2010 is here… Happy New Year!

Now that I survived the last decade (and come to think of it, nearly 6 decades), I know that one of the most important things that I’ve learned is to be grateful.

I am grateful that I am part of the communications revolution – 10 years ago it wasn’t so easy to set up a blog and reach millions!

I am grateful that the big economic collapse didn’t mean we’d all starve, and that it woke so many of us up to what’s really important in life… living a good life!

I am grateful that my last new Year’s resolution (to do and be the best that I can) taught me two important things. First, to take it easy on myself and lastly, to pay far less attention to unsolicited opinions and advice from others, however well meaning that they may be. In the end, knowing that I did the best that I could within my own strengths and limitations, is always enough.

Happy New Year – Enjoy the ride!
Good Clean Food for Everyone!

All My Relations,
Gramma Willi
December 31, 2010

SPIN-farming – Let’s Grow Our Own Food

The info in this article for city and town folk who want to buy local or farm their own Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) food is a beautiful gift – they’ve even considered how to minimize pollution! I hope that some of you take the opportunity to try it out… and share your stories with us.

Good Clean Food for Everyone!

SPIN Farming and Soup Service Are Yielding Profits

by Elaine Morin; Alternatives Magazine, 35:1 (2009); www.alternativesjournal.ca.

What happens when food production moves to the city and downsizes in the process? Wally Satzewich and Gail Vandersteen of Wally’s Urban Market Garden, a Saskatoon farming operation, are showing that some 30 backyard plots totaling less than half a hectare can be as profitable as, and more ecologically sustainable than, their old eight-hectare agribusiness in rural Saskatchewan. The program they’ve developed, Small Plot Intensive or SPIN farming, aims to maximize crop yields of smaller gardens. “The key,” Satzewich says, “is to produce high-quality niche crops.” The enterprising duo grows garlic, spinach, salad greens and other produce, which they sell at city markets and to local restaurants. Reduced transportation costs and less food spoilage help boost profits, as does their low overhead since they have no tractor or paid work crews. Another advantage of co-opting backyard gardens is that many urban homeowners don’t have time to till, and will often rent their backyards for little or no fee.

“One acre [less than half a hectare] is about the right size for one couple to farm,” says Satzewich, who has no plans to expand. “You can always intensify production, if necessary.”

With the majority of Canadians living in cities, urban agriculture makes sense. Shrinking the distance between food production and markets means fewer trucks on the road and thus fewer carbon emissions. At a time when most food travels vast distances to get to the table, local food production can drastically cut the need for processing, packaging, refrigeration and hauling. And local, just-produced food can be fresher too, an important benefit.

Market gardens scattered throughout the inner-city, on abandoned lots for instance, can improve air quality and help offset urban heat buildup. Captured rain and wastewater, if deemed safe, can be used in place of treated municipal water, and organic solid waste can be composted to fertilize crops. And then there’s the issue of food security. More local agriculture reduces dependence on uncertain global food and fuel supplies.

Small-scale farming has its challenges. Urban gardens compete with municipalities for freshwater supplies. Rain and wastewater can help, but must be free of toxins. Abandoned lots must also be cleared of contamination before food crops are grown. And uncertain tenure on abandoned lots and borrowed backyards makes long-term projects a challenge. Satzewich’s and Vandersteen’s success comes from competence, dedication and hard work, but what they produce is a drop in the bucket beside the capacity of massive agribusiness. Still, city gardens have a long precedent and small plots are plentiful. Toronto’s Annex Organics, for instance, uses a warehouse roof for its garden.

A commercial market garden within Calgary would be a boon to Carmie Nearing’s business. A professional chef and owner of Spoon Fed Soup Company, Nearing uses local organic ingredients as often as possible, but with growing demand for her soups, it’s not always easy to find suppliers. In the last five years her company has burgeoned from a tiny home operation to a viable, thriving business. “At each step of the way, I’ve thought long and hard about how to expand,” says Nearing. For instance, she’s kept her original mandate to minimize the size of the area she services. She delivers her soup three times a week, up from once weekly, and only to inner-city Calgary addresses. And on one delivery day, soup will one day be shuttled to downtown customers via cargo bicycle.

In the beginning, Nearing developed recipes in her inner-city home kitchen, peddling them to friends and neighbours. She then borrowed a catering company’s kitchen, producing soups on weekends and delivering Mondays. Since then, she’s moved to a brand new kitchen. As the scale of her operation has increased, Nearing has worked hard to uphold the same principles of sustainability. For instance, she still uses one-litre canning jars, and the $1 deposit encourages a high rate of return. Though she’s careful about expansion, Nearing expects to make her soups available at two local food markets.

Can local, small-scale food producers replace massive agribusinesses and factory-food manufacturers? For a generation habituated to fast-food joints and big-box supermarkets, and with little knowledge of gardening, it’s hard to imagine. Yet the benefits of local food production are difficult to ignore. Interestingly, Satzewich and Vandersteen have been welcoming interns to their operation, some of them families with young children. Interns provide manual labour in exchange for learning the techniques of small-plot farming. Perhaps for the next generation, a major shift is on its way.

Elaine Morin is a Calgary-based freelance writer and recipient of the 2007 Brenda Strathern Writing Prize. She has been frequenting inner-city markets since she was four years old.

Start your own SPIN-farm! Check out http://www.spinfarming.com for do-it-yourself guidelines and examples of several SPIN cities and neighbourhoods. Visit http://www.cityfarmer.org and http://www.metrofarm.com to plug into urban agriculture communities from coast to coast. And if you live or work in Calgary, don’t forget to visit http://www.spoonfedsoup.com to order a healthy and sustainable soup-lunch.

Gramma Willi’s Random Blogging

Rough Times Come Again No More

It’s January 2009. Everybody’s talking about the world’s economic collapse. Canada said it’s officially in a DEPRESSION last week, while the United States, Asian and European countries are still calling it a RECESSION. This is leaving the rest of us wondering, what should we be doing about it?

Being old enough to be a Gramma, I’ve already been through a few recessions. I also listened hard to my Mom and a lot of other older-than-me people tell me what the last Depression was like. I’m pretty sure that this one will be way harder on big companies than on the average person… so relax a little, willya?

My strategy is to ignore the hype, get back to basics and do everything I can to share what works for my family with people who are asking what to do. After all, when you cut out the opinions of the media, your boss, banker, wealthy people and “experts,” the bottom line is “what can I do to help myself and my loved ones?”

I wrote the Rough Times Cookbook a few years back to help people like you and me. Lately, it seems a whole lot more important to get it out there as widely as possible! People are starving in cities, towns, whole regions of the Earth and it’s NOT because we don’t have enough food to feed us all. Answer questions about what we eat, spend our money on, how and and where and why we buy things and you’ll find out important truths about yourself and our world.

Seems to me, too many of us are acting like the big companies – selfish and lazy. Too many of us depend on governments and big companies and don’t take control of the little money that we do have. Not enough of us are learning OR doing what it takes to take care of our communities and our lives and become more self sufficient. For us little guys to survive, supporting each other is the name of the game… after all, the big guys are bailing each other out like crazy, aren’t they?

If you take the information I’m offering to help you take immediate action to get and stay ahead financially, then I’ve done my job. Support this work and then you’ve done your job.

Love, peace, hugs and full bellies for all

Gramma Willi

P.S. My next move is to get Rough Times cooking stuff published and televised… anybody out there interested in a fun, radical, waaaay-cool cooking show? Well then, let’s have a cup of tea together!

Food Security, Agriculture and the Future – the 100 Mile Principle

Founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association, Ela Bhatt tells about growing numbers of starving people all over the world, the great distances between food producers and consumers. She speaks to her concept, the “100 Mile Principle,” that urges all to think of using staple foods and food-related services that are produced within 100 miles around us. She also speaks about global economic and environmental disasters created by systems that treat food as a commodity instead of food as a basic necessity of life.

Using the 100 Mile Principle, we can start with our own food first, using and retaining the seed, soil and water knowledge developed locally over generations; the uses, storage, processes, recipes and packaging of local food reside with the generations of cooks. Bhatt invites us to experiment with the 100 Mile Principle with our local daily staple food in 2009 and suggests that we will cut the economic and ecological cost of food, begin to restore the organic human link between ecology and economy and mend the old link between producer and consumer. As she pleads to us so beautifully, “Ultimately, ecology as cosmology or economy as market is the weave of life. Let us start weaving it tighter from 2009.”

– – – – –

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3932721.cms?prtpage=1

Food security for future thought
4 Jan 2009, 0222 hrs IST, Ela R Bhatt,

At the Tallberg Forum, Sweden, I heard two women farmers from Ghana lament, “The food we produce we do not eat, the food we eat we do not produce.”

Would India’s farmers sing a different sorrow?

According to the latest FAO report, the number of hungry people worldwide increased from 848 million in 2005 to 1 billion in 2008. The spreading hunger is weakening food security. Evidently, the world food system is unable to ensure food, which is adequate and safe, to sustain human life. Is India any exception?

If nothing else, over the years we have kept up with the world food system in making it more and more complex but less and less useful to feed the hungry. Simple questions remain unanswered. Safe and nutritious food is promoted as a fundamental right and yet our people remain hungry.

Why do those who produce and process food, farmers and farm workers, most of them women, do not have enough food to eat? Why do food exporting regions report starvation? Returns on global food markets have become increasingly attractive but why do the farm labourers remain the lowest paid and work under worst conditions? Food has today become a mere commodity.

But, food is much more. Food has a sense of locality, home, sthana in India. Food is many-layered in its use and satisfaction. Food is our link from cosmos to livelihood to ritual to myth. It is our life’s culture. Food is our history and our future. Food has many meanings to us. But food security is the language of the state today.

Can food be reduced to business and trade opportunity? Is it not the result of failed political economy, the other of failed morality? Our civilization started with agriculture and today agriculture is under threat. What about our civilization?

We have to protect ways of life and livelihoods of the farming communities from the threat of extinction. We must protect the base of agriculture, small farmers, their produce and their locality of farming. Security stems from local innovations, not distant imports.

To build food security, we must understand that security needs autonomy that grants diversity which stems from locality. Autonomy, diversity and locality are the fundamentals of our food security.

Producer & consumer must come closer

To achieve the above, we must reduce the distance, economic and ecological, between food producer and consumer. Here I wish to suggest my 100 Mile Principle that stems from ecology of food that I mentioned at Tallberg Forum.

I urged all to think of using essential foods and food-related services that are produced within 100 miles around us. I explained that the 100 Mile Principle weaves decentralization, locality, size and scale with livelihood of agriculture. What we need for livelihood as material, as energy as knowledge should stem from areas around us.

We can start with our own food first. Seed, soil and water are forms of knowledge developed over generations that need to be retained locally. So are the uses, storage, processes, recipes and packaging of food. Let us experiment with the 100 Mile Principle with our daily staple food in 2009.

It cuts economic and ecological cost on food. Essentially, the organic human link between ecology and economy has to be restored. The millennia old link between producer and consumer has to be recovered. Ultimately, ecology as cosmology or economy as market is the weave of life. Let us start weaving it tighter from 2009.

Note: Gramma Willi gives thanks to foodforethought.net, who pointed the way to this important article.