Stop Making Sense

I think Stop Making Sense was the Talking Heads album with “Once In a Lifetime” about a dazed and confused guy, which is how I feel after spending a weekend in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and more specifically at The Survival Expo (August 8 & 9).

The GTA is like this death star monstrosity of humanity that keeps growing and expanding by the day. It’s where I left to move to the middle of no-where and after 17 years away it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to go back. Oh sure, I have a grandson there now, so there will be more trips, but I’m beginning to find the madness of a big city overwhelming. The traffic and pace of life is horrific, and how people behave in it often surprises me.

I’m also left to analyze “The Survival Expo” itself which was great. It wasn’t what you’d expect; at least it wasn’t what I had expected. The attendees seemed to be people who just wanted to make themselves less dependent on essential infrastructure. Both of my ‘off-grid’ workshops were full and many of the 100+ people who came to them, along with many others, stopped by my booth to discuss their plans.

We had made posters of the covers of our books, “The Sensible Prepper” and “Little House Off The Grid.” Little House Off the Grid features an aerial photo of our house taken by our neighbor Mike while he flew overhead in a helicopter. Mother Earth News always uses this photo when they post our off-grid story and I can’t tell you how many people stood at my table at Survival Expo and said, “That’s what I want to do!” You know sometimes it’s really nice to hear that. Especially in the middle of the summer heat when the weeds are winning the war in the garden. I can never be reminded enough that I’m ‘livin’ the dream.”

While there were guns and ammo dealers and potential customers, there was a real cross section of people I didn’t expect to see. I spoke to 4 doctors who were getting started on their path to independence. That made me take pause.

As so often is the case in my life multiple themes converged and I had just started reading a book by Michael Lewis called ‘Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World.” It’s his take on the economic collapse and a really great perspective on what went on in Iceland and Ireland and Greece and Germany. I kept reading stuff and saying “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought was going on.” It really seems amazing the mass delusion from 2000 to 2008 when people across the world thought this easy money bubble and growing wealth based on money for nothing would never end.

It didn’t end well and the only way we got out of the mess was by printing a whack of money. Magic money. “Quantitative Easing” we called it so it sounded more official. But it was still money for nothing. And now we’ve used up that trick and there’s really nothing left in the arsenal. So what do we do next time?

I asked a lot of the people who stopped at my table what had brought them to the show and many talked about this low level of anxiety they had that something was up. Something was amiss. The inflated stock market was artificial. Something was about to happen, like there was a glitch in the matrix.

Which brings me to my final intersecting and seemingly unrelated theme, which was “The Matrix”, the movie by the Wackowskis whose latest endeavor is “Sense 8” on Netflix. I won’t try and explain the series, but the opening theme is fabulous. It has that House of Card’s coolness factor with great music and fast changing images.

Every time I watch it I think of what a marvelous and diverse place this earth is. I think of how amazing the variety of geography and humanity is. And then I start thinking about how when I was born in 1959 the planet had 3 billion people. And then in 2000 the planet had 6 billion people. The population doubled in 4 decades. And now it’s 7 billion plus.

And this gets me thinking that’s an awful lot of people added in an awfully short amount of time. Each one of those individuals needs to be fed and kept warm and employed and there are just billions of transactions and interactions everyday. And there’s no template for the whole thing because we’ve never had this many people before. Not even close. Which begs the question, how can we possibly keep this all organized in any logical, smooth running way? Which was the other response I got when I asked people why they were at the expo. They would say things like, “Well with all the stuff you see going on in the world right now makes you kind of think that maybe we can’t keep a lid on it much longer.” I certainly hope they’re wrong, but I respect their point of view.

Which makes me wonder if someone has this all figured out, how it might all play out, and if governments might be thinking that things could conceivably go off the rails at some point and that they need a plan to deal with it. Heavens knows the American military seems to be awfully concerned about climate change and the wars that could erupt because of food shortages and water shortages and a myriad of other potential results from a warming planet.

And so I was pleased to be able to provide these individuals with a framework for a path they may want to take to have a “Plan B” for some of these scenarios. I’ve spent a lot of time working through the process here at Sunflower Farm and I think we’ve got it down fairly well. And when I suggested that they purchase my book, “The Sensible Prepper,” I had no problem, after listening to their concerns, suggesting it might we worth the investment on their part. I am, after all, a salesman. You don’t have to live off the grid to have a strategy for an unknown future. We know there will be turbulence. Heck, there’s often turbulence with just a couple of us interacting … ramp that up to 7+ billion and what else could you possibly expect?

I believe you should just put a lot of love out there into the universe and towards all the other travelers on spaceship earth as we navigate an exciting, challenging future. And have a “Plan B”.

 

Here are the links to the books I mentioned;

A Love Letter to My Grandson

 Dear Liam

Welcome to the world. Your mother had quite a time bringing you into this world, but we’re all very glad you’re here. I love you even though I haven’t met you yet. I hope to see you for the first time this weekend.

You were born at a most auspicious time (for me mostly, but I’m a male and like most males you’ll soon learn that you are the most important person in your life). You arrived just a few days after a federal election was called in Canada. The election date is October 19, which means that I’ll be extra busy for the next… what… 42 weeks? This lengthy campaign time helps the big established parties. I am a candidate for a smaller one called the Green Party. But that’s okay. No one is forcing me to run.

I hope you read this sometime when you’re here at the farm, surrounded by lush green forests, as I am today. I spent my day in my garden full of wonderful vegetables. I picked beans today for our CSA members. Lots of beans. I picked beans all day while your grandmother worried about your arrival. I worried too, but I still had to pick beans. If the place still looks great when you are old enough to appreciate  it, it will mean I have been successful in my campaigning. It will mean we have put a price on carbon and we are in the process of de-carbonizing our lives and the economy. This is a good thing.  A really, really important thing.

It’s important because as I write this the scientists who study the climate are very worried. They are seeing signs that we have to burn fewer fossil fuels because the climate is starting to behave erratically, like your grandfather often will when you visit.

I’m running for the Green Party because I love you, even though I haven’t held you yet. I want you to enjoy as marvelous a world as I have grown up in and enjoyed my whole life. I’m also running in honor of your great grandfather. Your mom called him “Papa.” Papa worked all day making steel and came home and gardened and spent a great deal of time working for the New Democratic Party (we’ll call them the orange party). He worked very hard for them and yet they never formed a government in Canada. But so many of the wonderful things we enjoy as Canadians … unemployment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, maternity leave, and universal health care, came about because of them. They just kept hammering at these issues until the other two bigger parties decided to get with the program and implement them. We’ll call them the Red and Blue parties, although if we’ve been assimilated into the United States by the time you read this, it will be the opposite of which party you think is which.

Your long, arduous arrival to this world was aided by midwives and a doula and doctors and nurses in a very expensive hospital. It didn’t cost your parents a penny. This is because Papa and his “orange party” managed to convince everyone else that if we shared the cost of healthcare, if we spread it out over the entire population, healthy and not healthy, rich and poor, we’d all be better off. Your great grandfather was awesome and I loved him very much too.

And so I’m going to be spending my time over the first few months of your life trying to convince people that we need to spread the pain of dealing with climate change out equally over everyone by putting a price on carbon. Our government will take that money and put it aside in its own bank account (like I’d like to set up for you if I had any money) and we’ll give everyone their share of that fee every quarter in a ‘dividend’ cheque. Ask your parents what that is. They can do with it what they like. I think most people will try and figure out ways to burn less carbon and the marketplace will help them, and we’ll all be better off.

Some people will say “But other bigger countries aren’t doing it, why should we?” It’s because ultimately all countries will de-carbonize and it’s way better to lead than to follow. That way we’ll be ready and we’ll create some awesome new jobs and technologies and people will say “I want to be like Canadians!”

My Green party is led by an awesome woman named Elizabeth May. The Green Party in the U.S. is led by an awesome woman named Jill Stein. They are very smart and work very hard and I hope they will lead our two countries soon. The job of the Green Party is very hard, but a great U.S. President, J.F.K., talked about taking the hard road (or one of his speech writers wrote) “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,‪ not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

This climate disruption thing is very much like that. We have to win. Maybe you’ll read this some day just after you get back from swimming down at Fifth Depot Lake. How awesome is swimming in a fresh water lake!

Rather than running around during an election, especially at this time of year when the farm is very busy, I’d rather sit and watch Netflix on the TV. It’s awesome. By the time you read this they will probably be beaming content into a microchip in your cerebral cortex to save on bandwidth. But they’ll be no Netflix for me for a while.

When you get older and come to the farm we’ll go on long hikes. And I’ll show you how to use a chainsaw (when your mom says you’re old enough). And we’ll build forts! Oh the forts we will build together. And I hope you come to love the peace and quiet here the way I do. And the birds and the trees. They’ll still be doing their carbon sequestration thing because The Green Party managed to get a price on fossil fuel carbon and the marketplace, and the people who interact in it daily, made better choices. I hope your great grandfather is proud of me, even if I don’t win this election. I hope you’re proud of me too. And I’ll stop trying just about the time you’re old enough to build forts. And then I’ll put all my efforts into helping you build the most awesomest fort ever!

Love,

Grandpa

p.s. Your grandmother will say stuff like “Oh your grandfather just wrote that blog for therapy.” Always believe your grandmother.

ppss. Sorry about not setting up a bank account for you. It’s because I don’t make any money running a CSA or running for the Green Party. But I have a box of hockey cards with your name on it! Just wait until we put them on the spokes of your bike.. they will make your bike sound so cool!

pppsss. When your grandmother bakes you a raspberry or blueberry pie…sure… she deserves hugs and kisses, but don’t forget who planted and weeded and pruned and watered and fertilized the dam plants for years.

ppppssss. Sorry I said ‘dam’. I hope you’re mother isn’t one of those mothers who won’t allow bad words around her kids. If she is, just remember I love you very much, even though I probably won’t talk much when you’re here (for fear of saying too many bad words!)

Baby

The “S” Word – Survivalist, That Is

I was invited to speak at an expo being organized this summer in Niagara Falls Ontario. It looks like a really cool event. It will focus on people interested in homesteading, on off-grid living, on being more prepared for emergency situations. The only challenge is the name of the event … it’s called “The Survival Expo.”

https://www.thesurvivalexpo.com/home.html

I discussed this in the blog where I mentioned how The Globe and Mail newspaper had called me for a comment on the ‘bunker’ found in the woods in Toronto. Could a survivalist have dug it? Well sure it could have been dug by a survivalist, but I spent a lot of time explaining how my book “The Sensible Prepper” was written to provide people with some basic strategies to cushion themselves for some of these extreme weather events and infrastructure problems that seem to be happening with more regularity. It wasn’t a survivalist book. But that’s how they described me, “author of a survivalist book.”

Oh, and it turns out the ‘bunker’ was just a man-cave dug by some young males practicing their newfound construction skills, as a place to chill out.

I guess I’m at the point where I’m just going to resign myself to the fact that people want to pigeon hole me as a survivalist. I suppose that’s not a bad thing since it seems to be fairly prevalent in the zeitgeist or mood of our time. The other day a movie popped up on Netflix called “These Final Hours.” I hadn’t heard of the movie but we watched it and enjoyed it. It was about a cataclysmic event that will end life on the planet and how the various characters deal with it. As the end of the movie Netflix suggests a bunch of other apocalyptic movies and there are lots of them. I find that it’s a topic that is often simmering under the surface of conversations throughout the diverse group of people that I talk to.

At “The Survival Expo” I will be talking about off-grid living. It has taken 18 years but our system works very well right now and I have lots of perspective on pitfalls to avoid and the correct approach to the whole thing. The organizer is setting up media interviews and people will hear ‘survivalist’ and expect me to be crouching in a bunker, dressed in camo, armed to the nines, ready for mayhem. I do not own any camo clothing, even though it is pretty standard attire in my part of the world. I believe you can buy a camo coloured reclining chair to watch TV in, but I’m not sure how likely it is that the deer or other prey would get as a close as peering in your windows to require camo inside your house.

A couple of things have recently helped me embrace my inner “prepper”. The first was the September 2015 “Harrowsmith Gardening Digest” that a friend gave to us after she was finished reading it (Yes, I have thoughtful friends like that. Thanks Heidi!) In it there is a 16-page article entitled “A Dozen Things We Have in Common With Preppers.” I’m assuming the ‘we’ to which the article refers is normal, everyday country dwellers. It includes things like gardening and seed saving and emergency preparedness. And I thought, all right, someone else is calling what country people do routinely… “prepping.” And that’s a good thing.

And then I bought a great 2011 hardcover book called “Cascadia’s Fault” (for $1.00!) discussing the likelihood of a very large earthquake off the west coast where the seabed is subducting under North America. It will be large quake and it could reach from Vancouver Island to California. It will cause massive damage and a massive tsunami, giving people on the west coast about 8 minutes to get to higher ground before the first of the 8 waves roll in. It was quite terrifying, but fascinating in how they identified the last time it caused a quake in 1700. It could happen today, or in 100 years but the data seems to suggest it happened about every 300 years, which means that it is due … well… anytime.

The author spends a great deal of time outlining all of the things I discuss in my book “The Sensible Prepper.” How to put together a bug-out bag. How to have an evacuation route. How to have a meet up point that all the family, including the kids are aware of in case the event happens while they’re at school and you’re at work. And really, who wants to sit the kids down and discuss what happens when a tsunami wrecks your town? I guess the alternative, which is to be dazed and confused and not have a meet up point is not a good option. Regardless I found the book very reinforcing. It basically says west coast emergency personal want you to take the kind of steps I recommend in the book. At which point I feel quite normal, and respectable and very un-‘survivalist’ic. (And if you don’t have my book yet it’s available here or from amazon. Be sure to use the links from this site!)

I am reluctantly embracing my inner survivalist and will go with the zeitgeist. It’s kind of tough at this time of the year when everything is so green and healthy and full of life and it just feels like every day is a miracle here at Sunflower Farm. At least I can watch a zombie movie tonight and be brought back to reality.

So for fun I’m sharing a video by a great Canadian artist named Corb Lund called “Getting’ Down the Mountain.” Apparently I’m not alone in thinking about peak oil, the vulnerability of fiat currency (or paper money) and some of these other issues I ramble on about in my books.

Sorry, he uses the “S” word in this video, but not “Survivalist”…the bad one you don’t want you’re kids saying.

A RED Letter Day in the BLUE Berry Patch

(Cam wrote this last night just so you understand why he is writing in the present tense.)

All those little inspirations you see on Facebook and read in those ‘don’t worry, be happy’ books always talk about how you need to enjoy every day. Every day is a new beginning. You could be struck by lightning tomorrow so live every day like it’s your last. It all sounds so easy.

This works until you realize that if it was your last day you’d eat about 5,000 calories of really unhealthy food, and if you ate like this every day and compound this over a period of time … say … every day … well, you would definitely increase the likelihood of each day being your last!

I do strive for this state of mind but it’s difficult. I find myself increasingly turning my thoughts to people in my life who have passed away and thinking “Mom/Brian/Ian/Ted (fill in the blank with someone from your life who has passed away) doesn’t have the option of doing what I’m doing, whether it’s weeding/cutting firewood/unloading manure … so I should enjoy it. It sounds somewhat morbid but it usually works. You focus on the individual and you become really grateful for doing what you’re doing.

I have been very light on blogs of late because the CSA is an enormous amount of work … all of the good kind. I’m pretty exhausted at the end of a day and don’t usually have the energy to even sit at my computer and type. But tonight I do. Today was a red-letter day. Tonight I am absolutely energized.

First off, it rained last night. We had gone a long time without rain and my sandy soil was starting to dry out. I wasn’t in the freaking out stage yet, and I had been staying ahead on watering, but nothing beats a rain. And the rain came when a front moved through which made today sunny but without the humidity, so it was marvelous.

Our friends John and Denice let me into their blueberry patch today. It isn’t officially open yet for the “you-pickers” since there aren’t a lot of ripe berries yet. But if I kept moving I was able to pick some for our members. It was sunny. It was comfortable. They don’t have bugs there. They have an osprey nest because they’re beside Stocco Lake and the birds call to each other all day long and I saw a parent land with a fish for a baby. And the blueberries were amazing.

blueberries

I am no longer a “Type A”, accumulation-focused individual when it comes to money … hence … why I am able to run a CSA, but I do love filling up a basket of blueberries and then dumping them into the pint containers that we give to our members. It’s delightful. I kept thinking of the alternatives. Driving to a city for work. Working in an industrial park. Sitting in a cubicle. Working on a computer. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, I am just grateful that some divine force in the universe diverged me from that path and onto one in which I spend my days growing food. And I continue to focus on the fact that if I have to do something to earn an income, what could be lower impact than providing people with food? Locally grown, organically grown food. People have to eat. This is simply the best way to do it. It’s really quite outstanding.

Once I got the blueberries done I zipped home and jumped right in to our raspberry patch. The raspberries are at their peak and I was able to pick a little clamshell package for everyone. This might not seem like a lot but when you realize how much work is involved with the picking, and growing things like raspberries, you are truly left to marvel at the produce sections of grocery stores. How there can be so much food, so cheap, is a truly wondrous thing.

I am never happier though than when I’ve produced something like this myself. I remember planting every section of the two main berry patches. I remember that fall I transplanted all those raspberry canes into the back section to boost it up and fill it in some more. I remember the many times I have slung horse manure onto the raspberry rows during the fall and winter. And the straw from the chicken coop. The soil in the raspberry patches that started out as pretty much sand gets better every year. Once in a while I’ll hit a cluster of berries and one will fall and I’ll crouch down to try and retrieve it. I keep another container near where I’m picking for these casualty berries that we feed to the chickens. OMG they love raspberries! They must be so good for them! And how great that must make their eggs!

When I’m down at the soil level of our raspberry patch I love how dark and cool it seems. And what a unique little ecosystem it is with bugs and microorganisms working to decompose material that falls into it. I know where the energy from raspberries comes from and it’s kind of a big deal. It’s the sun that also powers my house, and the soil.

By dinnertime I was bagged and we had all the blueberries and raspberries ready to go for tomorrow’s member pick up. Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I’ll start picking spinach. Michelle will start with lettuce and green onions. Tomorrow our members will also get radishes and snow peas and kale. Next week beans should be ready.

CSA box

In all the ways I have earned a living since I started working part-time in high school 40+ years ago, which includes about a ba-zillion jobs and careers and businesses that I’ve started and run, nothing compares to what I do now. Even after publishing some amazing books about sustainable living, there can simply be no greater satisfaction that loading up all our boxes with an enormous amount of healthy, organic, sustaining, earth friendly, body building, soul enriching produce that I’ve grown and picked.

I love what I do. My food is grown and picked with love. I’m not sure you can assume that about the grocery store stuff.

I think it’s time to raise the price.

Or lower it.

I don’t think that will change my job satisfaction.

 

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Michelle’s Note: From time to time I like to point out the “Tip Jar” on the righthand side of this website. Feel free to leave a little something if you enjoy this blog! We appreciate it!

 

 

Snakes Overhead

Sunflower Farm is crawling with snakes! They’re everywhere, and it’s awesome!

I love snakes. They eat things smaller than themselves, which generally are my garden pests, like mice, moles, voles, and grasshoppers.

Most of our snakes are garter snakes, which I am fine with. They don’t freak me out, although, unlike Michelle, I don’t go around picking them up. I pulled a square bale off the top of this pile recently and apparently garter snakes like this place because there were many of them. There was also a rogue non-garter snake in the pile but I’m not sure what kind it was.

1 lotsasnakes on hay

The snakes really seem to love our old hay that I have around for mulch. They like the big round bales and the small square ones, and the hay I have spread for weed suppression … they just love hay.

1garter and brown snake wrapped

I had this big, tough, rugby playing guy helping me move round bales (by hand) recently and every time we rolled one and the requisite 8 snakes slithered off he ran screaming. Okay, I exaggerate his reaction, but he did freak out. I, being the wise old tough guy didn’t flinch. And yes, they were harmless garter snakes so it’s not saying much.

1garters on hay3

We have some larger water snakes near the pond that seem a little more intimidating. They are a very dark color and seem kind of scary. And we have rat snakes that seem to be the size of pythons even though they aren’t, but I’m surprised they haven’t swallowed a cat yet.

The other day a garter snake was in the chicken pen and I was trying to chase it out before the “ladies” decided it was a good candidate for a game of ‘keep away’. It kept getting stuck in the chicken wire fence. It could get the first half of itself through until it hit the bulge in its middle, which I assume was a semi-digested mouse. Eventually it was able to contort itself enough to get through the fence.

I will admit to being briefly… mildly… freaked out when I see a milk snake. It has a unique marking pattern that looks like a rattlesnake. I know we don’t have any poisonous snakes in our part of the world, but that never occurs to me when a milk snake is nearby. It’s bad enough that it looks like a rattler, but they shake their tails and will be very aggressive and strike out at you if you disturb them.

I believe there is something in our DNA that instinctively tells us that we need to be cautious around snakes. Humans over the eons have clued in that encounters with these things can end very badly for the two-legged ones. I tell myself that when I see a milk snake. “It’s okay to be scared Cam, it’s in your DNA. It’s primal. It’s not your fault.”

This week I was weeding the glass greenhouse (read about it here) which has a about a million places for a snake to get in and out, especially up and around the storm windows on the roof that rest on the old barn foundation wall. After walking back and forth a number of times I eventually stood up and came eye to eye with a milk snake, coiled over a beam. Clearly it was conspiring for the best time to drop on my head, bite me and render me paralyzed while it figured out the best way to ingest me. Or maybe it’s a constrictor.

1milk snakes in glasshouse

Regardless, I decided it made a great photo up there so I walked back to the house and got the camera. After the lens had defogged from the heat and humidity in the greenhouse I realized there were two of them, clearly plotting to combine their resources to take me out.

I gave them lots of clearance and finished up in the greenhouse, perhaps faster than originally intended, and they were gone when I was back there later.

I am always grateful for the volume and variety of wildlife at our place, especially amphibians and reptiles. I know they can be challenged by a changing climate, so it’s always comforting to see them thriving here … as long as they’re not dropping from the ceilings of greenhouses onto my back while I’m weeding … apart from that it’s awesome.

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How Did You Do It?

I just read a great article in The Guardian about how scientists sometime use science fiction to help them find direction in their research. It also talked about how some of the best science fiction writers were in fact scientists, like Isaac Asimov.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite movies of all time, which is “Contact.” Jodie Foster played the main character and it is based on a book by Carl Sagan. I’m old enough to remember seeing Carl Sagan on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and talking about the “billions and billions” of stars. Johnny then mocked him about that line for weeks afterwards, in a fun kind of way.

I took my two daughters (then aged 13 and 11) to see Contact because Jodie Foster plays such a strong role as a scientist determined to make contact with life on other planets. The three of us thought it was so great we dragged Michelle to it a few nights later. I don’t think I’ve ever paid to see a movie in a theatre twice, other than “Contact.”

Michelle recently began using our daughter’s old iPhone and one morning she showed me some video she had just shot and posted on Instagram just panning around the house. The sound of the birds was outstanding. The quality of the video was amazing. All from a box in the palm of her hand that I’m sure has significantly more processing power than NASA had to put a person on the moon. And I thought about that big honking video camera I used to lug around when our daughters were small children that made me feel like I was a news cameraperson because it was so big. Now when we watch those videos we cringe at the poor quality… especially compared to what an iPhone produces.

As I read The Guardian and other publications and see what incredible technological feats humans are up to, I am constantly reminded of a comment by Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, in the movie. A news reporter asks her what she would ask an extraterrestrial, if she met one and could only ask one question. She replies, “Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?”

It is a profound concept, written by one of those great minds like Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, who really nailed how the future would play out.

We have these marvelous machines, this amazing technology, we’ve mapped the human genome, somehow we’ve been able to feed 7 billion people, we have backup cameras on our cars and smart phones we can talk to, and video conference with our loved ones on the other side of the world, but still, somehow, we seem to be on a collision course with our mortality by ignoring what the scientists who invented all this cool stuff we use everyday are telling us about climate change.

I don’t believe there is a technological fix to the mess we’re making of our atmosphere. I don’t believe we’ll figure out a way to remove all the extra CO2 that we’ve pumped out, and I don’t believe we can geo-engineer ourselves out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how a species that is so darn smart can be so darn stupid.

I think those of us in the developed world simply need to live with less. Less energy. Less travel. Less stuff. And with all the money we save from this, we need to make ourselves energy independent using renewables and stop giving our money to companies that use fossil fuels to make our heat and power. Michelle and I have done it and it’s pretty awesome.

But then again, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe they’ll be a last minute “Hail Mary” fix and everything will be all right. I have to admit in the last month there has been a huge change in the amount of press climate change has been getting in the media. As I go through the day-old and week-old papers I get from town for free there is a huge amount of coverage on how putting a price on carbon in Canada is a given. It’s just a question of when and how. Angela Merkel at the G7 pushed to have western economies de-carbonized by 2050 but certain countries got scared and pushed it back to 2100. And then there was Pope Francis’s long-awaited encyclical on the environment, in which he warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the world does not act on climate change. So that’s a great thing. I mean, he’s the Pope!

Regardless, Carl Sagan knew the right question to ask that other civilization from another planet. “How Did You Do It?” And best of all, he left the response ambiguous. It’s never really answered.

This always reminds me of a great quote from Gilda Radner one of the original Saturday Night Live cast members, whose character Rosanne Rosanadana always ended one of her rants with “It’s always something.” (I provide this for our younger readers since SNL started 40 years ago and I watched it from the first show … I’m so old!)

Gilda Radner said, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

Pavarotti of the Woods

I am an amazing singer. This is an undisputed fact. In my head, when I sing, I sound great. And I sing quite a bit. Out loud, that is.

I remember years ago reading a news report on a study that found that people who sing are happier. It releases endorphins and all those great things. So I find I sing outside an increasing amount. Our nearest neighbor is 4 kms away so they haven’t complained. The woods that surround us are still full of wildlife, so I haven’t frightened them off apparently*. And I don’t mean that I hum, I mean singing at the top of my lungs kind of singing. The kind that makes you think that maybe you’re losing it, which just makes it all the more awesome.

There should have been embarrassing moments, but frankly I’m not embarrassed about it. Like when the courier truck sneaks in and Jasper the Wonder Dog is asleep at the switch or sees the intruder but forgets to bark and so I come around the corner of the house wailing at the top of my lungs. Whoops! Never mind. Just ignore that guy, where do I sign?

In the summer we occasionally have cyclists ride by on the road because we have an awesome road that’s in good shape and doesn’t have a lot of vehicular traffic. So it’s always weird to suddenly hear voices on the road. No one has booed me yet.

My song choice is related to my interest in music for the past 40 years and there rarely is an event that doesn’t lead to singing.

Recently I was in the barn foundation where I have been storing my scrounged glass doors and windows, which I have used to build greenhouses. Our back screen door handle is broken, so I went to retrieve one from a salvaged door. Can you guess the song that I sang as I did this?

“A screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves… like a vision she dances across the floor as the radio plays, Roy Orbison singin’ for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only…” Okay, you got it (if you’re 50) it’s Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. It terrifies me how many lyrics to songs I know. Do you have any idea of how much of my gray matter is wasted with stuff like this? If I could dump it all I could probably cure cancer in about an hour. Although I watched that 3 part series on PBS on cancer recently and it seems that a lot of people with a lot of brainpower have been working on it and they aren’t there yet, so maybe not.

One recent morning there was a truly Canadian event, so our American readers might not get this song. A floatplane flew fairly low overhead, probably to land on Fifth Depot Lake, 3 miles from here. So, can anyone guess the song that popped into my head? Tragically Hip? Anyone, anyone…

“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer
He was on a fishing trip
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another till nineteen sixty two
The year he was discovered
I stole this from a hockey card
I keep tucked up under …”

Sorry, this is probably obscure to people who aren’t Hip or hockey fans. And yet somehow, planting peas I can hear a floatplane fly over and feel obligated to sing this song … over and over and over … “My Fifty Mission Cap.”

Here’s the video if you want to sing along;


The other day Michelle went thrift store shopping with our neighbor Deb. Deb calls it “Goodwill Hunting.” How clever a name is that? So that morning I couldn’t stop myself from singing,

“I wear your granddad’s clothes
I look incredible
I’m in this big *ss coat
from that thrift shop down the road …”

It’s my new favorite song by Macklemore called “Thrift Shop.” It has the best lyrics ever!

This is a fun video, but DO NOT watch it if you’re offended by bad language. It’s really bad!

Years ago I got a load of rotten hay that had hemp seeds in it. So now I get hemp plants growing in my raspberries. I try and pull them out but like all weeds, they always win. So there’s a song I sing that goes like this;

“I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
And I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico
I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road …”

I can sing this Steve Earle song all day.

Right now I work in the greenhouses first thing in the morning, before the sun gets too high and heats them up. I take the walkie-talkie so that Michelle can let me know when breakfast is ready. We have a new game we play now where we try and come up with breakfast related songs, for her to sing when breakfast is ready. How about this one… “Don’t you forget about me…” It’s the theme song from the movie, “The Breakfast Club” by Simple Minds.

The ramp that runs up to the top of the barn foundation, where farmers many decades ago would run hay up to the barn, has been taken over by ‘stinging nettle.’ This is an amazing perennial plant (weed) which helps build the soil but which, you guessed it, stings unbelievably when you touch it. I wear long pants and work boots so I only encounter it when I’m weeding or harvesting stuff and miss the ones that sneak into a row. Years ago when I played guitar I liked a Neil Young song, which I have modified. Now I sing, ”Oh to live on, Stinging Nettle (should be ‘Sugar’) Mountain, with the barkers and the coloured balloons…” I’m constantly going up and down this area to the rain barrels that I use to irrigate the greenhouse, so I sing this one a lot.

It’s been years since we watched “The Sopranos”, but since we’re surrounded by hunt camps, and hunters periodically shoot guns… either to hunt or for target practice… I tend to sing the theme song “Woke up this morning… got myself a gun” a lot.

There you have it, a mindless blog post about a mind full of mindless lyrics that no one (except Michelle periodically… oh and Jasper the Wonder Dog constantly) gets to hear. Watch for concert ticket details here soon.

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* In fact on Sunday morning we discovered moose tracks all over the vegetable garden. On Monday morning I got up at 5:30 a.m. and happened to look out the back window. The moose was standing at our back door! I managed to snap this photo through a window. Michelle took the photo of the footprint. The moose walked through a row of newly germinated carrot seeds, among other things! This is only the 3rd time in 17 years here that we have seen a moose.

moose on the loose

mooseprint

Best Workshop Results … EVER

We had our spring workshop at the end of April and it was awesome. I find that I enjoy these workshops more and more. It’s not that I ever didn’t enjoy them; it’s just that as we refine the workshop I spend less time worrying about getting through everything and more time getting to know the cool people who come to them.

This spring we had international guests! They came from Baltimore, which is quite a hike from our place and it was very flattering. It’s also fun for us Canadians to have Americans at events like these so we can give measurements in metric to trick them … “No, I said 17 kilometers an hour not miles!” or gloat about how having our Thanksgiving in October is just so much better than having it at the end of November only 4 weeks before Christmas. Like come on, who thought that up?

I really like having lunch and asking our guests to introduce themselves and share their background and why they came (if they feel like it). Dave, our international guest, mentioned that he works for Agora Financial, a financial publisher that I have used as a resource for years. It was cool because Dave had spotted some of Agora’s books on my bookshelf. One of the principals in Agora is Bill Bonner whose books I have enjoyed and in fact I quoted in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times.” I remember specifically emailing them to ask permission because it was a fairly long quote, but one that I thought was quite brilliant.

I think it sums up how I feel about fiat currency and where we might be headed in the future. I’m hoping Mr. Bonner won’t mind if I quote it again here. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to read his book, “Empire of Dept.” http://agorafinancial.com/about/our-books/

Once people were able to create money at virtually no expense, no one ever resisted doing it to excess. No paper currency has ever held its value for very long. Most are ruined within a few years. Some take longer.”

Some paper currencies are destroyed almost absentmindedly. Others are ruined intentionally. But all go away eventually. By contrast, every gold coin that was ever struck is still valuable today, most have more real value than when they first came out of the mine. – William Bonner. Empire of Debt.

It is a simple and brilliant concept. If it speaks to you, you may want to become more familiar with Agora’s books and services. It is hard for many people to accept this concept that those paper dollars that are no longer backed by gold could one day lose their value, dramatically. But history has shown us that this is always the case. And hence, my emphasis on hard assets in my books, along with precious metals.

While Dave from Baltimore was up here at Sunflower Farm, the event leading all the newscasts was the rioting in Baltimore, not far from his home, as it turned out.

Dave is the editor of Agora’s “5 Minute Forecast,” which I’ve been reading for many years. http://agorafinancial.com/publication/5min/ It was like having a rock star at Sunflower Farm! A financial rock star!

Dave wrote about coming to the workshop a few days later. That was even cooler!

http://agorafinancial.com/2015/04/27/a-surreal-feeling-of-helplessness/

It was quite amazing because there was a whole new group of people exposed to our website and our books. And when I see how accurate Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin have been in some of their commentary about how things unfold financially over the years, I think it’s a really good idea for our readers to be familiar with their information.

In the meantime, Michelle and I got to meet some more great people. They got to discover that living off the grid today is well, pretty normal. Indoor plumbing including flushing toilets! Television. A fridge and freezer. High speed internet. Pretty typical for a North American home. Oh, but no electricity bill. But really, who doesn’t love their electricity bill?

If you are interested in attending our next workshop visit http://www.cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm/october-24-2015 for more details and to register.

Here’s a link to the book I mentioned;

 

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Special thanks to our thoughtful and generous readers A.M.S. and G.B. for their recent donations and to R.H. for his monthly contribution to the tip jar!

 

 

Hey Kids I Just Planted Your Inheritance! Hope You Like Raspberries

I kind of talked about this in a previous post, so we could call this Part Two of the Great Raspberry Saga. And a few years back I blogged about our investment in high bush blueberry plants. I believe I referred to those as my children’s inheritance. They should outlast me, which means that by the time they are in their prime of production, my daughters and their families should be enjoying the fruit of our labor, as it were.

I planted the blueberries in a really sandy part of the garden and they seem to be growing in suspended animation. Man, are they slow! I dump manure on them, coffee grounds by the garbage bag and I’m even putting sulfur on them periodically to make the soil really acidic. (Berries like an acidic soil.) Meanwhile, they grow in slow motion.

Raspberries on the other hand have always done well here. We have a traditional cultivar, which produces fruit right after strawberry season is over and the raspberries last about 3 weeks or so, early in July. This winter Michelle and I decided to invest in some ever-bearing or fall-bearing canes which should give us berries in August and September.

We ordered them from “Strawberry Tyme Farms” and by the time we paid for shipping it made most sense to order 100 canes.

So off and on for the last month I’ve been preparing their home. I took a spot in the paddock with no topsoil. It is sand. I turned over the sod that was there and put in three 75-foot rows. Then I started filling each trench with topsoil that I hauled from a 2,700 feet vertical drop, down by the barn foundation. Okay it’s not quite that deep, but it’s a big uphill haul in the wheelbarrow. In the first row I put pots of raspberries I had transplanted last fall from one of our existing plantings.

I’ve also been rounding up excess hay to kill any grass between rows. Plus I had some extra manure put aside to top dress them with. I want the raspberries to feel very welcome here. I want them excited about their new home. I want them to feel pampered, because I have high expectations from them.

The canes arrive bare root via courier. Then it was a made dash to get them into the ground and watered. With the dry spring we’ve been having it meant lots of hand watering with cans from the rain barrels and then on to drip irrigation to really give them a boost. (Luckily we had a nice dumping of rain here on Saturday afternoon and into Sunday as well. It seems weird to have been hoping for rain as I read about what was happening in Texas and other parts of the continent.)

bareroot raspberries

I am very excited about our new raspberries. They don’t look like much now, but give them a few years and I expect some big things from them. Our two existing rows continue to produce really well. They also continue to spread like the plastic bloom in the ocean. You are supposed to do a number of things with raspberries.

Many people suggest you cut them right back in the fall. I do not do that. I periodically prune out the dead canes, but like so many of my best intentions in the fall, I often just don’t get around to everything on my TO DO list. Our friend John Wise, from whom we buy our organic strawberries, spoke this winter at our local Grassroots Growers event about perennial fruits. He made some derogatory comment about the need to keep the rows in check or they just meander and take over and you basically are a Second Class farmer if you don’t keep them under control. Mine are out of control, I do not follow any guidelines or protocols on them, I do not do anything I’m supposed to do and yet each year we get buckets of awesome raspberries. So for now I have no intention of changing my strategy.

With the new ever bearing raspberries I may try an experiment and cut down part of one of the new rows. We’ll see. I have long had a philosophy of not fixing things that aren’t broken, or at least that are working. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime I hope my daughters are excited about their inheritance. I have few things to leave to them. There is no pot of money, just our 150 acres. There is no great step forward in science I have participated in. Just small-scale organic farming. I am politically active in a party that has yet to hold to power in Canada. Hopefully that will change this fall. But I’ll remain active regardless because getting a price on carbon is too important.

And in my small way I hope things like the time and effort and money Michelle and I put into raspberries are a great leap forward. We will fill up many containers with them and store them in the freezer. This is after we have provided most to our CSA members. They will stay frozen in our solar-powered (because we’re off-grid) freezer to be used all fall and winter and spring in baking and desserts. And the pies. Oh the pies. Could there be a better legacy to leave than to have hauled 250 wheelbarrows full of topsoil to a new patch of raspberries to allow us to bake raspberry pies?

Hey Michelle, you edit these blogs before you post them so I know you’re reading this. I saw one more container of raspberries down at the bottom of the freezer last time I was there. What do you say? Is today a pie day? Lots of sunlight. We can use the electric toaster oven. The solar-powered-electric-toaster oven. To bake a zero-carbon pie. A zero-carbon raspberry pie. Come on; let’s make a political statement. Let’s bake a pie. Okay, how about you bake a pie and I’ll eat it for the cause!

planting the new patch

cam in front of new raspberry patch

cam at back of new raspbery patch

That was a Waste of a Month!

Have you ever watched a boxing match and seen a fighter take a first punch then a second one right away? Or a fight scene in a movie where a guy gets punched then kicked in the gut on the way down. That’s kind of how I was feeling on Saturday morning. Well, not that way physically, but mentally.

This has been a very difficult spring to run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where we grow a basket of produce each week for our members. As is the new normal we seemed to go from winter to summer in one fell swoop and I spent much of the early part of May in full summer heat wave mode. I quickly learned to keep a bottle of water handy to try and keep myself somewhat cool. Those cool, wet days of spring when I would experience frozen fingers while planting peas never happened. Instead it was hot and the rain didn’t come and I so was devoting too much of each day to watering, rather than planting.

First I water an area with watering cans to get the soil at least damp enough to plant, and then I set up all of my drip irrigation systems. This is a big job that I’m mentally prepared for in July, not May.

And the rains did not come.

And my soil got dryer and dryer and on one cloudy day I felt it spit … twice, but no moisture fell from the sky. My rich wonderful ‘soil’ from early in the spring has turned to dust.

In my growing area the Victoria Day long weekend (usually around the 23 – 24th of May) is the traditional date that most people feel comfortable planting most of their stuff. We have usually passed the chance of frost. I know that we will continue to have cool evenings so I’ve learned to only plant peppers and tomatoes in the greenhouses, and I won’t put the sweet potatoes in until June, but traditionally the other plants have been safe.

Last Friday night (May 22) the forecast was for the chance of frost. The ‘risk’ of frost in outlying areas, which usually means me. I’d like to cover everything up with tarps or sheets but I’m growing for 30 members and so it’s just not possible. Plus, everything that is up now is generally pretty frost tolerant. The alliums like garlic and onions are very hardy. Spinach doesn’t mind cool weather. I’ve had radishes handle really cool nights and I thought I’d be fine with the lettuce that was up.

I was wrong. When I got up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning it was -2°C, or 28°F. The thing I like about using the Celsius scale is that zero degrees Celsius is the point where water freezes. So for garden plants, anything below that is a bad thing.

After 35 years of growing food, 20 years of it fairly intensely, nature proved to me once again that she bats last, and that nothing was safe. Basically everything got nipped. My peas. My radishes. My spinach. My lettuce. Then I noticed many of my onions had been kicked in the teeth. They might still have one stalk standing, but many of their big outer leaves had toppled over.

pea frost damage

Frost-damaged pea shoots

pea patch 2105

My pea patch

And then I looked at my garlic. A big chunk of the patch had taken a huge hit. Every green leaf you see on a garlic stalk represents one layer of skin under the ground enveloping the head. Many of the outside leaves had dropped. A number of whole stalks were now flat. Now that’s weird. Garlic is extremely cold tolerant. I plant it in October and November. Often there will shoots start before the snow covers it. Then as soon as the snow melts in late March and April, it’s away to the races. It’s off! It’s indestructible. If it can handle snow and April frosts, surely a late May frost is going to be a walk in the park for it. Clearly not. We’re just not dealing with weather the way we used to. Clearly it’s broken.

Garlic frost damage

Garlic frost damage

Then as I walked the property I started noticing other things that got hit. All the sumacs got nuked. Sumacs! They are like large dandelions … I can’t stop them from spreading. All the ferns around our front door. You know, ferns, that live in the woods, the things you see in fossils because they’ve survived a ba-zillion years. But not this frost. I have some mid-sized black walnut trees. All their leaves and shoots are dead. This frost clearly eats shoots and leaves.

Sumac trees

Sumac trees

We had an ash tree growing next to the house that I meant to take down years ago because it was too close to the house. Well, in fact, it is up against the house. I don’t have to worry about taking it down. Mother Nature did it for me.

This spring has been a huge challenge. The heat and the lack of moisture have been brutal. But at least I had some stuff started and could now focus on everything else. Only now I can’t. I’m back to square one. I have to replant everything. Prior to the frost at least I felt I had a bit of wind in my sails with some stuff started that I only had to worry about irrigating. Now that months’ worth of work is wasted and I have to plant, everything… NOW. Some it of ‘again’.

I decided to focus on running a CSA because I really feel it’s one of the lowest impact ways one can earn a living. We all have to eat. The more local the better. I also felt it helped me really address the challenges of growing food in a climate change challenged world. That sounds great, until you walk about your fields of what was once soil but now looks like a desert, to look at your recently emerged, formerly healthy green peas that have been turned to brown mush by a freakishly late killing frost.

Some days driving down to Kingston to work in a factory or a warehouse selling stuff looks pretty good.

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OUR FALL 2015 WORKSHOP
Our next workshop here at Sunflower Farm will take place on Saturday, October 24th. We call it The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop. Covers just about everything doesn't it? For more information and to register, use the pull down menu "Visit Sunflower Farm" where you will find a tab for "Upcoming Worshops."
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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their business, Aztext Press. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is a sought after speaker for conferences and keynotes and has motivated thousands to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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