the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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agrarian economics: a letter from a young farmer

kevin-morin-photo

I met Kevin Morin in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, a town on the outskirts of Montreal, and home to some of the last vestiges of agricultural land on the island metropolis. At the time Kevin was working for the Cooperative farm Tournesol. Recently Keven and Nikaela Lange both won the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing for essays outlining hopes for the new farming economy. Below we have reprinted Kevin’s essay with permission from National Farmer’s Union and you can find both texts on the NFU site.  

Kevin’s letter poses a question that I think many of us ask each day as we sweat and plant, weed and harvest, email clients, pour over spreadsheets and budgets, then pass out exhausted: is the current system of economic evaluation compatible with ecological agriculture and a sustainable future?  This last week I had the good fortune of seeing Dr. Vandana Shiva give the keynote address at NOFA Vermont and once again I was reminded that, like Gandhi’s call for spinning and making clothing by hand, farming is a simple but profoundly revolutionary act. 

My Future Vision for Canada’s Farming and Food System

by Kevin Morin

While talking about backyard cereal breeding, an old Cape Breton farmer once told me that the agriculture there was so far back that now they’re ahead. And if you were to have a cereal killer oatmeal stout from the Island’s own Big Spruce Brewing, you may be inclined to believe that.

I dream of a farm of my own someday, cows in the pasture, neat rows of cabbage…. Think of the rainy days spent in the woodshop, the brisk November mornings crouching in the greenhouse, a woodlot to keep me busy over winter and spring. To farm such a mixed enterprise like that of our grandparents is no romance. Continue reading


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rerural: notes on engaging with our towns

gaspesie

By Samuel Oslund

Urban-rural disconnect, elite-working class divide, pancakes vs waffles, oh the ever increasing list of simplistic binaries that are the focus of so much airtime these days! It seems the ‘enemies’, whichever side your on, are pretty clear.

Or are they? Perhaps the very nature of ‘Othering’ each-other is the surest ways to deepen rivalries while distracting us from the real architects of oppression.

In the after-wake of the Occupy movement many of us were left with questions of how to make actual change happen. It’s still debatable whether Occupy was a ‘success’, but one very important thing we learned from that movement was just how inaccessible and out of touch those in power have become. Given how removed we are from the highest seats of decision making, the traditional forms of political engagement have become, at best, a way to prevent things from getting much worse, a status quo with a downward leaning trajectory. Continue reading


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resistance of the heart against business as usual

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Bread and Puppet Theatre, Vermont

by Samuel Oslund

Today might have us thinking a little obsessively about some big level tsoris.

But let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the reasons why we choose to get into farming in the first place. Speaking personally, I decided to farm because I felt it was a very concrete way to have some sort of impact on the troubles I perceived in the world. Disillusioned with politics, education and these broad means of change I saw farming as personal direct action.

Through the repetitive act of farming I slowly stopped seeing it as a political statement, and with each year that past, each additional scar on my hand and wrinkle on my face, I began to see the world through the lens of agriculture. I began to see the connections it makes – how good stewardship of land can bring a community together, that it’s about a lot more than vegetables and cows and endless hours- because through this daily act we begin to see ourselves in relation to all of these things.  Continue reading


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guess which corporations are donating millions towards the future farmers of america (ffa)

FFA Organization

According to the FFA website, Monsanto, Pfizer (Monsanto’s pharmaceutical business), Cargill, Dupont and Syngenta donated millions of dollars to the FFA in 2013, and have been awarded “Platinum” and “Gold” sponsorship titles by the organization.  In 2012, a press release from the FFA stated that these companies (and some others) had donated 16.8 million dollars to help “create critical educational opportunities for our students as they grow and learn about the science, business and technology of agriculture.” As a blogger for the Greenhorns who is also a farmer in a very rural area, I feel it necessary to briefly step out from my regular veil of anonymity and give a personal account of the trickle-down effect that I feel corporate sponsorship is having on one particular young student in my area.

I mentor a 14 year-old who wants to be a farmer when he gets out of high school. He comes over to my farm and helps me on
weekends and holidays, where we have long one-on-one discussions about what he’s learning in school. In his ag classes (FFA), he has learned about round-up ready corn/soy and how it is going to feed 9 billion people, yet nothing about the negative effects of farmer health when using chemicals or how wind-pollinated patents can take away your right to save seed. Save seed? I’ve slowly been introducing him to that concept. When I talk to him about all of this and many other aspects of my farm life, I can tell he is conflicted. He’s surrounded by a world where alternative or more natural farming methods are seen as “radical” and looked down upon. The future farmer of America who I mentor won’t go and tell his classmates about what he learned on a given day of working with me because he’s risking his precious/precarious place on the 8th grade FFA social ladder, yet he comes back to my farm every weekend to learn more. In my observations as a mentor, it is my opinion that the millions of agribusiness dollars being funneled towards the FFA are helping to rear a future generation of agricultural intolerance towards non-conventional ways of farming.

As future farmers and as greenhorns, we carry the responsibility of cultivating the next generation of food and farmers. Someone once said that the world is run by those who show up. If Big Ag is showing up in the schools, we’ve got to do something in order to introduce these kids to another option in farming. We may not have millions but we do have the ability to connect with younger generations in a way older generations cannot. We’ve got some leverage in just showing up. If a school near you has a local ag program, call them to see how you can get involved. Volunteers are rarely turned away.

 


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this is how apple growers are faring.

Hello everyone,

The huge outpouring of concern for our orchard trees being hammered by this Canadian/Arctic front was very warming! Last night at least 13 people over and above the usual farm crew came out through the night to keep fires burning, drifting smoke through the trees for hours until the sun came up. The result so far is that the temperatures never went below 23-4 degrees even though it was 20 in Philmont. So community warmth is worth at least 3-4 degrees!
These few degrees make a huge difference: at the stage of our apple and pear buds (“tight cluster”), it can mean the difference between slight damage and a total crop loss. We think that there is a good chance that our work last night has been effective in minimizing damage. (Later on, at full bloom, 28º F means 10% loss, while 25º F means 90% loss, a difference of only three degrees). A few hours earlier, around 9 pm we sprayed our biodynamic valerian preparation, which has saved our crop from damage many times in the past. And we will be out there again tonight, spraying valerian at sunset, and then burning fires from about 2 am through daylight. Should you be moved to come and help, please know that these are the hours when your presence would be needed, to tend the fires as we bring supplies of fuel, and to bring that all important community warmth to our farm.
If these are the days when unexpected weather events threaten our sense of the normal, then the response and concern we have felt is surely the way to go; you have shown us what it means when people think and act from the heart, just because somebody else’s fruit trees and crops are at risk. You warmed up the world last night.  Other friends took care of our kids. We can’t thank you enough for your visible and invisible help, the warming thoughts and prayers you sent  to us last night.
Hugh & Hanna


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Homesteaders looking for a home to share work on

HARDWORKING COUPLE (28F + 32M)
SEEKS HOMESTEADING APPRENTICESHIP
IN OR AROUND AMHERST MA
SUMMER 2012

We want to know about the feasibility of living off the land. We grew up in rural CT and RI but have lived in NYC for the past 10 years! We are now hoping to leave NYC for good to move back to the country, so we’d like to volunteer or WOOF for older folks with at least 5 years wisdom as homesteaders, small-shack builders, and/or very-small farm cultivators. Continue reading