. 
This precaution assures that, while we can and do use diesel driven implements to help us, we are not completely reliant on them. Your average CSA market garden is going to have fifty different crops usually with a few varieties of each:  3 varieties of carrot, 5 squash, 8 tomato varieties, etc. This variety means that a single disease doesn’t wipe out a whole season’s worth of work. It may only wipe out one row.  There must be a balance with efficiency though.  
If local food systems are to feed whole regions, then they must also be of a scale to accomplish that. This balance is going to take many years and many kinds of farming to discover. The rural landscape is far ahead of the global economic turmoil we see crashing in slow-motion around us. It found it's 'bottom' and has been living there a long time. Most people living in small towns didn't go into debt to flip a 'fixer upper' on the housing market. 
Maybe that’s because there was no housing market where they were, and there still isn't. Or maybe they can't get credit because of their low wage or lack of employment. The story of most rural towns is the same: its bottom arrived at the end of a short, straight road paved by a single, large employer. Maybe it was a textile-mill, a mining outfit, a car manufacturer, a power-station.

This large employer came, created jobs, created industry, created a community around them and then, just when life was being taken for granted, it all fell apart. Maybe a large company bought the local company out and moved it off-shore. Maybe the resources being extracted were no longer worth extracting. Maybe government regulation drove costs beyond the breaking point. 
______________________________
The Basic Drivers Underlying Small-Scale Agriculture
Whatever the specific details, most rural areas seem to have charted a familiar story all over the continent. I think it can be said that formerly resilient rural economies swung hard towards efficiency and then broke at an unexpected shock. Really, it's the story of the twentieth century writ small on town after town. So why should small-scale agriculture become the hero of this developing story about a North American Continent centered on local communities? That’s a big question to answer, but we can start with a few of the following reasons.
1. Filling a Non-Negotiable Gap - We must anticipate the demise of industrial food production as the complexity of society breaks down and liquid fuel prices rise, becoming less affordable. Therefore, we need to work on an alternative, regardless of the specific scale of the crisis. Once complex, fragile chains of food production and distribution spanning the world begin to break, it will be our duty to make sure that our families and communities can still eat!
2. Human Scale - Small-scale agriculture is capable of being implemented by normal people in normal circumstances, without extraordinary infrastructure, technologies or budgets. It is a grass-roots revolution powered by the people for the people. While many people may hope for technology to save them, they would might do better to unclasp their wringing hands and put them to work turning compost.
3. Provides Meaningful Employment - Small-scale agriculture generally requires a lot of different types of human labor. Once the use of energy-hungry machines becomes too expensive or unavailable for farming, people will also have to step back in to complete the necessary tasks themselves. And, yes, some of it is "back-breaking" and some of it is repetitive, but much of it is also joyful, soulful, and fun. All of the work is skillful and rewarding.  And all of it eased by the labour of many hands. 
4. Crucible for Innovation - While the latest app for telling a person his/her horoscope is added to the latest iProduct, we are reinventing the process of growing food. Small-scale farmers must not only re-discover lost knowledge but adapt it to current circumstances. This includes a variety of innovative practices, such as creating new hand-tools, bicycle powered root washers, specialized tractor equipment, online customer checkout systems specifically designed for CSA farms, new seed varieties, new rotations, and efficient, natural ways of fighting plant diseases and weeds. 
5. Uplifting and Empowering - Many people feel dis-empowered by a global financial system that has left their expectations in tatters. Learning and practicing the skills that provide for your basic needs brings pride and security.
6. No Externalizations - Unlike the industries of the past that sprouted up, inflated to unsustainable proportions and then crashed, devastating the towns built around them, small-scale agriculture is diffuse and resilient. It simply relies on the soil, the weather and the sun, and it is not nearly as affected by the vagaries of distant markets. 
I'm sure there's easily another solid twelve reasons why small-scale agriculture is such a positive force for change. How to revitalize a rural economy through small-scale agriculture is a much harder question to answer. Asking for the revitalization of rural economies through the use of small-scale agriculture is nothing short of a call for a revolution in our food production and distribution systems. 

This is part 1 of a 3 part article, watch for part 2 and part 3 in the near future.


Nathan raises a variety of animals and grows organic vegetables in a sustainable manner on his 'little piece of heaven' near Neustadt, Ontario. Visit http://www.greenbeingfarm.ca/