Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Island That Couldn't Feed Itself

A remarkable thing happened last week and it was detailed in an article by Jonathon M. Katz in the Huffington Post.  Bill Clinton is continuing his work in Haiti to help direct the humanitarian assistance following the earthquake and develop plans to improve the perennial "Failed State" status of this troubled country. 
Katz Reports:

Decades of inexpensive (food) imports – especially rice from the U.S. – punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves. 

It looks to me like Haiti is the reverse of Cuba.  Isolated by trade embargo and the collapse of Communism, Cuba was forced to feed itself - without petroleum based agriculture.  Katz Continues: leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton – now U.N. special envoy to Haiti – who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

This is remarkable since it is a 180 degree reversal of global trade policy that included NAFTA, which Clinton campaigned for and the US, Canada and Mexico signed into law in 1993.  Clinton said:

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."

Local farmers were put out of business, told they could not compete. And the island, which had not been dependent on rice or imported food aid before, is now importing 51% of all the food it consumes. Many local farms are gone and the farmers have moved to the cities. 

Clinton's goal was to import cheap food to feed a poor population while creating a market for US rice farmers. But now, there is nothing for Haiti to build a sustained economic recovery on. So this week, Clinton will go to the UN to seek millions to invest in rebuilding local agriculture to end reliance on imports.

Even Haiti's most powerful food importers have joined the push for locally produced food.
"I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import," said businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti's chamber of commerce.

The effort will also be part of a new UN backed initiative to support local agriculture in poor countries.  But what about us? 
Is our farming economy any better off than Haiti's?  How much food do we import now? What has happened to local beef, hog, egg, chicken and dairy producers as cheap imports have flooded our markets?  And how much money will it cost to rebuild what we are allowing to die through neglect?  Haiti raises those questions.  And Bill Clinton, the man who says that he alone is responsible for bringing us to this point, is looking for the answers.  

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starting a Garden? Look For Seeds You Can Save

Hey, I'm not a plant genetics expert and my understanding of the issues around GMO's is limited.  I just have some basic concerns about splicing genes from one species into another and hoping that the outcome isn't bad.  You know, like a giant fire breathing dinosaur ravaging Charlottetown.   That would be bad.

But seriously there are some great reasons to consider your seed sources, even if you're just planting a few tomatoes.

Angus Mellish at Vesey's once asked, "Do you what kind of beans people will be planting this year?  The same kind they planted last year."  His good natured attitude explains that we all find favorites that we plant year after year.  Garden heirlooms become popular again when people re-discover varieties that used to be popular.

A great example of this is the return of the brandywine tomato to commercial seed catalogs.

The brandywine was a commercial variety that was listed in seed catalogs in the 1880's. It came back into the garden in the 1990's, thanks in part to Seed Savers Exchange.   These humble seeds were planted every season and saved for over 100 years, then passed to the Seed Savers by an elderly gardener.  There are now many sources of this heirloom available, which brings me to where we are in our garden this year.

Part of our challenge every year is meeting the requirement to create a seed search document to prove that we have made an effort to find, purchase and plant organic seeds from approved organic sources.  This is much easier than it use to be thanks to the internet and an increase in resources in Canada.  But as you'll see, whether you're planting a garden or a few acres, buying quality seed is expensive.  Buying certified organic seed is even more expensive.  And shipping is...well...not cheap.

So now, here's where GMO, patented seeds, heirlooms and sustainability cross.  We have to select organic seeds whenever possible.  And we're also investing in seed we can plant, harvest and select for planting next year.  It's part of our plan to keep our costs down by producing our own seeds on the farm. And we hope it will be our small contribution to creating a stock of seeds that can help feed PEI into the future.

If you're interested in locating and growing certified organics, heritage and open pollinated varieties, you might want to get on the Seed Savers Exchange website and stock up on some varieties to try this summer.

If you find something you like, you can save seeds and save money.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Planning for Spring Planting

Looking forward to spring at our house means looking at seed catalogs, planning our farm rotations and planting expectations in our minds.  For the past few weeks, the farm blog has been at Fairview Gardens.  This time I'll give you a bit of a preview of our gardens and fields for 2010 with the hope that, however they might turn out, you'll keep us in mind at Dunn Creek Farm when you need fresh local produce for a summer supper or fall preserving.

For our friends in SoCal, through the States and around the world, this is my chance to share a bit about what we do and how it  works out that we can plant in the spring, harvest in the fall and let the farm sleep for the winter while we work in California.  This is our last year for that, because we're moving to the farm full time this summer. But our stories have interested more than a few urban folk who wonder how we do it - and if they can do it too. All I can say is, yes you can.  Just be prepared to keep at it for a while. This is our tenth year in PEI.

So, here we are in the front field where we grow  veggies. We intercrop white clover and annual rye between rows.  We plant in bedrows that I form with a tool bar with shovel and points, so there's no real plowing here and minimal tillage - mostly to incorporate organic material and prepare beds for planting.  I'm still learning the timing of cover crop/cash crop rotations. And I'm focusing on learning how to build soil through cover crop and rotation. I haven't flipped planting rows into the intercrop rows yet but if I goof, I have rows ready.    

This is how I finished the front field last fall.  Some of the rows were green manure cropped for the summer with oats and vetch.  When they were ready, I mowed them and disc-ed in the residue.  In the crop rows I disc-ed the row and then spread finished manure/compost which I covered with rock-weed (sea weed) from Poverty Beach.  Many people ask me about the salt content of the seasweed.  I have not had a problem.  Old time farmers often used this material and by spreading it in the fall, you have many months of rain and snow rinsing any residual salt out.

These red potatoes were grown from certified organic PEI seed.  I buy as much seed from local sources as I can.  Vesey's carries these seed potatoes and I buy other seed stock from Vesey's because they have an excellent trial garden program in York, PEI.  This means that the seeds I buy have been tested in similar soil and weather conditions and are selected for quality.  Local potato growers are creating an organic market that helps keep money working for us at home on the island.  And - they really taste great too!

The asparagus arrived in early May last year. Keep us in mind for tender fresh Asparagus along with the lobster for your Mother's Day Supper this year!  We'll have a lot of variety planted this year and high hopes to see you stop by the farm for fresh greens, peas, carrots, beets, potatoes and so much more.  We'll be selling at the gate as before and hope we'll once again have produce in stock for you at Naburrs Garden Center in Brudenell/Montague.  And this year we'll get your orders ready for pickup/delivery too!         

If there's something special you'd like this year,  please drop a note in the comments section below and tell us about it.

We're eager to get started on our new adventure and I invite you to follow along here on the blog as we move from the city and get the farm up and running this spring!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Driven To Distraction

I am easily distracted.

This feature makes it terribly difficult to draw a straight line through any task on my to do list. Maybe it's because I don't multi-task well. Mostly I just do parallel processing...and my RAM isn't what it used to be.

If I could only focus!

I'm seeing a lot of bad things happening here. Things I don't want to see but I just can't look away.  It's as if I were driving past a series of multiple injury accidents on the freeway.

Anyway, it is usually just because of some distraction or other that I forget to run a load of laundry, or check my cell phone messages or look after one of the many personal chores that are important to me and my family. 

This week my friends in Canada are enjoying the glow of Olympic gold.  I'd guess they are experiencing an odd feeling they don't often indulge north of the border. Pride and joy must be making some folks a little uncomfortable.

My country?  Right now it just seems mad and mean and one beer away from going over the edge. 

Back in the days before all children were under house arrest we rode our bikes to our friends houses after school.  We knew who's mom would drive us all to the beach and give us some change for a snack.  We knew who's dad should be avoided after work.We had a lot of war veterans in my neighborhood.

My country reminds me of that unpredictable dad right now.  Handsome and popular images from it's youth  are history. Wasted opportunity, squandered fortune and traumatic stress has left it sullen, bloated, resentful and mean. Can't even take a hockey loss without kicking the dog and yelling at the neighbors.  My country is angry and potentially violent; sitting alone in the garage listening to Rush Limbaugh and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. 

A teenage girl was found raped and murdered down south of here this week.  She went jogging in the park.  Turns out there are animals living among us who hunt our children.

You know, some people are so angry and afraid that they are contemplating violence. People are afraid because they are constantly being told to be afraid. Domestic attacks on our government employees are already happening. And nobody seems to want to talk about it. A dead security guard in Washington DC, a plane crash into the IRS building in Austin, TX, a census worker found strung up in rural Kentucky.   

Funding for education will be cut again next year in our town.   They're cutting school mental health and school maintenance programs too. Doesn't seem like a good time to cut back on education or mental health to me.

People and businesses I've seen all my life have had enough.  Their store fronts are empty and their houses are for sale. 
Anyway. What was I saying? I've become so forgetful. But I am trying hard to concentrate on getting things done.

We've ordered our seeds for the farm, our house here must be packed and prepared to rent, my older son is preparing to graduate from High School and my little one needs help with his homework. My business interests here must be managed, my mother needs me to help her shop for groceries, and my list of chores for the farm is already pages long.

I'm leaving home and I'm coming home.
I'm driving through the end of the world as I know it.          

And darn it! I forget what I'm supposed to be doing!

Updated on Friday, 7:44AM PDT
More of the steady drip drip drip of violence aimed at government authority.  On Thursday,  a California man
opened fire on the main entrance to the Pentagon from the Metro Station.

Pentagon Shooting Suspect Dies

Friday, 6:50 AM ET -- Official: Pentagon shooter was well armed. WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - The well-dressed gunman mortally wounded after firing at and injuring two Pentagon police officers was armed with two 9 millimeter semiautomatic weapons and carried several magazines of ammunition, the chief of the Pentagon police said Friday.
Chief Richard Keevill said the shooter, identified as John Patrick Bedell of Hollister, Calif., spent the last several weeks driving from the West Coast.

2nd Update Friday, 4:08 PM PT - From the AP

HOLLISTER, Calif. — The man who opened fire in front of the Pentagon had a history of mental illness and had become so erratic that his parents reached out to local authorities weeks ago with a warning that he was unstable and might have a gun, authorities said Friday.
It's still unclear why John Patrick Bedell opened fire Thursday at the Pentagon entrance, wounding two police officers before he was fatally shot. The two officers were hospitalized briefly with minor injuries.
Bedell was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and had been in and out of treatment programs for years. His psychiatrist, J. Michael Nelson, said Bedell tried to self-medicate with marijuana, inadvertently making his symptoms more pronounced.
"Without the stabilizing medication, the symptoms of his disinhibition, agitation and fearfullness complicated the lack of treatment," Nelson said.
His parents reported him missing Jan. 4, a day after a Texas Highway Patrol officer stopped him for speeding in Texarkana. Bedell told the highway patrolman he was heading to the East Coast, and began acting strangely — sitting on his knees by the side of the highway and turning off his cell phone when it would ring.
Bedell said it was his mother calling, prompting the patrolman to answer the phone and talk briefly with her. Family friend Reb Monaco said Kaye Bedell asked the officer to take him to a mental health facility, but that the son refused.