No. 180 - Serving the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver
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OUR JOURNEY TO LOCAL FOOD
April, 2020. It’s a lovely sunny day, and life felt wonderful at 7am this morning when I was out with several others in our community allotment garden, getting the seeds in for what we hope will be another bumper crop.
I visited China once in the 1980s, and was amazed at how intensively they used the land to grow food. It made us seem so wasteful, with so much land in and around our cities doing nothing.
Not any more! The astonishing rise in the price of food, caused by a combination of global food shortages and gas at $8 a litre, has triggered a local food revolution.
In the leafy gardens of Oak Bay and Gordon Head, well-groomed lawns have been replaced with salad greens and beans; in the spacious acreages of rural Saanich, horses co-exist with thriving organic market gardens.
Even the lawn in front of the Legislature in Victoria has yielded space to the James Bay Community Allotment Society. It took a year of organized dig-ins and hungry people picketing well-fed MLAs before a compromise was reached, but now that the garden has been established, the chefs at the Legislature are proud to serve “Hundred Metre Diet” meals to the politicians and their visitors.
All this would have seemed highly improbable 15 years ago. Local stores overflowed with food, exotic fruits were standard, and prices were low enough that the average family spent only 8% of its income on food.
Not any more. Prices started to rise in 2008, when the world’s wheat and corn supplies fell due to a combination of droughts and heat waves (linked to climate change), the use of farmland for biofuels, rising prosperity in China, where people were eating more meat (requiring grain to feed the animals), and the ever-rising world population, with always more people needing to eat.
To add to the crisis, a new strain of fungal stem rust disease was destroying wheat crops in Africa and Asia, and grain-producing countries like Kazakhstan stopped exporting in order to feed their own people.
Nanaimo Community Gardens Society
After years when the price of wheat had been stable at $3 to $7 a bushel, it shot up to $25 in 2008, and then to $50 in 2012, encouraged by the ability of wealthy consumers to keep on paying.
Not so for many in the developing world, where almost a billion people struggled to survive on $1 a day. In response to the crisis, a global land rights movement has gathered force, supported by aid agencies and non-profit organizations, leading to a rejection of the big food multinationals in favour of locally controlled farming, and dramatic increases in local organic production.
For farmers, the higher prices have been just what they needed after years of struggling to keep the banker from the door. Small towns across the Canadian prairies have been filling up, and a new generation of organic farmers has been rejecting the big food corporations, with their GM seeds. The old traditions of seed saving and mutual support are being restored, and a strong connection to the land is returning, after years when agriculture had become just another money-making activity.
Throughout the world, high food prices have encouraged local people not only to grow their own food, but also to learn the old skills of home baking, and preservation. Vegetarian and vegan diets have grown in popularity, partly because of the cost of meat, but also because of the growing awareness that the livestock industry was producing 18% of the greenhouse gases that are melting the world’s icecaps – and the happy discovery that vegetarian and vegan diets are so healthy and tasty.
For those without land, living in apartments, basements, and trailer parks, the community food movement has been essential. Starting in the 1990s, small organizations of city-dwellers and growers worked together to address local food security, creating a strong foundation for the development of community allotment gardens across the region. The community growers are now well-organized, supported by city councils which are required to provide a set amount of allotment spaces for every thousand residents, and to help with equipment and supplies.
In 2008, Vancouver Island only produced 5% of the food we needed. The hurricane-strength storms of January 2012, when the ferries couldn’t run for a week and the stores ran out of food after three days, were a shocking wake-up call. Today, we are close to growing 50% of our food on the Island.
Our biggest problem? Vegetarians please turn away (myself included). Our biggest problem, in the early days, was the crop invasions by Victoria’s other residents. Lacking cougars and wolves to control their numbers, the deer and rabbits organized midnight feasts. Hands were thrown up in despair, and the Times Colonist was full of complaining letters. But then venison steaks and bunny stew began to appear quietly on local menus, and order was restored.
- Guy Dauncey
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First things first – April on Vancouver Island is so beautiful, with wildflowers everywhere. So be sure to treat yourself to a stroll through one of our many Garry oak meadows, with their camas, shooting stars, and chocolate lilies, be it Mount Tolmie, Uplands Park, Summit Park, Jocelyn Hill or Mount Tzouhalem. And when you do, remind yourself that these are very precious ecosystems that need our care and protection. To learn more, go to www.goert.ca.
April also brings Earth Day, and the annual Earth Walk on Saturday April 19th, starting at Centennial Square and parading to the grounds of the Legislative Assembly for music, speeches and celebration. The organizers need volunteers - if you’d like to help, call Steve Filipovic at 250-216-5903. To book a table, email Freda Knott at email@example.com. For all else, see www.earthwalkvictoria.ca.
TASTY LOCAL FOOD
Do you want to spend six evenings meeting with great people, learning about food’s relationship to sustainability, discussing how we
can make a difference, and probably sharing a meal? The Canadian and Northwest Earth Institutes are releasing a new discussion guide in mid-April called Menu for the Future, which will form the basis for self-managed discussion groups. For details, call Beth Cruise at 250-727-9163, and see www.CanadianEarthInstitute.org
TASTY COMMUNITY FARM
You may live in the city, or not have land of your own – but for a $5,000 investment (RRSP-eligible) you can own part of a beautiful heritage farm near Duncan, with an apiary, fruit orchard, and field cultivation for a biodynamic vegetable box program. The 27-acre Keating Community Farm Co-op in the Cowichan Valley is being run in conjunction with The Land Conservancy.
The co-op needs more members - you don't have to be a farmer, just someone whose heart is drawn to it. There’s an Open House on Sunday April 20th when you can see and taste for yourself – see Green Diary. If this makes you think “why not?”, call Marilyn Weland at 250-746-0876.
If you are a member of Vancity, you probably appreciate the credit union’s social and environmental responsibility. It’s not by chance that Vancity is more active on this front than other credit unions.
For 20 years, the Action Team has worked to make sure Vancity’s directors include people with a solid social and environmental track record, who have guided Vancity to be a leader in this field, including their commitment to be carbon neutral by 2010, and their partnership in Victoria’s Dockside Green.
It’s election time for the new board now, and you can vote by mail or at a branch until Saturday, April 5th. The four Action Team candidates this year are Patrice Pratt, Ian Gill, Jasbir Sandhu, and Catherine McCreary – numbers 1, 2, 5 and 8 on the ballot. See www.voteaction.ca
SAVE THE SALMON FRY
In February, EcoNews gave voice to Alexandra Morton’s concern about the impact of sea-lice from salmon farms on the emerging salmon fry, which are due to hatch and migrate downstream soon, right past the salmon farms.
Since there has still been no action to remove the farms, Alexandra is proposing to medevac the young wild salmon out to sea, moving them by boat over the louse-infested waters around the Glacier Falls fish farm on the Ahta river.
She writes “This is not the best solution. That would be to get the pathogen-laden farmed fish out of the wild salmon migration routes. But after 7 years of examining young salmon dying of farm sea lice each spring, something must be done NOW to protect the wild salmon - before there are none left.”
This requires our donations. With our help, Alexandra can hopefully save the Spring 2008 run of Broughton pink salmon, which are up to 1/3rd of BC’s wild salmon population.
To donate by VISA or PayPal, go to www.adopt-a-fry.org & click donate; or mail a cheque to Adopt a Fry
, General Delivery
Simoom Sound, BC
THE COST OF THE IRAQ WAR
Five years of war; as many as 600,000 people dead; depleted uranium spread around as a curse for the future; and a whole society thrown into turmoil – is this the way we sort out our problems?
The cost to humans and wildlife is enormous; and then there’s the financial cost. The Pentagon insisted that the war would be relatively cheap, at $50 billion. So far, the cost has come to $500 billion – and in January, Craig and Marc Kielburger wrote a piece for The Toronto Star which quoted a calculation by Linda Bilmes from Harvard and the prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz which concluded that when you factor in things like medical costs for injured troops, higher oil prices, and replenishing the military, the war will cost America upwards of $2 trillion.
What else we could have done with this money? We could have achieved universal literacy ($5 bn), and immunized every child in the world against deadly diseases ($1.3 bn a year). We could have given the developing nations what they need to fight the AIDS epidemic ($15 bn a year), and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 ($40 to $60 billion a year). We could eliminate most of the poverty and hopelessness that feeds terrorism.
Just imagine. Almost all humanity is yearning for such a breakthrough – and with our vision, and persistence, it will come.
TOP TEN CLIMATE SOLUTIONS - #6: SOLAR PV
When the Age of Fossil Fuels is over, Earth’s future historians will look back on this extremely short and exceptional period of human history which ushered in the Solar Age.
Solar photovoltaics (PV) is still new. The first cell, created in 1954, was just 6% efficient. Today’s commercially available PV cells are 20% efficient, and laboratory-based PV cells have reached 42.8%. Japan, Germany and California have been carrying the weight for the rest of world, accelerating the drive towards mass production by investing public money in subsidies and rate supports.
As a result of its Feed Law that pays 70 to 90 cents per kilowatt hour to solar producers, Germany has over 300,000 installed PV systems, mostly on rooftops, representing 55% of the world’s solar electricity (but still only 0.5% of Germany’s electricity).
The energy that Earth receives from the Sun is such that covering half of Texas - 300,000 sq km – with solar cells could generate enough electricity to meet the energy needs of the entire world, including for heat and transport.
The cost of solar has always been the hold-up. From $100 a watt in 1970, it now costs around $5, and when it falls to $2 a watt – which the industry believes can happen by 2015 - it will be competitive with other forms of electricity.
Greenpeace has estimated that by 2040, solar PV could generate 24% of the world’s electricity needs, assuming a moderate increase in energy efficiency – and not assuming any of the technical breakthroughs that are lining up, including thin-film cells that are less efficient but far cheaper because they can be printed like newspaper, and nanosolar developments.
What’s needed to accelerate things? A Global Solar Treaty, in which every nation agrees to increase its solar capacity by a set amount each year as we collectively drive towards that 24% goal, or higher. This will give investors the confidence they need to get involved.
Here in BC, we need to adopt the same Feed Laws that Germany uses, charging a small surcharge on our utility bills and using the income to pay 80 cents/kwh to solar producers – yes, ten times the going rate for power. That’s what it takes to accelerate a new technology.
The BC government is happy to pay $200 million a year to the oil and gas industry. $25 million a year to the solar PV industry would do what it takes to get us started.
How many planets does it take to support your lifestyle? Coming to Canada soon – the best ecological footprint calculator you’ve ever seen.
Checkout the Australian version, to see how it works:
When the price of food doubles – as it will – some Canadians will hurt, but most will shrug and adjust. But what if you only earn $1 a day, as almost a thousand million people do around the world, and when the food to feed your family costs $1.50 a day? The UN World Food Program is already running out of money, since it can buy only half the grain it did last year.
What can we do to help such a situation? As well as growing our own food – for every kilo we don’t buy is available to feed someone else – you can join RESULTS, one of the world’s most effective non-profit networks of volunteers, with an active branch here in Victoria.
RESULTS does not put food in people’s hands. It works to create the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty in Canada and around the world. Its members use their small annual budget to write letters, place Op-Eds in the media, and meet with key people.
In 2007, every dollar that RESULTS donors and members gave helped generate $800 for global health programs. They were influential in helping CIDA receive a $20 million grant for malaria bednets for Africa, saving at least 88,000 lives. Their continuing lobbying of the World Bank was rewarded with $180 million in additional funding for Malaria Booster program in Nigeria, which has 20% of the world’s malaria cases. And the Citizens Bank Shared World Term Deposit, created at the request of RESULTS letter writers, received over $2.5 million in deposits in its first year, creating 12,500 jobs for poor entrepreneurs around the world, thanks to micro-enterprise loans. (See www.citizensbank.ca).
RESULTS meets monthly in Victoria. For details, see the Green Diary (April 9th) or call Anita Mark, 744-8668.
FED UP WITH JUNKMAIL?
So was Beth Ringdahl, a Vancouver eco-enthusiast who decided to do something about it. Canada Post has an opt-out process for not receiving junk mail, but they make it really hard to find the link, and only 2% of Canadians have used it.
They use a red dot to signify “no junk mail”, so Beth took the red dot idea and spent $3500 to set up a website that takes you straight to the links and makes it really easy. It took me one minute to sign off from junk mail, phone calls and faxes, and download the letter to give to my postal delivery worker. You can too – just go to www.reddotcampaign.ca.
Beth’s campaign has drawn interest from all around the world. Now, will Macy’s really stop calling me about their sale?
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF WEB
Some noteworthy sites that have passed my way:
A Wedding Ring Produces 20 Tons of Waste
Bear Mountain Treesit Blog
CRD Alternatives to Pesticides Campaign
Danish Drivers To Fill Their Tanks With Wind Power
EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index
Lana Popham takes on the plastics industry
No Tankers – Robert Bateman’s Oil Painting
Oil Tanker – the Front Fell Off
Petition – Pete Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize
The Greenest Dinner Party
The Human Footprint
The Long Johns, SubPrime
The New Urbanism
The Optimal Green Guide – MetaEfficient
The Pearl River Tower – wind powered and energy self-sufficient
The Virtual Water Project
Welcome to a Post-Carbon World, by Guy Dauncey (YES! Magazine)
ACTION OF THE MONTH: CANADA’S SEAL HUNT
It’s that time of the year, when east coast hunters take to the ice-floes to track down the harp seals which have just given birth, and club their baby seals to death.
PETA want to get the hunt banned, and has set up a petition to Steven Harper, asking that the Canadian government end this cruel practice.
There’s a video here to learn more, and here’s the petition:
Petition – Take Action to End the Seal Slaughter
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