After allowing myself one week of holidays since finishing my final “farm operating plan” for my one-year course in Sustainable Agriculture, I feel a need to jump back in. Farming has been on my brain for the last year 24/7- and I don’t think it will cease anytime soon.
This one year program in Sustainable Agriculture, and the last 5 years of working on, and being exposed to a handful of Organic farms around the world has started me on a journey I could have never imagined for myself 5 years ago. Now, I look at the world with a new lens.
The new lens…
Down the street where I now live, someone recently scattered a bunch of wood-ash on the sidewalk- “geez, that’s a waste of good potassium”
Every christmas tree I see appearing on the sidewalk makes me cringe, “where will their nutrients will go, and will they ever return to the soil?”
My eyes fall on a giant tree-less field of light green outside the city that I identify as winter wheat; I begin to imagine the field full of shrubs and trees for pollinators, wildlife, and god forbid, more than one type of plant in the wide expanse of field.
I see the stubble of corn in the back field across from my parents house; I wonder, “How will I ever grow and save corn seed that is GMO free? How will I ever make cornbread or tortillas from corn I grow myself when cross pollination with GMO corn varieties happens over many kilometers, and when I live in Canada- a country ruled by Steven Harper (not exactly a small-scale farmer’s friend) and two crops: GMO corn and soy?”
An empty field on a farm outside town, and I think- I wonder how long it would take me to bike downtown from here with a bunch of fruits and veggies in tow, are there any big hils?
I flush the toilet in a public place, embarresed to let the “yellow mellow” like I do at home thinking, “there goes some good nitrogen, phosphorus.. not to mention, water.”
I eat a pesticide-glazed grape and think of how 1/3 of the world’s suicides are caused by intentional ingestion of pesticides– often due to the fact that for many farmers chemicals are failing them. Pesticides are causing negative health effects, ruining soils, and making survival for farm families, especially small scale and poor, less and less feasible. For others, chemicals and resulting large corporate agriculture are what have caused the small scale farmers to be pushed from the land, making living off the land almost impossible.
Driving by a country farm I think of how the county in which I live (wellington county) defines a farm as 100 acres or more- an amount a small farmer like me will never be able to afford, and will never want unless I have 20 babies or 5 farmer friends to share it with. I think of how, when I last talked to a land surveyor, they told me it was unlikely that I’d ever be able to sever land in this county and convince the courts that I will be using it for farming and not a mansion in the country…
I see animals at the university, and I think- “well, if they can do it- why cant i?”
New trees in front of city hall, I wonder- “are any of those fruit trees?”
An empty 2 acres behind the school where my mom works and I start thinking big…
Studies show that kids can identify over 1000 corporate logos, and can’t even name 10 native species. 10.
So perhaps, with a few allies, I could help start a city wide farm and forest project- a mini arboretum at every school complete with native plants AND useful exotics such as asian pears… And of course, if there’s land- a mini farm behind every school involving kids in the spring and fall, and used to make a livelihood for an urban farmers worker cooperative (which includes me) through the season. Who would be against it?
I think of projects like that often, and wonder what it would take to make them happen- and which project would be right for my abilities and dreams, and for the abilities and dreams of those interested in a similar vision for this city. In this city there are countless folks working for a fair food system- we have urban and close-by organic farmers, health food stores buying from them, an emerging coop grocery store, a handful of school gardens, countless citizens growing their own gardens in their backyards, and a number of environmentalists. There is momentum, and power in the local food movement here- and I feel drawn to be a part of it, however small, however fruity/nutty (we need more local fruit/nut producers!).
So how did I gain this new ecological farming lens?
Once I was a kid who couldn’t name 10 native plants. I remember memorizing the capitals of 100 countries, countless bible verses, and likely I was one of those kids who could have identified at leat 50 corporate labels… but the only thing I knew about trees was that there were ones that had leaves in winter, and ones that didn’t. As a child, I couldn’t even keep straight which ones were coniferous and, what’s the other word? -deciduous.
Lucky for me, I enrolled in an environmental education program in grade 10 (Community Environment Leadership Program). I can still remember the fabulous day that semester when someone flipped over a balsam branch and told me that balsam is the one with two white stripes on the underside of the needle or on a hike when someone first offered me cedar tea- telling me it was what saved the explorers from scurvy when they arrived in Canada. Now I can name at least 50 native species, and if you ask, I can tell you the story of when I could have died because of mis-identifying one of those and eating it.
Every empty lot gets me thinking these days. Every expanse of land in field, and even deep forest, every tall or tiny tree gets me thinking “How can I become more connected with this beautiful creation”. Every glance at large grocery stores like Zehrs or Freshco, or Metro gets me wondering- how can I share the joy of cultivating honest, chemical free foods with everyone I know?
I am entering the time that (the incredible organization) farmstart calls “seekers”, I am seeking land. I am seeking land, a cohesive vision, and allies; others who are eager to take back a defiled land, a defiled country, a defiled planet.
So, besides this new lens, why am I becoming an organic farmer?
Don’t worry, I’ll let you know, but there is a catch.
… the catch is, you just might have to join me as an eater, a farmer, an advocate, a natural healer, an “occupier”, etc. to really get the real dirt on small scale organic farming.
Stay tuned and happy new year!
I’ll leave you now with a little Wendell Berry, The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.