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.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Longer Days, Brighter Nights

Most of us know that after the Winter Solstice on December 21st the days gradually get longer and sunset becomes a little later each day, but how many of you knew that only now does the sun start to RISE earlier. If we look at the sun rise and sun set tables we will see that over the next week sunset time go from 4.48 pm to 4.43 pm but sunrise time are stuck at 7.51 !!

This is apparently due to the earths 'wobble' but irregardless of the cause its good to know that shortly the sun WILL be rising a little earlier and we are on the way to spring. Unfortunately before the sun warms us up enough to make us get the gardening itch and look for spring buds we have a few months of Canadian winter to deal with.

Here's wishing for an 'open' winter and an early spring, may 2015 be a 'sunny' year, in every sense of the word, for you and indeed for Canada and all Canadians.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Vets “Permitted” to give Rabies Shots.

According to an article in the Ontario Farmer the Collage of Veterinarians or Ontario (CVO) now PERMITS Vets to administer Rabies shots to dogs that are not '”regular clients”. Those of us who own dogs and are out in the country where rabies can be more of a problem know that the longstanding annual rabies clinics, whereby owners could have their dogs vaccinated quickly and inexpensively, have been discontinued a few years ago apparently due to the Vets or the CVO 'regulations. The article says that the vets were permitted to administer such shots at a clinic at a fire hall or “non accredited facility” but until now not at their own practice unless the dog was “a regular client” (this despite it being common practice for years).
Sounds totally bizarre to me, but now they are “permitted” to do so, whether or not this will mean the reinstatement of those regular rabies clinics which so may dog owners, who would otherwise not not bother, took their dogs to remains unclear.

Nor it is clear if those 'non regulars' will be charged for a full examination or will be able to just get their animal given the shot at nominal cost (it used to be $20 or $25) or the $150 or so that almost any Vet charges for a typical visit. I note also that the “rabies program” was downloaded from the Feds to the Province about 18 months ago but despite it being legislated that “all cats and dogs must be vaccinated against rabies by age 3 months” neither level of government (or the CVO) seems much interest in providing an inexpensive way in which to encourage owners to get this done.

I do hope that this change in the “rules” will mean that next year ALL veterinary operations (both small and large animal) will participate in a 'rabies clinic day' where owners can get this important public health program carried out at reasonable cost.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Economic Fable

Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a large mansion with many rooms and a huge mortgage. The father made all the decisions as to the upkeep of the house and the health and welfare of the family members who were all expected to contribute towards the funds needed for all to live in the house. Although in the past the contribution from the family members exceeded the expenses and resulted in having some savings in the bank no payments on the mortgage were made and the bank account was raided for foolish spending. Unfortunately over the next few years many of the family lost their jobs or were reduced to working part time and were unable to pay their full share, this resulted in the father saying that he must cut down on the maintenance of the house and everybody would have to have smaller lunches to save money. Everyone except himself and his favourite cousins that is.

When the gardener said that the manure run off was getting into the well he was fired, when the cook said that she needed to know how many folks there were in each room in order to distribute the food fairly she was told 'you dont need to know that', when the cleaners tried to tell the residents about the toxic chemicals being used they were told shut up or be fired. If fact all the workers were told to not talk to the residents and that all information about the household must be approved by father and those who failed to do that would be kicked out in the cold. This was particularly true of anyone who questioned his 'economic plan' which was never really fully explained to the family.

When the family started complaining of the cuts that were resulting in the deterioration of the house and less food on the table he spent even more money installing TVs in every room with a steady stream of self congratulatory programs tell all how good he was at running the house and they should not worry and be happy. As the complaints started mounting up he cleverly 'saved' more money by refusing to pay for work already scheduled and reducing payments to the doctors from up the street who looked after various family members and thus eventually he was able to say to the residents 'I think we will have more cash coming in that going out next year' (so long as we don’t pay down anything on that massive mortgage). 'I will give those of you who have the best jobs a break on the rent and just so the rest of you don’t get too pissed off if you have kids you are feeding I will give you a few more peas on your plate!

Meanwhile he sent a few of the family on an expensive overseas trip but as the bills for that would not show up for a while did not include that in his budget, and the bill for the new row boats to keep the geese of the pond at the top of the garden would not be due for a few years so that does not count. Nor would the 4 new, expensive to maintain, fancy cars just ordered (shush, don’t tell anyone) matter because by the time the bills come in he figures on eliminating any one who questions his spending habits. With this in mind he did not consider that his sales of manure from the side yard to the west would probably not bring in as much as promised, and some of his sales men were talking of quitting. Nor did he consider that the paint was peeling, the widows were cracked and the wind blowing through cracks in the walls of the house in many places, these things could be ignored from his cozy well maintained apartment in the west wing where he and his favourites lived. And so father lived on in his dream world whilst the family fumed , but for how long we wonder........

That is far from the end of the fable, the family has yet to hear the full story from some of the favourites who have emerged from the west wing battered and torn and muttering “don't ever disagree with father, he's nuts”

Oh and one thing more, daddy’s name is Steve but he prefers to be called Sir Stephen!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tough Morning

Just returned from taking our faithful visitor greeter,  squirrel chaser, friend and companion, four legged friend on her final trip. Not an easy thing to do but after 12 years of patrolling our 30 acres of bush she will  be wandering no more and her recent inability to do much more than lay on the couch will no longer bother her. RIP Maisie.

Maisie in 2009

Friday, November 7, 2014

Are There .'Opportunities' in Bruce-Grey?

Bayshore News reports that a new study from the Four County Labour Market Planning Board reveals that Grey county has lost about 200 businesses in the last year whilst Bruce county has gained about 260 but that “the biggest driver of jobs in the local economy is self-employment”.

That the job market is basically stagnant in Grey-Bruce and that more and more folks are turning to self employment should hardly be a surprise to those looking for employment. A quick look at the job listings on Kijiji or the Job Bank will show that there are very few decent jobs available in this area and that many of those that are available are part time, temporary or 'agency' jobs. Its no wonder that folks turn to self employment to bring in a few dollars to the family table.
They also say that 'one key going forward is finding ways to keep people in the area, including young people who tend not to see opportunities in the four counties'. Also that 'another key to future job growth is getting high speed broadband internet into the rural areas, something Grey County has been pushing for over the last few years'.

Looking at those job listings we see very little encouragement for youth to remain in our area and not much more for those older folks who were laid off during the 'recession' and are still looking for full time work. If the economy is recovering I see little evidence of it in Grey-Bruce, and whilst better internet connections in the area may entice a few companies to set up here in rural SW Ontario I would not hold your breath waiting for a sudden influx of employment.
So no surprises here, the big question is how do we reverse the trend of jobs and youth heading to the big cities leaving the future of rural Ontario in limbo. Whilst I have great concern in that area I have no answers, I do hope the Four County Labour Market Planning Board or others have some!

Monday, November 3, 2014

More bad news for bees: The new "F" word

Have you heard of flupyradifurone? Probably not, unless you work for
the federal government agency poised to approve this new pesticide for
use in Canada.
But take note: This new "F" word is bad news for bees.

Flupyradifurone is an insect-killing systemic pesticide similar to the
controversial neonicotinoid, or neonic, family of bee-killing
chemicals. When applied to seeds or soil, it's absorbed by plant roots
and travels to leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar, making the plant
potentially toxic to insects.

This past summer, the international Task Force on Systemic
Pesticides<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/O0Y0g4OU00000V470E0N26D> analyzed
800 scientific studies and concluded that systemic pesticides like
neonics are harming bees, butterflies, birds and worms and should be
phased out globally. The European Union banned three
neonics<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/Q0YU06D0V804O002N00F4g0> for "crops
attractive to bees", but the European Environment Agency says that's
just a starting point, and recommends regulators look at similar
pesticides and take into account potential harmful effects on aquatic
invertebrates, birds and other insects. The EEA also found "mounting
scientific evidence has been systematically suppressed for many years
and early warnings were ignored."

Inexplicably, Canada's Pest Management Regulation Agency has yet to
respond to the Task Force findings and now wants to approve a new
systemic pesticide. What's especially troubling is that, in its
description, the PMRA

flupyradifurone "may pose a risk" to bees, birds, worms, spiders,
small mammals and aquatic bugs, and that it doesn't readily break down
in water, air or sunlight and may carry over to the following growing
season. When it enters streams, rivers and wetlands, "it may persist
for a long time."

Like neonics, flupyradifurone is a nerve poison, acutely toxic to bees
if ingested. As in the past, we don't fully understand the cumulative
effects of the increasing amounts of today's insecticides, pesticides,
fungicides and other chemicals being applied to crops across the

Neonicotinoids are showing up more frequently and in higher
concentrations than the harmful chemicals they replaced. A study last
year found 90 per cent of Saskatchewan prairie potholes contained
residual neonics<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/TH0VY0g020006Da0044ONU0> in
the spring, before farmers planted their fields. Research from the
U.S. Midwest found neonics in all 79 samples taken from nine
rivers<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/lYDOI000426g0U0N4000b0V>. Similar
results have been found in wetlands, streams and rivers in the
southwest U.S., Georgia and California.

It's not even clear whether the widespread use of neonic seed
treatments increases agricultural yields. A recent report from the
U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/e006cU00000DVY0O42J4g0N> regarding
soy crop treatments concluded, "these seed treatments provide little
or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.
Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in
soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus
not receiving any insect control treatment."

The European Environment Agency also found a 2004 ban on neonicotinoid
chemicals by France for sunflower and maize crops hasn't negatively
affected productivity. In fact, yields were higher in 2007 than they'd
been in a decade.

You'd think we'd learn from past experience with persistent and
bioaccumulative pesticides like DDT and
and the more recent research on neonicotinoids. DDT was widely used
until Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring drew attention to its
negative impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Many, but not
all, organophosphate pesticides have also been pulled from widespread
use because we learned their neurotoxic effects posed serious risks to
humans and wildlife.

Rather than approving new pesticides that may harm pollinators, birds
and other animals, including humans, we need better ways to protect
crops. A recent report, "Alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides
for pest control<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/r40e0U0Y0DL460V2g00O0N0>",
published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research,
suggests further research and methods including "diversifying crop
rotations, altering the timing of planting, tillage and irrigation,
using less sensitive crops in infested areas, applying biological
control agents," and other lower-risk alternatives.

We need to stop contaminating the environment with neonics and related
systemic pesticides. Approving flupyradifurone would take us in the
wrong direction. Canada's Pest Management Regulation Agency is
accepting comments on flupyradifurone approval until November 3. You
can submit through the
PMRA<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/q2UV0N064M004Y00D0gf00O> or David
Suzuki Foundation<http://go.davidsuzuki.org/s0gY04206D0N0V0O4g00N0U>

Putting bees and ecosystem functioning at risk endangers us all. It's
time to find a better way.

As origionaly published on the Homestead Forum

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chatsworth Election Results

Unofficial results courtesy Bayshore News

Chatsworth Mayor
Elected Candidate Vote % Incumbent
X Bob Pringle 1968 70.92 X
  Ron Smith 807 29.08  

Chatsworth Deputy Mayor
Elected Candidate Vote % Incumbent
  Terry McKay 740 26.49 X
X Scott Mackey 2053 73.51  

Chatsworth Councillors (3 to be elected)
Elected Candidate Vote % Incumbent
X Brian Gamble 1569 20.67 X
X Shawn Greig 1368 18.02  
  William Smith 149 1.96  
  Joshua E Eriksen 1047 13.79  
  Helmut Pankratz 719 9.47  
  Jerry Downey 1131 14.9  
  Trina Simmonds 327 4.31  
X Elizabeth Thompson 1280 16.86  

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Thankless Task?

With municipal elections now underway and many of us struggling to select the best candidates for the task my thoughts go to why these candidates have put their name forward for what must be a largely thankless job. No matter what decision individual counsellors or council as a whole make there will be those that disagree, and some that voice their disagreement quite forcefully. There will be groups of citizens that come together to oppose or support this issue or that initiative who present to council their particular point of view. Counsellors must take all this into account and try and come to a conclusion that in their view is best for the Municipality bearing in mind that on many issues they are constrained by not only funding issues but provincial or federal constraints or mandated programs.

As I said a thankless task, so I thank those who have in the past, are now, or are seeking to fill this important roll in making these decisions on our behalf. That said lets take a quick look at some of the issues and difficulties they have, or will, face in my own municipality of Chatsworth, Ontario.

The issues highlighted by the candidates in their flyers and at all candidates meetings include:-
Accountability & transparency
Policing costs
Infrastructure upkeep and upgrades
Taxation & fiscal responsibility
Biodigester operating costs
Business development and zoning issues

Accountability & transparency seems to be a recurring theme through most (but not all) of the candidates 'platforms' with a fair bit of focus on the Chatsworth Township Website which is for many of us the only source of information on what issues are before council at any given moment. In days long past when small local papers sent reporters to council meetings and reported on them the following week we had a largely independent synopsis of such things, this is no longer the case, we must rely upon official documents published by township staff. Unfortunately the minutes and agenda documents tell us almost nothing of the details and are 'hidden' in PDF documents which must be fully downloaded to find out that they do not contain the information you are seeking. If council is to become more open and accountable reports on council meeting and associated issues must become much more comprehensive & accessible.

Policing costs is obviously a major item in the budget and we have just learned that “The OPP billing formula means the township will pay about 125 thousand dollars more next year, than the 772 thousand dollars it cost for policing coverage this year.” This is one of those thing that council can do little about other than continue to question the criteria of the OPP billing formula, little is to be gained in spending a great deal of time on fighting such costs when council has almost no control over same!

Infrastructure upkeep and upgrades and Taxation & Fiscal responsibility sort of go hand in hand it is a balancing act to maintain our 'infrastructure' ( read roads & bridges &?) as costs for everything increase whilst keeping taxes from escalating but in most cases its a case of fix or maintain it now or see vastly increased costs to do it later. This is another area where municipalities are damned if they do and damned if they don’t!

The Biodigester........ any one who has been taking notice knows this is the elephant in the room right now and whilst mistakes may have been made when making the original decision, which was based upon what can only be called incorrect and misleading information provided by the engineering firm that first proposed this project. That the projected annual surplus of $300,000 has turned into an expense approaching that amount and that several pieces of equipment had to be replaced a considerable cost shortly after it came into operation says more about the engineering than the operation. What to do now given the shared ownership with Georgian Bluffs is going to be a major issue with the new council but I do note that “Ministry of the Environment officials are prepared to declare the facility a provincial pilot project”, what this means in regard to operating costs and other issues has yet to be seen. For a detailed study of this issue go to Trevor Falk's blog at http://shininglightonchatsworth.wordpress.com/.

Finally on development within the township, or for that matter within any rural municipality, the challenge is to bring in (or keep) businesses that provide jobs, goods & services to local citizens whilst still maintaining our rural look, feel & lifestyle that so many of us value. I for one do not want to see development at the cost of turning us into an industrial wasteland but if we are to maintain our community as a viable place to live and work we must have local jobs, particularly for our youth, or we become part of the general rural decline.

So here is what I am looking for from the new council. An openness to new ideas, working together to solve problems, more information available to taxpayers, and more opportunity for more citizen input because non of the issues outlined above are simple and no one person or idea is going to solve them.
In other words Communication, Compromise, Consensus

PS. Today, Oct 17 is the last day to mail in your ballots however you may hand deliver untill election day Oct 27th.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chatsworth Township Candidates - Eriksen

The following candidate has taken up the offer of the use of this blog to highlight Chatsworth Council Candidates on these pages and submitted the following text for publication, I invite other candidates to submit a short bio and statement for publication by contacting me via the email link in the sidebar. These submissions are published here as a public service, I do not necessarily endorse this or any other candidate standing for election.

Joshua E. Eriksen
*Born in Williamsford, Holland Township, and raised in Keady, Sullivan Township, Joshua has lived most of his 37 years of life on the family farm in the heart of our own naturally beautiful Township of Chatsworth. Enjoyed growing up out in the country, just south of Keady, balancing both academics and athletics at WHSS, then graduating at OSCVI, with work on the family farm. Earned the BAHon. double major honours in history and political science, with a criminal justice minor for pre-law at the Redeemer University in Hamilton Ontario. Has been political involved on various levels of election campaigns as youth chair, policy advisor, and campaign manager. Joined his father Gerven, who has over 25 years of service in the Real Estate profession buying, selling, and listing property here in the Grey-Bruce area, residential, farms, and all types of rural country properties in the surrounding area, at RE/MAX Grey-Bruce Realty in the Owen Sound office. Eriksen believes we as a municipality must remain competitive with those around us, while continuing to work in cooperation with our neighbours, thus we need to expand business to raise more revenue to pay for costly expenditures we have incurred over recent years. Chatsworth, with its naturally beautiful place at the heart of Grey-Bruce and the hub of Highways 6 & 10, can begin doing just that by returning back to its roots of fiscal responsibility right here right now today. Three points to start with have been identified below, we look forward to working on these goals as soon as Joshua's elected to council, as there is much work to be done to start building Chatsworth bigger and better into the 21st century.

Preserving Our Past
* Return to respecting the ratepaying citizen and their hard-earned tax dollars, while preserving our essential services without the waste and continuing the proud history and heritage of this township.

Protecting Our Present
* Allow our current businesses to grow within our towns, both attract more businesses and retain our population with economic development and job creation, while working with our farmers and their needs out in the country.

Preparing For Our Future
* Build and expand our tax base via a business park in Chatsworth at Highways 6 & 10 to ship consumer goods south to Toronto, Hamilton, and other southern centres, which can immediately bring economic growth for the town through job creation and strengthen infrastructure such as high-speed internet, which in turn attracts and keeps young working families in our municipality and rural schools much safer from any future closures.

Our Chatsworth 2.0 Action Plan
* Our Chatsworth 2.0 Action Plan for the future needs your support to make it happen, I humbly ask your consideration in allowing me 1 vote of your 3 choices for Councillor on Chatsworth Township Council in this municipal election, together let us build a better Chatsworth!

Message from Joshua
You get to vote for 3 people to sit as your councillors-at-large this municipal election in Chatsworth. Allow me to represent you as 1, as your councillor, I promise to do my utmost to put your matters of the community to council to start building a better Chatsworth together. I pledge to always be accessible to the public on any issue or idea, no matter what it is, that is my personal guarantee.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Little guy screwed again.

I have just learned that hidden in the Federal 2013 omnibus budget was a clause that increased the tax that Community Credit Unions pay to the same levels as the big Banks. At first glance this may seem like a fair thing to do but those of us who have long given up on the banks poor service and high fees in flavor of far more personal attention at local Credit Unions know better. There is no comparison.

Just like banks, credit unions are required to hold large amounts of capital, but unlike banks, credit unions rely primarily on retained earnings to meet these requirements. By increasing taxes on credit unions alone, the 2013 federal budget has made it harder for credit unions to grow and support local families, farms and businesses. Credit unions are proposing a new tax credit to re-establish a competitive balance between credit unions and the big banks. Based on growth in retained earnings, it is estimated that this tax credit will generate nearly $700 million in new lending to help businesses, farmers and families invest.”

Nor I might add do they have overseas operations primarily created to take advantage of a tax loophole that lets them avoid paying taxes on millions of dollars of 'profit', nor do credit unions pay their 'shareholders' and directors millions in compensation. As 'members' we do get a very modest profit share as part of our membership of the Credit Union and no doubt senior staff are compensated for their expertise but nowhere near the level that the banking bigwigs get.

Credit unions are the only financial institutions in over 380 Canadian communities and offer essential financial services that help to strengthen those communities and support local jobs. Meanwhile the big banks are closing branches which 'are not profitable'. A CFIB study of small business lending showed credit unions having an almost 20% share of small business lending across all financial institutions.

In short this is another case of lets tax the little guy and ignore the big guy whose tax accountants do everything in their power to hide income and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Support you Local Credit Union

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chatsworth Township Municipal Election

The following people will be standing for Council in Chatsworth Township to be held on Monday October 27, 2014.  The Township of Chatsworth 2014 Election is a Vote by Mail Election,

Mayor (one to be elected)
PRINGLE, Bob (incumbent) 216732 Conc 4, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-2579
SMITH, Ron 796420 East Back Line, Berkeley On, N0H 1C0 519-270-5260

Deputy Mayor (one to be elected)
MACKEY, Scott (councillor) 777697 Hwy 10, RR 1, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-3356
MCKAY, Terry (incumbent) 134 Crawford St, Box 116, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-2837

Councillor (three to be elected)
DOWNEY, Jerry 824027 Massie Rd, RR 5, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-3121
ERIKSEN, Joshua E 116819 Grey Road 3, RR 2, Desboro On, N0H 1K0 519-371-2502
GAMBLE, Brian (incumbent) 236053 Conc 2B, RR 2, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-2952
GREIG, Shawn 158 Boundary Rd, RR 3, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-4053
PANKRATZ, Helmut 736031 West Back Line, Markdale On, N0C 1H0 519-986-1468
SIMMONDS, Trina 396666 Conc 2, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-4813
SMITH, William 703140 Walker SR, RR 1, Chatsworth On, N0H 1G0 519-794-4307
THOMPSON, Elizabeth 776761 Hwy 10, Holland Centre On, N0H 1R0 519-794-2308

Councillor Cornelius Vlielander will not be standing for reelection.

You should receive your voting form in the mail shortly. You may contact the  Municipal Office @ 519-794-3232 or visit the Municipal Office at 316837 Highway 6 to confirm that you are on the Voter's List.
See the Township Website for further information.

The Township of Chatsworth is holding an All Candidates Meeting on Thur Oct 22 from & till 9.30 pm at the Williamsford Community Center.

As usual this information is hidden in a PDF file on the township website, I have yet to hear any mention of it on local radio........ best kept secret?

As a service to township residents I offer this space to those standing for election to publish a short resume and statement should they wish. See the contact link in the sidebar.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kinder Morgan Not Responsible

Once the oil leaves the dock, Kinder Morgan holds no obligation or responsibility, even 10 metres out – that’s the carrier’s liability.”

The Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in 1989 dumping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into Prince William Sound.

In 1994 a jury’s verdict announced Exxon would have to pay a massive $5.3 billion dollar fine.

Exxon appealed this settlement 4 times in the next 3 years and eventually paid out just $500 million.

If a U.S. Court has difficulty prosecuting a U.S. company, how would a Canadian court fair prosecuting a Chinese (shipping) company?

More at DesmogCanada

Federal scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons of oil remains on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles away. Some of the oil does not appear to have biodegraded at all.

What more needs to be said?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Health Canada Says Citronella Must Go..... but DEET OK

Health Canada is pulling the last of citronella-based bug sprays off the shelves by the end of December because of "the absence of adequate safety data.” The essential oil has been used as an insect repellent in Canada for decades.
The move has left scientists who advised Health Canada on the issue befuddled by the ban. So are many consumers who prefer natural bug sprays over ones with synthetic chemicals like DEET.
'It's the basis of the ban that I don't really understand'- Sam Kacew, Toxicologist
"It's the basis of the ban that I don't really understand,” says toxicologist Sam Kacew.
Insect repellents are considered pesticides so they must meet strict safety standards. In 2004, Health Canada proposed phasing out citronella-based bug sprays because of new questions about its safety.
Small manufacturers who couldn't afford to submit detailed safety data saw their lines discontinued at the end of 2012. Those who submitted what data they could and tried to challenge the ban are now to see their products phased out at the end of this year.
In 2005, Kacew sat on an independent scientific panel to review Health Canada’s position. He says the panel believed the study that led the government to question citronella’s safety was flawed, in part because it examined what happened when rodents ingested the oil. “Humans are not going to drink citronella,” he says.
The department told CBC that “the panel supported Health Canada’s approach,” but Kacew refutes that. He says the team of scientists concluded that citronella was safe as long as it didn't contain methyl eugenol, an impurity that could be a potential carcinogen. “In general, most of these citronella oils that were available for us to examine did not contain impurities, and they were regarded by us to be basically safe,” he says.
More here

Once again the small producer using time proven natural products looses to the multinational chemical companies because they cannot 'prove' their product is not harmful. Meanwhile said companies continue to churn out more pesticides that approved after very limited and less than independent testing. Wonder when the Citronella plant will become a 'noxious weed' or illegal to grow?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Emerald Ash Borer

From Bayshore News “The Emerald Ash Borer continues to migrate north, now the infestation is reported in Kincardine. Officials say they have received confirmation that the destructive bug has reached the community.
In a news release, town officials say the response plan will address the removal of infected trees on municipal land that may present a hazard to public safety or property.”

This is not the first report of EAB in Grey Bruce but does show that it is becoming more prevalant in the area. Whilst previously efforts were made to 'control' the spresd of the pest by removing all ash trees under municipal areas is has become evident that the spread CANNOT BE STOPPED and that the removal of trees is simply for safety and liability purposes. Also efforts were made when they were first found in southern Ontario to restrict the movement of firewood and lumber from infected areas to non infected areas, such restrictions still exist but in that the 'control area' now encompasses all of Ontario north to Sudbury and beyond it is not a consideration for the average landowner in Grey Bruce.

In that this insect has been a problem in many northern states for many years there is quite a bit of information available but there are NO METHODS TO CONTROL it. I have been unable to find any information as to if it effects young regrowth saplings except that “the female lays numerous eggs in bark crevices and between layers of bark” so presumably until the tree is mature enough for such crevices exist they will not lay their eggs in then. However it is noted that they will kill a tree “before it is mature enough to produce seed” so long term they could eradicate the ash tree in North America.

As a landowner with 1000s of ash trees in my bush and millions more on surrounding properties what can I do about it all? Nothing except keep my head up when working or hiking in the bush. I will be trying to select ash trees, particularly those showing signs of dieback, for firewood rather than other species and leaving the Maple, Cherry and other unaffected trees to fill in but given the amount of ash regrowth it will be beyond my lifetime before it makes any significant impact in my bush.

All that said here is a little information from various sites giving details on the Emerald Ash Borer:-
The adult emerald ash borer emerges May - July and the female lays numerous eggs in bark crevices and between layers of bark.
The eggs hatch in 7-10 days into larvae which bore into the tree where they chew the inner bark and phloem creating winding galleries as they feed. This cuts off the flow of water and nutrients in the tree, thereby causing the tree's dieback and death.

Signs & Symptoms of EAB
The most visible sign of infestation is crown dieback. Branches at the top of the crown will die and more branches will die in subsequent years. As the tree declines, ‘suckers’, or new young branches, will sprout from the base of the tree and on the trunk.
The bark may also split vertically and woodpeckers may feed on the beetle leaving visible damage on the bark. Successful treatments with insecticides are limited but continue to be studied. All ash trees near any new infestation will most likely become infested and die.
Adult beetles emerging from trees will leave a unique “D” shaped exit hole. This is a small 1/8 inch diameter distinctly “D” shaped hole that may appear anywhere on the trunk or upper branches.
Follow this link for some good pictures of the life cycle of the EAB and some of the damage it does.

As of today, most of the areas currently regulated to control Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) in Ontario and Quebec are now consolidated into one large regulated area. This will enable authorities to better protect Canada's forests by focusing on preventing EAB from spreading into new parts of Canada.
It is prohibited to move firewood of all species, as well as ash trees, ash nursery stock or ash wood (including wood chips, wood packaging or dunnage), out of this area without written permission from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These materials could be infested and spread EAB. Moving these materials from the regulated area without permission could lead to fines and/or prosecution.

Infested ash trees become extremely porous and are at risk of breaking or falling, posing a danger to residents, adjacent buildings, vehicles and property. For landowners, businesses or municipalities who have prized ash trees, the inoculation treatment is a natural, biological compound called TreeAzin which degrades naturally in the tree tissues.
Prices for the treatment vary according to the tree size as well as outside conditions such as temperature, wind speed and the level of humidity.  Prices can vary between $100 - $500.  The process must be done between June and mid-August and must be repeated every 2 years for full effectiveness.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Goderich Eatery

You wont often see restaurant reviews here, I am much too comfortable in my country hideaway to spend much time on the road or in town however I did recently make one of my rare trips away from home. Over my working years having become totally tired of the workingman’s box lunch routine I ate at many restaurants and in that I am a vegetarian found that my choices were usually Grilled Cheese or Fried Egg sandwiches with an occasional omelet being available. Not exactly fine dining (not that I would even want to spend big $$ to wait forever for two mouthful’s of food 'presented' in a fancy manner) but a few places did provide a decent meal within these limitations.

That all said I recently did go on a field trip to accompany my family to celebrate my granddaughters birthday and comply with her wish to visit some museums, our choices being Goderich Museum, the historic Jail and the small Airport Museum depicting details of those flyers who were trained during the 2nd World War at several air bases in SW Ontario. After trampling around the first of these an exercise that involved several sets of stairs (yes there is an elevator but I just followed the younger set!) we were ready for lunch and my daughter recommended The Grill on Courthouse Square (err- its a circle!) and after several circles looking for a parking spot thats where we ended up.
I was truly impressed, the menu in particular is fantastic particularly for vegetarians, super all day breakfast menu with omelets galore and even extra choices of ingredients and a particuarly wide range of other choices. The others (non vegetarians) were well satisfied with their grub also, good choices, good food, good service & good prices (av $12 per meal for 6 of us). Prob the best choices and meals I have seen in a restaurant for years!!!

I am pleased to recommenced this establishment should you ever find yourself in Goderich, Ontario and whilst there check out the dozens of different trees planted around the Court House across the road that were planted to replace the many trees destroyed in the 2011 tornado that destroyed much of the town.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rogers Internet Craps Out

Having recently spent the better part of an hour talking to Rogers about the dismal internet speed I have been recently getting via my Rogers Hub and after much further testing on top of my own documented speed and throughput testing over the last week or so, I have decided to post the latest numbers here on my blog. I would love to send these numbers to their customer service and engineering dept but as is the norm with such services there is no email link or (so far as I can see) a way of sending them such info. I was told Sunday evening that the complaint would be 'escalated' to the engineering dept and recognize that perhaps on the long weekend that such staff were probably reduced but having gone from a measured 300k at times on Sunday to less than 100k at times on Monday I am now getting a little pissed off. To be fair I did briefly get above 1Mbs around 7am but it quickly went down the tubes as the morning went on. Its not like this is a one time problem, my connection speed goes from a high of around 1Mbs to no connection at a drop of the hat with an average connection speed of around 2-300Kbs. This naturally is heaven compared with my previous 33kbs dial up but at 3 or 4 times the cost AND a 3Mb limit before premiums kick in I expect it to WORK not crap out several times a week!

All that said here are the numbers from the Internet Speed Test at around noon Monday 4th August.

Below are a ping test and route trace to the Rogers site which seems to indicate that the problem is entirely within their network which is probably unable to deal with the weekend volume. That is not a valid excuse for these kind of numbers in my view

Click images to enlarge

And yes, I can here you city types snickering, internet connections are not the strong point for rural living, if you are lucky you can perhaps hook up to a wireless provider that does not rip you off with high prices and low speed and volume limits but many of us have two choices – Cell hookup via a hub or even more pricey satellite hookup also with speed and volume limits. When I see those ad's on TV talking of streaming video or re-watching a good documentary I can but say “I wish”, there is little doubt that internet is available to most Canadians and the network is expanding to more remote areas, but AFORDABLE high speed internet without crippling limits is another matter.

Meanwhile I'm stuck with Rogers, but at least now I can tell the 'customer service' guy to go to my blog and see the evidence of their crappy system!

Its now two weeks since my original complaint to Rogers and needless to say that 'escalated'  thing did NOTHING, no call back from 'engineering' as requested and once again this weekend we have connection speeds of less than 200k and ping values of  up to 3,000 ms at times. The satellite alternative is looking better all the time!

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/