Biodiversity matters in farmers’ fields too

Here, I re-post a press release from USC Canada.

Diversity in food crops essential to a healthy planet

Will our National Food Policy enhance agricultural biodiversity?

Ottawa, July 24, 2017 – In its latest report, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society found Canada lags on its biodiversity pledges. Beyond wildlife, there is another urgent biodiversity gap: the rapid and silent loss of agricultural biodiversity, i.e. the crops and animals bred over 10,000 years by farmers worldwide.
Canada does not have national targets to conserve and replenish agricultural biodiversity − despite signing on to a number of international agreements that recognize its critical importance, like the UN Biodiversity Convention*. It’s time to take action. USC Canada is asking the federal government to take the historic step of recognizing the importance of agricultural biodiversity in its upcoming National Food Policy.
Agricultural biodiversity strengthens the food system − bringing better, more stable incomes for farmers, and greater food security for consumers.  Planting a diversity of crop varieties together is a risk management strategy that makes a farm more resilient to environmental stresses. Selecting, saving and replanting seeds year after year also allows varieties to continue evolving, adapting to local conditions as they change.
With climate change already happening, the world needs agricultural biodiversity more than ever. But in the last 100 years alone, we lost 75% of our crop varieties, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
This tremendous loss of agricultural biodiversity exposes us to crop failure and food shortages in unpredictable and rapidly changing environments. Canada urgently needs measures to support on-farm seed conservation across the country, including funding for public research and breeding programs. Farmers must be at the center of this work, because unlike wild biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity hinges on the people who grow and steward it.

“Farmers and seed-breeders working with The Bauta Family Initiative for Canadian Seed Security have developed strong and innovative strategies to conserve agricultural biodiversity”, says Marie-Eve Levert, National Program Manager of USC Canada’s domestic program. “Whether it be vegetable seeds in BC and Ontario, or grain in the Prairies, we are increasing the supply of locally-adapted, ecological seeds. With more programs like these, Canada could become a leader in sustainable agriculture. But we have to invest in farmer-led seed conservation and participatory plant breeding programs.”

The National Food Policy will be the first time our federal government develops a comprehensive vision for our country’s food system. If our political leaders are serious about laying a path that will lead to secure and plentiful food for generations of Canadians, even in the face of climate change, they must put agricultural biodiversity at the center of their strategy − and farmers at the center of this work.

*Others include the Sustainable Development Goals, the Aichi Targets, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

About USC Canada:
USC Canada works with farmers and local partners in 12 countries around the world, including Canada, to support seed diversity and ecological agriculture. Its programs build long-term food and livelihood security in the face of climate change. For more information: usc-canada.org
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Media inquiries:
Communications and Outreach, USC Canada
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Women for Soils: Healthy Soils, Restorative Small-Scale Farming and Carbon Sequestration 2017 Training Summary

Source: Women for Soils: Healthy Soils, Restorative Small-Scale Farming and Carbon Sequestration 2017 Training Summary

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Canada is Stepping up to the Plate (for Food)

From a gloomy report in 2013 stating that Canada had some serious ‘right to food’ issues like those seen in developing countries to an IPES Food report this week “Putting agroecology on the agenda in Rome and Ottawa,” I am very encouraged in reading how consultations on developing a national food policy are underway and receiving international recognition for how they are addressing the stark truth:

“Globally we have placed our eggs in one basket, by choosing mass production of uniform commodities in industrial food and farming systems, and the widespread erosion of plant and species diversity. This diversity is the best insurance policy we have. It must be urgently protected at all levels, including on the farm.”

In 2013, the report singled out Canada “for not acknowledging the right to food under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Canada was told “to drop its ‘self-righteous’ attitude about how great a country it is and start dealing with its widespread problem of food insecurity, … and [was] blasted for its ‘appallingly poor’ record of taking recommendations from UN human-rights bodies seriously.”

“It was reported that “the gaps between those living in poverty and the middle- and high-income segments of the population are widening.” It called “on the federal government to do more in a time of relative prosperity,” and it concluded that “a growing number of people across Canada remain unable to meet their basic food needs” (citation).

Since I was one of those people in the statistics at the time of this report, I was encouraged by seeing Canada finally getting their wrists slapped by these bold statements by an international scholar specializing in economic and social rights who reported back to the United Nations. It was time Canada was held responsible for their negligence (more information on this work here, here and here). The committee in receipt of the report argued its validity, when the problem was so blatantly obvious from my viewpoint. Our nation continued to turn a blind eye, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of USC Canada, and Basic Income Canada, the problem is beginning to be addressed. After all, how does a sick person get better and return to income generation when they cannot buy good food and access the right treatment?

At the time, Olivier De Schutter reported that “a significant number of people are living on welfare and, because of the increased cost of housing, they don’t have adequate access to a well-balanced diet. In 2007-08, 7.7 per cent of households reported experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. That figure rose to 8.2 per cent in 2011. Food banks, the report says, are growing to address the widening gap.” Just in watching the real estate market personally over the past five year without doing any stats, I’d have to say that since de Schutter’s report, housing prices have increased by 30% to 50%. It’s astounding. The gap between the price of things relative to the amount of income some people bring in has widened dramatically since this report.

IPES-Food’s Emile Frison joined USC Canada’s Faris Ahmed in June (2017), calling for Canada to build its new food policy around diversity. Frison presented the findings of IPES-Food’s 2016 report, From Uniformity to Diversity to audiences at McGill University and the University of Ottawa, and hosted disuccussions with the International Development Research Centre (Canada), Canadian MPs and Senators.

This transformation is happening across our food system. It’s being led by young farmers, chefs, biodiversity gardens, school meal programs, and institutional purchasers like universities, hospitals, and municipalities.

However, what’s largely missing is a national vision — the policy support and incentives from national governments to unblock the barriers that are preventing us from moving more quickly towards a viable food future. With the opportunity to think about Canada’s national and international food and climate policies, here’s the moment for Canada to step up to the plate (citation).

The IPES-Food report (click image on left): From Uniformity To Diversity calls for a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture
to diversified agroecological systems. It identifies the challenge as shifting the centre of gravity in food systems and the need for systemic change. It recognizes a polarity or two ends of a spectrum: industrial agriculture (what I often refer to as Ag 2.0 in this blog) and diversified agroecological systems. A table compares the difference. It also speaks of how both industrial agriculture and subsistence agriculture (what I often refer to as Ag 1.0 in this blog) can transition to a diversified agroecological system.

Is this the future of agriculture? or will it take something more, which is involved in a shift in consciousness? This is the focus of the work of the FFFN.

My current study looks at the impact of cultural norms and deeply rooted trauma that we have been unable to face, so that we can confront the cultural attitudinal constructs that is our society’s shadow… the elephant in the room. We need to open that dialogue, whether through art, using music for activism, writing and poetry, sharing home grown food, or sitting together and holding space for conversation. We may also have to return to getting our hands dirty, remember?! getting dirt under your fingernails?! or we could don some gumboots and wade around in the muck a bit. At least, for all those of you making perfect lawns out there, maybe we can chose barefootsteps on chemical free lawns instead of fertilizer (and weed killer).

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Trusting Emergence and a Call to save our Barns and Dams!

Round and round and round she goes and where she stops, nobody knows!

It’s been awhile since I have posted anything here. Unfinished blogs rest in my files, as do my thoughts about a life changing year 1 of a Masters degree. I am going through a process of emptying which requires a huge amount of faith. Every direction I turn to, everything I think of doing, I am blocked. I am learning to become comfortable with this place.

This is the forest trail that I walk often, watching Nature emerging in Spring and turning back into the Earth in Fall.

Just down the road from this trail, a beautiful old barn, one of those that defines so much of what rural Ontario (used to) look like, has been moved to the village of Brussels. It stands so proud Oh Canada!

Now, if we could just realize the value of our small dams to the fabric of our lives and how they too, are part of our roots that make us who we are as Canadians. You don’t see Europe pulling down their old town squares! Mill ponds are Ontario’s town squares! To me, they mean picnics, community, fish, bird habitat and recreation on the water. Below, I meander up a little stream where I always find many birds, including the blue heron – a stream that would not exist without the dam. Save our dams!

Wroxeter Mill Pond

 

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Finding the Sacred in Farming through Art

This blog is all about reclaiming the sacred in farming, and so I could not resist re-posting this article from Massachusetts, and hope this is permissible, as reported in the Recorder, Greenfield, MA Wednesday, February 08, 2017. You will have to imagine it as you read it, because photos are copyrighted.

In lieu of not being able to post a photo from the article, I promote the tables of David Martin, available at his farm next door to the Bruce-Huron Produce Auction near Lucknow, ON

Rows of vegetables, surrounding trees, greenhouses and other places around the land are enhanced by portraits of inspiring figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Wally and Juanita Nelson, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, and Angela Davis along with quotations from their teachings.

The deep connection between growing food and growing sensibility that farmers Ricky Baruc and Deb Habib embrace becomes clearer a few miles away through a new exhibit at the Augusta Savage Gallery.

“Seeking Sacred on the Farm,” featuring works by Baruc, Habib and their son, Levi Baruch, will be on exhibit at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus from Feb. 9 through March 10, and includes Baruc’s woodwork — primarily meditation benches — as well as pottery and photographs by Habib and mandalas by Baruch. An interactive mandala centerpiece, which visitors can embellish with objects, demonstrates that like their organic farm, this artistic display is a family affair.

Woven into the exhibit, in fact, along with photographs capturing views of the 30-acre farm, will be excerpts from a book the couple is writing, “Making Love While Farming: A Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose.”

“It’s honoring the land, honoring those who inspire us who live this life and do this work,” says Habib, whose work is primarily for the nonprofit Seeds of Solidarity Foundation. With a mission “to awaken the power among youth, schools and families to grow food everywhere to transform hunger to health and create resilient lives and communities,” the foundation brings area teens together each summer as interns to learn about growing food, work in the community building greenhouses, raise bed gardens and teach people how to grow healthful produce themselves.

“Art becomes a way of being more attentive to these things and represent those relationships, those ways of being in the world in creative and ceremonial ways.”

She points to the iconic personalities honored by images and writings around the farm as activists who “unite the activism, simplicity and spirited way of being in the world.” It may seem hard to imagine that any farmer would have time or energy left to create works of art, but Habib — who has a doctorate from UMass in cultural and curriculum reform — says, “We have to keep doing things to re-nourish ourselves if we’re in it for the long haul. Art and being creative definitely feeds the soul, which you need to keep doing other kinds of work. It’s a challenge, but that kind of balance is essential if you’re going to be in it for it for a long time and live life along the way. You have to make the time. I don’t know that it’s a choice.”

Habib — whose role is in preparing and serving the food for the family, for SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden interns — contributes her pottery to the exhibit, which add meaning to the connection with food. She began working with clay as a child, and says, “I always felt that was the place I was drawn.”

Baruc’s pieces in the exhibit include meditation benches, altars, candle holders and chairs crafted from laurel and birch around the Orange farm and cedar from Montague. His woodwork, using native wood, features inlaid symbols of ground native corn and plants as an expression of his multi-dimensional spiritual practices.

Baruc dropped out of studying marine-biology in college when he had an epiphany — he didn’t know how to work with his hands — and turned his focus for the next 30 years to working as a carpenter, woodworker and farmer. “In the forest, I cut cedar trees by hand and then mill them into boards. In the fields, I grow ancient heirloom corn, wheat, sage and tobacco and use these to inlay sacred symbols on meditation benches, altars and furniture. I work with the natural curves that the forest creates to make furniture and art,” Baruc said.

The farmer-artist added, “I inlay all my work with crops from the land — the sacred corns we grow, sacred tobacco, sacred sage. They’re all really powerful pieces of the farm, mixed with an epoxy.”

His benches are designed with various sacred designs such as the Hundu “om” and the lotus along with the use of hot peppers, sage and ancient heirloom Naragansett, Massasoit, Hopi blue or Glass Gem corn kernals ground with tobacco, peppers and more. The merging of these elements combine the two worlds of farm and forest.

Baruc, who meditates regularly, just as Habib practices yoga, notes that the physical work of farming is in itself a form of meditation and creativity. He notes that while he didn’t grow up doing woodworking or other crafts, “it’s really important for my sanity. It balances things out. I love the ‘physicalness’ of farming, and I love the art process — creating in the head — so the mind has some creativity going on.”

In fact, he — like Habib — sees the necessity of fostering that balance between physical work and artwork as a release if farming is going to endure.

“If we talk about the need for more people to be growing food, which is critical. How do we farm in balance, in a way that we’re not killing ourselves?” he asks. “In this country, we have a way taking something we love and turning it into a business. In other cultures, in Bali, in Vietnam, there are altars in the fields. It’s all artistic. If we’re not having time to meditate or time to make art, we’ll end up in same place conventional agriculture has taken us.”

A 17-year-old Mahar Regional School student, Baruch — whose name has an added H, partially to reclaim the original family spelling and partially to honor his mother’s name — will have several of his pen-and-ink mandalas on display in the exhibit.

One particularly striking wheel, suggested by his father, has a corn theme depicting kernels, leaves and native symbols.

“All the mandalas take on their own form,” said Baruch, who has been creating them for the past couple of years. “It’s like a meditative process,” he says of the both laboring in the fields and creating the intricate spiritual, ritual symbols.

“A lot of shapes I work with, the shapes used in mandalas, are obviously inspired by nature.” Baruch says. “It’s a pretty organic process. I rarely have any preconceived concept about what a piece is going to look like.”

The organic nature of the work forms another intricate connection with sustainable farming practices.

“I see my work as a connection with what Ricky and Debbie are doing. It all kind of intertwines,” he said. His interactive exhibit centerpiece combined with the rest will allow their “pieces (to) radiate out.”

Baruch, who visited native reservations in Arizona with his parents and has studied various cultures, says he took an interest in Indian rituals surrounding mandala creation and destruction. “The women take corn meal and white stone, creating pretty intricate designs in front of their home, and throughout the day, it will be destroyed: People step on them, birds pick at cornmeal, so by the end of day, it’s destroyed. They sweep them away, and the next day, they create more. Creating something and allowing it to be destroyed is definitely interesting to me, and I will try to bring that to the show,” Baruch said.

Habib and Baruc see the exhibit as a way of sharing their way of combining sustainable farming and self-nourishing art with rituals that also provide sustenance for the soul.

“It became a great thing to do together,” says Habib of sharing the fullness of their lives like the ritual of sharing a meal. The mandala at the center of the exhibit will itself be symbolic of the kind of open circles they use in opening and closing rituals with its SOL Garden interns, and symbolic of the balance they feel is central in life.

“It’s reflective of our way of being,” Habib adds. “That’s part of why we do art, bringing the elements of daily ceremony into our daily lives, and into our work.”

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Get Into Relationship

How do I know good can overcome ignorance, spite and hate?  Because I’ve seen it.

A tweet moves Rob Hopkins to share a personal experience from his family’s life, from a blog by Rob Hopkins, Transition Network, 26th January 2017 Knowledge & learning

I want to share a story with you today that I’ve not shared before on this blog.  I was moved by something I saw on Twitter to the effect that the future will not remember Trump, but the future will remember the remarkable things done by those mobilising to oppose him.  It really resonated with me.  I wanted to share a very personal story from my own life which, for me, illustrates that this is possible.

I lived in Ireland from 1996 until 2004. It was wonderful. From 2002 onwards, Emma and I built a home for our family, what was the first new cob house built in Ireland for over 100 years.  Building this house was the culmination of a 10 year plan, something Emma and I had dreamt of for many years.  The process of construction involved the input of many people.

……

It was a beautiful house, not a right angle in it, beautiful soft light, wood, stone, clay and hemp.  A roof like an upturned boat.  I loved it.  I was so proud of it. We told the story in an online diary. It was in the papers, on the TV.  We were at the stage of fitting doors and windows, the gorgeous, curvaceous clay plasters nearly complete.  Although we weren’t living in it yet, it was starting to feel like home.  Then, one clear, cold night in October 2004, someone set it on fire. We never found out who.  Or why.

….

It was deeply traumatic.  It felt like the end of everything.  It felt as though the violent, deluded, criminal act of one or two people had torn up our family’s future and thrown it back in our face.  Our future, which had seemed to be laid out enticingly in front of us, was now an unknown blur.  It was horrible.

But then, in the days and weeks following the fire, something remarkable happened.  Dozens of people, some of whom we didn’t even know, turned up to help clear the site up and make it safe. Neighbours came together to offer whatever support they could.  Some friends started to organise a fundraiser in our name. People sent in cards containing cheques, or cash, often people we’d never met, or even heard of.

I want to tell you that you are surrounded by oceans of goodness, oceans of caring people – networks of people who are connected that just need to be activated.  Get off Facebook, get off media that pours out trolls and hateful poison, and strengthen your connections to real, actual people.

The Women’s March last weekend was a beautiful, and deeply moving example that we are here, and we are here for each other.  As was the ‘Resist’ banner unfurled just behind the White House. They reaffirm that values of care, kindness, connection and reciprocity haven’t gone away.  They may sometimes need a disturbance to form around, an infection around which that immune system can kick in.

When people ask me why I don’t feel that Trump represents the beginning of the end – some inevitable slide away from connection and human values; it’s because rather than some kind of new normal, his approach represents the aberration to the norm.

Never forget that.

Comment: I am reminded of a presentation I did this week on Indigenous Spiritual Traditions – the white path (peacemaker) and the red path (warrior) co-exist. The malevolent and the good come from the same place, except that the one is the misuse of power. Malevolent action is the opposite of being in relationship. It’s anti-social and it’s isolating. And it’s choice. As Rob suggests, “get off Facebook, get off media that pours out trolls and hateful poison, and strengthen your connections to real, actual people.” I have classmates who believe this is ignorance. I call it being in relationship!

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Upcoming Meet and Greet, Guelph ON

postcard

This event is being hosted at the Guelph Organic Conference, upstairs from the trade show at the University Centre, University of Guelph, this weekend.

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