Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wholes and Holes and Holism

Over the last few days I have been following the Globe and Mail’s food and agriculture debate. Rolling out of bed and getting all hot under the collar reading a bunch of opinions on my livelihood and how it is perceived by so called experts is just what I need to start my day. Yeah right! I posted comments to try to make me feel better, but ended up feeling much like a prophet of old, “a voice crying in the wilderness”. One though, managed to hit the mark, as it was 5th of 194 comments. I felt there was hope yet in this world full of corn fructose syrup, artificial flavorings and “Twinkie bars”.
The trouble is we are in the age of “experts” were those with knowledge on very specific topics are able to share their findings and more often their opinion, and it is swallowed hook, line and sinker by media, reader and viewer with out question. Science and knowledge has become very specialized and compartmentalized with very little over lap between areas. This in turn creates misunderstandings and conflicts between the different fields, experts and scientists theories become more important than the truth of the matter. Then add in the needed profits for the corporations who are funding the research and you have the narrow minded, blinkers on, vision of where we are today.
The “Big picture viewpoint”, or Holistic thinking seems to be a thing of the past. Sadly this leads to Common Sense becoming an endangered species and Wisdom a thing only found in classic books. South African statesman-scholar Jan Christian Smuts coined the word holism (from the Greek holos) in the 1920s in his book ‘Holism and Evolution’. He came to understand that the world was not bits and pieces of stuff, but flexible changing patterns. He states “If you take patterns as the ultimate structure of the world, it is arrangements and not stuff that make up the world.” Thus every thing is connected and dependent on every thing else. We need to look at the big picture before making big or little decisions.
This then brings me back to the Globe and Mail debate. Containing lots of facts and opinions from many experts and journalists, with each article and video clip dealing with specific items of the food industry. The best though was complaining that many Canadian farmers were too small to compete and too many were lifestyle farmers instead of commodity producers. Over 50% of the beef in this country comes from herds of 100 cows or less, and as the powers that be say it takes 400- 500 cows for a farm to be viable, it means 50% of our beef industry is supplied by hobby/small farmers and is subsidized by farmers wives working off farm to keep the farm afloat. (Makes you wonder who is subsidizing whom?) You don’t see that in the news, but the statistics with Stats Canada bear it out. The same is true of the sheep industry and often times the grain industry. Why the Globe and mail feels these Farmers should become obsolete is beyond me. With only half the cattle most killing plants in Canada would shut down, as they would be no longer viable. This is part of the big picture; looking at all farms not just the ones an expert thinks is viable, the holistic view we talked of earlier. To look at the even bigger picture, view the rest of the world. 75% of the world eats food from farms 20 acres or less, thank goodness the economists are not closing those farmers down for being too small! As Yoda from Star Wars said, “Size matters not”. Small farmers all over the world are feeding people and here in Canada they are producing a good portion of our food and in some cases adding a large portion to the export market. At the same time most qualify for very little or none of the subsidies that are available, and most subsidize the system by working off farm for their own income. No one from the Globe and Mail mentions that good deal for the folks in Canada.
There were however some good points made in a couple of the video clips. The latest figure for the average family has it that they spend 9% of their income on food and that includes eating out! Which could mean that many families only spend 5-7% of their income on groceries, and then they have the cheek to complain about the cost of food. Many pay more HST per month than for food. By comparison folks in Moscow Russia spend 50% of their wages on food and that does not include eating out. Even if you buy organic and pay a premium for quality food you are still only spending 10-12% on food items, an absolute bargain compared to the rest of the world.
My favorite quote and a sobering thought was from a lady chef who pointed out that “we eat our future”. What we put in our mouths becomes us in the future, so we best pay attention to our food and where it comes from. If folks looked at their food in this manner every time they raised a fork to their mouth I imagine there would be some changes demanded by consumers. Small Farmers generally do a better job of caring for the soil and its fertility and fertile soil makes nutrient dense food and therefore healthier people. This is never more poignantly explained than at a funeral by the grave with the words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. A harsh reminder of the fact we are really made up of the same stuff as the soil, therefore, plants, animals and ourselves are just different arrangements of the same stuff, holistically speaking.
A Merry Christmas to all readers and I challenge you to see how “close” you can keep your Christmas dinner, mileage wise that is. Mine will be local as it will be grown by myself, but I will have to admit I will let the side down with Bushmills Irish whiskey and some nice South African port!
Rob Fensom farms in the city at Harmonious Homestead and ewe.

Farmers opinions make national paper website.

Below are a couple of my comments to The Globe and Mail, Canada's leading national newspaper. They had the cheek to do a week long series on food and agriculture by so called experts, most of whom have never worked for their "Daily Bread" much less know how to grow it!

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rancherrob wrote:
Dear Sir,
I have been ranching/farming man and boy for 40 plus year. I have farmed organically ( the worlds term, not mine) and have worked within the bounds of the natural order, building soil and organic mater thus increasing my lands fertility and real worth over time and at the same time produced healthy crops and livestock to feed mankind.Modern agriculture revolves around an annual ledger so to keep banks and bean counters happy most farmers have turned to science and industrial farming practices. This works in the short term, but over time depletes that other bank account, the soils fertility. Poor soil produces low yields and worse, stressed crops or livestock which become diseased easier, causing the need for more inputs, chemical and medicinal, an expensive, harsh cycle.
We humans are always after the quick fix, we lack vision but most of all understanding and patience.When we all accept we are part of nature and this planet and not the ones in control of it we will see we can feed and cloth ourselves with out all the chemical and scientific intervention deemed so important by none other than those that make profit from supplying them.

My comment on 1st November to opinion in Globe and Mail calling for the scraping of dairy and chicken quotas, by ‘wealthy bureaucrat’ Ray McLaren.

9:48 AM on November 1, 2010
As a red meat producer in this country for 25 years ( beef and lamb) it never stops amazing me how many 'experts' know so much about how farmers and ranchers could do better for them selves and the public by adopting free market ways. This while they have steady pay cheques and a good pension to collect. These experts have never had to make a living and feed their family by growing food. We are now getting the same price per pound for animals that we were 20 years ago, then by the time you factor in inflation we are getting half what we were 20 years ago. In fact Belize a young country in Central America is getting the same price we are for lambs and beef cattle with a third the production costs with year round grass and no winter. The free market farmers in this country are subsidizing your lunch Mr McLaren. We can all live with out cheap imported goods from factories, but food, much like water and oxygen is essential. Remember if you eat you are involved in Agriculture, so while you eat your meat today remember some one raised it for you who does not have an index linked salary or pension plan and would be glad of the chance to have a living wage supplied by the market place like the dairy and egg producers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Guy Fawkes, the man behind our farm family planning.

The 5th November is a big night in England, known as Guy Fawkes night. In 1603 Guy Fawkes a Catholic who was not happy with the new protestant way, wished to see his church free and made the national church once again. As things were not happening quick enough he and some friends decided to fill the basement of the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder and have a quick change of political direction, mainly upwards! History tells us he was caught in the act while lighting the fuse (just like in a Bond movie, saving the city from annihilation with 1 second to spare), poor fellow was tourtured and killed but did not give away his accomplices. So to rub salt in the whole Catholic /Protestant thing every 5th November all over England Guy Fawkes (like scare crows) are burnt on top of large open air bonfires. There are lots of fireworks and every one has a fun time. Most have forgotten the Religious and Political meanings behind it all unless they come from my old home county of Sussex. There it is serious business, many villages and towns have bonfire societies, which hold torch light processions (flaming wooden torches, not flash lights) with every one dressed up in fancy costumes, marching bands and walking jazz bands. Every one ending up at the village green or near by field to light a huge fire to burn the “Guy” and watch a fire work display. This goes on every weekend from mid October to December. The Glorious 5th though is reserved for the county town, Lewes. It has 5 bonfire societies of its own, the oldest and most notorious is the “Cliff”. Their fire and firework display is held against a huge sheer chalk cliff that towers above the fire and people reflecting the goings on.
This was where the real political statements were made. Many young student types would get on a soapbox and air their views, usually to be pelted with firecrackers. The main attraction though was the large paper Mache effigy of the Pope, which was blown up and burnt to remind every one what Guy Fawkes night was all about. So as not to be considered too inflammatory they also had a similar sized effigy of a political figure who every one despised that year and blew them up as well. I well remember in the early 70s they had one mounted on a lorry to parade through the streets along with the 50,000 people and flaming torches. It was a cage with a huge gorilla swinging to reach some bananas. The face though was that of Idi Amin the ruler of Uganda at the time. He was blown up to great cheering as we were inundated at that time with Ugandan refugees that he had thrown out of the country, (which was still considered part of the Empire). You can see from the preceding sentences that Political Correctness had not reached the shores of England in the 70s. Those days the closest any body came to it would be to abstain from passing wind whilst speaking in public!
After all this History and such what on earth does this have to do with farm family planning? Well over the years Shepherds worked out that if you put the rams in with the ewes on Guy Fawkes night you had lambs starting on April Fools day. By then there was plenty of grass in England and it was easy to remember these dates for illiterate farm folk. I am not so sure this worked near Lewes though as with all the fires and explosions the sheep were just too stressed for procreation until the next week when their nerves had settled down.
Here on our farm we keep up the tradition and this Friday 5th we will be sorting ewes and rams into their groups for 36 days of courting. With no fires and fireworks in sight all should go well. If you drive by though go easy on the throttle especially you two wheelers. May be I should make a new road sign, “Shh, rams working” with the obvious picture!