Do grow-ops Belong on ALR Land?

Pic From Victoria Times Colonist


It seems that our outgoing head of the ALC believes this to be the case, that concrete slab based bunkers ought properly to be situated on ALR land, because, well, it’s a form of agriculture. I disagree vehemently. In a conversation with a relative in Ontario last winter, it came out that his brother had sold a hundred or so acres of farmland, the kind of black dirt land that requires almost no amendment to produce food crops, and that the highest bidder was a grow-op. Now all that soil is under cement, and I gather that there is never any chance that there will ever be a recovery. The grow-op could have been situated on marginal land, or on utterly unproductive land, without altering the nature of cultivation. In our area, the land under ALR is protected because it is deemed to be potentially productive soil, and the paving over for whatever reason flies in the face of the spirit of ALR.

The time where the justification of the Agricultural Land Reserve is apparent is upon us as our supply lines to California and Florida become more tenuous due to energy concerns, and where those areas are threatened by drought and sea level rise. If we are to be able to have a chance to feed ourselves, we must protect not only the geographic locations under ALR, but also the soil they host, including areas such as, say, the Peace River Valley.

The current scheme for the legalization of marijuana is in large part to blame for this blunder as it continues a régime of restricted supply and subsequent over-valuation of a crop due to induced scarcity and control.

“Economics is a form of brain damage.” 
–Hazel Henderson
This is what is driving our civilization to decay, the idea that this abstraction called the economy takes precedence over the physical conditions that allow the economy to exist. Our margins for existence are pretty thin, and we’ve used up most of the room for error. We continue to err.

Pater Noster

qui es in caelis.(RIP, February 8, 1998)


And there is almost the whole rotten hockey-sock full of us, camping at Mt. Lassen in 1958. Maggie is off somewhere tending to the latest, baby Gabrielle. I got on well with my Dad, though I occasionally got into a tempestuous funk when he called bullshit on some of my out of bounds forays. Retrospect, even the shortest and most immediate, drove me to apologize and acknowledge that he was likely right about everything he said, and ultimately, it was that schooling that helped me to be a reasonably constructive being (of course, I also had the benefit of a mother who tempered whatever hard-nosedness I perceived on Dad’s part, so equal participation in whatever good I might have done).

This all came to mind when the house filled up with the perfume of black currants last evening, part of the cycle of things ripening in the yard and coming indoors to be eaten or to be processed for later reference. Black currants make wonderful syrup (Crème de Cassis) or jam/jelly. Dijon is famous for its currants, as is another spot somewhat to the North and West, Bar-le-Duc, which was the source for a blackcurrant jelly that Dad particularly liked.



So, after enjoying the perfume of the blossoms, I watched as Erica pulled the fruit off the bushes while I did some grunt work close by.







Then they went into the steam juicer and into the Maslan Pan.

















Eventually, they look like this. There was even a partial jar so that we could toast some of Erica’s whole-wheat bread and slather it with our own home made jelly.


I have no children of my own, but I worked at being a decent mentor for my stepson and have been pretty present in the lives of his kids. The young man in question asked me long ago why I never seemed to get upset and I explained to him that first of all, I had two grandfathers who didn’t really want to deal with children and whose gruff manner was enough to ensure that there would be no attempts at intimacy, and that, as well, he never seemed to do anything worthy of anger (true statement).

When he was over on Thursday, we snacked and cobbled together a home-made periscope, something that arose in a book his mother had given him.



The book also had material on spiders, on bruises and cuts, on sea urchins and a wealth of other topics. most of which the little man wanted to share. His mother’s parents live in town as well, so he and his sister are surrounded by care, love and coaching at many levels.


As much as to say that life in our little circle is pretty darn wonderful. The sad part is how quickly the picture degrades as we move away from that centre of friends and family, a wider world that seems to have forgotten the value of integrity, truthfulness, mutual aid and caring.

It is somewhat comforting to think that there are myriad other little islets of family and friends, of integrity, truthfulness and caring, though the network is spotty and we aren’t all connected, and that there might be a possibility that cooperation, collaboration and mutual aid might emerge as a dominant way of directing our actions. The alternative is too ugly to contemplate.



Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind

Monsanto's Time Is Nye?

Monsanto’s Time Is Nye?


Bill Nye may be the Science Guy, but we have to wonder about the science of GMO when he appears to have reversed field following a visit to Monsanto, as outlined in an article on EcoWatch. He hasn’t published, that I know of, the changes he intends to make in his writings on the subject, but a lot of what he had previously written was pretty damning, as has been much of the literature written by those not sponsored by the gene-splicers. I have to admit to having and not-totally-open mind on the subject and I suspect it will take some serious convincing to get me to accept that what Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and the like have done is in the general interest of the public, that it contributes to the greater good without doing irreparable damage. First consideration has to be the stubbornness with which these folks cloak their doings in secret and gain legal approval through the purchase of political levers rather than convincing the public that they are acting in the interest of anything other than profit and, as it seems likely, the ability to choke and control much of the food supply. Their unwillingness to abide even labelling of their product speaks to a group that has something to hide. Second consideration is that, other than being able to drench landscapes in pesticides/herbicides, I don’t think that a convincing argument has been made for the necessity, or even utility of these genetic modifications. I’ve seen little evidence that more food is produced using large-scale agricultural methods with major inputs of chemical soil amendments and pest controls. Monsanto, in particular, seems to have done a woeful job of keeping their organisms under control in nature and may be doing a tremendous amount of harm through simple lack of oversight. I wonder how frank Bill Nye will be about his change of heart, and how much of a change of heart will he have had? Could be another icon of rectitude down the rectitube, so eyes and ears open seems to be the watchword.


A Taste In My Mouth



This is a time of year when the garlic gets a little easier to peel. This is the beginning of a casserole that will feature some Great Northern beans that I soaked all last night, a head of garlic, some of Pete’s chorizo, probably some onions, some of our bottled tomatoes and some greens scavenged from under the tents in the garden. I get to make this up as I go along. It’s a lovely change from the ruminations of yesterday, full of angst and murder. Angst and murder are always there, but this is what will fill the kitchen with aromas this afternoon, allowing for a little lightening of the general mood.

Sowing The Seeds of …



One of the great joys of the approach of winter is allowing myself to dive into the seed catalogues and place orders for the coming season. Some seed lines we save and redistribute, some we replant from purchased seed, and every year there are a couple of new varieties that get a trial in the garden. Seed catalogues are a lot like other inducements to buy with glossy pictures and glowing descriptions of the plants and their edible bits, on the same order as wine labels, and I suspect that there is some of the same mystique generated by the anticipation of the pleasure of growing as there is with imbibing.

Earlier, I was in contact with Baker Creek Heritage Seeds about the possibility of a donation of seeds to our local seed library, run by the Food Group of the Alberni Valley Transition Towns Society, Vancouver Island Health, and the Port Alberni Branch of the Vancouver Island Public Library. Shortly after I made the request, I got a call from Charles, one of the group, wondering about an invoice he received from the Baker Creek folks, but with zeros showing at the bottom line: the donation had already shipped. It was a generous variety of different seeds, for which we are thankful, as we are thankful that there are outfits like BCHS that promote seed saving, open-pollinated and heritage varieties and who staunchly oppose genetic modification. My dealings with them over the last decade have all been of a positive nature and I continue to place substantial orders with them so I can play more effectively in the dirt when the weather improves.

I haven’t gotten my order from Baker Creek, but I did get an order from West Coast Seeds, who, I believe, have donated already in the past year (I’ll check and strong-arm them if they haven’t). Again, it’s a seed house I’ve dealt with for a couple of decades with nothing but positive results. I made a point of ordering larger quantities of seeds than I would likely use, and what you see in the above photo is my little kitchen table operation for breaking out small packets of seed that I will take to the library to share with others who might be thinking of getting started at providing some part of their own food. It hardly seems fair to encourage others to donate if I don’t have a bit of a stake in the game.

There are several groups in town who are involved in starting up community gardens, and I suspect that some seeds may find their way into those plots, but it is also my hope that we’ll see plantings in back yards of both renters and owners, that there might  actually be initiatives to share surplus produce,and that some people will take the time to become knowledgeable about saving seeds and restore their withdrawals to the seed library as a return or deposit.

Between droughts and floods in some of the primary agricultural areas, food scarcity is a real problem, and price rises may have the same effect with the straitened budgets that many are experiencing. I know from my own growth as a player in the dirt that becoming a gardener is an ongoing process and takes not only sweat and sore muscles, but also thought and good information, gathered through reading, through  talking with other gardeners and through personal experience: the donation of seeds will likely not be enough to promote successful food production. Gardeners will have to share time and labour to help others get started and then nurture the neophytes to ensure that the experience is as rewarding socially as it is nutritionally.

Meanwhile, along with the garden initiatives, there need to be efforts to get as many people as possible into a constructive engagement with the community, including the economic phase of life so that food, and other basic needs, are available to all lest we become a physical grouping of individuals rather than a community.





In Praise of..

…the old, the full-sized, the connected.



I pulled all the quinces off our tree this morning. We tried through several nurseries over several years to find a full-sized quince without any luck. Finally, we found one in a nursery on our way out to Vesuvius to get a ferry home from a visit to my mother who was recuperating at the time from a fall that had severely curtailed her mobility. The quince in question was a pretty sad specimen, and the nurserywoman refused to sell it to us, but asked if we knew anyone who had a named variety, a situation that would allow us to take cuttings to start. So back we went to my mother’s place and snipped a dozen cuttings from her quince, wrapped them in moistened paper towel and went for the ferry. That was ten years ago, and the tree isn’t forty feet tall because we keep it pruned pretty strictly lest it become impossible to pick. Starting the third year, it gave us a couple of dozen quinces, increasing quickly to a hundred or so, and this morning I picked a full wheelbarrow full of fuzzy yellow fruit that are sized somewhere between a baseball and a softball and hard as rocks. A couple that were split I winnowed out, trimmed up and made into quince paste this morning.


Few people seem to be familiar with the fruits and it unlikely that they would appear in a market. We like to rub the fuzz off them, quarter them and roast them in the pan with pork or chicken and quartered onions. They are really tart, but a nice foil for the onions and the meat. We have also juiced them and made quince jelly: they are loaded with pectin and will jell easily, producing the loveliest pink transparent jelly that goes as well with yogurt as it does with toast. The leavings from the juice get put through a Victoria Strainer and sweetened to make something like applesauce. If you have a food dehydrator, it also makes delicious fruit leather, or it could be made into something like turkish delight, or quince newtons or who knows what else.


My mother is no longer with us, so the tree is something of a living memorial in the yard, along with the bay laurel that we got as a wedding present from Dad’s father, via her and Dad (been in the back yard for 32 years as of Thursday). I like carrying all this lore around with me as I reach deeper and deeper into old age, and the bay leaves and quinces liven the culinary happenings in a way that stirs up lots of fond memories without venturing into maudlin nostalgia. The lore makes for a nice counterpoint to all the fury out there.




This somewhat ugly-looking concoction is eggs florentine in the making, with spinach harvested this morning and some of the lovely eggs we get from our hens. While I usually tend toward nuts and berries, this came to mine when Erica left a couple of egg yolks in the fridge from putting meringue on lemon pies for the local soup kitchen, and I noticed that a late planting of spinach was about to bolt. Rescue for rescue, it was delicious. She who is mistress of all things just whipped up a batch of pie-by-the-mile, the mennonite version of stöllen, complete with sour cherries. Yummy stuff. The other lovely aspect of this morning’s breakfast was that it was consumed al fresco, under the grape arbor on the sun deck, and there in the corner was this:



It’s a gardenia, an uncertain proposition, it seems, and particularly as a delayed action Valentine’s gift. The perfume from these blossoms is exquisite, but they seem to be finicky, particularly about conditions indoors, to the trick is to nurse them until they can go out on the sun deck.

I hate to spoil this with a sour note, but I see where people all over the world are calling attention to the centenary of the outbreak of World War I., just as official Ottawa decided that we should celebrate the War of 1812 a couple of years back. The sad part is that, looking around, we have learned nothing, and that “the war to end all wars” was more a blueprint for larger scale and more industrial destruction. With the annual breast-beating that is the Hiroshima commemoration, in which we suage our conscience and then go about our business for another year, sleepwalking toward oblivion.




What did I tell you?



Lovely Surprises



We have a Bay Laurel in our yard that we got for a wedding gift from my grandfather. A curmudgeonly sort, I suspect, with no disrespect intended, that he sent money to my folks and asked them to get us something appropriate, so they got this tree, and gave us a healthy cheque to go with it. They also bought one of the trees themselves for their place on Old Scott Road, the Miniment. We planted it out the first spring we had it and it wintered over pretty well, something of a surprise for our climate, which is hardly Mediterranean: these things like to grow in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, the South of France and similar mild climes. The next winter, we were horrified to see it die right back to the ground and conversely were overjoyed when we saw little sprouts ringing the part of the “trunk” that still stuck out of the ground.  Following that incident, it grew like crazy for twenty years until, about eight years ago, it got some snow stuck on it, followed by a hard freeze. At this point it was over twelve meters tall and beyond any shelter we could give it. It essentially died back to the ground and we whacked away the deadwood with a power saw. What a joy it was to see the little sprouts coming from both the ground and the stumps. We’ve covered it ever since and been fussy about who gets a branch from it: the leaves are a culinary delight, sweeter and more pungent than what you can buy in the store and we used to have a huge volume to spread around to friends and acquaintances, but wanted to ensure that the tree could flourish without being pillaged for leaves. I walked by this thing the other day on the way back from the chicken coop and got a whiff of something reminiscent of vanilla, cinnamon and mocha, but subtle in its sweet spiciness: the bay had bloomed again.



It has unprepossessing little flowers, and if you stick your nose right in them, there isn’t much to discover, but back away a meter or two, and there is this lovely perfume floating in the air, an enchanting reminder of the season and of the previous generations who bestowed the tree on us. It’s a real source of joy, reflection and reminiscence.


CETA and the Home Gardener



Recent reports show that the European Union is considering legislation that would require all seeds for sale or trade to be of certified varieties only, with costs to certify being between $4 000 and $5 000 per variety. From my standpoint, this is another move to give corporate seedsmen, mostly owned by large chemical concerns, complete control over what gets planted and by whom. It fits right in with the philosophy of relegating environmental concerns to the background and letting wild fish stocks dwindle to the point where fish farms will control the seafood supply, and it fits in with the de facto privatization of water and power, as well as state policy around here that supports the fossil fuel incumbency. Should we be worried about what the EU is doing with seeds? Damn right, given that Canada, under the leadership of one Stephen Harper, has recently signed a free-trade treaty with the EU which would likely include provision for harmonization of agricultural policies of this nature. Measures of this nature would preclude organizations like Seeds of Diversity and the U.S. Seed Savers’ Exchange from doing what they have been doing to protect diversity in both production and gene plasm. It would likely pull the rug out from under small, independent seed houses, some of whom raise their own seed stock and many of whom rely on networks of small independent seed producers: none of these people would be able to afford the costs in both time and money to get their material homologated under the proposed regulations. Ho hum, just another turn of the CPC screw on the people whose interests the government of Canada is supposed to protect.


Now The Fun Begins…

… and you’ll pay each of the teams for a ticket (at least if you’re wise).

(A big shout out to Dan Murphy, once of the Vancouver Province, now with Deep Rogue Ram, likely at least in part because his genius wasn’t welcome: it stated obvious and unpleasant truths.)

An item in the Globe and Mail from last night and this morning outlines how Ottawa (that is to say, our government) is preparing for the fight over the now-NEB-endorsed Northern Gateway pipeline. Those who have an inkling of the potential impact of this project, and others of the same ilk, as well as the drain it represents on the Canadian economy in favour of the international fossil fuel clique, will want to step up and throw something n the pot to ensure that it isn’t for lack of a dollar or two that we all get subjected to the degradation of the environment, the body politic, the real economy and the spirit that this project will represent.The sad part is that we will sure as hell be funding he Enbridge end of the fight, and, barring an election and a serious change of direction as well a government, we, the citizens of this once-fair land, will have no say in how deeply the government and its legions of lawyers and lobbyists will dip their oily hands in our collective pocket. Many of us have suspected since long before current revelations about CSEC doing industrial espionage in our name for the benefit of predatory mining and oil interests, that our elected government was very much in thrall to certain well-monied interest groups, but the current spate of moves on their behalf is so brazen as to defy any notion of conflict of interest. Not only to we pay exorbitant energy prices, we pay subsidies to entities that make huge profits and that are actively working to exacerbate the conditions that are likely to make our one planet uninhabitable. Makes great sense, does it not? When the long and largely abortive Treaty Process was at its height, there were many complaints about the money that taxpayers were furnishing to fight both sides of the case. In the true spirit of Catch-22, that user manual for modern society, we should expect that First Nations could have access to the same bottomless pit of legal tender offered to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and the rest of their crew.