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agroecology

Footnotes from the Field: Nature’s Electromagnetism

in 2022/Climate Change/Current Issue/Footnotes from the Field/Summer 2022

A Cooperative Energy Flow

By Marjorie Harris

Mother Nature is an ocean of electromagnetic waves traveling at the speed of light. It is now understood that nothing happens in the natural world that isn’t an electromagnetic event at some level.

It was just over 175 years ago in 1846, that Michael Faraday, known as the father of electromagnetism proposed the electromagnetic theory of light. He had discovered that light and electromagnetism were inter-related. The flow of light, charged particles, and electric currents were all governed by the same natural laws of electromagnetism. Shortly before Faraday’s passing in 1867, something spoke to him in the colours of the spectrum of light. While he looked out his western window past the distant rainfall he saw a beautiful rainbow that spanned the sky, and exclaimed, “He hath set his testimony in the heavens.”

Electromagnetism makes the world go round and round—every visible action starts with an invisible electromagnetic foundation, observed in the far distant cosmos macro displays of exploding supernovas, in the nearer Sun’s solar flares and coronal mass ejections, in our terrestrial atmospheric displays of northern lights, rainbows and lightening, and all the way down to microscopic movements of nutrients in the soil and phytoplankton pastures of the oceans, all demonstrating electromagnetism in motion.

On an electromagnetic level, nature operates cooperatively; this is far from the Darwinian concepts of competition and survival. Nature can be witnessed as the flow of energy dedicated to an incorruptible cooperative system set in motion by celestial events in galaxies far, far away.

Climate Changes and Nitrogen Fertilization

Galactic cosmic rays (GCR), are highly energetic, mainly positively-charged protons, whizzing through space at nearly the speed of light. Most of these charged particles have their origins outside of our solar system, coming from our own Milky Way galaxy, and beyond from distant galaxies. It is thought that they are the remnants of exploded supernovas. The climate and cloud cycle on earth is influenced to some degree by events occurring outside of our solar system that create galactic rays.

The earth is shielded by a magnetosphere as well: the Sun’s solar magnetic field helps to block incoming GCR’s. When our Sun is in a low sunspot period of its 11-year solar cycle, more galactic rays are able reach the earth’s atmosphere, increasing the low cloud cover. The result of more cloud cover is a cooler climate and more lightning storms. When clouds develop ice crystals the clouds separate into positively-charged tops and negatively-charged cloud bottoms. Lightning strikes are not random; lightning is guided to soils with high accumulations of positive charges. The soil develops positive charges for a number of reasons including microorganism and fungi activity. Fungi mycelium hyphae grow from positively charged tips and prefer to grow in the alkaline soils which result after fires.

Lightning is known to emit significant electromagnetic energy. Credit: Windows to the Universe.

Electromagnetic Energy of Lightning

Lightning is known to emit significant electromagnetic energy. These energy bursts react with the air, releasing atmospheric nitrogen aerosols that are washed down in rainfall to the soil and are bioavailable as nitrogen fertilizer for plants. Galactic cosmic rays create cooler temperatures, more rain, and nitrogen fertilization which promotes abundant plant growth.

The Birds & the Bees

The Earth’s magnetosphere also plays a vital role in bird migrations. It was recently discovered that some birds use the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way to their breeding and wintering grounds—they navigate the globe by actually being able to see Earth’s magnetic field lines.

Bees have a positively electric relationship with flowers. Bumblebee wings beat more then

200 times per second. The flight is so rapid it causes the bees to collide with the tiny air particles. As the bees collide with the air particles, electrons are knocked off of the bees creating a positive static electrically-charged aura around the bee. Flowers rich in nectar have an invisible negatively charged electric fields which stimulate the sensory hairs on the bee’s head and draw the bee toward them. As the bee lands on the flower, the negatively-charged flower pollen leaps onto the bees, sticking to the bee’s positively-charged hairs. Some of the bee’s positive charge shifts onto the flower, changing its electric field aura and telling other bees the nectar bounty has been plundered and to forage elsewhere. This helps bees be more energy efficient in their foraging activities.

We live in an electromagnetic soup that is influenced by forces on earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond—into a universe full of supernovas. Even the honey made by the humble bee depends on galactic cosmic rays originating in galaxies far, far way. Life truly is a cooperative, magical, and mysterious electromagnetic creation beyond comprehension!


Marjorie Harris, IOIA VO and concerned organophyte.

Feature image: Electric fields of flowers stimulate the sensory hairs of bumblebees. Credit: Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

References:
Faraday and the Electromagnetic Theory of Light. bbvaopenmind.com/en/science/leading-figures/faraday-electromagnetic-theory-light/
Electric fields of flowers stimulate the sensory hairs of bumble bees, Bumblebee Conservation Trust bumblebeeconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/03-StaticElectricity.1_v2.pdf
7020–7021, PNAS, June 28, 2016, vol. 113 no. 26 pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1607426113
Kaplan, M. Bumblebees sense electric fields in flowers. Nature (2013). doi.org/10.1038/nature.2013.12480
NASA Researchers Explore Lightning’s NOx-ious Impact on Pollution, Climate, 10.22.09
National Earth Science Teachers Association windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/tstorm/lightning_formation.html&edu=high
The bee, the flower, and the electric field: electric ecology and aerial electroreception link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00359-017-1176-6

Finding the Rhythm of Agroforestry

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Summer 2022/Tools & Techniques/Water Management

Andrew Adams

Trees, shrubs, and seeds all wait to begin a lifetime or two of photosynthesizing sugars for human and animal consumption and enjoyment.

The road where Walter’s backhoe broke in a muck of two summers of nonstop rain is now ditched and has a new layer of gravel. Part of me broke in that spot. I walked away from that machine until the following spring when I magically got it out despite its broken axle.

The field has its drainage ditches dug for freshet or non-stop rain.

There are many ponds on the property now and I want more.

My back is feeling well and my heart still says go forth and plant.

For several years, I was always happy working way more acres than someone should with basically no machines. I had always been athletic and loved to challenge my body as well as my mind. Three hard summers in a row, a handful of years working in the bush while farming, and two kids later, I am no longer 25.

I sat on an advisory committee on climate change adaptation for farmers a few years ago and the models were stark. As soon as I saw the models, what was predicted to happen in 10 years started happening now. And we felt it.

The shake up in the world’s food system and transportation system over the past few years was jarring to most individuals within reach of a satellite dish or radio wave. We were no different.

Glorious tomatoes. Credit: Andrew Adams.

I had a local friend and restaurant owner come to me during the beginning of the pandemic and say, “It’s happening just like you said it would with food shortages. I thought you were crazy.” I likely am crazy, as it runs in my family, but I think it’s been obvious to many that our system of growing and transporting food is a bit broken.

There was nothing like facing record-breaking weather events, disasters, a pandemic, and supply chain disruptions—and now having two kids—to spur me into thinking long-term a bit harder.

Two things became apparent to me: we needed to expand our greenhouse side of the farm to mitigate the effects of our already harsh environment (we are on class 7 land), and we needed to make plans for long-term resiliency and move quickly because I am not getting any younger, as they say.

We expanded our greenhouse operations with loans, sweat from friends and family members, and lots of studying. Now, we can grow large volumes of annual vegetable crops relatively safe from the major challenges of the season. Basically, we reduced our risk on our annual income.

It was time to start the long-term project.

The soil is alive. Credit: Andrew Adams.

We had read of Indigenous food forests being found in what is known to many as British Columbia and standing the test of time.

We had dabbled over the years in trialing various varieties of berry plants, fruit trees, etc., just by placing them in our clay soil and watching them year by year. We watched some die and we watched some thrive and we watched some just exist in a state of almost cryogenesis in our gleysolic clay and we knew their native cousins in the forest.

We watched native species of fruit-bearing shrubs and nut-producing trees provide nearly every year to our family and to the wildlife despite the type of season it was weather-wise.

A good dear friend who I would call an adopted mother and mentor in the world of local botany and growing in difficult climates had a library and then-some of all the information we needed to pursue this adventure.

We began studying more often about trees and shrubs and visiting my mentor every week to soak up as much information as I could, and then we made the decision. This past year, I purchased prodigious amounts of seed, shrubs, flowering plants, and equipment.

The field will be laid out with wind breaks of willow and red osier dogwood to provide not only wind break but food for wildlife if they out-sneak the guard dogs. A wall of dessert to keep them from browsing the more valuable human-destined crops. It will encircle the field like a horseshoe with the open end facing the south.

A forest of food starts with good intentions and seed. Pictured here are butternut seeds, related to walnuts and pecans. Credit: Andrew Adams.

The next interior layer will be flowering shrubs for pollinators and nesting song birds, followed by apple trees and small “thickets” of butternut trees. The next layer of the agroforest will be the Saskatoon and then Haskap berries. And within the all layers, various native plant species will be reintroduced within the population for more diversity.

The orchard will take a few years to begin bearing fruit physically but it will continue do so with minimal input—as opposed to our annual vegetable crops—once established. Much of the maintenance of the field can be done with our implements and tractor which is a huge bonus, because apparently you can’t work 18-hour days on the farm and be the best dad in the world.

I hope my boys and the community (which includes the local ecosystem) will benefit from the orchard but like all projects, only time will tell, and the time will be marked in the rings of lignified carbon.

If it works financially once up and going, we have plenty more acres that will receive the same silvicultural prescription based on local ecosystem observation.

Is this regenerative agriculture? Is this permaculture? I really don’t like to place labels on anything and some folks are down right cultish about some of those words. How about we call it a slow dance with the ecosystem in which we are all in step.

Transportation disruptions. Credit: Andrew Adams.

hopefarmorganics.com


Andrew Adams is the co-founder and farmer at Hope Farm Organics in Prince George. Andrew has a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture from Kansas State University and his partner Janie has a Bachelor of education. After seeing the state of food security and agriculture in the north the two felt obligated to make real change in the form of organic food production and thus created Hope Farm in 2011.

Feature image: Walking through the potato patch. Credit: Andrew Adams.

Household Greywater: An Untapped Resource

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Summer 2022/Water Management

By Ron Berezan

This article was first published by The Canadian Organic Grower magazine in Summer 2011, and is reprinted here with gratitude.

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1746

Turn on the tap and there it is; that shimmering, miraculous substance that flows through our rivers and lakes, our soils and plants—the rain that falls and the air we breathe, and indeed through the very eyes that read this text and the hands that hold this page. While millions of people around the world spend hours every day in the search for safe and drinkable water, we who live in relative water luxury, turning on the tap at will to meet our needs, are slower to recognize that water is a limited and very precious resource, without which there can be no life. For most of us, the well has never been dry.

Canadians are among the highest water consumers in the world, using an astonishing 600–700 litres of potable water per person per day in cities across this country.1 Yet if we consider the water used to grow the food we eat, agriculture being the most water- intensive human activity on the planet, not to mention other industrial water uses, our true rate of consumption is much higher. The good news is that through simple conservation measures, both in household and agricultural activities in Canada, our per capita water use has been decreasing in recent years. Given the marked decline of river levels on the prairies of the past few decades, along with other predicted changes in the hydrological cycle associated with climate change,2 there is little doubt that the years ahead will challenge us to draw much deeper from the well of wise water use.

One of the least explored and under-utilized options for water conservation in Canada is household grey water recycling. While other more arid regions of the world have been using grey water extensively for decades (some southwestern American states are now mandating grey water use in new residential developments), most Canadians are still unfamiliar with the very term. Household “grey water” by definition is any water that has been used for cooking, washing dishes, bathing or doing laundry. Grey water is to be distinguished from “black water” which is water that contains human waste, i.e. toilet water. Some water experts also include harvested rainwater from rooftops in the category of grey water, although there are notable differences between the two.

Apart from the obvious reduced water consumption associated with grey water use, there are two other compelling arguments in its favour. Firstly, whenever we use tap water, we are using energy—energy that has gone into the purification process as well as the pumping process to pressurize the lines that deliver water to our homes. Reducing water use also reduces energy use.

Secondly, grey water, when used in the landscape, comes with an added bonus: nutrients! All of the residual food waste left in our kitchen sink after washing dishes, and the soap itself (providing it is fully biodegradable) can become fertilizer for our gardens. As a common permaculture adage suggests, “pollution is an unused resource.” Indeed, when we consider natural systems, all waste from one organism or one process becomes food for another. Careful, appropriate grey water use in the landscape can connect our home ecology more firmly to the ecology of the place that we inhabit.

Before rowing our boat any further down the grey water stream, however, we should pause to consider the boulder lurking just below the surface—the question of regulation. Provincial plumbing codes and municipal bylaws vary throughout the country and many do not address the option of using grey water in the landscape at all. (They usually address using grey water inside the home for toilet flushing.) Suffice to say when I contacted municipal and provincial authorities in Alberta and asked, “Is it acceptable for me to bucket out my bathtub and use the water for my trees?” I was given a resounding “Yes!” in response.

When I further asked whether I could develop a more efficient way of moving the water from the tub to the trees, the response was more tentative and uncertain. It seems that outdoor grey water use is a ‘grey area’ in most jurisdictions in Canada. The bottom line is that you need to establish what is permitted where you live before you develop a grey water system.

Grey water advocate extraordinaire Art Ludwig, author of the highly useful Create an Oasis with Greywater,3 observes that the biggest mistake people make when using household grey water is that they contain the water in cisterns or buckets. The result is anaerobic decomposition of the nutrients and the inevitable unpleasant smells that come with it. Grey water should be confined no longer than 24 hours and ideally should be moved immediately from the source to the destination. Furthermore, any plumbing lines installed for grey water must be completely separate from water supply lines to ensure that no cross-contamination of potable (drinking) water can occur. While the health risks associated with grey water use are relatively very small, most grey water system designers recommend that there be minimal opportunity for contact between grey water and people, and that it be used to water perennial gardens, trees, and shrubs rather than annual vegetables.

Art Ludwig’s image of a branched drain.

Ludwig recommends keeping grey water systems as simple as possible by avoiding pumps, filters and other mechanisms that can easily clog up with particulate matter. Indeed, placing a basin in the dish sink or bucketing out the bathtub, though minimalist, can be a very effective option, particularly for occasional use.

For those who desire a slightly more automated system, Ludwig’s top recommendation is what he refers to as a “branched drain to mulched basin” design. Simply described, this system involves cutting into the existing drain pipe below a sink or bathtub and installing a ‘gate valve’ that allows you to direct the water outside through 1½-inch flexible PVC pipe and a series of ‘double ells’ that split the water into a few different directions.

Once outdoors, the flexible PVC is just below ground surface or beneath a layer of mulch. The different lines empty into shallow mulch-filled basins near trees, shrubs and perennials. As soon as the nutrient-rich grey water comes into contact with the soil, it is immediately fed upon by soil microbes which break it down into its mineral form. Then, it can be taken up by plants and cycled indefinitely. The grey water itself never sees the light of day. This is, of course, a seasonal system that can operate only when freezing is not occurring.

A slightly more complex system, and one which I successfully operated in my urban yard in Edmonton for many years with minimal maintenance, is called a “constructed grey water wetland.” This system involves the creation of a wetland system through which the grey water flows and is purified in the process. It ran from April to October in our case—the water moved by gravity from the main floor bath tub through a 1½- inch PVC line into a series of two “rock and reed” beds outside a few feet from the house. These were 14-inch deep trenches, 12 inches wide and five feet long, lined with rubber and filled with ½ to 1 inch of gravel.

Native wetland plants, such as sweet flag (Acorus calamus) and cattails (Typha latifolia), were planted into the gravel. Bacteria living on the surface of the gravel decompose the nutrients in the grey water (biodegradable soap, dirt, hair, etc.) and turn them into food for the reeds, which grow at a surprisingly robust rate. It is helpful to inoculate the rock and reed beds with healthy local pond water to ensure the presence of appropriate wetland microbes.

By the time the water moves through the rock and reed beds (approximately 48 hours), it is amazingly clean (wetlands are the kidneys of the planet!). The water flowed from the reed beds into a small pond containing additional wetland plants and provided a lovely aesthetic and great habitat for small fish, insects, birds, dragonflies and many other species. As additional water moved into the pond, it overflowed into a mulched woodland garden composed of a variety of native perennial and woody species and edible mushrooms. We drew water from the pond to irrigate nearby garden beds, and regularly harvested the reeds to add to the compost pile, ultimately transforming the ‘waste’ water into biomass, soil and eventually into food.

Using grey water in the landscape is a far simpler and safer process than most people imagine. While we have been the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of evolution in municipal water infrastructure and sanitation planning, we seem to have “thrown the baby out with the grey water” in missing this ubiquitous resource. In addition to the regulatory barriers that may still exist to widespread uptake of grey water recycling, there remains the cultural and emotional resistance that some may feel towards the practice. Those of us in the organic movement, however, may be more accustomed to pushing the social boundaries and creating fertile ground for others to walk upon.


Ron Berezan is an organic farmer and permaculture teacher living on Canada’s west coast in Tla’Amin territory. He works on food security and sustainability projects throughout Canada and in Cuba. theurbanfarmer.ca

Feature image: Cattails filter water. Credit: (CC) Sharon Mollerus.

References
1. National Resources Canada: nrcan.gc.ca
2. Dr. David Schindler: alberta.ca/aoe-david-schindler.aspx
3. Create an Oasis with Grey Water – Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems. Art Ludwig. Poor Richard’s Press, Santa Maria, CA. 2006. oasisdesign.net

Dispatches from the Future

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Summer 2022

Our Best Case for a Climate-Changed Food System

Brian MacIsaac and Rebecca Kneen

Fifty years ago, the combination of climate crisis, income inequality, and environmental toxification led to a massive change in North America. The polar ice melt raised the ocean by several feet, drowning cities all over the coast, including all the coastal agricultural regions of BC. Wildfires burned the uplands of the province, and heavy rains fell on the destabilized landscape, changing waterways and flooding river valleys. Survivors of the death of cities to flood and heat moved inland, putting pressure on the remaining livable areas and forcing a dramatic social restructuring. While other regions fell into enclaves of military rule and oligarchs controlling resources and food production in an almost feudal manner, BC’s social history led it down a different path.

Settlements now are within a narrow zone of uplands, with dense communities surrounded by food and forest land under communal management. Land, Seed, Water, Community and Forest Stewards are trained from youth, and guided by Indigenous leadership and principles of reciprocity and responsibility. There is no private land ownership as we know it: people tend to work in the same area of land and skill for generations, but are free to move into a different region or skill to suit their personal needs. New forms of science have arisen, using the skills of the before-times in the context of over-riding ecosystem health, as people have learned that human health is utterly dependent on ecosystem health.

While ocean desalination has killed a lot of ocean life, plants and creatures evolved for living in brackish water are thriving, and there is evidence that some species are rebuilding populations and ecosystems. The oceans remain out of bounds for most, however, in an attempt to let them regenerate. Lakes and rivers have become the primary source of fish, with strict protections over watersheds and waterways in place to support this vital food supply. There are no petro-powered motors allowed on any waterway, and fishing is strictly regulated to prioritize the needs of the water-life systems rather than human consumption.

Lettuce transplanted in summer heat. Credit: Moss Dance.

Centralized mass power production failed completely during the “Spasm,” as wildfire, flood, and mudslides tore the distribution system apart and showed its essential weakness. Electricity is created by steam, solar, wind, and tidal power, in local systems with local distribution. Petrochemicals are almost non-existent, saved for lubrication, gaskets, and bushings, and parts for solar panels. Solar panels themselves are rare, made mostly from reclaimed materials mined from dumpsites all over the province. Steam, wind, and run of the river hydro are the most common forms of power after human and horse power.

Forest replant programs, already beginning to change when the Spasm happened, now focus on planting a wide diversity of species. Watersheds and stream banks are always replanted first, but all replants go in cycles of succession to first stabilize the land and build soil, then adding species that would naturally follow to build canopy and long-term stable systems. Mycorrhizae are planted along with the trees to encourage living soil. Stable slopes, protected watersheds, and vibrant ecosystems are the primary goal, and many species are nurtured which have no direct human use. Forests are harvested for food and timber, but with selective logging only for wood which will be turned into finished products within the local region. Food harvesting is done under the supervision of Indigenous ecosystems managers.

Polyculture farming in small fields has replaced large scale agriculture, as the giant monocrop farms all drowned along with the large flatland areas of the province. All farming is based on organic principles and techniques developed and proven over the last century to have the most regenerative value. Organic farms using mixed or polyculture systems along with cover crops and extensive mulch systems were the only farms to have survived the Spasm relatively intact, as their lively soils were covered to protect from erosion and their many species provided weather, pest, and disease resilience. The knowledge inherited from these regenerative farms provides the basis for new farming techniques.

Farms are organized and managed for each local community in a mix of food, fodder, fibre, and trade crops. The village model keeps housing on rocky land, saving deeper soil for growing crops, and everyone participates in farming—some year-round, some seasonally while their main tasks take them into other areas of expertise—unemployment is not a problem, as every hand is needed to ensure survival. Co-operative farming also means that farm machinery is used efficiently, with new technology constantly being invented by workers to suit the needs of small, diversified farms. Crop patterns and cycles meet community needs, with centralized storage and processing, all of which allow for plenty of labour, skills development, and efficiencies of scale and technology. Food storage makes use of passive systems, from canning and drying to underground cold storage which needs no electricity whatsoever.

Wild bee on phacelia. Credit: Moss Dance.

Polyculture farms make use of terracing for field crops in hilly areas and slopes, as well as involving goats, sheep, and cattle in small flocks and herds. Communities keep only a few cows or goats for meat and milk, depending on their ability to grow the needed winter fodder. Heritage breeds have been selected for their hardiness and heat tolerance, and ability to thrive on pasture and forage only. Sheep are kept in other highland areas, valued for their milk, meat, and wool, as well as their use in grazing cover crops while leaving trees intact. Livestock are highly valued for their concentrated protein, fibre, and manure, so necessary in small-lot agriculture. Pigs and chickens are raised by most households, living on scraps and integrated into crop rotation systems, turning food waste and harvest detritus into precious food and fertilizer, while breaking pest and disease cycles. Meat is a much smaller part of the daily diet, with legumes, eggs, and vegetables taking over, but dairy and meat are cherished for their ability to provide sustenance when the now-common wild shifts in weather devastate field crops.

The expense and waste of shipping fresh foods out of season has shifted everyone’s diets to focus on local, seasonal foods, with a great reliance on preserved foods for cold seasons, and a lot of investment in low-tech season extension techniques. Coffee and chocolate have become the longest-distance trade goods, and are saved for special occasions, while other foods once considered staples of specialized “earth-friendly” diets are unheard of: coconuts are traded whole only, and very rare, cashews are never seen, and almonds’ high water consumption killed most of them during the repeating droughts.

As economies have become more locally focused, so have diets. Trade begins with neighbouring areas, focusing on goods and foods which cannot be produced locally—wild rice, grains, bison meat and robes, and materials mined from scrap in other regions are all high value, as well as high-tech items and finished goods like cloth. Southern BC’s wool is traded for linen from the Peace and prairies.

Fibre for clothing comes primarily from wool, with hemp and linen being grown only in limited areas due to their extensive space and nutrient requirements, but they are always included in long cycle crop rotations. Local craftspeople and mills provide the needed processing, while excess cloth, thread, and yarn are valued trade goods.

Pole beans adorn the southern and eastern walls of any house not covered in espaliered fruit trees, as legumes become the workhorse of everyone’s diet, and provide both shade and food. Long cycle crop rotations include grains, legumes, fodder, fibre, and vegetable crops, with zero use of toxic pesticides and herbicides. The mass die-off of pollinators and 80% of insect life due to the use of agrotoxins also killed off many tree and plant species, but new insects are starting to fill in the ecosystem gaps, and Land Stewards are learning to adapt to reduced and changed insect life.

Beekeeping is a critical new profession, as the death of insects and use of agrotoxins devastated both honeybees and native bees. Beekeepers breed both honeybees and solitary bees, and are venerated for their social teachings as well as the vital pollination and, of course, honey. Groups of children help with pollination, being encouraged to run through flowering crops to spread pollen while they play.

Seed Stewards are constantly adapting varieties, but everyone grows several crops for seed, as so many varieties are needed to create the genetic variations for constant adaptation. GMO traits and terminator genes keep surfacing, requiring constant attention and rogueing out of affected varieties, while always trading seed and breeding from those varieties that show the most local resilience and adaptation. Seeds provide another valuable source of trade goods, sharing crop resources, genetic variation, and skills.

Shorter and more violent winters have changed diets as well. Hydroponics and indoor “farms,” once touted as the saviour technologies, were far too dependent on electric power and petrochemicals for everything from irrigation to fertilizers to lighting and other infrastructure. Instead, every family grows sprouts to provide the bulk of winter greens, as well as hardy crops like kale, chard, spinach, and corn salad raised over winter in cold frames. Cold storage keeps a multitude of root vegetables, fruit, and cabbage fresh all winter, while meat provides any missing vitamins, and canned, fermented, and dried food create lots of variety. High-tech, energy intensive systems have failed over and over again, while passive systems of cold storage have proven value.

In many ways, this is a change back to a much earlier lifestyle, without many of the modern conveniences we take for granted. In other ways, we have managed to bring with us the best of contemporary technology and scientific advancement. Medicine has changed, as the vast array of pharmaceuticals is not accessible, but specialized production is supported by groups of communities, with pharmaceuticals being a highly valued trade commodity. Many other modern technologies (washing machines, for example) have been adapted to human power, and are being built for long-term use rather than planned obsolescence. Dumpsite mining, while dangerous due to the high levels of toxins, provides an unbelievable resource for otherwise scarce chemicals and materials.

What has really changed is our attitude: life is no longer disposable, and we live in the constant awareness of the value of the ecosystems in which we live.


Brian MacIsaac creates art and beer and instigates revolution at Crannog Ales, on unceded Secwepemc Territory. He spent years as a social worker and on the front lines of anti-fascist and anti-poverty work, actively working against British colonialism and for the re-unification of Ireland.

Rebecca’s parents led her down the sheep track to food sovereignty and food systems analysis through their Ram’s Horn magazine and Brewster’s many books. She farms and brews in Secwepemc Territory at Left Fields/Crannóg Ales and is Organic BC’s representative to the Organic Federation of Canada.

Feature image: Sunflowers at Burgoyne Valley Community Garden. Credit: Moss Dance.

A Summer of Drought, Heat Waves, and Fire

in 2021/Climate Change/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories

It is definitely a topsy-turvy world right now—so much is out of balance as we can see in the wildfires around us, as well as flooding and more fires around the world. We’re feeling for Mother Earth and recognize the shifts that humans (particularly the extractivist, endless-growth mindsets) need to make to start to repair what we have messed with (which is a LOT). We are grateful that things aren’t so out of balance that we can still grow good food for family and farm friends, building relationships, and where we can do better, be better.”
~ Michelle Tsutsumi, Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Throughout the province, temperatures reached record highs in late June, with seasonal temperatures fluctuating in the high 30’s for long periods of time in the Interior. Smoke from hundreds of fires choked out the sun and left the earth and plants parched for water and sun scorched. What follows is a collection of stories from organic farmers in their own words and as told to Marjorie Harris. Gratitude to the farmers who shared their harrowing experiences and stories of community coming together.

Farming under red skies in the thick of the fires. Credit: Fresh Valley Farms.

The biggest impact of the fires has been on our own mental and physical (respiratory) health. It wouldn’t even be that bad if it wasn’t on top of this ongoing drought, but as it is, the uncertainty of the situation is a lot to deal with.”
Annelise Grube-Cavers, Fresh Valley Farms, Armstrong

Coping with Heat Waves & Drought

By Marjorie Harris

The cherry crop experienced losses of 30% due to extreme temperatures up to 51 degrees for one or two days, followed by extended days of extreme temperatures. The cherry harvest was just beginning and the cherries were burned up, basically dehydrated and shriveled on the trees. One full block had to be abandoned. Many cherry farmers in the area lost entire blocks of trees to heat and water demands causing orchard abandonments.
~ Jarnail Gill, Blossom River Organics, Keremeos

At the end of June, the Oliver area was hit with two days of 47 degree temperatures, which then stayed over 40 degrees for many days. If the plants were not given enormous amounts of water they would have dried out. Hans used 40% to 50% more water this year than ever in his 40 years on the vineyard. Because of the high heat the evapotranspiration rate is very high and the water is needed by the plant to cool itself. If there is not sufficient water for the plant to do this the stomata on the leaf will close and the plant will completely shut down growth. The plant can burn up if it can’t cool, or take three to four weeks to start again. Also, some winter hardiness could be lost if the plants come back too late in the season. Therefore, the only choice available to save the plants and the vineyard was to water. Pumping from the well does have limited resources and thankfully not as much water is needed now. High temperatures combined with the large amount of water the vines did go into leaf growth. The bunches are very uneven in size and most are smaller berries that will not size up. Harvest season looks like it may be two weeks ahead.
~ Hans Buchler, Park Hill Vineyards, Oliver

In late June, temperatures soared over 40 degrees for five days peaking at 45 degrees. The Sunrise is our first summer apple and the first to be assessed for the damaging effects of the very intense heat that we had so early in the season. While the sun burning to the most exposed fruit is very deep and unsightly, it doesn’t appear to have affected a large percentage of the Sunrise crop. There may also have been some premature ripening in some of the Sunrise but on the whole pressures seem to be holding steady. Harvest dates are about the same as last year. Sunrise apples like most summer apples have relatively short storage life and don’t seem to be affected by internal quality issues as may be the case for some of the later apple varieties which rely on their storability.
~ Sally and Wilfrid Mennell, Sally Mennell’s Orchard, Cawston

Sunrise apples damaged by extreme heat in Cawston. Ranch. Credit: Sally Mennell’s Orchard.

David is a third-generation apple farmer in the BX area of Vernon, where temperatures reached over 44 degrees. The cider apple orchard is on a metered municipal treated water system. The trees needed more water than ever before, but a balance had to be made between keeping the trees alive and the economics of paying more for metered water than the business can afford. David admits to running on gut instinct to keep the orchard going all around. Far less scab sprays were applied. The apples are smaller across the whole orchard.

David explained that once temperature goes above 30 degrees, the trees shut down growth and the apples stay small. David shows me how on the hottest days the sun scorched the south facing fruit, baked to apple sauce on the trees, and now the hardened skins have split. The Gala and the Ambrosia hold the sun-damaged fruit and these have to be hand removed. As a third-generation farm, some blocks still have very low-density plantings; the large leafy canopies on these trees helped to protect the fruit. Overall, David says it looked like the orchard was starting to recover from the first heat wave and now with the second heat wave upon the orchard the growth is definitely slowing, “but who knows how the season will turn out,” David says, grinning a big smile.
~ David Dobernigg, The BX Press, Vernon

Saving the Farm

By Marjorie Harris with story from Rob Vanderlip: Zaparango Organic Farm, Westwold

The farm was blanketed with thick smoke for weeks before the fire arrived. The last planting of potatoes was struggling and lanky with the sun for photosynthesis. After the fires, the potatoes grew like crazy with steady fire prevention irrigation, hot weather and lots of carbon dioxide, green growth for weeds and crops vigorously filling out the plants.

On Aug 5th Robert Vanderlip, his son Chelan and everyone else in Westwold were ordered to evacuate from the approaching out-of-control fire that had just left Monte Lake as scorched earth. Rob, 69 years old, and Chelan, 32, opted to stay and try to save the family farm by fighting the fires.

An eerie orange sky at Fresh Valley Farm. Credit: Fresh Valley Farm.

In Rob’s own words he said “On Thursday, August 5th at 5pm the fire came over the forested mountain from Monte Lake like a locomotive engine barreling down his dried out native grass hayfield, then stopping at the green alfalfa and corn fields, to split east and west back into the forest and down the railway tracks heading into the town of Westwold. The flock of 70 sheep, free ranging ducks and chickens crowded into the green pastures.”

Rob and Chelan sprung into action pulling the 200 gal Turbo-mist sprayer tank with the Massey 35 diesel tractor to hose-down the understory along the railway tracks and put out fires in the circuit around the farm. One hour into the firefight electric power was lost to pump water from the wells to fill the sprayer tank. Fortunately, one of the wells was located high enough upslope to gravity feed fill the sprayer tank and keep the livestock troughs constantly full with water. Fire crews from Alexis Creek arrived in two hours and the Kelowna fire department also responded by 10pm but there was no power to fill the fire crew tanks. Rob and Chelan had set up sprinklers, and by 4am they had succeeded in preventing fire from entering Westwold.

The Zaparango family farm lost a hydro pole, two tool sheds and thousands of dollars in tools on day one of the fire. The fire battle on the homefront lasted another seven or eight days. Rob and Chelan volunteered and then were hired on by BC Wildfire service as guides for the roads and terrain of the fire suppression area.

Rob highly recommends that everyone keep gas generators with fuel on hand for emergency power. His 120-volt generator kept five freezers, three fridges and the fuel pump going throughout. A 240-volt generator was brought in on August 7th to power pumps for the two domestic wells to fill fire fighting water tanks.

Fire Evacuation

By Tristan Banwell, Spray Creek Ranch, Lillooet

As I steered my tractor through the corners on my biggest hayfield, the thermometer was showing temperatures in the high 40s and humidity below 10%. I watched an enormous pyrocumulus cloud form to the north as the McKay Creek Fire took hold. The following afternoon, smoke rapidly plumed to the south as our sister town of Lytton was devastated. The days that followed feel like weeks in my memory. The whole team shifted to fire preparations—ensuring livestock were in safer locations, setting out water lines to protect structures, and clearing away flammable items. The farm crew displaced from Solstedt Organics in Lytton showed up the next night. (The Standard requires that organic farm evacuees relocate to another organic farm… Just kidding.) After just 36 hours came the 3am evacuation order—text alerts and officers knocking at the door. By 9am, 11 farm residents and several recently arrived evacuees were dispersing with beloved possessions to other safe locations, and I was left to plan, prepare and take care of the livestock.

Protecting the family home with irrigation. Credit: Spray Creek Ranch.

Thankfully for us, the evacuation order was premature (better than late!) and the crew and family returned days later. I learned a lot from the experience. We went into this somewhat prepared—the buildings are fire-resistant, fuels in the forest are managed, most tools we need are around here…somewhere… But, all those wildfire plans are in my own head, depending on me to direct implementation. The farmstead looks different under threat of fire than it did the day prior, and we realized a lot more can be accomplished in advance. The tools need to be staged, the preparations need to be completed before the emergency, and the plans need to be on paper. We need backup power in case the grid goes down.

I learned that there is a network of support out there, but when you need those extra hands, it could be too late or unsafe. I also learned that although friends and family were concerned that I would be in danger from the fire itself, the risks I faced were familiar. Working alone. Operating machinery. Making decisions and taking action while affected by fatigue and stress. It is crucial to take time to rest and recover, even when it feels that every moment counts.

In so many ways, we have been fortunate thus far through the difficult summer of 2021. Our creek-fed irrigation water is holding up. The wildfires throughout the Interior have not yet raged through our farmstead, pastures and range. The systems we have in place to protect our livestock from the intense heat have worked. Some of this is luck, some is good planning and preparation. Even as we build diversity and resilience into our agroecological systems and businesses, we always rely on a little bit of grace from Mother Nature. This season has been a good reminder that we must also prepare for moments when there may be none.”

Smoke billows over a nearby mountain range at Solstedt Organics. Credit: Solstedt Organics.

Running on Fumes: Solstedt Organics

By Ashala Daniel, Solstedt Organics, Lytton BC

On June 30th, a CN train sparked just outside the town of Lytton, the closest town to my farm. Within half an hour, the town had burned to the ground. My land partner’s son had a place in town and raced to see if he could save anything but couldn’t even make it into town as there were propane tanks exploding and the whole town was on fire. That night, I sat in my pond and cried. For the town and for fear of that fire jumping the river and coming towards us.

We were evacuated from the west side on Thursday and I travelled to the city to deliver to restaurants and sell at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market. It was surreal being in the city, crying a lot, putting out a donation jar for Lytton, while back at the farm, the fire had indeed jumped the Fraser river and was burning just five miles south of the farm.

My husband travelled back to the farm on Sunday with me as locals had been fighting the fire for three nights and needed relief. BC Forestry had only just started to show up. A friend joined us and they joined the local crew fighting the fire at night while Forestry fought it during the day. I made food, irrigated my and my neighbour’s farm and harvested. Again, it felt so pointless, but it was all I could do. A crew from New Brunswick showed up and were stationed at our fire for 14 days, evacuation orders were lifted and people started to return to the farm.

Since then, it has been a struggle with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to travel roads to the highway, making our journey seven hours instead of four. The fire continues to burn and now First Nation communities south of us have been evacuated. The Fraser Canyon is closed as I write this as the fire was getting very close to the highway and now, with torrential rain last night, a mudslide has made the highway unpassable. I may be forced to travel up to Lillooet and down the Sea-to-Sky highway when I go to the city this week. The Duffey Lake road is horrible and scary with a big cube van and most trips involve groups of people in their fast cars cutting me off in dangerous spots all the way.

I was talking to my neighbours this morning and we all agreed that we are running on fumes. Which isn’t uncommon for farmers in the summer, but the added element of threat of fire for six weeks has really shattered all of us. It’s hard being in the city and hearing people say “Oh, you’re famous,” when they know my farm is in Lytton. I know people don’t know what to say around tragedy. But it’s very hard to keep a smile on my face and make that person feel welcome in my booth at the farmer’s market. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m exhausted, I’m on edge, and I’m also so deeply grateful to still have my farm, my livelihood, and my home.


Featured image: Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Let’s Hold Hands

in 2021/Fall 2021/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

By Natalie Forstbauer

The emptiness of the Earth’s desertified soils is palpable.
The insidious poisoning of our water is profound.
The toxic air filling our lungs is suffocating.
The mass extinction of life is alarming.
The dis-ease in human bodies is dominating.

We wonder, “What can we do? What can I do?”
To change the course of the destruction of earth, humanity, and all living creatures.

Is Global Regeneration even possible?

Is it possible to bring life back into soil?
Is it possible for our waterways to run clean?
Is it possible to purify the air we breathe?
Is it possible to reverse the illness and disease raging through humanity, our pets, and wildlife?

I sit in wonder…

And with certainty – I see it is possible.

Now is the time to engage in Global Regeneration.
There has never been a better time to have your hands in the soil working with nature.
Now is the time to deepen into nature’s wisdom and guidance and rise.

It’s time to shine as a farmer, steward of the land, seed saver, gardener, and lightworker in unity for Global Regeneration.

It starts with you.
It starts with me.
It starts with conversations.
It starts with meeting yourself, each other and the Earth where we are, at this very moment in kindness, compassion, and reverence.

Here’s the thing.
Earth does not need us.
We NEED her.
Let’s Hold Hands.

What if we turned towards helping each other?
What if we turned towards what we want to create?
What if we turned towards being intentional in our actions?
What if we turned towards being conscious of our choices?
What if we turned towards being aligned with nature?
What if we turned towards listening to the wisdom of our bodies?
What if we turned towards amplifying the amazing work being done locally and globally in our homes, communities, and countries?

When we go looking, we see Global Regeneration is in manifestation…

Soil has shown us she comes to life with billions of organisms in just one teaspoon of healthy soil when supported with living biology.

Rain has shown us it returns when supported with agroecology and soil health.
Water has shown us it is stored, purified and resourceful in healthy soil.
Air has shown us carbon is naturally stored in soil rich in organic matter with a diverse soil food web.
Our bodies have shown us they are designed to be healthy and heal when fed a plant-based chemical free diet.

Nature has shown us she seeds, nourishes, restores, regenerates, and renews everyday in every way.
When things aren’t working, she deconstructs, composts, harvests and regenerates—in her way.

Will you join her?
Will you hold hands with Mother Nature?
Will you allow her to guide you?
Will you lean in?
Will you listen?
Will you watch and observe?
Will you learn and follow her lead?

Will we join her?

Globally.
In regeneration.
Global Regeneration.

This is an opportunity in history to show up intentionally, consciously, and regeneratively. Let’s be in this conversation because talking can change minds which can transform behaviours which can transform societies.

Local actions make a global impact.

Focus on what you CAN do, rather than on what you cannot do.
Be a champion for yourself advocating for what is important to you.
Focus on compassion for others on this journey.
Be a champion for others with your presence, actions, conversations—we are all learning, growing, and figuring this out together.

Focus on leading with wisdom and grace.
Share what you are learning and discovering and be encouraging towards others on the same path, others who are a few steps behind you and others on a different path altogether.

Global Regeneration is global healing at the deepest level.
Global Regeneration invites us to pause, to tune in, to observe, to connect, and to be in regeneration with ourselves, each other, and our home on earth.
It starts with awareness. It builds with conversations. It happens with action.

Global Regeneration is inviting you to take your next step in regeneration. What will it be?


Natalie Forstbauer, is the founder and editor-in-chief of Heart & Soil Magazine. She is a TEDx speaker, author, organic/biodynamic farmer and traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. She is passionate about human potential and seeing people live their best lives. Raised on an organic farm, trained in Polarity Therapy, alternative medicine, Neurofeedback and Transformational Leadership she brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience to her audiences.

heartandsoilmagazine.com

Bringing History into Modern Cider-Making at Twin Island Cider

in 2021/Grow Organic/Marketing/Spring 2021/Tools & Techniques

Katie Selbee

“Natural” has always been a concept at the centre of our cider production, and over the past year I have been able to bring that ideal into our most basic equipment: fermentation vessels.

Just over a year ago, we were at a point of deciding whether to invest in more wood barrels or stainless-steel tanks for our production space, when I stumbled upon a documentary about ancient Georgian wine qvevri. Qvevri are large earthenware vessels used for fermenting and storing wine. These huge, hand-built clay pots are still being made today in Georgia just the same as they have been made for thousands of years, even down to the native clay they dig themselves.

This launched me on an investigation into whether our native Gulf Islands clay—Twin Island Cider is based on Pender Island—might be usable for low-fire earthenware, too. Luckily, a few test firings confirmed that it was.

Though I haven’t worked much with clay in the past, I am also lucky to have a professional potter living next door (Nancy Walker of talkingclay.ca). As I learn from her advice as well as footage of Georgian qvevri-building, I have been hand-building pots and gradually scaling up to vessels that hold around 150 litres, measuring about 35 inches tall. When I can problem-solve finding or building a larger sized kiln, I will scale up to larger sizes. For now, we are busy experimenting with fermenting and aging in the earthen clay and learning as much as we can about its effects on the finished cider.

It’s hard to say what impact using qvervi will have on the cider itself at this point as we’ve only made one batch and have been occasionally tasting another that is still aging in the clay. The first batch we made has a wonderfully punchy, tangy character, and we did notice it has a more mature profile than other ciders would be at its young age, likely due to the micro-oxidation effects mellowing the acids faster. We’ll do more comparative batches as we go—aging the same batch in stainless with clay to compare. It is safe to say this is a direction we will wholeheartedly be pursuing and improving on for the long term.

The main reason we are excited about clay is that it imparts less flavour than most wooden barrels, but it still allows some micro-oxidation—unlike stainless steel. And it also adds another layer of “terroir” that makes so much sense for our hyper-local cider: fermenting and aging in the material of its home.

Raw clay is collected from a large pile of clay, unearthed some years ago when our cidery partners/landholders Sandra and Noel had an irrigation pond dug.

 

The clay is mixed with water into a slurry and then poured through a fine mesh to remove any coarse particles and rocks.

 

The clay is then settled-out and allowed to dry until it is elastic and workable.

 

The vessels are hand built without a pottery wheel, in the traditional style of Georgian qvevri. One 3-inch layer is added per day. A 150-litre pot takes about 12 days total.

 

Once dry, the vessels are kiln-fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. Most native, hand-processed clays like this cannot be fired much higher or they will warp and melt. This clay turns a beautiful terracotta colour once fired.

 

After firing, they are re-warmed and lined with melted beeswax, also a traditional Georgian method. The heating opens up the larger pores of the clay, allowing them to absorb the wax while still leaving smaller pores open to allow micro-oxidation and direct clay contact.

 

Katie Selbee and Matthew Vasilev at their clay harvest site.

 


Katie Selbee and her partner Matthew Vasilev are the cider-makers and co-founders of Twin Island Cider on Pender Island, blending hands-on experience and training in cider-making, orcharding, and farming. Twin Island Cider began with making cider on a basket press with family and friends, using apples from old orchards and the Vasilev’s family trees on Pender Island before developing into a land-based cidery in 2016 when they partnered with landholders Sandra MacPherson and Noel Hall. They are immersed in operating the cidery year-round, from pruning and harvesting dozens of island orchards, pressing, blending and bottling, to pouring the cider at the tasting room. They care for and harvest from dozens of century-old settler orchards on North and South Pender Islands to create their fine, low-intervention cider and perry fermented only with native yeasts—cider which seeks to communicate the land, the lost varieties and the stories of the place we live.

Featured image: Katie Selbee putting the finishing touches on two Qvevri.

Footnotes from the Field: Waste Not, Want Not

in 2020/Fall 2020/Footnotes from the Field/Livestock/Preparation/Soil

Empowering the Human Micronutrient Supply Chain from the Soil Up

Marjorie Harris

I have long accepted that the saying “Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy people” fully explained the human nutrient supply chain. Turns out, this is not entirely accurate. In fact, the mineral requirements for healthy plants, animals, and people are quite different.

During organic farm inspection tours, I met a BC farm family diagnosed with selenium deficiency syndromes. The local health unit had identified the conditions. One person suffered from a significant fused spinal curvature from a skeletal muscle disease caused by selenium deficiency.

The farm’s soil tests confirmed that the garden soils were indeed deficient in selenium. The farmer was aware that his newborn livestock required selenium shots to prevent white muscle disease and that his livestock were fed selenium-fortified commercial organic livestock feed.

That BC farmer’s “Aha!” moment came when he made the connection between his garden soils’ lack of selenium and his family’s health problems. My curiosity was piqued. What was going on here—what is selenium and where do we find it?

Selenium is recognized as an essential trace mineral for healthy livestock and it is standard best practice to give selenium shots shortly after birth. In the year 2000, the Canadian government, along with the rest of North America, mandated the addition of selenium minerals to commercial livestock feeds (poultry, swine, beef/dairy, goat, and sheep) as a way to increase animal health and fortify the human food supply in dairy, meat, and eggs. Canadian wildlife surveys have determined that wild creatures also suffer from selenium deficiency diseases. Chronic and subclinical selenium deficiency could be a contributing factor to recent wildlife population declines, as other causes have not been identified.

I was surprised to learn from the government of Alberta’s Agri-Fax sheet that plants do not use selenium and do not show deficiency symptoms from its lack in the soil. At the same time, there are a few plants, such as locoweeds, that can hyperaccumulate selenium to levels that are toxic to livestock when selenium concentrations are high in the soil.

It was only relatively recently that we realized selenium was essential for human health. In 1979, Chinese scientists made the discovery while investigating the deaths of thousands of young women and children in the Keshan County of North Eastern China. The condition associated with these deaths was named Keshan disease, after the county where it was first recognized. The Chinese scientists discovered that selenium supplementation could correct the disorder. Since then, much has been learned about how selenium acts as a mineral in the human body in conjunction with other trace minerals such as chromium and iodine, which are also not used by plants.

Selenium deficiency is regarded as a major worldwide health problem with estimates of between 500 million to 1 billion people living with selenium deficiency diseases. Even larger numbers of people are consuming less then what is needed for optimal protection against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and infectious diseases.

Researchers have found that selenium is widely distributed throughout the body’s tissues and of high importance for many regulatory and metabolic functions. Selenium is very much like a “Goldilocks” micronutrient: you need just the right amount. Too much or too little can lead to serious health consequences. The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) in Canada for adults and children 14 and up is 55 micrograms per day. Our dietary selenium is taken up in the gut and becomes incorporated into more than 30 selenoproteins and selenoenzymes that play critical roles in human biological processes. Selenium is considered a cornerstone of the body’s antioxidant defense system as an integral component required for glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity. The GPx enzyme family plays a major role in protection against oxidative stress.

In addition, selenoproteins regulate many physiological processes, including the immune system response, brain neurotransmitter functioning, male and female reproductive fertility, thyroid hormone functioning, DNA synthesis, cardiovascular health, mental health, and heavy metal chelation. Selenoproteins have a protective effect against some forms of cancer, possess chemo-preventive properties, and regulate the inflammatory mediators in asthma.

Many chronic diseases have been linked to selenium deficiency. A short list includes: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, lupus, autoimmune disease, arthritis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease, degenerative muscle diseases, neurological diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. The selenium GPX-1 immune defense system has demonstrated antiviral capability. GPx-1 is found in most body cells, including red blood cells.

Some lipid-enveloped viruses pirate host selenium resources as a strategy to outmaneuver the host immune selenium-activated GPX-1 antioxidant system. If a host is selenium-deficient the virus can overwhelm the host GPX-1 immune response. In selenium-competent individuals the GPX-1 initiates an immune response cascade which inhibits viral replication and clears the virus from host. Selenium’s antiviral defense ability has been documented for Ebola, coronavirus, SARS-2003, influenza viruses (swine and bird flus), HIV, herpes viruses, cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B and C, Newcastle disease virus, rubella (German measles), varicella (chicken pox), smallpox, swine fever, and West Nile virus. There are a number of studies showing that selenium deficiency negatively impacts the course of HIV, and that selenium supplementation may delay the onset of full-blown AIDS.

While the research is still unfolding and it is too early to make determinative conclusions about COVID-19 and potential treatments, preliminary research indicates several interesting lines of inquiry. COVD-19 researchers in China published new data on April 28, 2020 making an association the COVID-19 “cure rates and death rates” and the soil selenium status of the region. Higher deaths rates were observed in populations living inside soil selenium-poor regions such as Hubei Province. Regional population selenium status was measured through hair samples. Samples were collected and compared from 17 different Chinese cities: “Results show an association between the reported cure rates for COVID-19 and selenium status. These data are consistent with the evidence of the antiviral effects of selenium from previous studies.”

By now, you’ve probably figured out that we can’t live without selenium. The evidence is clear: human and animal health is dependent on selenium, and yet it is the rarest micronutrient element in the Earth’s crust. Selenium is classed as a non-renewable resource because there are no ore deposits from which Selenium can be mined as the primary product. Most selenium is extracted as a by-product of copper mining.

Selenium has many industrial applications because of its unique properties as a semi-conductor. The most outstanding physical property of crystalline selenium is its photoconductivity. In sunlight electrical conductivity increases more than 1,000-fold, making it prized for use in solar energy panels and many other industrial uses that ultimately draw selenium out of the food chain, potentially permanently.

Selenium is very unevenly dispersed on land masses worldwide, ranging from deficient to toxic concentrations, with 70% to 80% of global agricultural lands considered to be deficient. Countries dominated by selenium-poor soils include Canada, Western and Eastern European, China, Russia, and New Zealand. Worldwide selenium-deficient soils are widespread, and increasing.

Naturally selenium-rich soils are primarily associated with marine environments. Ancient oceans leave behind dehydrated selenium salts as they recede. Here in Canada the receding salt waters of the Western Interior and Hudson seaways left mineral deposits from the Badlands of Alberta, following along the southern borders of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Some countries, including Finland and New Zealand, have added selenium (selenite) to fertilizer programs to fortify the soils with some success. Results show that only a small proportion of the selenium is taken up by plants and much of the remainder becomes bound up in non-bioavailable complexes out of reach for future plant utilization. On this basis, it is thought that large scale selenium biofortification with commercial fertilizers would be too wasteful for application to large areas of our planet. The geographic variability of selenium content, environmental conditions, and agricultural practices all have a profound influence on the final selenium content of our foods. Iodine, which works hand-in-hand with selenium, is even more randomly variable in soils and food crops.

The Globe and Mail ran the following January 2, 2020 headline: “Canadian researchers combat arsenic poisoning with Saskatchewan-grown lentils.” In 2012, it was estimated by the WHO that 39 million Bangladeshis were exposed to high levels of arsenic in their drinking water, and the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed Bangladesh’s arsenic poisoned groundwater crisis the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” As it turns out, the lentils from southern Saskatchewan accumulate enough selenium that they could be used as a “food-medicine” in Bangladesh as a cure for arsenic poisoning. Clinical trials conducted from 2015 to 2016 found that participants eating selenium-rich lentils had a breakthrough moment when urine samples confirmed that arsenic was being flushed from their bodies. Other studies have also shown that selenium binds to mercury to remove it from the body.

Now that we are finally wrapping our minds around the fact that our personal health depends on just the right amount of selenium, we find out that the health of future generations may depend on it even more. It takes more than one parent’s generation to produce a single child. While a female fetus is growing in the womb, the eggs of the gestating mother’s grandchildren are also being formed in the ovaries of the fetus. The viability of the grandchildren’s DNA is protected from oxidative stress damage by antioxidant selenium. Oxidative stress on the new DNA could potentially result in epigenetic changes for future generations. The selenium intake of the grandparent directly affects the grandchildren. From this point of view, it is seen as imperative that all childbearing people have access to sufficient selenium. Selenium is essential for healthy spermatogenesis and for female reproductive health, as well as the brain formation of the fetus. In short, humanity is dependent on selenium for health—now and forever.

The world’s selenium resources are scarce and need to be carefully managed for future generations. Since both the human and livestock food chains are being fortified with this scarce resource, the manures from these sources are worth more then their weight in gold. The natural cycles of returning resources dictates that livestock manures need to be guided back into the soil for crop production. Human biosolids can be guided into fiber crops or forest production. Over time, livestock manures will fortify the soils with all of the micronutrients passing through their systems. Human manures passing through fiber crops can eventually be composted and recycled into crop production, returning selenium continually to the human micronutrient supply chain.

Waste not, want not.


Marjorie Harris, IOIA VO and concerned organophyte.

References:
Evans, I., Solberg, E. (1998). Minerals for Plants, Animals and Man, Agri-Fax Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development: agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex789/$file/531-3.pdf?OpenElement
Haug, A., et al. (2007). How to use the world’s scarce selenium resources efficiently to increase the selenium concentration in food, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease: Dec 19: 209 – 228. DOI: 10.1080/08910600701698986
Jagoda, K. W., Power, R., Toborek, M. (2016). Biological activity of
selenium: Revisited, IUBMB Life – Review: Feb;68(2):97-105. DOI: 10.1002/iub.1466
Brown, K.M., Arthur, J.R. (2001). Selenium, Selenoproteins and human health: a review, Public Health Nutrition: Volume 4, Issue 2b pp. 593-599. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1079/PHN2001143
Harthill M., (2011). Review: Micronutrient Selenium Deficiency Influences Evolution of Some Viral Infectious Diseases, Biol Trace Elem Res. 143:1325–1336. DOI: doi.org/10.1007/s12011-011-8977-1
Zhang, J. et al. (2020). Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China, Am J Clin Nutr. doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa095.
Carbert, M., (2020). Canadian researchers combat arsenic poisoning with Saskatchewan-grown lentils, The Globe and Mail: theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-canadian-researchers-combat-arsenic-poisoning-with-saskatchewan-grown/
Sears, M.E. (2013). Chelation: Harnessing and Enhancing Heavy Metal Detoxification—A Review, The Scientific World Journal. doi.org/10.1155/2013/219840

Organic Stories: Crannóg Ales, Secwepemculecw (Sorrento) BC

in 2020/Grow Organic/Indigenous Food Systems/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Spring 2020

Rest is Key to Innovate (and Survive a Pandemic)

Michelle Tsutsumi and Rebecca Kneen

Starting this piece during the onset of COVID-19 in BC created a curious opening for Rebecca and I to delve deeply into what improvement means for organics (both of us speaking from a smaller scale perspective, with the need to hear more from our larger scale colleagues). The presence of a pandemic spotlighted the precarity of our food system, the inequity within it, and the need to shift the system. We had no idea where things would be two weeks later.

Over the span of two weeks, there were significant pivots so that farmers and processors could continue to get their food and beverages to people (with a pinch of panic as the future of farmers’ markets became more uncertain). After several communities closed their farmers’ markets (or contemplated closing them), it was a relief to hear the provincial government declare farmers’ markets as an essential service on March 26.

Throughout the two weeks, I have witnessed the (direct market) organic community coming together to mobilize online platforms, change their CSA delivery methods, and coordinate new distribution channels, all from a foundational value of helping each other in hopes that we will all be okay through this. This deserves acknowledgement as a core part of organics that needs no improvement. The organic movement and community formed from a belief in interconnectivity and this will continue to serve us well as we adapt to a world, a way of being, that could be permanently altered by COVID-19.

Rebecca at market winding yarn onto a drop spindle selling beer and wool. Credit: Crannóg Ales

I am honoured to profile Rebecca Kneen in this issue to discuss how she, Brian MacIsaac, and Crannóg Ales have been improving their practices in ways that “extend deeply rather than extend widely.” Crannóg Ales is celebrating 20 years this year (let’s all raise a glass in congratulations to them!), so there is much to reflect on in terms of where they have been extending deeply. It is important to keep in mind that there is a long history of involvement with the North Okanagan Organic Association, COABC, and the Organic Federation of Canada, so Rebecca can also speak to what she has witnessed in terms of improvements in organics over time.

Crannóg Ales 20th anniversary glassware. Credit: Crannóg Ales

Let’s set the stage. Picture this interview taking place on our front south-facing porch (somewhat socially distanced), warmed by the afternoon sun, with Dropkick Murphys playing a spirit-raising St. Paddy’s Day gig on YouTube in the background. Even with a pandemic looming, it was a dream way to spend an early spring afternoon.

Where have you seen the greatest change in terms of improved processes at Crannóg Ales?

It took the first 10 years to get to know the land, mostly based on theory, and the next 10 years figuring out what that means with practices on the land. Coming to land as an adult means that a lot of observation is occluded, so it was a lot of trying stuff and then trying new stuff. In the beginning, our practices were what was financially viable, which equalled “the hard way.” Twenty years later, we are better rested, which leads to better thinking. One of our key principles has always been to limit our market expansion to fit the ecological carrying capacity of our land. Because of this, we have been forced to extend deeply rather than extend widely.

Sheep doing early season pruning for pest and disease control. Credit: Crannóg Ales

What does extending deeply mean to you?

Finding efficiencies and working in increased harmony with the land, letting permaculture principles guide us and making do with less in all ways. There is a balance point in having a growth cap, because the question remains about what scale the brewery, in particular, needs to be at to make a sufficient amount to take care of and support employees. One way we do this is providing extended health care to employees. Another way is to intermingle the farm with the brewery to supply good food for employees.

Extending deeply also interconnects with the way we are being in, and understanding, our relationships to land, water, workers, wild things, the whole around us. Are our relationships exploitative or mutually beneficial? We have been deepening relationships in terms of responsible stewardship, which sees (non-hierarchical) interrelationships rather than partaking in caretaking behaviours, which can involve power dynamics or someone making decisions for someone else.

How else does seeing things as being interrelated play a role in how you have deepened your way of being in the world?

Looking at things in terms of relationships has helped us to see a responsibility to, rather than for, employees. Interrelationships also seem to be part of organics as a movement, which, 20 years ago, focused on social and agricultural change. Making a living was a given, it wasn’t the goal. A shift in emphasis from an organic movement to an organic industry means that we are losing our ethical and ecological focus, which threatens the ability of our robust standards to withstand a strong push from industry toward non-organic practices (similar to mission drift in the nonprofit world, shifting to an organic industry could lead to practice drift).

Snake napping on a compost pile. Credit: Crannóg Ales

The way we manage certification is also being lost as the organic movement shifts to that of an industry. This has a large impact on regional or community-based certification (which is still an unusual model, but with increasing membership, interestingly enough), because they are seen as being less valid and less valuable than Canada Organic Regime (COR) certification bodies. In my view, farmer-to-farmer certification review leads to deeper relationships, better understanding and communication, and is just as strict as third-party certification. That being said, people are craving community, which is something the regional certification bodies do well (and also aligns with organics as a movement).

How do you see reconnecting with social change as part of organics extending deeply?

The organic community has long been taking responsibility, where other sectors have been outsourcing or offloading responsibilities. For example, organics has been a leader in terms of traceability standards, responsible packaging and reducing packaging waste, and emphasizing the need for social justice. Social justice becomes an issue of scale when looking at employment. If employment potential is increased, so does the potential for exploitation. Our identity as stewards, as well as values of social justice and fairness, have been grounded in the organic standards, and we are working on deepening these areas nationally right now. With most of BC being on unceded territories, there is an opportunity to deepen our organic perspective on social justice in terms of land and land ownership.

What are ‘next steps’ that you see as being important for social justice in organics?

Listening. And trust. These both entail a worldview or paradigm shift that is reliant on relationships. Reflecting on organics with a social justice lens will challenge our notions of ownership and relations to land. It will be an uncomfortable (but necessary) exercise in questioning our understanding of security and access to tenure. It will require us to work through assumptions and tensions, and let new ideas percolate. Here is an interesting thought exercise: if you hold debt or a mortgage, you don’t truly own the land. Do you really care if the owner is the bank or your Indigenous neighbour? If you do care, this is an opportunity to delve more deeply into the reasons why this matters (and to examine the paradigms of individualism, capitalism, and systemic racism which live in our brains).

Sheep eating hops vines after harvest. Credit: Crannóg Ales

After allowing this conversation to percolate and settle, it was interesting to note that what was being named as innovative and improving practices at Crannóg Ales are ancient practices that have been, and continue to be, carried out by Indigenous people and traditional sustainable farmers. These practices are seen in subsistence living through hunting, fishing, gardening, and harvesting medicines. Principled practices of observing and knowing the land, not seeing oneself as an owner of the land, tending to relationships, recognizing interconnectivity, being mindful of scale, and stewardship have been part of Indigenous ways of knowing and being for millenia.

Identifying social justice as being important to organics ties in with the need to stop erasing Indigenous ways of being from the land where we grow and prepare food, including access to this land. If any group or community can do it, it is the organic movement that can start to see the areas where Indigenous food sovereignty and organic agriculture align. In the face of uncertain, and changing, times due to COVID-19, we will need to recognize interconnectivity and help each other more than ever. It is easy enough to remember that what joins us together is the soil, so we can start there as our common ground.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” ~ Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.

Resources to Explore Further:
Indigenous Principles of Just Transition
Opinion: Fairness in Organic Agriculture by Anne Macey (2018)
Reviving Social Justice in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson (2012)
Food Sovereignty: Indigenous Food, Land and Heritage by Dawn Morrison
Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty


Michelle Tsutsumi is a mid-life switcher to organic farming. She is grateful to have learned from the Hettler’s at Pilgrims’ Produce in Armstrong and has been at Golden Ears Farm in Secwepemculecw (Chase) since 2014. Michelle is also an organizer and communicator, with an eye for process and a passion for systems thinking.

A New Conservation Model for Pollinators from Southern Alberta

in 2020/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Seeds/Spring 2020

S.K. Basu

Pollinators have an important ecological role in securing the stability of all natural ecosystems, through ensuring cross pollination and reproduction across a wide diversity of higher plants. This unique pollinator-plant relationship is a key aspect of maintaining the dynamics of both our ecology as well as our economy.

From an ecological perspective, pollination is important because it helps achieve reproduction in plants. This includes not just wild plants, but a significant array of plant species that are important to humans as food and industrial crops, numerous ornamentals, forage and vegetable crops, and forest species. According to one estimate, over 80% of global plant species are dependent on pollination for reproduction and survival. One can appreciate that this fact has an impact on our economy too. Pollinators have a significant role in three industries, namely: agriculture, forestry, and apiculture. Thus, pollination and pollinators have important stake in our life by integrating the stability of our ecosystem with the dynamics of our economy.

Wild radish flowering Credit: S.K. Basu

While insects perform the most significant role of natural pollinators in our ecosystem, other animal species that also help in the process of pollination are often overlooked. These include some species of snails and slugs, birds (such as humming birds) and mammals (like bats). Insects such as bees (honey bees and native bees), moths and butterflies, some species of flies, beetles, wasps, and ants all play a highly significant roles in our natural ecosystem, without a doubt. But unfortunately, the insect pollinators, predominantly bees and more specifically, native wild bees or indigenous bees, are showing alarming decline in their natural populations due to the synergistic or cumulative impacts of several overlapping anthropogenic factors.

Some of these include excessive use of agricultural chemicals and aggressive agroindustrial approaches in rapid land transformation, rise of resistant parasitic diseases, colony collapse disorder, high level of pollution in the environment, lack of suitable foraging plants to supply bees with adequate nectar and pollens to sustain them throughout the year, and climate change, to mention only a handful factors. Hence, it is important that we develop comprehensive sustainable, ecosystem, and farmer-friendly, and affordable conservation strategies to help secure the survival of insect pollinators to directly and indirectly secure our own future.

Balansa clover in full bloom. Credit: S.K. Basu

Farming Smarter, an applied research organization from Southern Alberta, has come up with a simple, sustainable, and nature-based solution for this grave crisis. They have successfully established experimental pollinator sanctuary plots using local crop-based annual and/or perennial pollinator mixes with different and overlapping flowering periods to extend the bee foraging period across the seasons.

The major objectives of this unique and innovative research work has been to identify specific crop combinations with different flowering periods adapted to the local agro-climatic regime and their potential in attracting insect pollinators. Furthermore, various agronomic parameters such as seeding dates and seeding rates, crop establishment and weed competition under rain-fed conditions, identifying the floral cycles and biodiversity of local pollinator insect populations attracted and visiting the pollinator sanctuary experimental plots across the growing season are being also monitored and evaluated. This unique pollinator sanctuary project has been funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) program.

A drone fly pollinating alfalfa. Credit: S.K. Basu

The results have been promising. The experimental plots have been attracting insect pollinators in large numbers and the crops have been well established and performed well against local weed competition. The implications of this study could be far reaching as Pollinator Sanctuaries can not only cater to pollination services; but also help in acting as cover crops, preventing soil erosion, contributing to soil reclamation, and, since they are predominantly crop-based, can be used in grazing. Thus, the benefits of this innovative and sustainable method are not restricted to pollinator conservation alone, and could cater to multiple users.

Such low-cost and low-maintenance pollinator sanctuaries could easily be established in non-agricultural and marginal lands, hard to access areas of the farm, around pivot stand and farm perimeters, shelter belts, along water bodies and irrigational canals, low lying areas, salinity impacted areas, unused spaces in both rural and urban areas, in boulevards parks, gardens, and golf courses, to mention only a handful of potential application sites. Locally adapted crop-based pollinator mixes could fill a vacuum in the market and serve as viable alternatives to exclusive use of wildflower mixes, since they are relatively cheaper, easy to establish, and do not run the risk of becoming a weed or invasive species.

A pollinator insect visiting flax flower. Credit: S.K. Basu

Saikat Kumar Basu has a Masters in Plant Sciences and Agricultural Studies. He loves writing, traveling, and photography during his leisure and is passionate about nature and conservation.

Feature image: A bumble bee pollinating Phacelia flowers. Credit: S.K. Basu

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