The Zombie Apocalypse Comes to Sunflower Farm

This was a title suggested by a blog reader for a past blog so I decided to trot it out again officially.

For much of my life I was unaware of the cultural phenomenon that is zombies. Then a few years ago my daughter suggested we watch the movie “28 Days Later” in which a guy wakes up in the hospital after the zombie apocalypse and he’s one of the few humans left. Later we watched “Zombieland” with Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone and it is a totally awesome movie, except for all the blood and guts, but since they’re zombie blood and guts, it’s well, easier to handle.

Then someone suggested I watch “Shawn of the Dead” which is a take off on “Dawn of the Dead” and it’s an awesome movie too. I kept reading about Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” and what a financial disaster it turned into, but I really like it. I have to admit it wasn’t until I started watching it that I finally realized the “Z” stood for zombies. Duh. Seriously Cam? You hadn’t thought that one through? Nope, I can be a vacant as a … well .. as a zombie sometimes.

One of our daughters suggested “The Walking Dead” TV series about the zombie apocalypse and it’s not bad either. Zombies are everywhere! What’s with that?

In the olden days zombies seem to just walk around slowly, in a daze, with their arms outstretched, and it was easy to run away from them or hit them with baseball bats and things. Now, like everything in our society, zombies are extreme. They’re fast. They’re smart. Those zombies in World War Z run like cheetahs! How can you escape zombies that can run faster than you? Apparently you need superior intelligence, which is kind of in keeping with our current false reliance on technology. Zombie attack? Oh, there’s an App for that.

So you have to wonder what’s with the obsession with zombies? I know humans have always liked to be scared, but this seems like more than that. I sense that many people use “zombie apocalypse” as an anachronism for something more that just zombies. I think many people believe that we are vulnerable to systemic shock these days and zombies are just the personification of that … although I guess I can’t say personification and should say zombification of this belief. I think this feeling is something new to many people today. If you lived in the 1930s you knew what a system in collapse looked like. If you lived in Europe in 1913 or 1938 you knew that an apocalypse was coming and that it was going to be a big deal. Heck even people in the ‘50s and ‘60s expected the nuclear apocalypse at any minute. So the darkness a the edge of town has been around for much of the early to mid 20th century, but not so much since the 70’s.

Times have been good in my life. When I was teenager we seemed to have dodged the nuclear war bullet. AIDS hadn’t hit yet. No one had heard of climate change. And the thought of a global economic collapse like 2008 just wasn’t on the radar. My world was just cars and music and me, me, me.

Hopefully this time around we’ll dodge the bullet again and everything will turn out just fine. Interesting that gun stores sell “zombie killer ammo.” And websites that offer printable shooting targets include zombie targets along with the typical bull’s-eye ones. How I know this I will not say. But I will say I do have a baseball bat beside my bed. I actually had one before I’d entered the zombie culture, but now it doesn’t look so bad. Our solar domestic hot water tank is in our bedroom so when we have workshops people probably notice my bat beside the bed. But now I can be all like “Oh that? , that’s for the zombies of course” and people are all like ‘oh, yes, correct, for the zombies.”

Our dog Jasper hates zombies. Well he hasn’t encountered one in person (in zombie) yet, but I know he would not like them. He is very tuned into the smallest sounds or disturbances in the force. It’s usually when I’m sitting reading and he’ll hear something outside or we’re visited by one of the spirits that has lived in our house since it was built in 1888 and his bark is deafening and seriously, the fact that my heart hasn’t exploded yet as I fall off the couch is a miracle. He really scares the stuffing out of me. And this is good. It’s good training for the zombie apocalypse.  You always have to be vigilant for an impending zombie attack. Jasper the Wonder Dog is ready. That first wave of zombies doesn’t stand a chance. By the second wave I’ll have my baseball bat, so we should be fine here at Sunflower Farm.

The Zombie Apocalypse indeed. How quaint. Bring it on!

I Am Happy

The Key to Happiness in 1,000 words or less

I am happy.

This is a pretty trivial statement.

It is also a most profound statement.

And I guess I could just leave it that. I have found the key to happiness, thanks for stopping by. The end.

But instead, like the man on the mountain I shall share the key to happiness, or at least, what worked for me. Plus, I’m verbose so why keep it short, especially when readers often come for gems of wisdom, or an opportunity to roll their eyes and say what a waste of 3 minutes that was. So I shall try to explain how I came to this mundane/profound conclusion.

It happened recently one CSA delivery morning as I was washing lettuce. I know, not a particularly profound activity to be engaged in when this bolt of spiritual inspiration hit. I was not meditating on a mountain. I was not jumping off cliffs opening my parachute just before hitting the ground. Nope, just washing lettuce.

I believe I have generally been a happy soul, but like everyone I go through ups and downs. It’s hard to be well versed in climate change trends and not get down sometimes.

I have been much happier since moving to our 150 acres of paradise in the woods 16 years ago. And much less angry. People miss ‘Angry Cam.’

On the particular morning of my realization the loons were being quite chatty, with one on 6th Depot Lake north of our place calling out to one on West Lake near our house. It’s like “You come here… no you come here…” There was no sound, no wind, just the trees and the call of the loon.

And then a vehicle drove by around 6:30 am. And I wondered where my neighbor worked and how long their commute would be. I wondered if they watched the clock until quitting time when they could finally start to live their life. I wondered if they had to drive on Highway 401, which seems to be in a constant state of closure from accidents recently.

I recalled maintaining our electronic publishing customers in the Greater Toronto Area for many years after we moved here and the stress involved with the periodic commute back to the big city to visit them. We gave most of these clients up in 2007 to go full time into book publishing, just about the same time the book industry collapsed in 2008. I recalled the scramble to replace our income from books, which now has tapered off completely.

There I was, up to my elbows in water, washing leaf lettuce which requires a great deal of time right now to remove all of the brown leaves caused by all of the moisture earlier this season. I am happy to painstakingly try and make each weeks lettuce as pretty as possible because I am infinitely grateful to our CSA members whose support allows us to earn a modest income from this little outcrop of marginal soil amongst the rocks of the Canadian Shield. And I am grateful to have a wife who was prepared to leave suburgatory and take a flying leap of faith going off the grid at a time when there was no book you could read on how it was supposed to work. I’m grateful we met Bill Kemp and convinced him to write that book.

Every day I am in awe of the wonder of living a lifestyle that is similar to everyone else in North America except that ours is powered by the sun and wind. I do not flip on a light switch or turn on a tap and watch water come out that I don’t wonder at the miracle of it all.

I am grateful to have healthy children and a healthy wife. I am grateful to live in a country where you can actually have Green Party candidates get elected and where 50 years ago the United Auto Workers and others decided to fight for a universal healthcare system, rather than one that just benefited their members.

I am grateful for every morning that I stretch my body ready for the marathon of gardening that awaits me, and am still relatively pain free.

I am grateful for the incredible luxury that is my one cup of coffee at breakfast, which accompanies the eggs our happy, happy (happy!) chickens provide us with.

As I wash lettuce I am very aware of the fact that there is absolutely nowhere else on earth I would rather be. I am also very aware that there is absolutely nothing else on earth I would rather be doing. There are times where the 12-hour days that I am now working, 7 days a week, seem a bit much. But I’ll spend 20 minutes with a book on a Sunday morning only to realize that keeping the beans weeded gives me more pleasure right now. Reading is becoming a wintertime activity.

To be happy I think you need to be in the place you were meant to be, doing what you meant to do. And it should have meaning.

And you should be grateful for the peculiar set of circumstances that lead you to be where you are at that moment.

I have no real retirement plant, no real idea of how much longer I can keep up this pace, no real idea of how much the population of the planet can keep growing and how much more carbon our oceans and atmosphere can handle.

And many days I just don’t care. I’m here this morning doing what I love and doing my best to have a marginal impact on the planet.

The asteroid that the scientists missed may be about to impact and I have no regrets. I have done everything in my life I hoped to do, and right now every day I do what I love. I am grateful. I am fulfilled. I am happy.

* * * * * * *

Michelle’s Note: As I edited this blog post, I couldn’t help but hear this. Warning! It gets stuck in your head on a continuous loop!


 

 

 

 

The World’s Greatest Most Totally Awesome “How to Start and Operate a Successful CSA” Workshop

One recent Tuesday as I was pulling out of the driveway with the truck fully loaded with boxes of organic berries and produce from our garden I had an epiphany. Last year we had ramped up from 12 members our first year to almost 40 members, and too often as I pulled out of the driveway back then my feeling was one of panic. Something must be wrong. I’ve forgotten something. The box isn’t full enough. Members will be disappointed. We worked very hard to avoid this outcome and judging by our year-end survey our members were by and large very happy with the product. There were things they would have liked more of and things they would have liked less of, but with 40 members and 40 varieties of berries and vegetables, it would be hard to please all of the people all of the time. We analyzed the feedback and tried to improve for this year. Continuous quality improvement! More internal systems to ensure everything is working. I sound sooo corporate!

This feeling of contentment and calm that I experienced on a recent Tuesday is a great accomplishment.  (I’d use the word ‘Zen’ here but Michelle says I overuse it, so pretend I’m not using the word ‘Zen’ even though I really want to.) Growing this variety of food on this scale really takes a lot of skill and great planning. Michelle is without question the brains of the operation. She coordinates with our members, starts all of the seeds that we later transplant, figures out which boxes go where, then picks and washes and packs and organizes the boxes each delivery day. She gives me a clipboard and tells me where to deliver and to whom and off I go, just like a vegetable delivery guy. I do stay focused on the growing side and this division of labor works well.

Michelle and I have spent many years sharing the knowledge we have acquired. We started speaking at conferences on the environment and homeschooling a quarter century ago. I started workshops on renewable energy and sustainable living at community colleges and conferences throughout the province after we moved off the grid 15 years ago.

A decade ago we convinced our friend Bill Kemp to write “The Renewable Energy Handbook, the book that we wished we’d had when we moved off the grid. (This book is now out of print but we actually just came into a case of the second edition if you don’t already have it in your library!) Then we wrote a number of books and produced some DVDs that allowed us to share what we’d learned with a broader market.

So with this background in information dissemination we’re launching our latest endeavor, The World’s Greatest Most Totally Awesome “How to Start and Operate a Successful CSA” Marathon Workshop. As always we are adverse to using hyperbole in describing our projects.

I am totally over-the-moon about putting this one together! First, because I know I’ll meet some awesome people who come to take the workshop. Second, as blog readers will be aware, I believe growing food sustainably is THE most important work you can do. Yes, curing horrible diseases and figuring out how to suck carbon out of the atmosphere is important, but everyone needs to eat and if you grow the food well you can provide good health to people and the planet.

We decided to offer the workshop in January to give me time to prepare the material. It’s also a ‘down’ month for vegetable farmers and just about the time that CSA farmers should be starting some seeds indoors.

I realize it’s unlikely that this workshop will be of interest to our regular blog readers. It’s a fairly targeted specific potential market. Since we assume people will be coming a distance everyone will stay at our place. So it will be a great week of learning from sun up to sun down (and beyond since it’s January).

We also decided to condense it into one week. I think this will be kind of a cool team-building thing. Sorry, that sounds so corporate I even regret writing it. It will be a great way to build a network of support to get everyone through his or her start up years. I know that thinking about starting a CSA is a daunting concept. I believe having a network of like-minded people to help you through those first years will be critical to people.

Michelle and I have followed the evolution of CSAs since we ran an organic vegetable co-op out of our garage in Burlington 25 years ago. CSAs come and go. Often young passionate people start them but get overwhelmed with the work involved and the challenges. That’s unfortunate. One of the things that our modern food production system does is make it difficult for young people without a lot of capital to get started. You need money and/or lots of credit. And when you and your bank buy your big tractor you’re going to need a lot of fossil fuels to power your operation, and probably treated seeds and things that ensure you get your return on investment.

That model has worked marvelously well up until now and just at the time when farmers are getting bigger and there are fewer of the them producing our food, we reached the peak of easy to find and extract oil. One more credit crunch like 2008 and the whole model gets shaky which is why it’s so important for there to be young farmers growing on a smaller, less fossil fuel and credit intensive scale to pick up the slack.

And we hope our workshop will provide a few more of those farmers with the skills and tools required to make a go of it.

If you know of someone who might be interested please send him or her a link to our workshop information (http://sunflowerfarm.ca/how-to-start-and-operate-a-successful-csa-workshop/) . And when the workshop is complete I’m going to try some of the stuff I learned running for the Green Party. I’m thinking about setting up regular Sunday night live online video chats (I’m sure they have a more techy name) where everyone can ask each other questions and bounce ideas off each other. I got some of my best materials for All Candidates Meetings during those video meetings.

I really think this is going to be an awesome thing. Michelle keeps rolling her eyes when I come up with new elements to it, which means I’m on track! And there’s only 6 months ‘til it happens! Now, where am I going to make the cross-country ski trails for everyone, and I’ve got to map out the menus, and each day’s work, and how will I keep the rink skatable until the third week in January, and …

cam in front of shelves of veggies

 

 

Saving Seeds, Feeding the World & the Vanishing Bees

I have friends on both sides of the whole “colony collapse disorder” situation with honeybees. I have two friends; both named Karen, who produce honey. Both have suffered losses to their hives, which seem to be growing worse.

Recently I watched “The Vanishing of the Bees”, a documentary on the situation and it was really hard to see grown men in tears as they discussed the extent of their losses. It was personal. They clearly have a connection with their bees. I actually didn’t finish watching it since, like all documentaries, it got too depressing.

 http://vimeo.com/16570483

On a related, seemingly unrelated topic, here is a picture of my corn this year taken the first week of July. I know, it’s kind of pathetic, all staggered with big gaps … it’s the “Motley Crew” of my garden.

organic saved seed corn

It looks bad for a number of reasons. I save my own seed, which means that fewer seeds actually germinate. Commercially sold seed is treated to make sure it germinates consistently. It’s also rough looking because I stagger the planting, hoping that by having successive plantings I’ll maximize the number of weeks I have fresh corn for our CSA members.

The third reason for the gaps in the rows is pests. The bulk of the damage was done by cutworms … obnoxious caterpillar-like demons that live in the soil and find anything green once it reaches about 2” at which point they lop it off. In a perfect world I can spot them from the holes in the rows but when running a CSA I just don’t have the time to get to everything. I replant those sections the cutworms have trashed but it’s often too late for the replant to amount to much, so holes remain.

This photo is what ‘real’ corn looks like. This is what corn looked like in the pioneer days … hence the title of our book “Little House Off The Grid.” This is what most corn would have looked like prior to World War II at which point chemical companies switched from producing chemicals for the war effort and turned their attention to our domestic food supply, which would have been largely organic at the time.

This is what a field of my friend Eric’s corn looks like. I took this several days before I took the one of my corn. Kind of makes me feel like a major loser. Well, not so much a loser but someone growing within the limits of nature. I am in awe of what commercial farmers with commercial seed are capable of. This is why the world population has grown from 3 billion in 1959 to 7 billion 54 years later. It was all made possible by chemicals and fossil fuel based ‘cides’.

erics corn

There have been many articles on the issue of disappearing bees. The bulk of scientists believe that neonicotinoids, a pesticide on corn seeds are chiefly responsible. Needless to say the corn growers association talk about the dollar cost if we were to stop using this class of pesticides. Here’s a link to one of the recent articles;

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/controversial-pesticides-linked-to-wave-of-bee-deaths/article19330959/

And this is where it gets difficult. Do you want to feed the world or do you want to have the fruits and vegetables pollinated by bees? This is where it gets really dicey for politicians. I would do what Europe has done and ban this class of pesticides. If the price of corn goes up, so be it. Since a great deal of corn ends up being cycled through animals it would raise the price of meat so people would eat less, which would be better for their health and according to the United Nations really reduce their contribution to climate change through methane emissions.

A lot of hard-core green people see a monoculture field of corn or soybeans and wheat as a bad thing. I look at a massive field of corn, all the same size, without a single cutworm fatality, and I am in awe. I do see the down side to this type of agriculture and if we don’t scale back or eliminate neonics, cereals, which don’t need bees to pollinate them, will be all we’ll be eating. Don’t get me wrong, I love cereals. I structure my diet around them. I call myself a ‘wheat-a-tarian’ (or a pizza-a-tarian). I love bread, and pasta and anything made from wheat. Sub-buns…veggie burger buns. pizza… But I also love fruit and so many of the other tasty green and colored things that bees play such an active role in growing.

We’ll need a new perspective on what a field of corn ‘should’ look like though if we stop using some of these chemicals. I’m going to get the ball rolling by announcing the first annual “Ugliest Corn Field in North America” competition. I’m a little slow off the mark promoting it this year, so I’m the only entry but it doesn’t matter, because with a field of corn as ornery looking as mine, I was going to win hands down anyway.

* * * * * * *

After publishing this blog post, reader Jim Cherry sent us this photo with this explanation. Thanks Jim! That’s some really tall corn!!!

“This is my father’s crop of corn he (standing in the foreground) grew on new ground back in 1936 at a place about 60Km inland from Byron Bay, the most easterly aspect of Australia. This was open pollinated corn and before the days they knew anything about chemical pesticides or fertilizers.”

old corn crop

1959 – Tanzania – Major Tom

OK, I’m getting tired of the whole waiting for the ‘coincidence thing’ to pay off.

Remember the book “The Celestine Prophecy”? It was one of those blockbuster new-agey type books. I liked it. It has some nice ideas. One was that we take great energy from natural things like trees. I live surrounded by trees … so much energy! And I think green is identified as an important thing too. When we sit at our dining table we have windows on three sides. At this time of year the view is completely green with the trees in the background. So ‘feng shui!”

The biggest thing that I got out of the book was that we need to put more emphasis on coincidences. In other words, there are no coincidences … which sounds like the little monk-like kid in “The Matrix” bending spoons with his mind .. ‘there is no spoon.’

So since reading the book, any time there is a coincidence in my life, I put huge emphasis on it. As you might remember from previous blog posts I see coincidences as signs that I should buy lottery tickets. So when I experience a coincidence I load up on lottery tickets, knowing that the universe is telling me I’m going to win. You might be wondering how that strategy is working. Well, I’m still blogging and earning less than minimum wage running a CSA. So yea, the coincidence thing is crap. But I still like to dream.

On a recent Tuesday I was in Napanee waiting for our CSA members to pick up their boxes. I like getting to meet them and having a chance to chat. One of our members told me about her daughter who had been to Tanzania. She was the last member to pick up just before I left at 5 pm. I got on the road home shortly after and the second song that came on the radio was by Tom Cochrane. He’s that Canadian guy who did the song “Life is a Highway.” The song playing on the radio was from his first band, Red Ryder, and was called ‘White Hot.’ There’s a line in the song that goes … ‘for selling faulty rifles, to the thieves, in Tanzania.” COME ON! What are the odds of that? This stuff just doesn’t happen. There is meaning here. I have to figure this out.

On the next night we watched the movie “C.R.A.Z.Y.”  This is an awesome movie that our eldest daughter recommended to us. It’s from Quebec and it’s about a family of 5 boys (yikey) as they grow up through the 60’s and 70’s and so on. Since I was born in 1959 it really speaks to me … the fashions … the home décor … the family dynamics … and the music especially is awesome! At one point in the movie one of the brothers is singing and playing air guitar to the song “Major Tom” from David Bowie. It turns out that the neighborhood kids are watching his performance. I can associate with such awkward moments …

Then on Friday night we rented the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” from Tim at our local video store. Ben Stiller has resurrected this old movie with a modern theme. And there was Kristen Wiig playing the guitar and singing “Major Tom” as Ben jumps on a helicopter. COME ON! I haven’t heard that song in years. What are the odds? There’s a message here! Just what is it? I need some help.

Years ago, before I took the blue pill and figured out what the matrix really was, I used to read “The Globe and Mail,” which is kind of like Canada’s version of the “Wall Street Journal.” We only bought it on Saturdays and it was huge … like 500 pages. It took me all Sunday to read it. And every time I read it I could find the date 1959, the year I was born. I put great meaning in this. I would read out sentences to Michelle to show her how often the year of my birth showed up in the paper. Michelle just rolled her eyes … a lot. But I kept finding it. Some business had started in 1959, some law had been passed in 1959 … there was always some reference to 1959. Really, what are the odds? In every issue, 1959. There it was. Carl Sagan’s alien friends were messing with me.

So I won’t give the movie away, but there is a photograph that features very prominently in the movie and in the photograph is “1959.” COME ON! Fate is talking to me. No, it’s yelling at me. There is something important happening here. Planets are aligning. If I read horoscopes I’m pretty sure this would be considered like a code red … “Get ready for a major life change …” blah blah blah.

All these messages. All this epic karmic stuff. So many questions. No answers. I’m hoping that the Yellowstone volcano, that they now realize is way bigger than they previously thought, isn’t about to blow. I power my house with my solar panels and I’m thinking all that particulate in the air won’t be helpful. Although it may slow down global warming for a while.

As always, I shall have to wait until the last page and the conclusion to have this whole coincidence question thing answered. And who was on the grassy knoll? It’s kind of cool to think that all of these loose ends might get cleared up at some point. I’m not rushing though. I’m sure the super big gulps worth of high fructose corn syrup beverages I’m pounding back during the recent heat waves aren’t helping.

My Redneck Green Side Turning Blue

or Why Debt Matters

Debt. It’s kind of a big deal, but governments don’t seem to think so.

It was interesting to discover that during our recent election I was tending more towards the ‘conservative’ side of the political spectrum than the ‘liberal.’

The “Liberals” have governed our province for more than a decade. They have hired about 300,000 civil servants since they took office, many after the economic collapse of 2008. From a Keynesian economic perspective, I get the whole governments needing to spend during downturns to keep things rolling along. It’s one thing though to invest in infrastructure programs, which create jobs for the short term, versus hiring permanent civil servants, because once you hire a full time employee it’s hard to get rid of them. And it would be great if we could all work for the government and have their awesome benefits and pensions, but in all of the places where this has been tried, it hasn’t worked out that well in the end. George Orwell really nailed it in his book, “Animal Farm”… ‘All the animals are equal… but the pigs are a little more equal.’

My Conservative opponent in the All Candidates Meetings carried around a government regulation book that was as thick as the New York City phone book. He liked to quote the number of regulations that the book now included versus a decade before and it had grown a lot. It just kind of follows that if you hire civil servants they’re going to come up with new regulations.

Now I understand why we have regulations. Civil society needs them. Workers need them. We want clean water coming out of our taps and governments can try and ensure this. My problem with the current ruling Liberal government is that they really have no idea how they are going to pay for all the money they spend. They have a $12 billion deficit this year (they are spending $12 billion more than they are taking in through taxes) and that will be added to an accumulated debt of $280 billion, or quarter trillion dollars. That is a crazy number. When you see it calculated out on a per capita basis it’s comparable to some of the worst-case countries in the Euro-zone like Cyprus and Spain.

So at what point does a responsible government say, “Houston we have a problem” and get their fiscal house in order and have a balanced budget and start whittling away at the debt? We’re 5 years past the economic collapse. Some would suggest things are more stable economically so we should start to get our house in order.

But we have an “activist” premier. This is how she has been referred to. That’s great, there was a time for that. Like the 1960s and 1970s when money just poured into government coffers. It was easy to do cool progressive stuff because the economy was generating enough excess that the government would siphon some off and it would keep growing. But now we have this stagnant economy. In Ontario our manufacturing sector has been decimated, so we’re losing those high paying middle class jobs. Governments are competing with each other for companies to come and open so they all keep reducing corporate taxes, so that source of revenue is dropping.

At what point does a government get mature about the situation and say “you know what, we have to start living within our means”? We have to start spending money that we actually have. We need to have some money in the bank for a rainy day. Heck, we need to stop spending a third of the money we take in paying interest on the quarter trillion dollars of debt we took on borrowing money to live a lifestyle we can’t afford anymore. You can be an activist all you want, but sooner or later the cold cruel hand of reality is going to slap you upside the head and say ‘ENOUGH!”

I guess what concerns me the most is that the Liberals came out of the election with a majority. This means that most people voted to keep a government around that loves to spend money and really doesn’t seem to care about ever paying off their credit card. Is this how most households work so they’re comfortable with a government that behaves the same?

The Conservatives said they would eliminate 100,000 jobs from the government. First it was just a broad statement but when they got blow back they said they’d eliminate them over time through attrition, as people retired. Too late. The damage was done. The Liberals jumped on this and got everyone scared about the scary Conservatives. Really? How is reducing the number of civil servants by 30% of what was hired in the last half decade such a scary thing for people? It seems we were doing pretty well with the number of civil servants we had before we hired 300,000, so why would it be such a scary thing to say we’ll only keep 200,000 of those new hires?

Remember, I have nothing against civil servants. I have been very left on the political spectrum for a long time, but frankly I’m tired of governments that have no intestinal fortitude and are unable to make tough decisions. Personally I have no debt. I spend only what I make. (And as I have willingly shared in many previous blogs, my income is below the poverty level, so it isn’t like I have a slush fund of money to play around with.) That’s the way it should be for governments.  And they should have a rainy day fund for the next economic crisis that comes our way, not have some massive debt that will make them incredibly vulnerable to interest rate hikes or other nasty consequences of a world gone mad about credit.

The Green Party believes in a balanced budget. This was one of the reasons I was comfortable running for them. We also believe that you have to be honest with people. May, 2014 was the hottest May ever, worldwide.  Houston we have a problem with the climate, a huge one that threatens EVERYTHING else. But we keep electing governments that can’t seem to stand the idea of being the least bit unpopular. Or giving up power. Or doing what’s right rather than what keeps them in power.  I think the Liberal Party of Ontario that governs this province should be ashamed of itself rather than patting itself on the back for buying its way back into power with debt.

Debt catches up to you. I’m going to buy the Liberal government a DVD copy of “The Sopranos” and show them what happens when Tony Soprano lends you money and you can’t pay him back. It ain’t pretty.

Postive Vibes at Sunflower Farm

We are hoping that Chelsea, our CSA intern for the summer, will write a blog post at some point, but we’re not pressuring her. And I certainly won’t try and suggest how she might be experiencing Sunflower Farm, what with working with a totally awesome farmer who has great taste in music and movies and is just as funny as can be.  Nope, I won’t even try to imagine how great it must be.

I will venture to say that Chelsea has been having a pretty profound effect on Sunflower Farm, and it’s all positive.  There is a very palpable, positive energy that is at work these days. This has always been a special place and I always feel positive energy emanating from the trees and the soil and the rocks and our renewable energy system. This is different though.

This is a kind of balancing energy that’s making everything seem more in harmony. Now admittedly much of this is weed related. Last year the weeds got away from us and this was a very bad thing because weeds that don’t get pulled go to seed. And weeds produce seed prodigiously so the following year when all those seeds germinate it’s horrendous. And when you’ve had historic, epic rain like we experienced this spring and early summer, the problem is exacerbated.  Bare soil becomes a green mat of weeds in about 24 hours.

The best year we ever had for weeds was the one ‘after’ we made our gardening DVD (available here.) Our younger daughter Katie was home from university for the summer and so she did most of the filming and editing. I devoted more time than usual to weeding to keep the garden looking great for our next recording session. Every time I’ve watched the DVD since then I have this momentary confusion about what garden I actually filmed it in. It’s so weed-free I can’t recognize it! The bonus was that by keeping on top of the weeds that year they were much easier to control the following summer.

So this year one of Chelsea’s biggest jobs has been trying to stay ahead of the weeds. She’s doing an awesome job and I enjoy admiring the weed-free rows after she has worked her magic.

She is also getting up to speed on planting and I’m at the stage where I can say “please plant another couple of rows of buttercrunch lettuce transplants and basil’ and she just does it. It’s such a joy to meet an independent, fast learner. The challenge with WWOOFers or other volunteers who come to the farm for a short of time is that after a week or two of instruction they’re usually ready to move on so you never get the productivity return you’re hoping for.

Chelsea is a fast learner and happy to work independently. I’m sure it’s because I’m obnoxious to work with, but I’m happy as long as she’s happy. She is also very flexible in terms of her start time each morning which really helps us because every day seems to have a unique requirement for what needs to be done so the start time varies every day.

I have to admit that my biggest concern with having someone here for the summer is getting out of the groove (or is it a rut?) that Michelle and I are in to. I let the chickens out of the coop at about 6 am and I tend to work all out until dinner time which is around 6 pm. Some nights I might have the energy to take on a low-energy task like cutting fencing to make tomato cages, but I’ll be honest. Regardless of how many calories I eat in a day, and how much protein and carbohydrates I can consume,  I am no spring chicken in the energy department after dinner.

So as much as evenings should probably be spent reading classic literature and discussing existentialism, more often than not we spend them watching another episode of “Orange is the New Black.” I’d like to be able to work 16 hours a day, but 11 or 12 seems to be my max with the heat and humidity this time of the year. And Chelsea is down with this. And even though she’s welcome to hang around in the main house she often heads off to the guesthouse to paint or read or whatever else she is inspired to spend her spare time doing.

As we work together or eat meals together we’ve had a lot of time to talk and we are getting a very good idea of Chelsea’s world view and why she chose to the spend the summer learning how to run a CSA and grow food. And it seems to be very much in keeping with our impression of things. Over the years we have accumulated a number of documentaries on DVD and so she often chooses one to watch on a laptop in the evenings. I strongly advise against her watching them because I’ve never met a documentary that isn’t a recipe for mild to extreme depression, but she does it voluntarily and we often discuss what she’s watched later.

The gardens are looking great and we’re on top of planting and weeding. This is a fantastic thing. We have someone here to learn so we can share what we’ve learned and I find this whole having to explain things often leads to this little personal introspection that where we live and what we do is actually pretty cool. These moments of self-analysis are pretty uplifting and a needed respite in a busy, hot, exhausting time of the year.

And having a young, strong back for picking berries and hauling boxes of produce around has been wonderful.

When you think of the number of things that could go wrong inviting a complete stranger into your house for the summer, like issues with diet and lifestyle and political leanings or anything else that could cause tension, we are really quite amazed at how well Chelsea has just fit right in here. She works hard, has a bright disposition, is always asking for other things she could be doing, and most of all, tolerates living with someone like me which has to be considered a Herculean task unto itself.

The planets aligned and somehow Chelsea managed to find our small ad looking for a CSA intern on the big old internet. Now if the universe would just send those 6 winning lottery ticket numbers I’ve been waiting for all, will be well with the world.  And yes, I need to get over the lottery thing.

lettuce prep

filling CSA boxes

Nature Helps Us to Expand

I often fantasize about being a real farmer, with hundreds of acres under cultivation, and a tractor to plant and harvest it all. I am extremely grateful to live on 150 acres but most of our acreage is covered in ponds and forests. Less than 10 acres is cleared and we have about 3 acres cultivated. I keep expanding this but it’s a slow process. It usually involves spreading a thick layer of old hay from big round bales to kill the grass one year, and then rototilling it the following year.

There is a fairly large area east of the house where the original wind turbine tower is. I have been nurturing the area for many years. I believe that the topsoil there was stripped off years ago for the new road when this house was unoccupied, so I’ve worked hard at rehabilitating this area. This has involved spreading horse manure when I can and spreading around a lot of old round bales of rotten hay.

Every year when I’ve hoped to get around to using that area there are always more pressing things in the gardens closer to the house so it lays fallow for another year. Not that this is a bad thing. There are grasses absorbing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in their roots helping to build up the soil, and each fall when they die and decompose they help build up the organic matter so desperately needed there.

This year the stars aligned and I finally had the chance to get into work this area and it really was the high point in my spring. When you wait for something long enough, something that you’ve always wanted to do, and you finally get to it, well it can just be the greatest thing.

Nature helped the process because of our brutal winter and inordinate amount of snow. A good section of the field is low and while I’ve noticed some water sitting there in other springs, this year is was officially a pond. Then the rains continued and the water stayed and did a number on any living plants underneath. A couple of weeks ago Jasper and I hiked over and low and behold the water was gone and there was no greenery in a large area. It was just the bottom of a pond ready to be tilled. Yee Ha!

So one weekend Skylar, my surrogate tractor (and Grade 9 part time helper) hauled the rototiller over there and started to work on it. Skylar used the pickaxe and took out any small trees like the poplars that were reclaiming the area. I put my new Husquvarna rototiller to the test and it did its job. I had to stop twice to clean out the tines but we got an amazing amount accomplished.

Now every night before bed Jasper and I hike over and look at this big brown patch of exposed soil and it just fills me with joy. I won’t be planting it this year. Every couple of weeks I’ll drag the rototiller over there and keep it bare so it will be ready to plant next year. If I do it on a Saturday when Skylar’s here we’ll keep expanding it as well. We’ll pick axe more of the grass out, and spread more of the rotten hay to kill more grass to make it easier to till.

I don’t have many distractions like I used to need in the city. I don’t play the guitar anymore. I don’t collect anything. I don’t go to sporting events, or really any entertainment events of any kind. My world is pretty focused right now on growing food in the summer and heating with wood in the winter. And it’s an awesome way to live. I have always wanted to see how much of our food we could grow, but I can’t realistically do that until I have big area to plant wheat.  A huge part of our plant-based diet is based on cereals like wheat. I am a ‘wheat-a-tarian.’ I love bread. I love anything on a bun … subs, veggie burgers, egg-o-muffins for breakfast. Oh, and I love anything with high fructose corn syrup but I can grow corn so I’ve mastered that, although I’m not yet sure how to turn an ear of corn into a can of Dr. Pepper. The wonders of an industrial food system never cease to amaze me.

Ultimately though I hope to have enough land ‘under cultivation’ that I can offset a good portion of my diet myself. Without a tractor though that can be daunting, so I’m very excited about finally have a toehold in this potential field to expand on that. It’s funny how when it was just a big green field it seemed impossible. But now, suddenly, with this one exposed low spot where the water stayed long enough it’s given me a window of opportunity. And now I can see the field growing incrementally year after year.

Next year I may plant it with potatoes. It’s a long way from the house and it will be tough for me to keep pests like deer and raccoons out of it. And luckily raccoons are too lazy to dig around for potatoes so I think this will be good place to grow them. When you’re growing potatoes for 45 CSA members suddenly having a nice big roomy field isn’t such a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity.

In the meantime, any time I need reminding that I’m the luckiest man on the planet, I’ll hike over to the new “potato patch/wheat field” and wonder at the luxury of having a big new field to plant. It’s the little things that give me joy. Or in this case, the potential for a big thing.

wheat field:potato patch

Strawberry Fields Forever

I found myself once more, alone in a strawberry field, picking strawberries. It’s my instinct to try and come up with a clever, witty pun like… ‘And there I was out standing in my field, my strawberry field… forever….’ but you’d have to be a Beatles fan to get that, so I won’t even attempt it.

June 24th was the first day of our CSA, and I was quite excited about getting things started, but it turned into a bit of a SNAFU. We always remind our members that for the first few weeks the boxes will be light, but I still want them to look as good as possible. To that end we start up the CSA season when our friend John Wise’s organic strawberries are ready. Beautiful brilliant red, organic strawberries with an amazing aroma definitely make a box of fresh organic produce pretty spectacular.

On the Sunday and Monday of that week all the forecasts called for rain overnight on Monday and then sunny skies on Tuesday morning, with the chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So the game plan for Tuesday morning (CSA morning) was for Chelsea, our intern for the summer, and me to head to John’s first thing and pick strawberries while Michelle worked in the garden and got the lettuce and spinach and radishes ready to go. We had packed the garlic scapes the afternoon before because they last forever.

John doesn’t like us picking when it’s raining because it can spread disease in his strawberry patch.

So at 6:30 am on CSA morning, as I did my stretching exercises in preparation for my busy day, I listened to a steady, relentless, pouring rain, that had the sound of an “all day” rain. I had really hoped to provide our Napanee members with strawberries the first week. If I’d known that it was going to rain on Tuesday morning, I would have picked on Monday afternoon. They wouldn’t have been as fresh, but at least they’d be in the box. I regretted not having anticipated this possible scenario. If I couldn’t pick because of the rain, the first week boxes would be less than awesome. And so I had regrets.

Regrets are a funny thing. I used all the information I had at the time, and thought that based on what I knew I was making the best choice, but I was wrong. Nature/fate/a wild card had intervened and thrown a glitch into the matrix.

So how does one get over this whole ‘regret’ thing? In the big picture, this was a really a small thing. At the end of the season will any CSA member remember they didn’t get strawberries that first week? Probably not. In the big picture is this how I should be investing my limited emotional energy, freaking about not picking strawberries …  yesterday? Nope, not a good use of my time on the planet. I want to do really well with the CSA this year, like most things I do, but I cannot control the rain and I have to accept this.

I think I need to learn to meditate better. Those Buddhist monks probably don’t regret the whole strawberry thing… or giving up a traditional life for one in a monastery… do they? Or maybe I need to learn to take deep breaths and just assume things will work out.

An hour later I spoke to John and he said he had a section of the field that he would be plowing under this year so he wasn’t concerned about diseases being spread. So we hustled and got all the vegetables ready to go by 10:30 am. I was in the berry patch by 11 a.m. and by 1:15 pm I had picked 40 quarts of strawberries. It was a new world picking record. By 1:30 pm I was settled up with John and by 2:30 I was in Napanee in my allotted pickup place with a truck full of strawberries that smelled heavenly.  Things did work out. Michelle says they usually do and I need to start thinking this way.

As I pick berries my mind never shuts up. Is everyone’s brain like this and never shuts off? As is often the case my mind keeps asking me if this is the best use of my time and skills? I can write and publish books, I learned Final Cut Pro and can edit movies, I can use computers for electronic publishing and web design, heck I could probably get a job somewhere selling stuff. I’m good at that.

But then I ask myself; does the world need anymore people selling ‘stuff’? What the world does need is more people growing food at a smaller, sustainable, organic level. And that’s what I do. And I don’t have to commute to a city. I get to sit surrounded by green. And on the days that I pick berries I am surround by red. Brilliant, fragrant, strawberry red. I feel infinitely blessed to have 45 families that chose to be members of our CSA. I feel blessed to live in a place where I can work in a field and not worry about stepping on an abandoned land mine.  I feel blessed to have the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair and no other human being in sight I try to imagine another place, any where in the world that I’d rather be, or another activity that I would rather be doing and that noisy, chatty, non-stop brain of mine simply can’t come up with anything.

strawberries

Chelsea and lots and lots of strawberries!

Skylar the Surrogate Tractor

Michelle’s Note: Sorry for the lack of posts. Last week was week #1 for our CSA. The first weeks are always the hardest as we organize what we need to pick, wash, weigh and package and figure out how we are going to get it all to of our members.

If you have ever read a Mother Earth News magazine you’ll know that the cliché thing for people to do when they move to the country is to buy a tractor. Oh, and get a horse. It’s just what you do. Most newly arrived country folk don’t really know what they need a tractor for, but they buy one anyway.  It must be true because the magazine is full of ads for small tractors. They are ubiquitous.

When people ask me if I have any regrets about moving to the country and/or living off the grid, I tell them that I regret not buying a tractor! We had a bit of money left over when we sold our city home and bought our country property, so I could have bought a tractor then.  I just didn’t know what I was going to do with it, and Michelle and I have always tried to be logical about spending money so it didn’t make any sense to buy a tractor. Besides I love the work, so who needs one?

If we had bought a tractor I think I would probably be about 25 pounds heavier. I also think my back and joints would be in way better shape, so it’s kind of a trade off. I went the “all you can eat pie” route and did all of the heavy work manually. And it’s a tough regret to have. Although I’ll never regret the pies, so I’m happy. The other day Michelle made me a raspberry pie (using our raspberries from the freezer) and it was on the dining room table, under a glass dome. I made the comment that nothing brings me more joy than seeing a pie sitting on our table. Michelle said “It’s the simple things,” and I hope she was referring to the little pleasures that bring us happiness as opposed to the little world I seem to live in.

Last fall I got a load of horse manure dumped in the garden and this spring I had to move it. I’ve been working away at it but it turns out that 10 cubic yards is a lot of manure! Recently there was a reporter here from the local paper interviewing me as the local Green Party candidate. When she wanted to take a photo I said, “Well I spend most of my day shoveling manure right now so we could use that for the photo” but we decided the optics for a politician to make such a statement weren’t too great.

Recently in a moment of exhaustion and panic I told Michelle I was going to have to cash in the last of my retirement fund and buy a tractor. And yes, that’s how small the fund is! She was onside. It’s a big step and we looked at the pros and cons but we started to research a “compact” small tractor.

I often panic in times like these and Michelle just waits for common sense to prevail. We periodically borrow our neighbor Ken and Alyce’s tractor and they are most gracious to lend it to us, so we don’t want to overstep the boundaries of good neighborliness. When I look at how much stuff I’d use a tractor for, I have to be logical about how much we’d be investing in it and how much time it would spend sitting idle.

About this time we got a response from an ad that we had placed in the local paper looking for a student to help out on the farm. There had been very little response to the ad, part of the challenge being that distances are so great in the country the economics of driving a teenager to a low paying job doesn’t work out. But Skylar called and wanted to give it shot so he arrived one Sunday morning. We cleared some brush then set about the manure pile. He filled the wheelbarrows and I hauled them through the muddy soil and spread it. We went at it pretty hard and kept up a good pace. We would stop periodically and do something less strenuous then we’d get back to it. And Skylar just kept plugging along. Skylar had become my tractor stand in!

He plays football so I was happy to push him. I just kept reminding him of how hard weight room work is when you’re training for a physical sport.

Minimum wage in Ontario is $10.30/hour for students. So we pay Skylar about $50 plus lunch for 5 hours of hard work and he seems happy and we are very happy. No fossil fuels were burned while we worked and muscle mass was built up. I was happy I could keep up with a 16-year-old for 5 hours of slogging. And the next day I had the opportunity to get 3 trailer loads full of manure from our neighbours Ken and Alyce, and so I spent a second day in the horsesh*t throwing department.  The next day I decided to spend the day doing lighter work in the garden and writing some blog posts. I’m not saying I was tired, I’m just saying you can only convert so much pie energy into physical effort.

At one point as I worked away I became really aware of the birds. They are very chatty at this time of year and there were so many different calls. And there was a lovely breeze blowing through greening up after the longest most brutal winter, EVER! And all was right with the world. That pathetic excuse for a retirement plan remains untouched, and basically useless, but it just doesn’t seem to matter. My public school friend Teddy King who died prematurely doesn’t get to spend another day outside in weather like this. My buddy Brian who put his head down on his desk at work and died of an aneurysm isn’t working up a sweat and soaking up the sun on a glorious day like this. Nope, if this is how I have to spend my days until I keel over in the potato patch, I’m pretty okay with that. I just hope that if that is the way I go, I won’t have just spread fresh manure on it, or it won’t be pretty for Michelle to have to drag me out of it. Hopefully we’ll have a tractor by then and she can use the hydraulic bucket (which apparently I’ll just have kicked!)

Skylar has come back to work for one day most weekends and he continues to help me to tackle the big, heavy jobs that never seem to end around here. No doubt you’ll be hearing more about Skylar as I write about all of the tasks that have been keeping me busy!

(These photos of Cam spreading manure were taken at the end of April. Things are MUCH greener now!)

cam shoveling manuremanure2

 

 

 

 

 

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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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