Potassium Iodide Pills and That Whole Fukushima Thing

Like so many things I disagree with, I have resigned myself to nuclear power. The Province of Ontario (home of Toronto and mayor Rob Ford!) where I live uses nuclear reactors to generate more than 50% of our electricity. The Green Energy Act has inspired a huge buildup in solar and wind power, but we aren’t going to continue to live the way we do now with renewable energy for a while. Which begs the question; can we keep living this way? That is a topic for another blog post.

After watching the Fukushima meltdown I am concerned about the hazards of radioactivity in a worst-case scenario. I remember reading that Scandinavian countries that were proactive when they discovered radioactivity from the Chernobyl meltdown had much lower rates of thyroid cancer. What had they done? So with 18 or 20 nuclear reactors in the province, and bits and pieces of information about previously unknown fault lines and potential earthquakes near Lake Ontario, I thought I would educate myself about the hazard.

I stood talking to one of our CSA members last summer and when she said she grew up in Pickering where there is a nuclear plant I said “Well I hope you didn’t live less than 5 km from it” and of course she was quite close. She told me that every year in public school they had a least one “drill” where the sirens went off, each kid was given a pill to take, they were watched to make sure they took it, and then they were loaded on to buses and driven a safe distance away. I suggest to anyone who doesn’t want to live near a large wind turbine because of health effects that they should move their kids to Pickering. But what was that pill?

The pill is potassium iodide. If there is a nuclear accident radionuclides are released that head right for your thyroid and promote thyroid cancer. The main one is iodine-131.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine-131

Potassium iodide, which is a ‘stable iodide’, saturates the thyroid to prevent radioactive iodine from getting in there. It lasts about 24 hours so you would need to take a pill once a day.

My interest coincided with my research for my book The Sensible Prepper so I began to look at how to get the tablets. I found that it’s surprisingly hard to get a human voice on the phone at any of the province wide emergency disaster phone numbers. So I sent emails and made calls. Eventually I discovered that if you live within 10 kms of a nuclear plant, and there is a disaster, you can go to a local pharmacy to get potassium iodide. It’s not widely publicized because hey, you don’t want to start a panic right? I called some of the pharmacies and asked if I could get the pills. I came clean. I said I didn’t live that close but I did drive through the area when I visited my daughters so I wanted the pills. No dice. I was told that doesn’t count.

I did everything I could to get the government to give me some pills in case there was ever a nuclear emergency, and they just didn’t seem to want to.

After weeks of this I finally asked one of the pharmacist how many tablets I would get if I lived in “the zone.” She said “One.” ONE!? Seriously? Are you kidding me? You mean if a local nuclear plant melts down you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of residents lining up patiently every day to get their “ONE PILL!??” Have these emergency organizational people never seen a zombie movie? Don’t they realize as soon as the crisis hits, everyone heads for the local drugstore and they don’t stand patiently in line waiting to be served!

Eventually someone in the federal government gave me these two websites with brand names and dosages etc..

http://webprod5.hc-sc.gc.ca/lnhpd-bdpsnh/info.do?lang=eng&licence=80033693

http://webprod5.hc-sc.gc.ca/lnhpd-bdpsnh/info.do?lang=eng&licence=02248172

So we ordered a bunch of pills. And I gave some to my daughters who live closer to the nukes or would be driving past them on their way to safe and organic Sunflower Farm. It used to be that I freaked them out when I did this sort of stuff, but now they just roll their eyes. And I’m happy about that. I had put off ordering these pills for months. Then one day I thought you know what, now that I have this information, can you imagine how much I’d beat myself up if when I had the chance I hadn’t ordered them? Because when you need the pills you need them quickly, and if you want to order a bunch all of the sudden you can bet you won’t be the only one and they’ll be sold out pretty quickly. Or, you could just go and stand in line at the local pharmacy, for your ONE pill a day.

So I can tick that off my list. Fear of nuclear fallout. Check. Now if we can just figure out how to stop the radioactive tritium from leaking, and how to store the waste from nuclear plants safely for 100,000 years until it’s no longer lethal, all will be well with my world.

 potassiumiodidepills

Cam’s Addendum: I actually posted this blog a month ago but then decided to “unpost” it. But recently, several of Canada’s largest media outlets including CTV News and The Toronto Star have reported on it. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has recommended what I was attempting to do a few months ago and just distribute the pills to everyone in the zone:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/10/16/nuclear_watchdog_orders_antiradiation_pills_for_ontarians_near_power_plants.html

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/anti-radiation-pills-to-be-given-to-neighbours-of-ontario-nuclear-plants-1.2056853

The Garbage Barge that is Capitalism (or A Trip Down Memory Lane Through Decluttering)

We have a guesthouse here at Sunflower Farm that was built by the previous owners, Jean and Gary. It’s pretty handy when we have guests and I have used one of the three upstairs rooms as my office since we moved here in 1998. Now that we have switched our focus from publishing books to growing food, I had an epiphany that it was time to clean out my office. All I really need is place to sit with my laptop to write a blog once in a while.

The problem with having a guesthouse the size of another home is that it allows you to accumulate stuff at an alarming rate. So I have been spending any recent spare moment decluttering. Michelle pointed out that one of my daughters had expressed her fear of having to clean out my hoarded mess after I finally drop dead in the potato patch, and since I love my daughters very much, I decided that leaving a big mess isn’t fair to them. So dam the torpedoes, if something isn’t useful anymore, it’s time to get rid of it.

I started Aztext Electronic Publishing in 1987 and over the years I’ve had a lot of customers and done a lot of artwork for them. So I had an enormous number of files, both hardcopy in file folders, and on “media.” I say media, because over the years we have used so many different storage technologies, the mind boggles. Floppy discs, single sided diskettes, double sided diskettes, Zip Drives, SyQuest 88 mb removable disks, bigger SyQuests, CDs, DVDs, external hard drives … just let me know when you’re bored and I’ll stop.

I’ve been single handedly filling up the paper-recycling container at our landfill with file folders full of paper. And I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all of the electronic media, since I’m always just a bit concerned some old customer will come back and want something from years ago, even if that seems pretty unlikely now. Then there are the boxes of cables. So many cables! So much stuff that was so crucial to my business and my life at one time that is now completely obsolete and useless. Just a lot of plastic and metal and crap that no longer has any value.

I’ve been finding a lot of stuff that makes me kind of sad. Like the binders full of notes that I wrote on the 50 or so software programs that I was licensed on. Oh ya, remember when PageMaker had that bug that caused it to crash and burn just before I sent a file to film and I would have to stay up all night trying to rebuild it? I’d kind of forgotten about all the stress and consternation of running a software- and hardware-dependent business for 25 years.

I do not miss that stress. I miss the income, but not the stress. In fact every day I’m grateful that I was able to run the business, but that I’ve let it slide now. But cleaning out the office is making me kind of nostalgic for those days.

I am also appalled at how wasteful capitalism is. It wasn’t enough that the bulk of what I did for much of the time was create artwork that ended up being printed on paper. That was bad enough I suppose. But the mountains of material that I’m trashing and recycling now I find quite depressing. When I take what I’m doing and extrapolate it by all the business in North America, and then the world, well, it isn’t pretty.

I’d like to think that the move to digital everything would be helping, but we’re just shifting the burden from paper stuff, which is recyclable, to electronic stuff. I am pretty skeptical when it comes to safely separating all the bits and pieces of metals and plastics and all of the other stuff that makes up our electronic gadgetry.

Then I look at the number of laptops we’ve gone through since we bought our first one 15 years ago. The amazing thing is that the first two Apple laptops we bought still work. (You can’t do anything on them of course, but they still work.) Basically every one since then has crapped out and often within just a few years. I think with the pace of innovation, companies build stuff cheaply because they know how quickly it will become obsolete. And with how often you have to update browsers, which need more memory and faster processors, you’re stuck in the game. Unless you can unplug from the matrix. This has real appeal to me after this office purge!

Michelle seems okay with keeping up, so I’ll just rely on her to keep me in the loop with what’s happening in the world. She already does that most of the time.

We had a houseful of guests over the Thanksgiving weekend, so I wanted to get the office cleaned out by then. This was good. As soon as I decided to get it finished in time for Thanksgiving my waffling over what to spare and what to recycle decreased dramatically. I basically decided to get rid of it all. Oh, except that cute little squishy “Smack-a-Mac”, oh and that file of sketches showing how we came up with the Aztext logo from the stylized Aztec calendar icon, and those copies of the first printing of The Renewable Energy Handbook, and …..

smackamac

Michelle’s Note: The “Smack-a-Mac” is up for grabs. Know someone collecting Apple memorabilia? Make an offer!

On the Cover of The Rolling Stone… or Mother Earth News

During high school in the 70’s I was into music. And girls, but music was a big thing for me. I think it was for a lot of us. And why not? We missed the whole polio/nuclear winter thing and hadn’t even contemplated AIDS, climate change, peak oil, 7 billion people, yadda, yadda, yadda … it was bliss!

During the 70’s a typical suburban first world problem was finding someone with a car to hitch a ride to the Grade 12 Phys. Ed. Unit on bowling, which was held at the bowling alley, of course. My small suburban town had no transit system to speak of. Bliss indeed!

There was band call Dr. Hook that had a song about their goal of getting their photo on the cover of a Rolling Stone Magazine. I didn’t think it was a great song but it was a great concept with some great lines …”gonna get my picture on the cover … gonna buy 5 copies for my mother …”

I learned to play the guitar in my late 30s as an ‘interest,’ which one often pursues in the luxury of a city, in a home heated by natural gas and food grown by ‘someone else.’ (In other words I had a lot of time on my hands back then.) The pinnacle of my guitar playing was mastering the acoustic version, including the intro, of Eric Clapton’s unplugged “Layla.”

That and changing the lyrics to “The Times They are A changing” by Bob Dylan so that they were suitable for anyone having a party… 40th birthday.. baby shower.. etc. I could be counted on to not only come up with alternative lyrics but to perform them at the event. The one thing I never deluded myself about was the possibility of making it on to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. I have no natural musical abilities, although when I play “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town” I am light years better than Eddie Vedder … at least in my head… and just using “C” “G” and “A” chords!

When we moved off the grid and started heating with wood and growing food and publishing books about sustainable living, the guitar, like the canoe, was put aside and gathered dust. I no longer have the time or desire to use it. We enjoy magazines like “Harrowsmith” when we could find old issues from before about 1980 when there were long detailed articles. Mother Earth News magazine also became an important resource for us. The articles were detailed and relevant to what we were doing. After we published “The Renewable Energy Handbook” we started pitching the magazine with story ideas and got several published. There’s nothing like picking up a magazine you respect and flipping pages to a story you’ve written. It’s awesome!

I’ve continued to suggest story ideas and a while back they liked the idea of one about avoiding some of the pitfalls of going off grid. When we moved here 17 years ago there was very little knowledge about using renewable energy sources and everything was very expensive. So we made a lot of mistakes. We share these and how to avoid them with people who attend our workshops and there seems to be a lot of interest in it, even if people aren’t going off grid but adding some renewable energy to their homes.

As we were working through drafts back and forth with the magazine editor, they mentioned that they were considering our article for the cover story. I was surprised because I had noticed that their covers tended to be beautiful photos of baskets of tomatoes and things and that they didn’t focus on individuals. So I pushed the thought aside so I didn’t get my hopes up.

Michelle has taught me over the years to lower my expectations. I have a tendency to expect too much. Years ago, if I was going to a conference, to speak at or just attend, I would start mentioning how much I was looking forward to the coffee and danishes at the breaks. This would ramp up to historic portions to the point where they could have had a European bakery full of chocolate éclairs and donuts, and it would not have lived up to my hopes. When I went to the AGM of the Green Party of Ontario last year they had fruit and veggies for breaks. No really! Vegetables! Blurg! I just about quit the party because of it. I can eat vegetables at home. I don’t, but I COULD. At a conference I want sweet, fatty carbohydrates that will cause me to have a metabolic crash shortly after consuming them.

But this time I didn’t need to lower my expectations or worry about getting my hopes up. This time our little piece of paradise has made it on to the cover of Mother Earth News! It’s kind of big deal and I’m over the moon about it! I feel we’ve hit the big time of sustainable living magazine-dom! It’s interesting too that in the age of declining print readership Mother Earth News readership continues to go up. So if you’re going to be on any magazine cover, this is the one!

Mother-Earth-News-October-N jpg

And unlike getting our photo in “People” magazine we don’t have photographers hiding in the bushes taking our photo. There is no paparazzi in our bushes, and Jasper the Wonder Dog would constantly charge at the tree line with that terrifying bark of his to ensure that any photographers stationed there would high tail it.

So I highly recommend you purchase a copy of this outstanding magazine … the October/November 2014 issue of Mother Earth News. If we get single copy sales up high enough I’m sure they’ll ask us to be regular contributors. Maybe a column. Or advice for country living.

My mother died over a decade ago, so I won’t be buying her 5 copies, but I will buy one for my Dad… and my daughters… and our post mistress … and that guy who said “Good Morning” to me on the street the other day… and …

Focusing on the Negative – Rotten Tomatoes

I’m sure there are a hundred (maybe a thousand) little sayings to remind you to focus on the positive. I often see those ceramic figurines at the thrift shop … the ones with the creepy big oversized eyes … holding daisies. I do not own such an inspirational knick-knack and so I sometimes tend to dwell on the negative. This has never been truer than with this summer’s tomato crop … or lack thereof.

For many years we have grown exceptional corn and tomatoes. These crops love heat. Usually our summers provide plenty of this. This past summer, the polar vortex turned into a solar vortex and sucked cold air down over the Great Lakes, just like what happened last winter, only not quite so cold. It was awesome for people who live without central air conditioning, like us, and there was tons of rain, epic rains, fire and brimstone rains in the spring. This was great because we only had to irrigate once. But the downside to the lack of heat was the performance of heat loving crops. They sucked.

Every year we provide our CSA members with more that 30 different varieties of vegetables and berries. Twenty-seven of those were great this year, but corn and tomatoes and peppers were not. The peppers in our small greenhouse did well, but it’s not big enough to make a real contribution to our weekly boxes. We had some eggplants but they underperformed in a big way as well.

So we rely on the transplants we put in the main garden, without the greenhouse, to provide us with the bulk of our production. We planted about 70 tomato plants and 35 pepper plants. Michelle started them all inside in February and March under grow lights. I transplanted them to the garden once it was warm enough. Each plant was staked and this year we invested $200 in 4” square ‘goat fence’ to make about 20 sturdy tomato cages. As much as I try to convince myself that I will continually prune and tie up the tomatoes, by the time they’re growing full tilt I’m completely distracted with a million other jobs in the garden, so they get ignored. So without proper support, the plants often fall over, or unsupported branches break, fruit drops prematurely or lays on the ground, etc. The plants respond to how much attention you give them, but in a typical hot summer we still get tons of fruit.

This summer they were very slow. Late in August we started to harvest tomatoes that were just starting to ripen, so our members had a few weeks in which they received a few half decent partially green tomatoes. About mid-September there was a frost warning so I spent a few days stripping most of the plants. I meticulously hand washed every tomato. Then I put them in boxes on our enclosed back porch to avoid the frost and to ripen. I had 10+ large boxes of them.

Some of the tomatoes in the garden had shown the symptoms of a blight, which started out looking out like a bruise that quickly ruined the fruit. Luckily, the ones I harvested just before the frost were fine. Or so I thought.

The following Tuesday as we were putting together the weekly boxes for our CSA members we went to our boxes of tomatoes, and they were all bad. We salvaged a few but most weren’t suitable for our members. So there we were with 10+ boxes of useless tomatoes. There weren’t even salvageable for soup. Usually Michelle sorts out the less than perfect tomatoes to freeze them for soup making in the winter, but this year we didn’t freeze a single tomato. We had germinated the seeds, planted them, weeded them, staked them, tied them up, harvested them, washed them, carried them from the wash station to the back porch and all we ended up with was a big mess. I stood there staring at these boxes empathizing with the Irish during the great potato blight of the 1800s. Some of the Irish people affected by the potato blight immigrated to where I live now. The organism that causes potato blight can also affect tomatoes.

tomatoblight

One of our friends made the comment that I probably took this year’s disaster of a tomato crop personally, because I’ve had such good crops in the past and have always been proud of my tomatoes. And she’s right. For 15 years I’ve had awesome corn and tomatoes, and this year was a bust.

As much as I delude myself about my Jedi mind abilities, I don’t believe I have yet mastered control of the weather. This is controlled at a whole other level. As long as the Arctic is warming 3 times as fast as everywhere else, the Jet Stream, which for most of my life has kept much to the north in an even pattern, is starting to take huge loops south and really mess up our weather.

So this is the new norm. I must resign myself to such disruptions. I must remind myself that most of the vegetables we grow did very well. We had early broccoli and cauliflower like never before and the sweet potatoes, which I plant under plastic to keep the roots warm, were awesome. So much to celebrate. So many positives to focus on. Choose to be happy Cam.

Nope. It still feels like I got kicked in the teeth every time I think of dumping 10 boxes of tomatoes that represented so much work. I need a new mantra. Please feel free to send me your favourite “focus on the positive” mantra in the comments section. I will rehearse and repeat the best until the shadow of the infamous 2014 tomato blight leaves my psyche.

The Best (and only) Solar-Powered, Off-The-Grid, Zero-Carbon, All You Can Grow, Living Independently, Ready for Rough Times WORKSHOP

Since Michelle and I moved off the grid 16 years ago we have answered a lot of questions about how to do it. Eventually we saw the need for more complete answers so we published The Renewable Energy Handbook and a few other books about living independently and sustainably (which are available to order on the home page of this website.) The challenge with books though is that they are kind of static, and the information doesn’t always have the same impact as seeing it in action.

So how do you heat independently and not produce any extra carbon for the atmosphere? How many solar panels and batteries do you need to live a comfortable life? How much actual space would your gardens take up if you were going to grow a good chunk of your own food?

This is why each fall and spring we offer our Solar-Powered, Off-The-Grid, Zero-Carbon, All You Can Grow, Living Independently, Ready for Rough Times Workshop here at Sunflower Farm. It lets people see everything in action and get the real scoop on what it’s like living off the grid. What sacrifices do you make? What are your dirty little secrets about how you cheat sometimes? Do those chickens that you say are really part of your family sleep in the kitchen when the temperature drops below zero? Okay, I’ll answer that one, NO they do not.

We have refined the workshop over the years and they run very smoothly with less clutter. By that I mean when I started, I used a PowerPoint presentation in the living room just to give some context on why people might want to start making some changes. This had come from the fact that originally I had offered these workshops at colleges and felt I had to have PowerPoint, because, well, that’s just what you do. Even though it was early in the day and we had lots of coffee available, I noticed people starting to fade out right away. It probably didn’t help that the workshops are usually in November and the woodstove is still warm from the morning burn. I was used to people nodding off at about hour 5 in my college workshops. But this was brutal.

So I’ve scrapped the PowerPoints. We just get right into how we run this place. We go over each system in the house in terms of heat, power, hot water, pumping water, appliances, batteries, generators, etc. We tour each system, I give the spiel and then people ask questions. After lunch we tour the gardens while I give the spiel and people ask questions. And then after the afternoon break we discuss other issues related to all of this like fiat currencies, security and some stuff that always surprises me. I say that because at these workshops there are often a few quiet people. It seems like they’re thinking, “This Mather guy is completely full of crap.” But as the day progresses and we hit the afternoon discussion they ask the most amazing questions or share the most wonderful information and it’s like wow, where did that come from? It’s awesome!

People also seem to like meeting other people who have the same outlook on the world. It’s fun to watch strangers connect with each other. We’ll be over at the wind turbine talking about the pros and cons of installing a wind turbine and I’ll notice a little group over by the chicken coop intently discussing something. I think it’s great. If you aren’t going to put up a wind turbine you won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t act polite and nod at my lame wind turbine antics. Okay, they’re not lame, they are insanely funny. I believe I should have an off grid show on the Comedy Network.

All that said, if you’ve been toying with the idea of moving to the country, or going off the grid, or installing some renewable energy equipment, or growing more of your own food, or want to reduce your footprint on the planet, or you want to live more independently, or you want to see if you really can life a typical North American lifestyle producing all your own energy, then attending this workshop would be time well spent.

We have met some really wonderful people in our workshops. I see lots of people exchanging emails over lunch. Michelle makes awesome food. Great people come. Lots of information is shared. Lots of knowledge is gained. Lots of fun is made of Cam, it’s all good. Everyone seems to leave happy and then Michelle and I collapse from exhaustion.

We have one workshop organized for a group on November 1st but there are spaces left in it. Depending on interest we could also set up another date so if you’re interested send Michelle an email (m.d.mather at gmail dot com). Here’s the link: http://www.cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm/november-1-2014-workshop Be sure to check out comments from previous workshop participants here; http://www.cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm

Fall-2004-tour

Why It’s So Great to Have a Son (-in-law)!

I am hesitant to write and publish this blog. Someone far more knowledgeable than me on this sort of thing is likely to post a comment about how this is the stupidest thing they’ve ever seen, that it will never work and that I am a blithering idiot to have undertaken such a project. Until next spring this will remain to be seen.

I have an endless “To Do” list, and one of the items that has been on it since last spring is to deal with the flooding in our basement. Our basement floods each spring with wonderful clean snow melt water. After last winter’s “polar vortex” we got lots of snow along with epic spring rains, and the floodwater rose to epic new levels. Eventually even our freezer began to float even though it was up on 2 layers of concrete blocks. You might remember this blog post in which I share the joys of working in freezing cold water to add another layer of blocks under our freezer.

As far as I can understand the flooding is caused by what is referred to as “hydrostatic pressure.” As the ground thaws in the spring there is a tremendous weight of water pushing down through our sandy soil, which filters the water wonderfully. When it gets near our house it encounters our sump well, which it sees as a big a hole without a plug, and that pressure pushes the water up into our basement.

I have been unable to ascertain if flooding was a problem after the basement was put in 80 years ago. But I do know that the sump well was chiseled in by a plumber who had no experience with off grid power systems and who probably shouldn’t have put it in. I have enough power to run a sump pump in July or August, but alas, we are usually in a drought during those months. In March and April when my basement floods I simply don’t have enough electricity to run a sump pump, because a sump pump requires an enormous amount of energy to run 24 hours a day for 3 or 4 weeks.

So on my summer “To Do” list I decided to fill in the sump well. I chose the summer because the basement is cool, so I thought what a great time to spend time in the basement. And I have a son-in-law who likes to get exercise when he visits here because he works all day in an office engineering big wind turbine blades. So it worked perfectly to have Dhruva help with the concrete. And when I say, “help” I mean, it worked great to have Dhruva carry the concrete bags and mix the concrete and dump the concrete … while I supervised.

Dhruvamixing

I like to have a “Plan B” so I put a 3” pipe with a clean out plug on it, so that in a worst-case scenario, if the whole thing goes terribly wrong, I can hopefully get it to drain once the hydrostatic pressure outside has subsided. I, of course, have no way to verify this. I could call a plumber, but they got me into this mess.

thehole

So I have ticked one more item off of my “To Do” List for the year. Come next spring I will be waiting in the basement with bated breath to see whether or not the whole concept was misguided. But even if it is a horrible failure, as I see it, it couldn’t be any worse than having a big 20 inch whole in my floor, just calling out to all the wandering water to come on up and have a party in Cam’s cellar. The bags of concrete seem to have plugged it up fairly well. Water will seep in. There will be some water. How bad could it get?

thedirtywork

Stay tuned. There will be updates next spring. Of course I could always keep the area all around the house cleared of snow all winter in order to reduce the hydrostatic pressure around the cellar. But that’s not gonna happen. I think I’ll see how the plug holds first.

finished

 Thanks to our wonderful son-in-law Dhruva for all of his help with this project!

 

 

Cam Bakes a Pie

I am famous for my pies, especially my peach pie. They are legendary in the family.

Did you notice, that I said I was famous for my peach pie, singular? I did not say peach “pies” because, well, up until last weekend there’s only been the one. But it had taken on mythical proportions.

There was a time back in the early 80’s, when Michelle was attending university and I was selling radio advertising, that I started baking pies. Many young men on their own for the first time drink, carouse, go to questionable entertainment establishments, and drink some more. I never developed a taste for alcohol so bars were never my thing. But eating pies was something I enjoyed and well, if you want a good pie, you need to make it yourself.

I tended to make apple pies but one time on a trip to visit Michelle’s family I took a peach pie that I had made. Michelle’s mom made awesome pies. It was worth spending time with my in-laws just for the desserts. She liked my peach pie. In fact, she started to talk about it a lot, to the point where it truly took on mythical proportions. Years later it was “Remember that peach pie Cam made” or “Cam is an excellent peach pie maker.” But there really had only been the one peach pie.

Our daughters, who were both born long after the now epic peach pie, heard about this mythical peach pie that their father had made one time and so they decided to carry on the tradition of reminiscing about it.

This past Labour Day weekend both of our daughters came home with our son-in-law and our soon-to-be other son-in-law. The Ontario peaches are great this year, so I bought some extras with the intention of baking another pie. I have to admit; I was getting kind of the tired of the relentless mocking my family was putting me through. And rightly so. Michelle is a superb chef and outstanding baker. She is a wizard with pastry. Or just about anything else she makes. So as a feminist I get kind of the tired of the attention being on me and my one alleged pie, versus the hundreds Michelle has made since. I am contemplating the title for my next book with will be “Eating the All Pie Diet and How it Helped Me Lose Weight.” This is actually mostly truthful (obviously I don’t eat an “all pie diet”) but the key is that you have to run a CSA in the heat and humidity of an Ontario summer for the diet to actually work.

Michelle coached me on the piecrust because surprisingly, not having made a pie since 1982, I seem to have forgotten the technique. Here’s an interesting point. The Crisco vegetable shortening recipe from the back of the box called for ¾ cup of shortening, and their brick of shortening comes with a handy dandy measuring device on it, but nowhere is it conveniently divided up for ¾ cup. Crisco, are you listening? And yes, vegetable shortening is not good for you, but neither is Dr. Pepper and that hasn’t stopped me yet. I was going to make a peach crisp but by the time you get through putting all that butter and sugar on top so that it will make a crispy top, you might as well just make a pie.

 my world is pastry

To verify that I had in fact made the pie I asked Michelle to photograph the process numerous times, and being a man, I put my initials on top of the pie. Michelle has made hundreds of pies and never put her name on any of them. That’s what men do. I am not proud to be a man.

 peach pie repair work

There also was some repair work required on the top crust but I was able to hide that reasonably well, and I added some pastry peaches as well, just to put it over the top!

finished peach pie

My older daughter’s future in-laws came for brunch on Sunday they took a photo of me and my pie. I was wearing my “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt, not because of the pie but because of an earlier discussion of the relative merits of white water rafting with men vs. women. But I guess it was appropriate for the whole pie-baking episode.

Camandpie

I have now made two peach pies in my life, about 30 years apart. It will be interesting to see how long I can get my family to keep talking about this one!

Blended Chicken Families, Chicken Sleepovers and “Sing us a song you’re the banana man…”

Well it’s official. We have a blended family. But not in the traditional sense … the members of this family cluck and lay eggs.

We purchase our Red Sex Link chickens from our local feed mill at 20 weeks of age so that they begin laying eggs shortly after they arrive. We’re finding that they lay quite reliably for almost 2 years, and then their production drops off. Here at Sunflower Farm they go into early retirement and live the life of leisure. (From what I understand at other farms they might end up in the soup pot once they have stopped laying.) I guess they are bred this way but they go downhill pretty quickly after their production ends. We’ve had 5 elderly chickens pass away and in every case they were fine one day, stopped eating and got very quiet and were dead the next day, usually curled up somewhere in the coop.

This spring most of our ladies were getting on in age, so we ordered another 12. With the CSA we’re finding more people interested in purchasing our eggs so we felt it was a good time to expand the flock. We also watched a few documentaries recently, including this CTV W5 episode (http://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/undercover-investigation-reveals-horrific-conditions-within-egg-industry-1.1503296) on the conditions of commercial egg farms and it seems pretty brutal to me.

Our ladies live a great life, have room to roam in their pen, get out and free range after they’re done laying at 11 am, put themselves to bed when the sun goes down and eat like queens. Sometimes I wish I were one of our chickens!I also decided that there are economies of scale here. I’m up at 6 am (during the summer months) to let them out of their coop and we coddle them all day, regardless of whether there are 4 of them or 24 of them. So we decided to double our flock and added 12 new ladies this spring.

Then one of our neighbours got 4 chickens and discovered she was really allergic to them, so we offered to take them and added another 4. We’re paying her for them with eggs. So now we’re at 27 chickens … and it’s pretty awesome!

Michelle insists on keeping old and new chickens separate for a few weeks to make sure that they are all healthy and won’t be spreading any illnesses. So we put the new ladies into the new coop I fashioned from a shed I got from our neighbor Alyce. We kept the two groups apart for about a month or so, and gradually introduced them by letting them free range together. Then I fenced in a walkway between the two pens and the blending started. When one of the new ladies ran into one of the old ladies on their daily walkabouts there was some tension for a while. I’ve blogged about how many terms in our language come from chicken behaviour … “flew the coop,” “hen-pecked” or in this case this case the ladies were just establishing the “pecking order.” After a while this was established and they started getting along just fine.

chickenrun
At dusk the old ladies retired to their coop early, but the new teenaged chickens stayed out as a late as they could. This summer they drove me nuts, because I was ready for bed way earlier than they were!For the last few weeks as I’ve opened up the old ladies’ coop, which I do first, I noticed that several of the new ladies came out of it. It was like they were having a sleepover. Some of the older ladies were already using the nesting boxes in the new coop so we decided it was time to force them all to sleep in the one larger coop. I bribed them all into the new pen before dusk and then closed off the walkway. And low and behold all 27 ladies were snuggled up harmoniously on the two roosts in the new coop. It was pretty cute.
ladiesalllinedup
Oh yes, and I have a new theme song. In the morning we serve the ladies bowls of large flake oats with sliced ripe bananas and warm water. Michelle likes to come up with new treats for them from the chicken blogs she reads. So once I’ve let all the ladies out I head over to their three bowls and fill them up with their breakfast. They love this but it is very hard to walk with 27 chickens milling around my feet, anxious for their bananas and oatmeal. So I have now absconded with (I was going to say that word that ends with jacked and starts with hi, but I’d have the authorities down on me) Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man,” which is an awesome song, but I’ve changed the lyrics to “Sing us a song you’re the banana man, sing us song tonight, cause we’re all in the mood for … some bananas… and you’ve got us feeling just right..”
swarmofchickens
Then I put the bananas in the bowl and stand back because I could lose a finger… or a hand pretty fast with the feeding frenzy that ensues. Our chickens are spoiled. They spoil us with their awesome eggs. Life is good on Sunflower Farm.
oatmealtime

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!


 

 

 

 

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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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