KNOW YOUR FARMER
These past weeks have been unsettling. This forced and very necessary time of slowing down offers space for contemplation and conversation. This is a wake-up call of the most painful kind. I know that we will get through this crisis and that this too shall pass. And while this is an uneasy time, I am heartened by conversations happening in the podcast world, the Youtube world and headlines I am seeing in the news. I want to continue those conversations here to keep the momentum going so that beauty can come from the ashes of this crisis. In my lifetime, we have not collectively faced anything like this and it feels like we are at a crossroads. I wonder, when this is over, will we continue to live as we always have... Or, will we allow this pain to metamorphosize into an epic global healing that would be far larger than overcoming this virus. This fork in the road offers opportunity to heal ills that plague our way of life that are far deeper and far riskier than what Coronavirus brings. I hope for our children’s children and their children that we choose to learn from the many lessons that are being woven through this experience and that we deeply assess the way we currently meet our needs. The way we have been doing things has placed us on a collision course and our security weaknesses are most obvious right now. They have risen to the surface amid this crisis and we can, at our own peril, ignore the weaknesses and carry on as usual or we can assess, address, adapt and come through this crisis stronger, more resilient and less fragile than we went into it. This has the potential to be the moment where we turned the tide, faced some hard truths and bravely made changes that will benefit us and all future generations. We need not wait for politicians or for everyone to be on the same page. If even a few of us heed the warning signs, heed the call for change and make some changes – it will be enough. Let’s keep this conversation going.
FOOD SUPPLY LINES
I am grateful beyond measure that during this crisis our supply lines for food, water, electricity have remained largely intact – toilet paper aside. Had this been another kind of global crisis (earthquake, wildfire, political unrest, drought) that might not have been the case. As we go to our local grocery stores or Costco and witness empty shelves, it is not too hard to imagine how terrifying it would be to be unable to access food for our families. It is difficult enough to watch front line medical workers not have the supplies they need – again because those supplies, like our food, are outsourced in the name of the very cheapest price. We have demanded the cheapest price for everything from our food to our clothes to our household items to our medical supplies. I get it – I want the deal. I want to keep as much money as I can so that I can buy other things. The trouble is the real cost of insisting on the “cheapest” price as my only criteria as I purchase items for daily living has created a very fragile system of supply. We have allowed ourselves to become incredibly insecure. We have given away our autonomy. Nowhere is this more obvious than our food supply. We have traded nutritionally dense, locally grown food for cheaper industrially sourced food and in return we receive food that actually causes harm to our physical health, mental health and ecological health.
I have been heartened to hear that West Coast Seeds is overwhelmed with orders and cannot keep up. This gives me hope that perhaps larger considerations, conversations and most importantly: ACTIONS are be taken to secure our food supply. Perhaps we are realizing, on a larger level that we – the everyday people - must take back control of our food system. And we can do just that.
THE REAL COST OF “CHEAP” FOOD (or anything else for that matter...)
There is an awareness that when we insist on paying $3 for a plastic container of huge, tasteless strawberries in February or $1.49 for a box of pasta, that price tag does not at all reflect the real cost to all stakeholders including our natural world, of getting food to us at that price point. Cheap food is generally grown on mega mono-crop farms (where mostly one "mono" thing is grown contrasted with family farms of the past that grew a variety of produce and foods). This type of food production requires huge chemical inputs, government subsidy, all manner of packaging and fossil fuel to drive, ship or fly it across the country, continent or globe to get it to our pantries so that we can feed it to our children. The result is that we get the low price but at great cost. Local farmers cannot compete. Family farmers have been on the losing end of this battle for decades. The food we receive is the furthest thing from nutritionally dense. It is chemically loaded, travel weary and jet lagged. As a result of producing food this way, the soils are depleted of life. The waterways are polluted with fertilizers and pesticides, all to ensure of survival these mono-crops.
Growing food in this way means the crops are very susceptible to pests because the diversity that was originally found on the land has been cleared and traded for profit. This means we need chemical inputs - think glyphosate (Roundup) - to kill the pests and protect profit. These chemical inputs kill life in the soil, contaminate water, harm the bird and animal habitat that have the misfortune of sharing land with these industrialized farms. The depleted soil needs more chemical inputs of fertilizers to make anything grow. Most alarmingly, these chemicals find their way into the food we consume causing all kinds of chronic disease in our populations. Chronic disease happens today at levels never seen before. It is all connected. How could it not be? Common sense tells us it is connected, but food corporations, marketing, and “research” paid for by the food industry assures us that these chemicals are safe to use and that the land is left healthy. Desertification of soil that is depleted of life tells the truth. Waterways that become polluted tell the truth. Nature does not lie. Chronic disease levels do not lie. Surely what we put in our mouths three times a day matters and how it was grown also matters. Presently we are seeing how the industrial food supply line is incredibly fragile in times of crisis or disaster. To close our border to the trucks to protect populations from spreading the Coronovirus simply could not happen or our supply line would be cut off. This food system is unhealthy for our health, unhealthy for soil, catastrophic for our water, insecure in times of trouble and the largest contributor to climate change.
Contrast this model with the small, diverse, local family farm where the farmer’s kids are playing and living on the land she is farming. There is an inherent accountability to the way the crops are grown. Chemicals that cause harm are likely not to be used because she does not want to risk her kids’ health. Mono-crops never happen in nature. Nature – which we are PART of and not RULER of – depends, like us, on diversity. One plant feeds another. Another plant attracts pollinators. Another fixes nitrogen into the soil. Another offers shade to a neighbour. Another grows long tap roots to aerate soil and on and on it goes. This diversity protects soil health and when soil is healthy water can be stored in the soil so rainwater does not run off her land into the storm sewer. If one type of crop fails on a diverse family farm, there is a variety of others to see the farmer through the season financially. Not all of her eggs are in one basket. What she is grows is feeds enhances our microbiome, nourishes our brain, revitalizes our body and leaves nature intact, or as is the case on regenerative farms – BETTER – as a result of the farmer doing her thing... When a crisis such as a flood, wildfire, earthquake, civil unrest or pandemic comes our way, and we know they are coming because they are here – our farmer and her food is not located thousands of miles away from us, but rather up the road safely within our own communities. That is the definition of food security. We support our farmer and she grows us food we can trust that nourishes ALL stakeholders.
The trouble is that *right now* her food can cost more (but not always – see below) because she is growing in a way that considers all of the costs. She grows a variety of things to diversify and does not produce the volume our centralized food systems produce. However, if the local community partners with her and increases demand for this type of local food, more and more regenerative farmers will be able to make a decent living to meet the supply and price will come down. However, when our main priority becomes the cheapest food – she cannot possibly compete. Family farmers have been struggling within this system for far too long. It is time to value our growers and the life-sustaining work they do. We do that by paying the real cost of food. This kind of food, I believe, is a right for EVERY person - not reserved for gourmet restaurants and folks with high socio-economic status. This kind of food is what our children desperately need, what all of us desperately need. If we make it a priority and commit to supporting and consuming locally grown food from farms that work with rather than against natural eco-systems, I believe our populations will be healthier, our food system will become more secure and climate change reversed. I know it seems simple and it is. We humans are excellent at overcomplicating the simple. We knew all of this once. We can remember once again. We are resilient and we have personal power in how we spend our dollars and what we choose to eat. This is not reserved for the well off. It is the right for all.
We have opportunity to consider our priorities. We can absolutely take small steps toward living in alignment with our planet as we did just a few generations ago. We can remember that it is these small local farms and gardens that get their communities through great trials of war, famine and weather disasters – they always have. We can recognize that we have lost our autonomy and given our power away around our basic needs of healthy food, clean air, clean water and healthy soil - all of which has been depleted at an alarming rate in the name of cheap food. This pandemic and the rush to stock food resulting in empty shelves for some items is bringing the fragility of our centralized food system to our awareness. Let us not ignore this awareness but rather act on it. We can all contribute to making positive changes in this model.
WHAT TO DO
When we make our food security a priority, we are tackling the greatest problems we face today without needing to wait for politicians or policy buy in. Growing food locally and healthfully is the best way to change the tide on climate and to address chronic disease. Having local food sources means should the border need to close and the trucks stop rolling from California and beyond, we will be okay. Growing our own food keeps us safer in uncertain times and without sounding doomsday, there will be more times like these to come. This pandemic is inviting us to take conscious responsibility for the way we eat .
HEALING POWER OF GROWING SOMETHING
I felt so helpless having just visited Italy over a month ago and remembering the incredible people we met there. To see their struggle with this virus on the news upon my return broke my heart in a very real way. In my grief, I went through my seed collection and began starting my plants. Through my tears and fears, I planted. I thought about family and friends that I wanted to feed, to care for, to help. And I kept planting. And I noticed that as my hands were busy in the soil and water, my heart calmed. My tears dried for a bit. Hope replaced the despair that images on news had brought. Meals to be shared around my table in the backyard when this is over began to dance in my head. I could hear the laughter of loved ones gathering around a meal that I had begun growing during this dark time. The act of DOING SOMETHING healed me in those moments. And so, like everyone else, I keep on keeping on. I have A LOT of seeds started - do come for lunch when this is over and we will chat:) Putting my body outside and my hands in dirt heals my heart and soul on a very visceral level. Just a few short years ago, I would never have believed how powerful the act of growing something is...
START WHERE YOU ARE
You do not need to grow all of the food you will ever consume. I don’t do that – yet ;) Less than five years ago I started to grow a few things. And it quite literally “grew” from there. I had no idea what I was doing but armed with some soil and Google, I made a start. Connecting that way, even on a small scale changed me, healed me, and most importantly brought deep awareness to the food I eat and where it comes from. Perhaps start by growing just a few things in a container on the deck – some herbs, lettuces, tomatoes – a small step but a huge awareness and reconnection to where our food comes from and what it takes to grow it. Or put out a few containers of clean water in your yard for birds, frogs and other creatures that support our ecosystem. There is beautiful energy in that and another way to connect to our natural world that gives us such abundant life. Grow a bunch of flowers that attract pollinators – creatures who are in decline and need habitat. That is a HUGE help.
As soon as I began to grow some of my own food, I noticed that I refused to waste any food. I wasted so much before – it makes me shudder to remember my fridge clean out days of the past. I had no idea the love, energy and attention required to grow great food and I deeply respect all food growers. We throw away 30% of all food we purchase. Putting a stop to that waste and instead of asking, “what do I want for dinner” then running out to the store to collect ingredients, look at what will next go bad in the fridge and create a beautiful meal from what you have. These small actions will take root and grow from there. The energy of your intention will lead you where we need to go. Trust.
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSAs)
In most communities we can support our local growers by signing up for their veggie boxes which offer amazing value. In Kelowna we have Urban Harvest. I am able to customize my bin so that I do not receive veggies that I know I will not use. Each Thursday it is delivered TO MY DOOR!!! That is convenience. I make my meal plan from there. When I compare what I spend on this local and organic produce received each week with what I would spend shopping at the big grocery stores or trying to buy organic at health food stores – I get excellent bang for my buck. And the local growers get their high-quality food to market with ease. It is win/win. Right now I am not running to the store to get food that is a little more scarce than normal, thereby easing the supply so others can get what they need.
When the Urban Harvest van pulled up in my driveway to deliver my weekly bin two weeks ago when this craziness was just beginning, I had tears in my eyes. From a safe, physical distance, I shouted down my appreciation to the delivery driver. Never had I felt deeper gratitude for work and service these folks provide our community. They are swamped with requests for bins right now and it is my deepest hope that the demand for their services continues long after we have collectively come through this pandemic. We will all be healthier and more secure for it. And the local growers are still being paid. And we would be addressing the climate crisis in a very real way. And also, yum!
COMMUNITY GARDENS AND LAWNS
With the extra time on our hands, if you want to really make a personal difference for climate, the best thing we can do without waiting for politicians (who operate on a four year rotation and don’t seem to worry about what my children’s children will be dealing with if we keep this industrial food system alive) is to begin to remember and relearn wisdom lost in our modern world: how to grow our own food. That is the most affordable way to access fresh, organic food. If we save seeds our food can be pretty close to free. Perhaps we can replace a chunk of our water greedy lawn to grow some food – perennial food such asparagus only needs to be planted once and comes back year after year. Plant enough to share with your neighbours! Our own local, Curtis Stone, has written a great book on this and has excellent resources and advice. Definitely check him out. But of course growing a garden takes time and can be very intimidating. There is still much the non-grower of food can do to secure our food supply...
These are tiny seedlings of herbs and vegetables that are larger than sprouts and smaller than baby salad greens and they pack a powerful nutritional punch as "they contain higher levels of active plant compounds than mature plants or seeds." They are an excellent choice for those who do not have garden space. And they are perfect for all of us who live in colder climates to access fresh greens all winter long. They are ready in about a week and love sunny counter tops. There is nothing like the freshness of clipping a handful to put on top of soups, stews, salads or as a DELICIOUS side on their own. We don't need to eat many as they are super nutritionally dense.
We have a vibrant farmer’s market in our community. It runs year-round which is amazing. Commit to purchasing some of your family’s food from these folks. That small act is making our food supply more secure. A bonus is that we get to KNOW YOUR FARMER. I love chatting with these hardworking folks. I learn so much from them and I love supporting their most important work. And also, yum!
We each have a wallet and autonomy on how we spend our money. How we spend dictates how things are grown or produced for us. Paying a little more to ensure all stakeholders are being considered within each transaction is a HUGE way to help address supply line security, human health and the climate crisis. Perhaps looking at the type of cleaning supplies we use that will wind up in our water system is a way of connecting back to our eco-system. Maybe choosing to buy local or consume less is a way to contribute to security. Right now a group of friends and myself have committed to purchasing no new clothes at all for the entire 2020 year. Suddenly "old" and ignored clothing items in my closet have become much loved and valuable once again. Spending my dollars consciously is a practice I am cultivating with friends which makes it fun and provides built in accountability.
I have connected with many people who make very little money – students, retired folks on pensions, young families – who find very innovative ways to access locally grown, chemical-free food (weekly Saturday sales at Urban Harvest for example). They recognize that the food we eat three times daily is of critical importance. It is fuel for life. It is nourishment for the body we live in – home for a lifetime - as a favourite yoga teacher of mine calls it. If there is a place for splurging, I would suggest this could be it. The fact is that growing and eating nutrient dense food simply costs more. We can opt to spend less but there are very real costs of doing so. Europeans on average allocate 30% more of their budget to purchasing food. It comes down to priorities. Perhaps I can cut back spending in some area (coffee made at home verses paying for it to go) to make my food budget stretch, thereby supporting my local growers, my health and addressing the climate crisis all at the same time.
I AM NOT AN EXPERT – JUST A WOMAN WITH DIRTY FINGERNAILS
This is what has been on my heart over these past weeks and what has made me feel a tiny bit of control in a time when life as usual seems very much out of my control. I know that the way we came to this centralized food system was from very good intentions: we wanted to feed the world and end hunger for all. I love the heart in that. It is time to realize that it did not work and the health of all living beings is suffering deeply from this system. And a few are getting very wealthy from it. We can change that. I include resources that continue to help me understand the issues and more importantly, the solutions (hello permaculture!). Connecting with my food, my garden, my health and nature in this way has brought more meaning and healing to my life than I can describe with words. I want that for all of us. Be well. And remember when all else feels bad, get your hands in some soil. There is powerful magic to be found there....
Here is just a sampling of people with far, far deeper knowledge than I - I am so grateful for their work and words around this topic...
Some things to read...
Some things to watch....
Some things to listen to...