Monday, April 10, 2017

Feeding Ourselves - National Conference for Farmers Wanting Change

CSAs: Good For Farmers and Good for Consumers!

At last something that actually benefits the farmers and the consumers of Irish food!

For the farmers:

Imagine getting paid BEFORE you produce anything!
Imagine if your customers provided you with a living wage for your work, as you work.
Imagine sharing the risks and rewards of weather, pests and diseases.
Imagine cutting out the supermarkets, who have already bought what they need from abroad.


Imagine being supplied with quality food that has not been sprayed with chemicals.
Imagine knowing the farmer who grows your food and being welcome on that farm to spend time in nature, learn or help.
Imagine supporting your local farmer by paying them in advance for providing regular fresh food.
Imagine cutting out the waste of packaging, the petrol to the supermarket, the unseen victims in the supply chain (cheap food = someone's hard work is not being paid)
Imagine doing your part for the environment, your family's health and the community simultaneously.

Lovely freshly picked organic vegetables there for us every week

Community Supported Agriculture Schemes

I am talking about Community Supported Agriculture. What works best is if 40 or so people approach a local farmer. It can start as a box scheme where for 15 euro a week you collect a hamper of what is in season. With trust though, this evolves into a shared venture, where a farmer works out how much it will cost them to produce the food and then divides that between the number of members in the scheme they have. People buy into the scheme for a multitude of reasons - usually the quest for good food. Sometimes the wish to know where their food comes from. Sometimes to opt out of the supermarket chain scene that is seen as killing smaller businesses. Whatever it is, it is a whole new world, a new economy, a new start and there are the building blocks to greater health, connection  and viability for old and young.

A celebration of the Comunity Supported Agriculture Network was central to the Feeding Ourselves conference held at the Cloughjordan EcoVillage yesterday. I didn't hear the Soil Lectures but the word that was flying around afterwards was 'agroecology'. Rather than involving any actual agro, agroecology involves novel management systems, where ecological principles are applied to agricultural production systems. This is farming and land management that works towards the recovery of and improvements to the soil. It points to a ways of planting and feeding regimes that do more than maximize yield.

Or Grow Your Own Food

Look up the citizen scientest Bruce's work in The Red Gardens to find out more about his experiments and keen observations as to how different growing methods work. They protect pollinators, they stave off disease, they use companion planting/multicropping and a variety of crop rotations to enrich the soil, the growth and the quality of the food. We heard that from a sheltered growing space, like a tunnel, 800kg of food was produced and nearer 350kg from the outdoor equivalent bed. Other citizen scientists project are measuring soil and pesticide content and inertia country-wide and hedgehog activity and which birds are nesting and where...While farmers are not allowed to slash hedges in nesting season, our county council are butchering the hedges on some grounds of wanting to chip and pin the road. I rang to ask them to stop but found them in just a different area the following day.

But there is no need to rush out and build massive greenhouses in order to be successful though (like I did!) They might not stand the first storm (like mine didn't!).

However, it might be time to put the tractor, combine harvester and chemicals away though as I also heard recently that mechanize monocrop farms are 4 times less productive than smaller farms growing a range of fruit and vegetables.

We learnt about an equation between the quality of taste and the nutrient content. We heard about making rural businesses work in collaboration with each other and having farms as market places. Let's really think about a circular economy and make every transaction benefit our neighbour, be it monetary or another sort of exchange of help or food.

The tour showed us about cohousing and other community cooperatives. There was a Community Supported Baker - who in a similar way knows who wants what each week and for which they have already been paid.

Last year I had gone to the Ecovillage's 'Art of Facilitation' workshop and they are doing one again this year. You might think this is the material of managers and trainers but actually the lessons affect every area of life. Instead of majority voting systems, they use a whole range of more inclusive and respectful techniques - such as consensus decision making. In practice, this means taking the time to meet all stakeholders and community members and discuss what is possible until there is genuine consent from everyone and an agreed way forwards.
Symbolized by the labrynth

 Farms Must Diversify - Produce More Than One Product!

A study of Kerry showed that forestry, fisheries and agriculture were all creating problems for each other. There is a need for both coordination in policies and for farms themselves to diversify. It is crucial that both a farm's output and impact is measured. This might be under the headings Benefits, Ease, Quantity. Forestry, for example is not beneficial to the soil. Grants are given but the use of Round Up is encouraged and the practice of burning off stumps follwoing clearing. With more joined up thinking, animals could be put in to clear the ground. It should be considered that trees are a useful windbreak and perhaps they should be thinned, coppiced but not cleared completely. In simple terms, if farms offer more than one product, it makes them more independent and sustainable. There is a roadmap being compiled, Feeding The Kingdom, to Kerry being nearly self sufficient by 2030.

The Food Policy Council had lots of important projects centred around raising people's connection to the food they eat - like stopping food waste - through composting and offering but not serving (as in possibly too much on the plate that will be thrown away - whereas food offered in a central bowl, could be chilled and incorporated into the next meal. They teach children about recovering industrially misused land through making and launching seed bombs and they have food labs and include growing food in their life life long learning programmes.
New magic Ampitheatre at Cloughjordan Ecovillage for more epic festivals

There is also World Food Day and we must remember to hold our Street Feasts ... or feasts anyway, on April 24th - Food sovereignty Day. Think edible landscapes, foraging, locally sourced foods, friends, local craft beers...what is not to like!
Food Sovereignty Party 2016 at Harmony Hall

Community Gardens

If you are not a farmer but would like to participate in growing your own food locally the place to go to is Community Gardens Ireland. There will be one no doubt very close to you already set up and delighted to have you!

Dee Sewell from Greenside Up gave a talk on how Community Gardens are changing people's perceptions of food. I have to agree. In the one that I volunteer at regularly, there is an ever-evolving interest in organic growing methods, my vegan is not so much mine now as everyone is experimenting with the dairy free cakes, vegetable stock based, seasonal soups. An understanding of beneficial insects, of cruelty free living, of our carbon footprint in terms of buying in lots of foods that are not naturally harvested at that time...even available at all, in Ireland! All these things come up for discussion. There is no one in charge per se, although there is skill and guidance for each project, it being planting, crop rotation, re-cycling, upcycling, collaborations with other social, business, horticultural groups and central to it all are social and educational elements.
Community Garden beds and Plastic Bottle Greenhouse in The Making

Things I know and Things that I Don't Know About Bees
Yes, I'll confess, I did not know what an Apiary was although I knew the word and how to spell it! This is funny as my Mum used to keep bees and we had the Oxford bee fraternity gather at our place several years in a row for their conference. Unfortunately, our 3 beehives...our apiary...was the angriest in christendom and there were so many stings that many people developed an intolerance and serious reaction. The big problem then was that no matter how many lovely roses and cottage gardens in bloom there were nearby, the bees would make a beeline for any fields of the yellow rape flower as it has such a high sugar content or scent or both. Either way, honey from bees gathering nectar from this crop always 'sets'. It would only ever be sugary solid honey and low quality, with little flavour. So I think we stopped then.

Many years later, I did work experience myself with a bee keeper - at an apiary! Clearly still not knowing what it was and the word was never used. By then I was vegan and realized that I didn't want to take the bees' hard won honey off them and replace it with processed sugar and water mix to keep them alive over the winter. No wonder they can't fend off illnesses and mites with such a poor replacement diet. Still it was a lovely scene with lots of flowers around, hopefully keeping them safely distracted and away from the horrendously sprayed crops and gardens that are the norm here.

One thing I have learnt that might be useful is that you can just put a hive in place and bees might well come to inhabit it. I also gather that there are over 90 sorts of solitary bee in Ireland so make a Bee Hotel for them in autumn so they can feed up and then tuck in and hibernate for the cold months.
I have made several and even a little log pile hotel for the hedgehogs. Don't knock the idea, hedgehogs are to be made very welcome in a vegetable patch, they deal with all sorts of not beneficial insects and grubs!

Nonetheless, there I was at the Feeding Ourselves Conference, with reams of knowledgeable people on the tour of the farm and asked in complete innocence 'What is an Apiary?' Thank God, I'm not a proud person. I fully accept that there are things I know and things I don't know.

Intuitive Knowledge

Funnily enough, all the things I know for certain I have difficulty sharing with others. Like, I know human life is not more important than animal life which is not more important than plant, soil, air and sea life. And, conversely, I know that human life is profound and has value as do animal lives, as do inanimate life the planet in all its majesty for example...I say 'for example' just as an irony because we can't use this planet just as an example as we do not have another one to go to, if we blow it! I also happen to know that animals have a superior consciousness to ours and many more senses. Back in the old days the aborigines had 36 senses, I seem to remember. These can be understood as ways of knowing that are beyond the usual 5 we allow ourselves to play with. Still, I will endeavour to reactivate some of them in myself, as the guineapig, and report back on this.

I saw a film last night after the conference that I loved. It was called Carnage and it was set in the near future, a vegan future, looking back at how it had all come about. Some of it was funny, some of it was moving but it is by the BBC and worth a watch if you have an hour Film: Carnage and other reviews and commentary by Dr Roger Yates.

Dakota watching the film avidly

Also what has to be seen is the film Demain - that is coming to Kilkenny in the next week I think - at the Watergate Theatre cafe, Boscos. It is about a different sort of 'Tomorrow' and looks at people who are finding ways to live lightly and yet productively and find ways to reduce our dependence on fuel, plastic, chemicals, medicines, computers, food and other industries.

Having said that, there was a lot of brilliant technological assistance to hand at the conference too. Software has been designed to support Community Supported Agriculture schemes and other small food producing schemes. It miraculously can coordinate the logistics onto one page of who are the members, what food are they expecting, how often, how much do they pay and what sort of membership and participation they have with the group. Two crucial things remain to be being the accounting. People really want that side of the admin' to be taken care of too, be able to see at a glance who has paid and who has not. Let members pay on line and in advance, etc. The other key thing was that the website is, so far, only in German and French! When it is in English, I will write again about it! But amazing work done and this was Community Supported Software Writing at its first and finest!

Thanks to Cultivate and everyone at Cloughjordan for an inspiring and heartening look ahead at feeding ourselves.

This is the vegan organic food prep and healing course

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