Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Pender Island

Merry Christmas to all
and a Happy New Year

Monday, December 12, 2011

Safe, affordable, abundant food: a global reality?

Technology, food choices, opinions and spending habits

“About a billion people go hungry each day,” says Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simmons, who narrates a newly released video shown above. That’s more people than the combined population of the United States, the European Union and Canada, he points out.
“Our population is growing. By the year 2050, the United Nations predicts the world population will grow to over nine billion people, and to feed that many people we’ll need to produce 100 percent more food than we did in the year 2000,” he says.
The current world population is slightly over 7 billion; by 2050, it is expected to exceed 9 billion. That is roughly a 30 percent increase, but the world’s appetite for food will actually double because of higher living standards in developing countries.
Simmons, shown narrating the video at Gleaners food bank in Indianapolis, says the way to meet this increased demand is through technology.
“But standing in the way is a myth you sometimes hear — a myth that says people don’t want safe, efficient technology used in food production,” he says.
“How do we know it’s a myth? Because we did some research” assembling data from 28 independent studies representing nearly 100,000 consumers in 26 countries, he says.
“It turns out that 95 percent of the consumers buy food based on taste, cost and nutrition,” he adds. Another 4 percent or so are lifestyle buyers. “These are luxury buyers, gourmet consumers, people who prefer to buy organic or local food, where money really isn’t as much of an issue to them.”
All consumers should have a choice, Simmons says. Lifestyle buyers have their choice, but so should the vast majority of consumers who want affordable food — and technology helps make that happen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homestead roots of my mom's side of the family

Written by the Mannville and Districts Old Timers Association, 1983.  Mannville Alberta.
Below is a chapter on my great-grandfather George Ewers and his family, including my grandmother Louise. (click on each page to read)

RMR: Independent Wheat Sales

RMR: Rick at Agribition

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canada Outstanding Young Farmers 2011 Annemarie and Kevin Klippenstein from Cawston BC

This fall I went on a farm tour of BC with a group of international farm writers and fellow agrologists. A variety of farms were visited, including some operated by young farmers. One couple, Annemarie and Kevin Klippenstein, were recent winners of the BC Young Farmers award and they spoke with our group about how they got into farming, and how their operation has evolved in their ten years of farming. Just this month they received the Canadian Outstanding Young Farmers’ Award along with a dairy farming couple from Eastern Canada. Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is to recognize farmers 18 to 39 that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture.
      The Klippensteins were raised on the coast and both worked in the hospitality industry, but after they married they started their plans to become organic farmers. Fraser Valley land was too expensive, so the Klippensteins looked for an area with affordable land. They bought a five acre farm in the Okanagan community of Cawston in 2001 and started Klipper's Organic Acres, direct marketing certified organic produce. One of their goals was to farm full time, so it was important to find a market for their organic produce that paid well. They found this market in six Vancouver-area farmers markets, and several Vancouver restaurants. By listening to their customers they evolved their farm operation to include what customers want, and they soon expanded from orchard fruits to include heirloom vegetables. By growing hothouse crops they expanded and extended their season, and by growing storage crops like garlic, squash, onions, carrots and beets they have increased off-season sales through Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) boxes. Preserves and dried fruits and vegetables have helped with the farm’s cash flow.
      The Klippensteins have not worked off the farm since 2002, believing in good honest work and the value in producing good organic food. Diversity is important in their business model, and has allowed them to expand into the winter season with the help of a cold storage facility that they installed. They are still harvesting carrots in February, even in Cawston. 
    Ever evolving and improving, they have added an additional goal of getting more people into farming.
To do this, the Klippensteins are involved in the Organic Farming Institute where Kevin is the Chair. It helps that Cawston has the reputation and title of “The Organic Capital of Canada”. The Klippensteins take five to ten students from March to October and teach them everything they know. They provide a five bedroom apprenticeship suite and a four bedroom mobile home to house their students, stating that it is important that they live on the farm. Finding good farm labour is an issue for most farms, and it is an advantage to have trained labour, especially for organic farms that are more labour intensive.
      Klipper’s Organic Acres has now grown to 40 acres of organic production. Along with organic methods such as cover crops to prevent soil erosion and build soil structure, and predator bugs to provide pest management, solar panels are used for heating water and for the drying facility. The only downside to their success has been that some local farmers markets won’t allow them in because they are viewed as “too big”. As a result, they focus on taking their products to the Vancouver market twice a week. That amounts to a lot of miles driven each year, and a lot of hours away from the farm and family. Annemarie insists on being there to talk to customers, instead of sending employees. This dedication and direct involvement in every aspect of their operation has been a key part of their success. Another key part has been their years in the restaurant industry, which has given them contacts and insights into their customers’ needs and wants. It would be ideal if they could market closer to home, and as the population grows in the Okanagan that may be more feasible – as long as the farmer’s markets let them in.
     The Klipperstein's future goals are to continue to improve organic practices, to continue to educate consumers and to continue to train the next generation of organic farmers.
     On the farm tour, the younger farmers that we met wanted to infuse something new and experiential to farming. Although they knew it was a business, they wanted more than a business. They wanted a good lifestyle and a healthy place to raise their families. Half of the younger farmers had no prior farm experience, yet they were able to succeed by finding mentors, learning through formal education and self-study, and through trial, error and working hard.

Monday, November 14, 2011

First BC Farm Animal Care Conference Brings Out the Best

The new BC Farm Animal Care Council (BCFACC) held its first conference in Abbotsford on November 10th, bringing a variety of speakers with different perspectives and roles in the food supply chain, all well known in their fields. BCFACC is an organization of producers working with producers to promote a high level of animal care through communication and sharing of knowledge. A wide variety of people attended, including farmers, farm organizations, humane organizations, industry specialists, academics, students and all levels of government.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of livestock handling facilities and professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Temple is world renowned for her equipment designs that are used in meat plants and her scientific work on reducing handling stress of animals. Her book, Animals in Translation, was a New York Times best seller. She has also written other popular press books, scientific textbooks and chapters and hundreds of industry publications. She has received numerous awards from humane and industry organizations. She has developed animal welfare guidelines for the meat industry and has consulted with McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and other companies.

All of these achievements are made more remarkable because Temple was an autistic child. At age two she could not talk and had all the signs of autism. Her mother defied the doctors who wanted her institutionalized, and instead Temple was given speech therapy and intensive teaching. She was mentored by her high school science teacher and her aunt who was a rancher, motivating her to pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer. HBO produced a movie about Temple's early life and career, and the film won seven Emmy awards, a Golden Globe and a Peabody award.

Temple covered the basics of her work in her presentation, emphasizing how important no-stress handling is and how to accomplish it. She also outlined what is needed to keep animals calm, and how to set up a system that is easy to monitor and audit. She pointed out that people are far removed from food production, and because of the images they see in movies, books and the internet, they view farm animals as pets. She recommended "streaming everything out to the internet" and show what we do. Her advice had already been taken by BCFACC; the entire conference was being videotaped.

Susan Church, who managed Alberta Farm Animal Care Association until her retirement in 2009, spoke on the value and merit of farm animal care councils, mainly for improved animal well-being and better returns for farm businesses. Jackie Wepruk of National Farm Animal Care Council spoke on the ongoing revisions of the Codes of Practice, a science-based consensus process that includes many stakeholders. Ron Maynard, a dairy farmer and Vice President of Dairy Farmers of Canada, spoke on the dairy farmers experience with their new Codes of Practice.

Other industry perspectives were also given. Certified Livestock Transportation was discussed by Kevan Garecki, Bonnie Windsor of Johnston's Packers gave the pork processor's view on animal welfare and its importance to meat quality and animal handling in the plant, and Ken Clark of Overwaitea Food Group talked about the retail end and how they educate consumers on the welfare practices of their suppliers.

Dr. David Fraser, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Animal Welfare from UBC shared his thoughts on adapting to a changing world. Beyond the nuts and bolts of good animal welfare, which includes husbandry, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, and low stress handling, he said that animal welfare is now a global political issue as well. He sees the extreme animal welfare view of Europe as a reflection of the European conflict with the industrial revolution. The debate in Europe over industrialization has set the stage for what are seeing today. Opponents say that cities and factories were not beneficial to humans, and the agrarian model of days past, with freedom of the individual and the emotional romanticism that results are important. The other world view that sees cities and factories that relieve people of laborious jobs and increase productivity and wealth as good, is viewed also as progress and improvement, and is "rational". The mid 1900`s were concerned with production, as food security and the shortage of labour were real issues.
As modern advancements allowed for a greater intensification of farming, the term ``factory farming`` cropped up, not by farmers but by their critics.

Society’s pet-centric trends and lack of farm knowledge, and the fact that farmers are not among the majority of voters or consumers, has created more pressure on farmers who raise livestock. The BC Farm Animal Care Council is there to work with producers and give them the resources they need, and to ensure the public has the information they want. The BC Farm Animal Care Line is 877-828-5486.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

SPCA seizure of pigs clear as mud

SPCA photo and caption: Sow and her babies recover at boarding farm after being seized from substandard conditions in an SPCA cruelty investigation.
     Most people are familiar with the positive work that the SPCA does, mainly in finding homes for cats and dogs that are abandoned, and educating people about the importance of spaying or neutering our pets. Most people don’t know that the SPCA has a great deal of authority in seizing pets and farm animals from people that the SPCA believes are negligent in providing care. In this way the SPCA play a critical role in ensuring that farm animals are cared for  to a set standard, according to the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.  The SPCA, although well meaning, have been viewed by some as lacking in expertise, overzealous, or even not providing the best solution for a situation, when it comes to farm animals.
     On October 5th and 6th, nearly 100 rare breed Berkshire pigs were seized from a Cowichan Valley farm by the SPCA, triggering a reaction from the community that raises questions about the way the SPCA operates and the power that the organization has. I think the SPCA thought it would be a textbook case of going in to take abused animals out of a poor situation, but it proved to be more complicated than that. The event coincided with a fall campaign by the organization to raise awareness about farm animals and the SPCA certified program, which provides a third party audit to farms that want to use the SPCA certified label on their farm products. The seizure was publicized in newspapers and on television, and quickly posted onto the SPCA website with a plea for money at the end of the posting.
     The event also coincided with the fall meetings and AGMs that farmers have. The seizure of the pigs was an emotional topic of discussion at the BC Sheep Federation AGM held in Duncan; many participants knew the farmer who owned the Berkshires, a rare breed that were raised to sell as weaners to other farmers. There were people there who bought pigs from Bill and found them to be in good health. They spoke of how much Bill loved his pigs. Was it necessary to take away all of his pigs in such a manner, which would probably result in boarding costs that eventually exceed the value of the pigs? There were many people who would have helped Bill out by taking some of the excess pigs, if they had known. A group of volunteers quickly organized and contacted the SPCA and Bill with offers to find homes for the pigs and help any way they could. Many letters from farmers and non-farmers were written to local papers, supporting Bill. A resolution was passed at the BCSF AGM to write a letter to the Minister of Agriculture about this situation and others regarding the SPCA seizing livestock.
      I think that many livestock producers worried that it could be them next - for keeping that old ewe who always gave you good lambs but should have been culled, the bottle fed calf that became one of your oldest (and now thinnest) cows, or the elderly neighbour who needs some facilities spruced up to be safe and dry for their animals.
      The majority of the populace are generations removed from the farm, and their main contact with animals are with their own pets or the farm animals in a petting zoo.  This complicates the issue when the SPCA finds itself dependent on fundraising to meet their mandate, and their pleas for funds appeal to the emotional love most people have for their pets. 
     Regarding the Berkshire pigs, it was not a simple case of an overzealous SPCA conducting their mandate, although there have been indications that the SPCA did exert a lot of muscle by using the RCMP. It was fortunate that the SPCA brought in the BC Farm Animal Care Council, a new producer organization that's role is to work with producers regarding animal welfare. The SPCA was getting a veterinarian to attend, and the BCFACC suggested a retired and well respected pig producer come along as well, someone who was instrumental in buying Bill some time with another two weeks to improve the housing. The pigs were overall in better condition that the authorities expected because they are hardy Berkshires, but there was concern over the mud and housing, especially since the situation was expected to become much worse once the fall rains arrived.   Bill was known to be overwhelmed with the work involved in feeding and caring for his growing breeding herd, and he struggled with the challenges of keeping several boars for the rare breed. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and Bill slipped between the cracks as a small farmer who is on his own with little support. Notwithstanding that, he worked hard to improve the housing in the two weeks, which was recognized by the industry experts but the SPCA decided to seize the pigs anyways.  And pigs being pigs, well, it's pretty difficult to keep them dry when housed outside since they are experts at making places muddier than usual through their rooting behaviour.
     The veterinarian and former pig producer were asked to leave by the SPCA prior to the seizure, so they did not witness the loading or new location for the pigs. There were reports that the boars were put together and ended up fighting and injuring each other, resulting in some being put down. The housing was an open barn, not a pig barn with separate pens, so the more vulnerable pigs were at risk - while under the SPCA's care. No doubt the SPCA is frustrated and embarrassed that their own actions caused distress to the very animals they were trying to protect. Perhaps they can appreciate that pigs and other farm animals are not cats and dogs, and that in areas that they aren’t experts they should work with the farm community.
     The SPCA and the public should also realize that farmers want to care for their animals, and most meet or exceed the standards outlined in the Codes of Practice according to the National Farm Animal Care Council. These Codes are currently being reviewed and rewritten in order to provide updated guidelines for livestock producers.
     So what can be learned from this incident? With the lack of government extension support for farmers there is a reliance on producer organizations, mostly volunteer. It is not only a good source of information on farming methods and resources, it is also a good source of camaraderie and support. There are many farmers who have found themselves in situations where they needed help, and neighbours who saw the need were there for them. One suggestion to come out of this was to have the BCFACC set up a peer network so that if there are SPCA complaints regarding livestock, there are producer associations and farmers institutes available to advise SPCA and help the farmers who are trying to comply but lack the resources and support to do so. The rapid and organized response to Bill's situation by various farm groups and individuals in the Cowichan Valley and beyond indicate that this approach may greatly improve and enhance the efforts of the SPCA to achieve their mandate in a more sensible way.
    Good farmers do not condone bad farming, so the formation of the BC Farm Animal Care Council is a positive move by livestock producers to work with producers "to address everyday challenges and to continue to provide a high level of care to their animals.  The BCFACC was formed to foster communication between producers, promote a high level of animal care, work to proactively address challenges in animal agriculture and communicate with the public on the sound, science-based and humane animal care practices farmers and ranchers implement in BC".

Do you have questions or concerns about farm animal care? Call the BC Farm Animal Care Line:1-877-828-5486

Gulf Island Apples - famous before the Okanagan

The Gulf Islands are dotted with old apple orchards, marking homestead sites where the homes are often long gone. But the trees are there, and many of them have huge apples known as the King apples. The Gulf Island farms were the major growers of apples at one time, shipping apples to Vancouver and Victoria via boat. This was before the Okanagan took the title. According to “A Gulf Islands Patchwork”, published by the Gulf Islands Branch of the BC Historical Association, Mayne Island was the first place in BC to grow apples. As the story goes, a Captain Simpson from England was to do survey work on the Pacific Coast. At a party in England before his voyage, a lady slipped some apple pips into his waistcoat pocket and told him to plant them once he arrived at his destination. Captain Simpson remembered the request once he arrived on Mayne Island and was invited to a formal dinner. He put on the same waistcoat, put his hand into his pocket, and found the pips. He planted them on the spot, where they produced apple trees.
Today many of the orchards in the Gulf Islands are enjoyed by deer and sheep, and are in need of some pruning and care. There are always people who will offer to pick your apples for their own use, but scarce few who will do it in exchange for help with the pruning on those cold days in February. It takes time and work to maintain an orchard, especially the older orchards.

Wilf Mennell telling the story of the Ambrosia apple to a group of international farm writers visiting BC

     Prices to producers have dropped below the cost of production in many cases in Canada. At one time, Canadian apples were exported and in high demand for their quality. Now, there is a worldwide glut of apples as China is now the main producer and exporter of apples. The US, with some export markets dried up now push their exports into Canada. Washington produces 60 percent of the apples in the US, and BC produces 30 percent of Canadian apples. In recent years there have been efforts to increase the value of Canadian apples through replant programs that take out the older trees and replace them with higher density plantings that will produce higher quality fruit and are easier to harvest.
     To aid in the development of new varieties that can give producers a market edge and also fairly compensate them for their work, the government enacted the Plant Breeders Rights Act in 1987 and one of the first apples to receive this protection was the Ambrosia apple. The Ambrosia originated from a single chance seedling in the twelve acre organic orchard of Wilf and Sally Mennell in Cawston, organic capital of BC. Unlike the intensive breeding and screening of potential candidates in a normal plant breeding program, the Ambrosia apple was a product of neglect and sloppiness, with a dash of observation and lots of determination and luck (not unlike many scientific discoveries). The seedling had grown amongst a replanted orchard of Jonagolds where some varieties of Delicious apples and plums had been previously, but was not noticed until some of the pickers started selectively choosing the apples from one tree in the Mennell’s orchard for their own consumption. They must have been really good and unique for apple pickers to strip the tree clean every time it was full of fruit. The Mennell’s found out about the pickers’ favourite apple, and sampled some themselves in 1989. The hard work for the Mennell’s was in working with the newly formed Plant Improvement Corporation of the Okanagan in 1993 to evaluate the new apple, plant test orchards, and file under the new Plant Breeders Rights in Canada, and a US patent as well. Royalties are paid on each Ambrosia tree sold, which has been a very popular apple worldwide.
     The increased interest in unique and special apples of high quality has created a resurgence in the growing of apples for niche markets. One such passionate grower is on Salt Spring Island. Harry Burton not only grows many types of apples organically, he also celebrates them each fall with the community in a special Apple Festival. The Apple Festival contributes to not only farm incomes, but the economy of the island as a whole. The Apple Festival this year had a seminar by long-time Seattle apple expert Dr. Bob Norton, a tour of sixteen farms and many, many participants who came to learn about, taste, and celebrate the apple. The ripening of this year’s crop was delayed  all over the province due to the weather, and Harry has a wide variety of apples ready now and available for sale by the box, all organic. Not only would that be a fine way to stock up for the winter, but they would make unique gifts as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Law of the Lands - Farm, Energy and Enviro Law: CBC's The Current - Keystone vs. Landowners

"In its bid to move unrefined bitumen from the oilsands of Alberta to refineries in Texas, TransCanada pipeline is finding some of its toughest opponents aren't environmentalists or regulators but the ranchers and farmers whose land the pipeline will cross."

Law of the Lands - Farm, Energy and Enviro Law: CBC's The Current - Keystone vs. Landowners: "In its bid to move unrefined bitumen from the oilsands of Alberta to refineries in Texas, TransCanada pipeline is finding some of its t...

Monday, October 24, 2011

CFIA to cease meat inspections: Country Life in BC article

CFIA to cease meat inspections

ABBOTSFORD – The B.C. Food Processors Association (BVFPA) is downplaying the significance of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) recent announcement that it will no longer perform meat inspections for provincially licenced facilities in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba within three years.
In its announcement, the CFIA notes “provincial meat inspection is not part of the CFIA’s responsibilities,” saying it intends to focus on “delivering its core mandate” which includes inspections at federally-licenced slaughter plants.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents federal food safety inspectors, some of whom could lose their jobs as a result of the change, immediately decried the move, claiming it will “expose unwitting B.C. consumers to heightened risk of eating contaminated meat products.”
The BCFPA rejects that, saying the association is working with abattoirs and the B.C. Ministry of Health Centre for Disease Control to come up with a practical system which assures “people will not be put at risk.”
“The province has known about this for a long time,” notes BCFPA past-president Robin Smith, pointing out provincial inspection systems have been operating very successfully for many years in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Meat inspection has been a huge issue ever since the new B.C. Meat Inspection Regulation was introduced in 2004. That regulation now requires all meat sold in the province to be inspected, which was previously not the case in all regions. As a result, there are currently six categories of abattoirs in B.C.
At the top of the heap are the 12 federally-licenced facilities. The only facilities allowed to ship meat outside of the province, they must meet stringent federal inspection and documentation standards. They are now and will continue to be inspected by the CFIA.
The remaining five categories are all “provincially-licenced” facilities. Class C is a transition licence which is being phased out. Class D and E licences are intended for remote locations and severely restrict how much meat can be slaughtered and where and to whom it may be sold. They are currently inspected by local health inspectors and this is not expected to change.
The only facilities which will be impacted are B.C.’s 49 Class A and B-licenced fixed and mobile abattoirs.
“I don’t anticipate any issues,” Smith says, noting inspectors will be fully trained and inspections will follow HACCP principles.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Farmers fight back against farm stand theft : Maine

Reminds me of the a few summers ago when two long-time producers of farm products fought back on Pender Island.  They kept an eye on their stands, and when one particular thief left one stand and headed down the road to another, the farmer called with a warning.  The second farmer caught the thief with the goods, and even more from other stands.  The police were called, they made the thief return the goods and apologize, too.  Good old RCMP.

I particularly like how the Maine police take pictures and the press prints them. Nice touch. 

Farmers fight back against farm stand theft

Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 6:17 p.m.
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Dakota Durand
Courtesy of Waldo County Jail
Dakota Durand
TROY, Maine — The farmers are fed up with having their farm stands pilfered for cash, and they’re definitely not taking it anymore.
Joyce Benson of Troy, who grows vegetables on the Detroit Road, estimates that over the last two seasons thieves have stolen well over $1,000 from the lock box at her roadside stand, and she’s not the only one in her agricultural community to have been robbed.
“Honor system farm stands are easy prey, “ she said. “All of us have lost money. People have shut down their stands because they can’t afford to keep losing.”
So Benson, 63, decided to fight back, using her wiles rather than weapons. She recently set up a hidden wildlife camera at her farm stand and waited in hopes of catching the perpetrators. This week, she caught one, and gave the photograph to the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office to see if they could continue the investigation.
Detective Jason Bosco said Friday that Sgt. Dale Brown identified the alleged culprit as Dakota T. Durand, a 19-year-old from Brooks.
“Mr. Durand ultimately confessed to his wrongdoings,” Bosco said.
Durand was issued a criminal summons for a Class E misdemeanor, which signifies the theft was worth less than $500. He also was arrested on an unrelated warrant for criminal mischief and booked at Waldo County Jail.
Benson said the problem is widespread. Over the last two summers, her lock box has been pried open over and over again and in less than a week this year she had three break-ins at the stand.
“The farmers are mad, and we’re frustrated,” she said. “We don’t have deep pockets. It was a very tough summer weather-wise for us, so something’s got to be done to stop this behavior. This is our livelihood. This isn’t a little hobby.”
Although she speculated that the thieves might think it’s no big deal to steal the day’s takings from a farm stand, it is.
“If they get $20, or $40 — that’s the difference between having food on our table or not,” Benson said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back in the day things were pretty explosive on the Gulf Islands

Ah, to be back in the day where a normal farm practice of clearing land was to use good old dynamite.
The provincial Deputy Minister of Agriculture would help with the acquisition of dynamite to registered Farmers' Institutes who would collect the money from the farmers, fill out a special requisition book, and order the stumping powder (aka dynamite) to be used for clearing land for agricultural production.  Oh, some may have used a bit to go fishing, but most was used for clearing land.

Notice where it says "Canadian Industries Ltd., Vancouver , BC". 

In 1913, Canadian Explosives Ltd, later called Canadian Industries Ltd, established a dynamite plant on James Island. At its peak, the plant employed 1200 people, most of whom lived in a small village on the island. During World War II, the plant produced 900 tonnes of TNT per month for the war effort. In 1962, the plant closed. In 1979, the plant and the village were disassembled and removed from the island.
At least one of the houses were barged off to other Gulf Islands.  We have one on our farm.
House originally from James Island
    All of the bricks on the island came to Pender Island to build Earl Hasting’s house, and Earl also bought the box factory for all the lumber that was in it.
      But we can go further back in James Island’s history, before it was named in 1854 for Governor James Douglas, before a portion of it was bought in 1874 for one dollar per acre. We go back before 1907 when fallow deer and game birds were brought to the island for Victoria businessmen to hunt.
Before the 330 hectare island that lies off Saanichton Bay on the east side of the Saanich peninsula was named James Island, it was part of the traditional territory of Tsawout First Nation. An ancient village site and graveyard is there. In 1904 the government forced the natives off of the island. That has not deterred the Tsawout First Nations from pursuing their aboriginal rights to the land, which they plan to file in 2012. Apparently the current owner of James Island has banned the Saanich people from setting foot on it. According to Sidwell, after billionaire Craig McCaw bought the island in 1994 and sprinkled it with “No Trespassing” signs, “the Tsawout Native Band sought to reclaim the land because they said there was a native village and graveyards on the island. I believe they were told give me what I paid for it and you can have it back”. The Tsawout First Nation wrote in 2008 to Ida Chong, Minister of Community Services, requesting that the OCP amendment Bylaw 169 not be endorsed by the Minister, advising that several issues had not been addressed, namely the heritage village and burial sites and the lack of access for the Tsawout. The bylaw was endorsed anyway. The Tsawout’s were shocked at the report written by North Pender Trustees Gary Steeves and Ken Hancock in 2007 “A Solution for an Ill Treated Island” because no mention was made of Aboriginal Title and Rights. Not only that, the North Pender Island Local Trust Committee, agreed to rescind the RLUB and incorporate James Island into the Associated Islands OCP/LUB for owner McCaw. In rescinding the RLUB, future parkland and right of public access were denied. Any observer of James Island would recognize the duty to consult First Nations. But they were not . The OCP/LUB would create no parkland dedication but instead “cash-in-lieu” for 1.5 million or 5% of the value of the island at time of subdivision.
       At the same time, Trustees Steeves and Hancock discussed the probability of the cash in lieu accruing for the benefit of North Pender residents by using the money to purchase land to protect the Buck Lake watershed. However, the Chair of the LTC, Gisele Rudischer opposed this, as did the CRD Director Susan deGryp. Was it because it was the equivalent of colonization, with the Islands Trust committees as Empires, and the smaller associated islands are the colonies? Maybe McCaw as current owner is ok with it because he did not want public access, but other stakeholders are not. Private now, but based on the subdivision plans, it would devolve to public ownership, at which point there would be no parkland.
      Claims of “deep pockets” that have cleaned up “boxes of buried dynamite and crude oil bunkers” might give the impression that James Island was in terrible shape before McCaw, but I would like to see proof. This often repeated claim of the buried explosives is not in agreement with Sidwell’s detailed descriptions, or John Money’s of Saturna who was also involved in the deconstruction, in that all explosives were accounted for to the ounce. CIL used an Ontario contractor who had done this work before, and a seismograph was used to identify areas to clean all lines of explosives. They drilled down to rock or impervious soil, detonated any areas that may have had residue, and ensured that no explosives were present before any heavy equipment was brought in. Bunker C was torn out, the “boneyard” where old machinery was buried was excavated for the metal to be removed. Lead pipes were all excavated, melted down to ingots, and removed. Yes, it would be classified as a “brownfield development” to have soil tested and remediated as needed, but I wonder about what I see repeatedly written.
      As for the much talked about conservation covenants – how is that working out? According to three conservation assessments, with ground truthing between 2004 and 2006, there has been significant degradation of the environment due to landscaping of the golf course with heavy equipment. The present owner was aware of the sensitive ecosystem inventory for the island and commissioned the 2004 conservation assessment. Notwithstanding this, the species at risk habitat was replaced with a golf course. In his 2006 report Matt Fairburns of Aruncus Consulting states that “the loss of contorted-pod evening primrose is particularly troubling as this species was recently assessed as Nationally Endangered, and the Powder Jetty (on James Island) populations “one of the largest in Canada”. Recognizing the significance of the conservation assessments, and the environmental deterioration since 2004, the decision to go with cash in lieu versus park dedication must be questioned. Will the development have too great an impact? The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve has included First Nations in developing management plans for the Park Reserve areas and they are involved in management as well. Perhaps a better solution would be to dedicate parkland that will be managed by or in cooperation with the Tsawout First Nations through the CRD where the funds are to be sent, which will also allow the Tsawout First Nations their right to access the island.
      Then there is the significant chunk of ALR land, comprising nearly half the island. The province is recently reviewing house sizes on ALR land, because of the increased number of estates on farmland. I don’t even want to open this can of worms right now. A “private island” with a planned 80 houses @ 5,000 sq. ft. max+cottages+commercial development with no public access, even for the Tsawout First Nations, who ironically are in dire need of $500,000 to build their longhouse across the water from James Island after it burned down two years ago.
     Coincidentally, the same two Trustees that fashioned this OCP -rescinding the RLUB that would have given 15% of James Island for the public interest, are now Trustees for North Pender Island again – by acclamation.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

THE FARMER'S STAND: Harry and Debbie Burton and their travelling Apple...

THE FARMER'S STAND: Harry and Debbie Burton and their travelling Apple...: In 2010 Salt Spring Island's Harry Burton gave an enthusiastic presentation on apples to an equally enthusiastic Pender Island audienc...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Capital Regional District Compensation to Sheep Producer Not Right

     In February this year, a wolf dog running at-large on Salt Spring Island killed sixteen sheep over two nights on Ted Akerman’s farm. Ted spent a cold night in his truck watching his flock, and at daybreak sighted the wolf-dog and killed it with his shotgun. The dog had no identification, and no owner came forward. Ted filed for compensation with the CRD, and three months later the CRD Board voted to compensate Ted with $750 – less than $47 per sheep. To add insult to injury, Ted found this out by reading his local paper on the ferry. A few weeks later he received his cheque in the mail.
     The CRD bylaw states that the compensation shall be the “lesser of (a) 75% of the decrease in the market value of the animal as a result of its death or injury, or (b) $750 dollars”. The emphasis on “the” and “it” indicates the singular, that is, a single compensation for each animal. The ceiling is based on the fact that some producers may have sheep that are registered purebreds that may fetch a higher price as premium breeding stock. Some purebred registered sheep are worth thousands of dollars, thus the cap per animal of $750. As a benchmark, the federal government’s valuation maximum for sheep is $300 for unregistered sheep and $1,200 for purebred registered sheep. The current market value of lambs is about $200, so compensation by the bylaw formula should have been $2,400 – certainly not $750.
     As a representative of the BC Sheep Federation (BCSF), I faxed and emailed the CRD to inform them of their misinterpretation of the bylaw. I received an email reply from Ken Hancock, Southern Gulf Islands CRD Director, stated that “the interpretation (since the bylaw’s inception) is that the intent of the bylaw is to set a maximum of $750 per incident as opposed to a maximum of $750 per animal”. This was backed up in a letter by Dan Brown of CRD Bylaw Services, who added that local government does not have to compensate livestock owners, citing the provincial statute that says a local government “may” compensate.
     It is amazing to think that anyone would assume that the $750 limit is regardless of the number of animals killed or injured.   According to legal opinion obtained by the BCSF, the CRD is not correct in its interpretation that the total compensation limit is $750. There is also a precedent; in 2003, another Salt Spring sheep producer received $810 for 8 sheep killed by a dog. Garth Hendren, Salt Spring Island CRD Director, was sympathetic to the plight of the Akermans and agreed to have the CRD lawyer review the bylaw, hopefully resulting in a review of the Akerman’s case. Given that back in the 1970’s Salt Spring had over 200 sheep killed by dogs in a single year, the few livestock owners that apply for compensation now are a fraction of what the province used to compensate for.
.     In 1875 in BC, the Livestock Protection Act was passed to help prevent dogs from becoming a nuisance to livestock. The Act replaced the Sheep Protection Act and allowed for livestock owners to shoot dogs that were chasing or attacking their livestock, and to be compensated for losses due to dog attacks. All dogs were required to be licenced and the fees were placed into a consolidated fund to be used for compensation to livestock owners. People with dogs that were either shot or caught attacking livestock were required to pay compensation into the fund, which would go toward compensation of the livestock owner. The Act was repealed in 2003, as it was believed that it was redundant with many municipalities and regional districts that were already licencing dogs and should be responsible for the control of dogs in their jurisdiction, and also responsible for the compensation of livestock owners through the Local Government Act. The portion of the Act that allowed farmers to shoot the dogs attacking their stock was placed into the Livestock Act.
     This has not worked out very well for some livestock farmers and ranchers. Some jurisdictions do not licence dogs, compensate poorly or do not compensate at all. Bowen Island, the location of wolf-dog attacks that were in the news across Canada this year, is one such municipality. When the wolf-dog was finally shot, it did not have a licence since licences are not required there. Bowen Island also does not compensate livestock owners for dog attacks or kills, and does not allow the discharge of firearms.
     The CRD only receives one or two claims per year and budgets approximately $2,000 annually for compensation. In 2007 there were over 7,000 dogs in the CRD and over $128,000 in licence fees collected. In a 2008 staff report dog numbers had increased to almost 11,000 and there were three claims for compensation in four years for only $925 paid out in compensation to livestock owners. There are more dog attacks that occur, but if the dog has a licence the compensation comes directly from the dog owner.
Regional and local governments should understand that one of their roles is to control the dog population through licencing, and with that licence fee there should be fair compensation. The local government that does a good job of educating, licencing and controlling stray dogs will not have to pay out much in compensation. And they certainly should ensure that the compensation is fair to the livestock producer. When local governments talk about supporting local agriculture, they should understand that controlling stray dogs is one way they can help.
     The BCSF has initiated a scan of dog bylaws and a preliminary report will be presented at the AGM of the BCSF in Duncan on October 15th. All sheep producers are welcome to attend.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Pig War boundaries - from Wikepedia
It’s not that unusual for livestock to escape their enclosures whether it is for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, or for males to seek female company. But 150 years ago a roaming pig that broke into a garden nearly caused a war between nations, and gave the Gulf Islands a bit of colourful history.
In 1846 the Oregon Treaty divided the unclaimed land in this region between the United States and Britain. Everything below the 49th parallel was to be American, and everything above it British Canada. Vancouver Island, which dips below the 49th parallel, was kept intact and separate from the American mainland by the Treaty stating that the border would be along the middle of the channel. However, the wording created uncertainty because there are actually two channels – Haro and Rosario - separating Vancouver Island from the U.S., each running on either side of San Juan Island before merging into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As a result, both nations claimed San Juan Island.
In the early 1850’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company brought 1,369 sheep, seed for crops and farm animals including Berkshire pigs to establish a farm on San Juan Island. The sheep thrived there and their numbers swelled to over 4,000. The pigs also found plentiful food, occasionally in the gardens of the American settlers who also came to the island to establish farms. It wasn’t long before one particular British pig was shot and killed for rooting up and eating an American settler’s potatoes. The pig belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company, who called for the arrest of the American who killed the pig. The American settlers called for military protection by the US military, and the HBC called for the British to come and protect their interests. The American troops set up camp, and the governor of British Columbia, James Douglas, ordered three war ships to San Juan Island to scare them away with orders to not shoot unless shot at. Even though much smaller in numbers, the American force would not budge.
American President James Buchanan was shocked that an international crisis had erupted over a dead pig. He sent his Commanding General to negotiate, and both nations agreed to joint military occupation. Each established a small camp at either end of the island while the issue of sovereignty was determined. True to form, the British camp was lovely, complete with formal gardens and tea parties. During the next twelve years, the British and American military camps behaved in a very civilized manner, each visiting each other’s camps to celebrate their respective national holidays. They enjoyed various sports competitions. It has been said that the biggest threat to peace on the island during that time period was the large amounts of alcohol available.
The standoff was concluded twelve years later, when the issue was referred to and resolved by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. He formed a commission that decided in favour of the United States, and San Juan Island is now exclusively American.
The Pig War is commemorated in San Juan Island National Historical Park. Today the Union Jack still flies above the "British Camp", being raised and lowered daily by park rangers, making it one of the very few places without diplomatic status where US government employees regularly hoist the flag of another country. Each year the event is celebrated with re-enactments in full costume and picnics at the British Camp and American Camp site.
In recent years on Pender Island a “Pig War” was started when a previous local Trust committee was going to ban pigs from small acreages. The Farmer’s Institute and supporters fought back and won the right to have pigs. It is rumored – in true Gulf Island form – that the owner of the killed San Juan Island pig fled to Pender Island, and his descendants live there today. In any case, pig farming is viewed by many as either an enjoyable livestock enterprise or a messy, smelly form of farming better left in someone else’s back yard.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Local food needs local support

What can a local government do to really support local food and agriculture? Start with understanding the challenges that face farmers and the changing times we are living in. Examine policy changes from the farmer’s perspective, because unforeseen consequences can result that have a negative effect on farming. There needs to be more done than just write reports and give lip service to local food.
Case in point – urban agriculture. Many people understand the benefits of having food grown close by – fresher, less fuel to transport, less impact by global events that could affect distribution, support of local economy. Early community gardens were called Railway Gardens, started by the CPR. Victory Gardens sprung up in wartime to help feed people in the cities. Some people have quickly grasped the benefits of urban agriculture, taking unused lots or yards and transforming them into mini farms, to sell produce at farmers markets to people in the community. For the past thirty or so years these markets have been growing in size and number, and more of the food is coming from the cities themselves. Pretty neat, right?
Not if you live in the District of Lantzville on Vancouver Island. The residential zoning bylaw in Lantzville does not allow for commercial or agricultural activities, and this summer the District was threatening legal action against Dirk Becker since he had not applied for a temporary use permit. This generated a fair bit of controversy, and some stories of other jurisdictions with similar situations have come to light as a result of the press Dirk has received.   Dirk and his partner Nicole Shaw have taken a formerly bleak 2.5 acre lot and transformed it into a thriving garden. Unfortunately, not everyone that lives near Dirk appreciate his efforts.
What is particularly ironic is that the Regional District of Nanaimo, which includes the District of Lantzville, recently hosted the Canadian Institute of Planners AGM, which included a keynote speaker by an agrologist and supporter of urban agriculture, Wendy Holm. Wendy has taken farmers to Cuba for years to see how Cuba adopted organic urban agriculture out of necessity. She was sharing her views and experiences with planners from all over Canada, encouraging them to adopt farmer and home-grower friendly bylaws in their cities. Not only that, a team of Nanaimo planners hosted a tour of local farms in the Nanaimo area for the AGM.
As many people move towards resiliency, others like things to stay the way they are and are more concerned about maintaining property values based on appearances. The council of Lantzville isn't the only one faced with this dilemma. A similar situation has happened in the town of Oak Park, Michigan this summer. Oak Park threatened homeowner Julie Bass for planting raised gardens in her front yard. If convicted, she could have spent 93 days in jail but the city backed out when the case got widespread attention. This situation reminded me of my favourite British situation comedy from the 70's, the Good Life, which took a humorous look at a couple who decided to grow their own food on their suburban lot, except the Lantzville and Oak Park situations aren't funny for the property owners involved.
Values are shifting ever so slowly, and like many communities where people are on different parts of the spectrum, there can be conflicts. And there is a difference between urban agriculture, where unused lots or lawns are converted into gardens to grow food – and agricultural urbanism, a concept taken up by urban planners and developers to often justify the development of farmland by offering “urban farms” within a development. I am suspicious of the real motives of these projects, which seem to be just another version of developing farmland.
It is predicted that 65% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. The fresher the fruit or vegetable is, the more nutritious it is. Growing it yourself is the freshest and healthiest way to go. I have always felt that everyone should be able to grow their own food if they are able to. Bylaws should reflect that. Community gardens should be available for those who lack a yard to grow a garden, and ways to distribute fresh produce with others should be encouraged also.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bullfrog Battles

The Pender Island Farmers Institute and the Pender Island Conservancy are working together to initiate an American Bullfrog education campaign and eradication project on Pender Island with the assistance of Stan Orchard, a conservation biologist who’s company works almost exclusively on bullfrog eradication and control efforts in the greater Victoria area. Stan and his assistant have made a preliminary visit over two nights to survey and remove bullfrogs from some Pender Island ponds. In an interview with The Islands Independent, Stan Orchard said Pender Island is a good candidate for eradication which he estimates could take about five years. He believes it is possible because of the surrounding salt water so reintroduction could only occur if humans brought them back or if all sources are not found. It is hard to estimate the total cost of such a project, based on the experiences of other communities in the Victoria area. This could actually cost much more than initially estimated, since the bullfrogs have spread over a large area of North Pender since their introduction into a residential pond about fifteen years ago.
Stan Orchard and assistant catching a bullfrog on Pender

The American bullfrog is native to the east coast of the US, Ontario and Quebec and harvesting is restricted in some states because they taste so good. They are a common and popular part of the landscape in their home range. Bullfrogs came to British Columbia as a food source back in the early 1930's. After frog farm ventures failed, many bullfrogs were released. In later years bullfrogs were also part of classroom projects and could be sourced through garden supply outlets for residential ponds and water features. They were brought to some Gulf Islands, notably Lasqueti in the1930's for farming, to Salt Spring and more recently to Pender Island for a residential pond in the mid 1990's.

There are concerns that native amphibians are being reduced in numbers by the giant frogs, either through predation, competition for habitat, or by the introduction of disease. The large adults will eat anything that crosses their path and fits into their mouth, like birds, rodents, ducklings. This concern led to a research project studying the effect of the American Bullfrog on the native Pacific tree frog and the red-legged frog in Victoria area ponds by Dr. Purnima Govindarajulu while she was a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria. Through her research, she found that although American bullfrogs have been in the Victoria area since the 1930s-1960s, they exploded in numbers since the 1990's because of changes to the landscape that favoured the bullfrog. This included the alterations of wetlands to permanent ponds by agriculture and also by beavers, and the popularity of residential ponds, coupled with the loss of habitat for our native species. She recognizes that most eradication efforts after bullfrog introduction have not been successful, so she recommends education and prevention, and the enhancement of habitat for native frogs as a long term plan.

Dr. Govindarajulu  is now an amphibian/reptile/small mammal specialist with the Terrestrial Conservation Science Section of the BC Ministry of Environment. Through interviews with other amphibian specialists worldwide, she has reinforced her view that large scale eradication is very long term, very expensive and labour intensive. The scientific literature supports this, especially if bullfrogs are established and have spread in an area. In an interview with The Islands Independent, Dr. Govindarajulu emphasized that she is not against bullfrog control and says that communities and individuals need to determine what they are trying to achieve, whether it be to improve the conservation benefits for native species or the reduction of noise. Early removal of adult bullfrogs in April and May will certainly help in controlling noise and reducing the adult predation on native frogs, but there is also a balancing act with the removal of the primary predator of the juvenile bullfrogs

Work in BC is ongoing, with projects in the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley, looking at both eradication programs and range extension. Work on habitat restoration and long term landscape level projects are needed. It is known that if ponds dry up, bullfrogs can’t breed, so Dr. Govindarajulu recommends the construction and enhancement of temporary ponds as refuge habitat for native species. She recommends that property owners should take a site specific approach to control bullfrogs while enhancing native frogs. This could include draining ponds at the end of summer, increase plantings around ponds, fencing off irrigation ponds, as some examples. We need to also recognize that there are some predators that can help with bullfrog control, notably dragonflies, mink, otter, raccoons, herons, kingfishers and bullfrogs themselves. Bullfrogs are often described as tasting like chicken, which could make them a nutritious target for the racoons and mink in the Gulf Island, notorious lovers of all things chicken flavoured.

Beavers may be responsible for range expansion and can create habitat for both bullfrogs and native amphibians. In the Merville area, bullfrogs are in the ponds but with the adjacent intact forests, the native frogs have also persisted. In such a dry climate as the Gulf Islands many people have dug ponds - for livestock watering and irrigation, for water collection during the wetter winter months, accidentally creating an ideal habitat for the bullfrogs.

Dr. Govindrajulu has said that it is best to prevent them coming at all – as a warning to those Gulf Islands who do not yet have bullfrogs - be vigilant. If bullfrogs are introduced do something right away to get rid of them. We waited too long on Pender to make it an easy process. Now there are those who want to eradicate, and others who think we need to pick our battles carefully and plan our strategies accordingly. In a perfect world with unlimited volunteer energy and time and unlimited funds, it would still be a challenge to eradicate the island of bullfrogs. They have a head start on us. They are made to invade - their adaptation to their environment, their size, their fecundity with over 20,000 eggs laid at a time, their lack of selective taste buds with a huge mouth to eat almost anything, and their ability to move up to 5 km per year by travelling ditches and roadways gives them a big advantage. Some places outside their normal range lack enough predators to control them, and not many people in our neck of the woods have a taste for them. There is a chance with education to prevent the spread or learn how to manage frog habitats to favour the native frogs. At the very least, islands that do not have them can learn from this example.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Western Producer - A delicate balance at Grasslands National Park

Western Producer - A delicate balance at Grasslands National Park
By Karen Briere
August 4, 2011
Grass. That’s what pioneering ranchers came to southern Saskatchewan to get. That’s what Parks Canada wanted to preserve when it created a national park in the area in the 1980s. Natural prairieland of mixed grass was disappearing before the plow and conversions to tame pastures, but farming the park created friction with ranchers. Ironically, the park’s desire to protect native grasses and plants allowed non-native species to thrive. Regina reporter Karen Briere describes how Parks Canada and ranchers are now working together to create the grazing environment needed to revive the native prairie.
VAL MARIE, Sask. — Cattle are grazing in Grasslands National Park.
That’s a sight some people thought they’d never see after the park began buying land in the 1980s and grazing was viewed as a threat to preserving the mixed short-grass prairie.
The view was among several that put ranchers and park officials at odds until recently.
Work is now underway to remedy that relationship as well as the condition of park land.
“I do personally take accountability for the park missteps of the past and I want to go forward in a better manner,” said park superintendent Katherine Patterson, who has been on the job for two years.
Parks Canada had its own ideas in 1988 about what was good for the grass, and that didn’t include grazing.
Ranchers argued that grazing and disturbance were critical to healthy native prairie. The bison had done it for centuries and cattle more recently.
But for 20 years much of the grass lay idle, grazed only occasionally by wandering wildlife.
Tame species such as crested wheatgrass took over native stands as well as areas in the park that had been cultivated by its previous owners.
“This land has always been grazed by large grazers,” said Patterson. “Antelope and deer nibbling are not enough.”
In 2005, the park was given an exemption from the regulation that prohibited grazing in national parks.
The arrival of bison later that year opened the door to a plan that could eventually see more than 60 percent of the 920 sq. kilometre park grazed.
Bison were preferred over cattle because they were native to the area, said park resource conservation manager Adrian Sturch.
The original 71 head of Plains bison brought from Elk Island National Park have now grown to 240 and graze 44,000 acres in the western part of Grassland’s two blocks.
A long-term grazing experiment began in 2008 on 4,500 acres in the park’s east block and small herds were introduced in the west block.
Darcy Henderson, protected areas ecologist with Environment Canada in Saskatoon, said native prairie is healthiest when grazing occurs.
Some birds and animals find it difficult to thrive in dense grass. Species at risk such as the burrowing owl, mountain plover and McCown’s longspur need some short-cropped grass that grazers create.
Wildflowers also do better under grazing, and birds such as Sprague’s pipit, which prefer dense grass litter, do better when that litter is from native grass rather than alien species.
“For many reasons, the consequences of not grazing large areas of native prairie grasslands for long periods of time are generally negative consequences where the goal is to maintain a diversity of native plants and animals,” said Henderson.
Ranchers Glenn and Greg Kornfeld could tell you that.
They ranch along the park boundary and have watched as the grass went unused and crested wheatgrass took over.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Glenn Kornfeld.
However, they have grazed cattle in the park for the last four years and think things are changing for the better.
“Thirty years ago the government got hold of it and figured they were saving the grassland from the ranchers,” said Greg Kornfeld.
“The park is now realizing they’ve done more harm than good.”
Some of that change of heart stems from employing local ranchers and listening to what long-time residents have to say.
Doug Gillespie was opposed to the park’s creation but was one of the first to sell his land. He also sat on the local advisory committee to the park in the 1980s.
He said park officials would not listen to ranchers who had first-hand knowledge of the grass.
“Not grazing doesn’t work for native grass,” he said. “They had no idea what they were dealing with.”
The grass should be grazed, he said, at least to mitigate fire risk.
However, he acknowledged that things are changing.
“Experience is a great teacher,” Gillespie said. “They’ve gained it and they’re headed in the right direction.”
Sturch said the park service now wants grazing for ecological purposes to increase diversity of species. That may differ from ranchers’ commercial motivation but will achieve the same result — healthy native grass.
Grazing is one tool to restore the ecological integrity of prairie hurt by previous policies. Herbicides and prescribed burning are also being used to control invasive plants and litter buildup.
Sturch said the park service is becoming more flexible in its thinking and appreciates advice from people such as the Kornfeld brothers, who say they are more comfortable now that some of their ranching knowledge is being used.
Ranchers will never be able to rely on park land as a grazing source because the park does not have a mandate to commercially graze, but the recent willingness to work together can benefit everyone and everything living on the grass.
“Don’t let what happened in the last 20 years happen in the next 20,” said Jody Larson, a local rancher who also works as a program policy officer at the park.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GM Crops Farmer to Farmer

 The following is from the website "GM Crops - Farmer to Farmer" at


Welcome to GM Crops - Farmer to Farmer

Micheal Hart during the filming of GM Crops Farmer to Farmer
Michael Hart on the right with a farmer from Missouri
Michael Hart, a conventional livestock family farmer, has been farming in Cornwall for nearly thirty years and has actively campaigned on behalf of family farmers for over fifteen years, travelling extensively in Europe, India, Canada and the USA.
In this short documentary he investigates the reality of farming genetically modified crops in the USA ten years after their introduction. He travels across the US interviewing farmers and other specialists about their experiences of growing GM.
During the making of the film he heard problems of the ever increasing costs of seeds and chemicals to weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.
US farmers told him that a single pass (one herbicide application) is a fallacy and concurred that three or more passes are the norm for GM crops.
As weeds have become more resistant to glyphosate there has been a sharp increase in the use of herbicide tank mixes (most of them patented and owned by the biotech companies). Astonishingly some farmers were now having to resort to hand labour to remove weeds.
Farmers have seen the costs spiral, for example, the price of seed has gone from $40 to over $100 per acre over the last few years.
Farmers referred to co-existence (the ability to grow GM crops next to non-GM and organic crops) as “unsolvable” and say that it does not work.
In summary:
  1. A huge “weed” problem.
  2. The myth of co-existence.
  3. Farmers trapped into the genetically modified biotech system.
  4. Huge price increases for seeds and sprays- well beyond the price increases farmers have received for their crops.
In short, the film shows US farmers urging great caution to be exercised by UK and European farmers in adopting this technology.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gulf Islands Bounty - how do we share our good fortune?

This summer the Gulf Islands have been just awesome. The cooler summer weather might have disappointed some, but it was great for growing grass for the sheep and cows. We rushed to get hay in between the rain showers and the fields stayed green a long time. We are already feasting from the garden and had some lovely broccoli, zucchini and salads. Our freezers are filled with lamb. On the weekend we picked our first blackberries of the season and ate huckleberries in the cool forest. On hotter afternoons we escaped to the nearby beach for a cool swim and to enjoy the beauty and peace. Some with boats enjoyed the bounty of the sea, bringing salmon home to enjoy on the barbeque. We are indeed fortunate to call the islands home, where nobody needs to go hungry. Even the bullfrogs that have spread out on the islands are edible.
As farmers, there is always the thought of food in your mind. The responsibility of producing food for the community rests on the farmer's shoulders. There is a unique food bank that is supported by farmers in Canada that donates food and resources to hungry people in developing countries. The idea for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank came from a Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist Arthur DeFehr. He came up with the idea in the 1970's after returning from a Mennonite Central Committee assignment in Bangladesh where he saw a great need for help. He had a pretty good idea that prairie farmers would be willing to help with the idea of a foodgrains bank. In the 1920's, many farmers emigrated from Russia to North America, especially in the prairies. The farmers sent food aid to people in Eastern Europe who were hungry as a result of the Russian Revolution, resulting in the formation of the Mennonite Central Committee.
The bountiful Canadian harvest in 1976 and DeFehr's idea resulted in the establishment of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank with the support of many church and farm organizations. The Foodgrains Bank operates on the Joseph Principle. Its name comes from the Old Testament leader who advised the Egyptian pharaoh to store up food in good harvest years so there would be enough in years of famine. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank formed in time to help with the Ethiopian crisis in 1984. Initially grain was shipped directly to locations of need, but today farmers donate portions of their harvest to be sold on the Canadian market and then the proceeds are donated.
Fundraising also occurs with annual auctions across Canada. The Make A Difference Sale in Abbotsford is one of three auctions held for the Foodgrains bank. Livestock producers in BC donate animals, and other businesses also donate items for the annual spring auction. Other fundraising comes from the farmers in individual and community projects. For example, four Ontario farmers seeded 160 acres with soybeans to donate to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Another church group planted potatoes in the empty cemetery plots in their community and plan to sell the potatoes for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. There are over 200 growing projects, where farmers and others get together to grow and harvest a crop for the Foodgrains Bank. Last year Canadian farmers donated $4.8 million from the sale of 19,523 tonnes of foodgrains in 2010-11, while other Canadians gave $4.3 million. The Canadian government matches donations 1:1 with the foodgrains bank.
It all adds up to providing over 1.1 million tonnes of food in 78 countries since 1983. The Foodgrains Bank used the donations, along with matching funds from CIDA, to provide $38 million of assistance for over 2 million people in 35 countries. Between emergencies like Somalia and eastern Africa, and with almost one billion people in the world not having enough to eat there is an opportunity for a community like ours to share our good fortune.
To donate, call 1-800-665-0377, or send a cheque to Box 767, Winnipeg, Man. R3C 2L4. Donations should be marked for East Africa Drought. These projects are supported by Canadian International Development Agency.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Somalia Cries Out For Help

"So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag"
K'naan, Somali-Canadian songwriter singer

"This is not about Charity
This is about Justice"

      Famine is not a word used lightly by the humanitarian agencies that work around the world. While many countries struggle with food security issues and large numbers of people go hungry, rarely are there conditions that exist to declare a state of famine. To declare a famine, more than thirty percent of the population are found to be suffering from malnutrition, over twenty percent of households face extreme food shortages and are unable to cope, and the death rate exceeds two persons per day for every 10,000 persons.
      For the first time in almost twenty years the UN has declared a famine in southern Somalia, with the added stress of large-scale displacement, violence by Islamic militants who are blocking aid to the stricken region, and widespread destitution, destruction and disease, leading to complete social collapse. More than 11 million people are at risk of starvation and thousands are migrating from the area to refugee centres.

      The Canadian government has just announced that it will immediately increase famine relief to the area three-fold, and will create a fund to match individual charitable donations dollar-for-dollar. The $50 million dollar pledge, which exceeded expectations by aid agencies, is to be added to the $22 million dollars already donated to the Horn of Africa. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda visited the region last week and on Friday made the announcement, adding that “I truly believe you cannot witness this kind of suffering without responding.”
      Minister Oda visited a refugee camp in Kenya intended to hold 90,000 that is now overcrowded with 400,000 and counting. She heard heartbreaking stories and met some of the refugees from the stricken region. She spoke of meeting a young mother who was taken hostage and released when she went into labour. She then gave birth at the side of a road and walked with her children for three days to the camp. There were children who made it to the camps alone, sometimes walking for over two weeks. Many more did not make it.
     Minister Oda intended the matching-fund program to tap into the hearts and generosity of Canadians. As our islands hold our annual fund raising efforts through our fall fairs and celebrations we should also make an effort to reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves. Already there is talk in some communities of donating proceeds of these events to the Horn of Africa efforts. For those that want to donate individually, the newly formed Humanitarian Coalition which is made up of Canadian aid groups, encourages Canadians to match the governments compassion and generosity and donate to the Canadian charity of their choice. Many are already in the area, working to bring aid.
      The region called the “ Horn of Africa” has been facing drought-related hunger for some time. Even without political instability and war this region has long suffered from a farm productivity crisis. Africa is the only region on Earth where human poverty and hunger have been increasing, and with increasing poverty comes increasing malnutrition and instability. It is sadly ironic that the majority of the malnourished poor are smallholder farmers, mostly women. Men often leave for the cities to find employment, leaving families behind to tend the crops. In unstable regions the men may be enlisted into the military or militant groups, or even killed. Even without political instability, the basics that we take for granted are not there. Roads to markets are poor, the work is labour intensive, water is hard to access – yet, within their system of farming they are very efficient. Nothing is wasted, labour is used efficiently and skills are high. Besides the immediate needs to lessen the impact of the current famine, many of the aid agencies and the UN are calling for long term assistance for the region – and Africa as a whole – to deal with the main causes of the poverty, and to improve the food producing capacity with water systems and agricultural support. The goal is to build in long term resilience by preserving livelihoods and strengthening agriculture to ensure long term food security.
      It wasn't that many years ago that Somalia was having a similar crisis. As a young boy, K'naan Warsame was living in the midst of a war zone. He witnessed murders and bombings, and his mother was determined to get them out. She was reported to have walked through gunfire to the US Embassy to file a visa, and continued to go there each day until they were able to leave in 1991. Shortly after, the Somalian government collapsed and the country was engulfed in violence. K'naan and his family eventually ended up in Canada, where he became a rising star in the hip-hop world and is best known to most Canadians for the song “Waving Flag”, an anthem of freedom for his homeland Somalia. “Waving Flag” was used to raise awareness for the plight in Haiti, was often heard during the Olympics in Vancouver and was the official anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament. K'naan's strength and success is testimony to the value of helping those who are part of our human family, even if we are an ocean apart and many miles and cultures away.